Bucharest: The Paris of the East

This blog is a little late in coming…almost 2 months late, whoops. I’ve honestly just not had the motivation (or concentration) to sit down and write it what with completing and presenting a grant project with my school administration, finishing up classes, and continuing to battle lasting side effects of pneumonia. So, sorry. We’re here now and that’s all that matters, right?

Over our week long Easter break from school, most volunteers take the opportunity to travel outside of Moldova on vacation. People went to London, Paris, Georgia (the country), Ukraine, Poland, etc. Since I decided to travel back to the States for Christmas, I was one of the few volunteers that hadn’t traveled to Romania so I decided to take an Eat, Pray, Love excursion (i.e. a solo trip) to Bucharest, Romania’s capital. My mom wasn’t super keen on the idea of me traveling alone, but I gently reminded her that I am indeed 26 years old, living in a foreign country, and completely capable of taking care of myself. Plus, Bucharest is safer than many of the major cities where I have traveled with no problems.

So, after spending the Easter holiday with my host family, I jetted off to Bucharest on Tuesday, April 18th. Once I arrived, I found the bus into the center of the city and meandered my way to the nearest Starbucks (Oh! I guess I should mention that my entire goal of this trip was to be as American as possible by eating at as many American chain restaurants as I could get my hands on). I am a huge fan of finding Starbucks’ in foreign countries because the coffee tastes basically the same as it does back in the States AND there is free wifi, which is a commodity whose importance cannot be overstated. Anyway, after hanging out there for a while, I made my way to the park across the street where a free walking tour of Bucharest departs every morning. This walking tour was the best way to introduce myself to the city because we were shown the Old City area where many of the typical tourist attractions are located. Not only was it a tour of the center of the city, it was also heavily focused on the history of Bucharest. The history that was discussed included the origins of the geography of Romania, Vlad the Impaler, and Romania’s Communist past. I like learning the history of other countries since this is information that we rarely receive in the American education system unless that country had a specific impact on America…like, ya know, war.

During this walking tour, I met a couple of guys (one American and one British) and we decided to get lunch together afterwards. They wanted to experience traditional Romanian food and, though I eat this type of food regularly, I agreed to go with them to tell them about the different meals. Once I finally made my way to the restaurant after checking into my AirBnB, I was able to order in Romanian and impress my newfound friends, which is not something I experience often when speaking Romanian. I’ve just decided that I need to hang out with people who don’t know a lick of Romanian and then I’ll sound like I’m a real pro. After eating, we just decided to walk around a little bit…including walking the perimeter of the Palace of Parliament, which is the second largest administrative building in the world behind the Pentagon…so, yeah, it took a while. Once we parted ways, I started making my way back to my AirBnB, but not before stopping at a Subway (!!!) to grab a sandwich for dinner. I practiced an insane amount of self-control as I waited my 15 minute walk to my apartment before I devoured said sandwich in a most unladylike way 🙂

Next day was full of aimless wandering and mental health time. Since I was traveling by myself, I had the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. This day included strolling through central Bucharest taking photos, holing up in an amazing bookstore and reading for a couple of hours, enjoying fresh squeezed orange juice in a cafe while I mooched their wifi, and just taking it easy. Wrapped up this day with dinner at Pizza Hut where I ordered a Hawaiian pizza that killed the Hawaiian pizza in the States. They don’t play with the size of the pineapple chunks they put on their slices and I ain’t mad about it.

On Thursday, I indulged in true Morgan fashion: I found a mall. The mall I went to is Romania’s equivalent to Mall of America complete with a multitude of stores, a huge food court, an ice skating rink, a rock climbing complex, bumper boats, a huge movie theater, and a supermarket (that’s a standard thing in Eastern Europe I’ve seen…grocery stores in malls). First place I went to was the supermarket because I love walking around different grocery stores just to see what I can find. It’s always a surprise! And I certainly wasn’t disappointed as I stumbled upon Cookie Crisp and Doritos. Couldn’t justify the purchase of Cookie Crisp, but definitely justified the Doritos and they were perfect! After that phenomenal find, I had lunch and just walked around to see what the mall had to offer. I also (finally!) got to see Beauty and the Beast as it was showing in English with Romanian subtitles and it was everything I had hoped it would be!! Later that night, after resting a bit, I ventured out onto Calea Victorei which is one of the main thoroughfares in Bucharest. A light festival was being kicked off on this night and I was able to walk down the middle of this historic street and see a variety of buildings awash in spectacular light installations designed by artists from all over the world. There was a building that had a laser show projected on it to look like PacMan, a light installation spelling out “Iubesc” (I love), and many other amazing sights. I was so glad that I was able to experience this as it might be one of the coolest things I have done to date over here! This night, which was supposed to be my last, was capped off with yet another visit to Subway because of course it was.

I was supposed to fly home to Moldova on Friday so, after checking out of my AirBnB, I traveled to the largest city park in Romania (and Europe) to visit a museum and just waste time until my flight. The museum I visited was the Village Museum which had examples of village houses from all over Romania, both past and present-ish. It was fascinating to see the role that the architecture of the house played in specific areas of the country. I also got to spend some quality time with the cats that roam this outdoor museum and, if y’all know me (besides the food), this was the highlight of my trip. We chilled on a bench for about 20 minutes enjoying each others company and my soul was put at ease 🙂 Lunch was enjoyed at Hard Rock Cafe (#27) and I utilized their wifi to find out that I may not be able to get home like I thought.

Because global warming is a real thing, south and central Moldova were hit with an insane snowstorm at the end of April, rendering the capital helpless due to the amount of snow and the fact that most utilities and public services weren’t working. I didn’t have a concrete answer about my flight so I traveled to the airport anyway just to find out that I’d have to be back at 6am the next morning as my flight had been rescheduled for 8am. Cool beans. I really didn’t want to spend the night in the airport so I called my mom and she came through in the clutch with her Hilton Honors points! Turns out a room at the Hilton in the center of Bucharest was on the low end of the point scale so she reserved me a room for the night. Once I was there and checked in, I was not leaving. I had a comfy king size bed, a bathtub, wifi, cable, room service, etc. Great way to top off a not so great day.

I successfully made it out of Romania the next day, just to be welcomed back to Moldova with apocalyptic-type scenes due to the snowstorm damage and a wonderful gift of pneumonia. Maybe I should’ve just stayed in Romania? But, seriously, it was a great trip and I feel so lucky to be able to experience so many different places at such a (relatively) young age. Can’t wait to adventure somewhere else this summer!

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