Traveling from Ukraine to Romania

After spending a month in Kyiv I decided to start moving towards the Balkans. Of course before leaving Ukraine I had to spend some time in Lviv as I mentioned in Lviv during the day and Lviv in the evening posts.

Traveling Ukraine Romania

The cheapest way from Lviv to Romania was by train (mostly). So I purchased my 115UAH ($10) train tickets for the train #601, Lviv – Solotvyne. The train departs at 20:40 and arrives to the border town of Solotvyne around 9am. The ticket for the 2nd class sleeper compartment also includes fresh sheets so you could get a good night sleep. Solotvyne is a small Ukrainian town that feels very Transylvanian. You can find statues for such figures as Stefan cel Mare (prince of Moldovia in 15th century), some streets names are Romanian, etc.

After a 10-15 minutes walk through the town you’ll get to the border with Romania. One of the reasons I chose the Solotvyne border was being able to walk across it, which I’ve never done before. We tried to take a photo of the border crossing on Ukrainian side and got yelled at by one of the agents so we kept on walking. Show your passports and keep on going through the bridge over  Tisa river. Take your passports again for the Romanian border officers, look at their surprised faces (I guess not many Canadians cross this small border by foot). The passport control guy sent us for the “luggage inspection” but when the inspection lady saw we had Canadian passports she told us to close the bags and have a good time in Romania.

border Ukraine Romania Solotvyne

They mostly inspect the bags and merchandise of locals who bring in stuff into Romania. These old Ukrainian ladies are real hustlers. They bring in 1 pack of cigarettes, 1 kg of potatoes, a bag of apples and a few other things to the small market on the Romanian side of the border, hoping to make a few bucks. Romania is more expensive than Ukraine, so Romanians are happy to buy some discount products from their neighbors.

Romania border

Ukrainian exit border in Solotvyne

We got a little unlucky with the weather as it was raining most of the day. We crossed Sighetu-Marmatiei (Romanian bordering town) and got ready for our first hitchhiking adventure. To be honest it was completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done this before and I was seriously nervous about it. I drew up a sign, stood on the side of the road with hopes that someone will offer us a ride.

This is also when I learned one of the very important hitchhiking lessons.

I wrote “BUCHAREST” on the sign. However, Bucharest was 600km away (9 hours drive on Romanian roads). I didn’t occur to me that no one is going to Bucharest. I was on a small road, outside of a small town, 600 km away from destination… after some time I made more signs with names of near-by towns (like Bistrita). After about 30 minutes wait an older Audi finally stopped. I was getting a bit desperate and annoyed with the rain so I didn’t care where the car was going, I just wanted to get away from where I was.

Hitchhiking Romania

Marius and Paula

Marius and Paula were driving to Baia Mare and offered us a lift which we gladly accepted. We started to talk about this and that and they offered to do a little detour in order to show us a lake. Sure, why not! When we got to the lake I was very glad we made the detour because the place was simply gorgeous! Romanian nature is a must see.

Lake in Murmures

After the short visit to the lake we kept on to Baia Mare, while listening to some Romanian pop. The “30 De Grade” song is still stuck in my head.  In fact I listen to it from time to time, reminiscing those summer moments.

 

Finally we arrived to Baia Mare and Paula said they needed to make a last short stop before leaving us at the exit of the city where we will be able to get another ride. So we stopped, Paula left and came back a few moments later with a bag of Covrigi for us. A very popular snack in Romania, kind of similar to a bagel but yet totally different. That was incredibly sweet of her and made our first hitchhiking experience that much more amazing.

Romanian-Covrigi

Covrigi in Baia Mare

In Baia Mare we made a sign for Dej, next town on the way to Bucharest and it took only a few minutes to hitch a ride with an older Romanian guy who didn’t speak English. Good thing I can speak some basic Romanian. We got to Dej and made another sign for Cluj. A few cars stopped and they asked for money however when we told them “fara bani” (without money) they smiled and left. However, moments later an old Audi A6 stopped with two very young Romanians who were listening to manele and they told us to get in.

Somewhere on the way they picked up a local “hitchhiker” who gave them some money for the ride. This is when I realized that hitchhiking in Romania is actually a popular mode of transportation although unlike in most other countries, you are expected to pay a small fee for the ride.

The guys explained that a lot of people from Cluj go to Bucharest and it should be easy to catch a ride. Once we got to Cluj we figured out where the road to Bucharest was and we started walking towards that road. While walking up a pretty steep hill I lost my water bottle so I stopped at a petrol station to buy another one. I also thought it would be a good place to hitchhike. When I came in the shop the clerk told me it was a bad place to hitchhike and recommended to walk another 1km, just past a roundabout. He said I will see locals hitchhiking there because that’s the good spot.

So we kept on walking, past the roundabout and finally we saw a bunch of locals trying to hitch rides to nearby towns and villages. The good sign was that others were hitchhiking, so it was a good spot indeed. The bad thing was that we had to compete with locals (and there were many of them). We got to that spot after 6pm, which is usually not a great time to hitchhike as it’s getting late. It took us over 3 hours (!!!) to finally get a ride but more on that in the next post.

In the next post I will be sharing more stories and experiences from Romania so stay tuned!

– Alex

Bucharest – afterthoughts.

At the moment of writing this post I am back home, Montreal QC.

I just realized that I never published my final Bucharest post, so here it is. I will write about the few last days I spent in that amazing city.

First of all, The Silver Church club where we went on a Friday night (after having some beers at the Cheers Bar). The Silver Church club is big, crowded and very cheap on Friday nights, I don’t know if it’s the same on the other nights of the week. There is no entrance fee, bottled beer is 5 Lei (less than $2), the music is pretty cool, mostly 90’s pop, so it brings back a lot of memories for the 20-30 year olds and the people are very friendly, unlike the fiţe crowd at places like Club Bamboo.  I really enjoyed that night because I got the chance to see Bogdan, Theo, Ionica, Pizdinu, Sebi and a few others – it was the last time I went out with these amazing new friends!

The Silver Church Club Bucharest

The Silver Church Club Bucuresti

At The Silver Church I met a group of friends from France and eventually we moved to Expirat Club, located in the Lipscani area. The venue was pretty cool, the beer was cheap and that night they played rock music which by the end of the night was more of hard-core and metal. I am open to all kinds of music so I enjoyed it, however some might not like it. I left Expirat a little after 7 am and walked home to Piata Romana.

On Saturday night Bogdan, Dan with two girls and I made it to Deja-Vu – once again. I finally decided to go for the “Bandidas” drink… why is this drink special? Well, basically because I have to get on the bar and stay on my knees. Jenny, one of the barmaids also comes up, she pours some strong alcohol from 2 different bottles into my mouth, then she squeezes the lemon juice from a fresh lemon with her teeth…  later she closes my mouth, shakes my head (in order to mix the alcohol and lemon juice) and only then I can swallow the cocktail, which as I already mentioned is pretty strong. For the ladies who read this blog – if you ever go for that drink a barman will do it for you and not a barmaid, you also get to chose which barman/barmaid will serve the drink. This was the most exotic way of drinking, at least for me.

And now some final thoughts, tips and advice on Bucuresti.

First of all 3 venues you MUST visit;

Caru’ cu Bere restaurant

La Mama Restaurant

Deja-Vu cocktail bar (and please go for a cocktail and not a beer)

If you want to take a cab, try to learn how to say your destination in Romanian. Some cab drivers still try to screw the tourists (one cab driver told me the fare would be 20 Euros, when I spoke to another cab driver in Romanian he told me the fare would be around 2 Euros).

Traveling by metro is probably the safest and fastest way. If you are planning to stay in Bucuresti for a few weeks and think you will use the metro often – maybe buying a monthly pass would be a good idea. It costs about $8 and gives you unlimited access to the metro for one whole month. The cheapest ticket you can buy is for 2 rides and it costs about $0.80. The tickets could be purchased at the cash at any metro station.

Most (if not all) people in Bucharest who are under 30 speak decent English, so getting around should be relatively easy… and NO, Romanians do NOT sound like Borat.

When you are paying your bill at a restaurant or a bar, the tip is NOT included in the final price. People usually tip 10% in Bucharest. However I highly suggest to tip more if the service was great and to tip less (or not tip at all) for horrible service since some places still do offer very bad service (like Grand Cafe Galleron). Maybe if more people tip for the quality of  service, the quality will eventually go up!

Walking at night in downtown area is safe, from what I have seen. A few times I walked late at night with my big Canon camera hanging off my neck and to be honest I was a little concerned – however nothing bad happened even though a few bums and other questionable people walked by me. The known issue of stray dogs is getting handled in Bucuresti. All the dogs are vaccinated against rabies and usually these dogs don’t care about you walking by. Some dogs might follow you but not because they will attack you but because they expect some food.

Taking a cab to the airport is quite expensive. There is a great alternative though, the express bus (#783) which I took from Piata Romana to the Otopeni airport. Once again you need to buy a ticket for 2 fares which will cost a little over $2. The bus also stop at Piata Victoriei, The Arc of Triumph and some other places. From Piata Romana it took about 45 minutes to get to the airport. There is usually enough place in the bus so you could sit.

For the whole stay in Bucharest I rented an apartment about 100 meters away from the Piata Romana metro. I loved the location, it is close to everything since it’s located in the downtown area. The apartment was cleaned every 3-4 days or so, this also includes fresh bed sheets, fresh towels, soap and toilet paper. Normally cheaper than a hotel room but you also get fully equipped kitchen and more privacy… in my opinion. I dealt with Catalin who offers quite a few apartments for rent around town. He can offer you Studio apartments for as low as 28 Euros per day, one bedroom apartments and luxurious 2 bedroom apartments for under 90 Euros per day. Lower rates are available for longer stay. Please mention AlexTraveling.com when booking. You can reach Catalin by phone: (+4)-0722.607.433 or by e-mail: citycomfort@yahoo.com

I guess that’s all I wanted to write for now, can’t wait till my next visit to Bucharest (this summer) 😀

Thank You for reading, don’t forget to comment and visit again soon! I am going to be traveling through Europe starting May 2010 and this blog will be updated more and more!

Sincerly,

Alex

La Mama Restaurant, Tonka Soul Café

Monday evening was starting slowly. Alina, a Romanian friend from Montreal just came to Bucharest and will be staying with me for 2 days. We decided to hit up the famous “La Mama” restaurant known for its great Romanian dishes. Once again, I am very happy about living in the downtown area – La Mama is located behind my building, a 2 minute walk! The restaurant greeted us with a shot of Ţuică, a traditional alcoholic beverage, basically vodka made from plums. I then had Mititei with fries and a big glass of Carlsberg. The food is great, service is good but a little on the slow side and prices are very reasonable. A full meal usually starts at $6, this includes a soup, main dish and salad or fries.

At 10 pm Alina went to bed and I decided to pass by the Sailor’s Pub at Piata Victoriei where Bogdan was having beer with Theodora, Ionica and Pizdinu. I had a bottle of Beck’s and a little past midnight they decided to head home… yes, some people have school and/or work in the morning. Ionica gave me a lift home from where I walked to my favorite… yes, you guessed it, Deja-Vu cocktail bar. I had a few Heinekens on draft and some Jägermeister. At 3am there were no more clients, so Ivan the barman said he will close. He offered me a shot of… Absinthe+Lemon juice+Tabaso sauce… it burned but was really good.

After closing the bar Ivan and I went to Tonka Soul Café, a 24/7 café-bar, 5 minutes away from my building.

tonka soul cafe

The place is huge! The beer is priced at about $3 per bottle and cheaper for draft. More alcohol… a bit after 6am Ivan went home I decided to finish my beer… I finally made it home at about 7 in the morning… had a great night and now I know  bar that serves alcohol 24/7.

Till the next post,

Alex

Herăstrău Park and Caru’ cu Bere restaurant

Tuesday I went to have a coffee near me at the Grand Cafe Galleron. Apparently this is a well known and respected place – they do serve great espresso, I have to give them that. However, the service at this place is a hit or miss – depending on the waiter (waitress) you will get. I sat for about 30-40 minutes until I got the menu… luckily they provide free wi-fi and I had my laptop with me. After I got the menu, I waited another 20 minutes – I saw the waiter pass by and i called him several time with no success. Eventually a waitress started serving the same room and finally I got great service.

The place looks very nice, it has 6 or 7 different rooms, one of them non-smoking and they serve a large variety of coffees, alcohol and some light meals (salads, smoked salmon…) I would recommend this place mostly because of their great coffee and the interior decor but don’t expect good service.

Wednesday evening I went to the good old Deja-Vu for the “Live Music Wednesday”. Had some beers, a few shots of… not sure what, it was on the house and sang along to some Russian tunes from the 80’s and 90’s. After the show was over I chatted for a little while with Radu, the guitar player and singer for that night and at 2am I decided to leave. When I got to the entrance doors of my building I heard loud music playing near by – Bubbles Club, right across the street was open so I decided to check it out. I guess it wasn’t their best night, there were less than 10 people inside and it was a … KARAOKE night! I had a few more drinks, listened to some guys and girls sing “I will survive”, “Nothing Else Matters”, “Hit the Road, Jack” and “American Woman”… and decided to go home. The barman told me it’s much funner on Fridays… I might check it out.

This brings me to Thursday… I had some breakfast and decided to check out the Herastrau Park. It is one of the biggest parks in town and many told me it’s very beautiful.

herastrau park bucharest

Right before I entered the park, I passed by the Arc de Triomphe… the Bucharest one of course!

Arc de Triomphe

The Herastrau Park is based around the Herastrau Lake, even during winter the parks looks very nice and hundreds of benches are taken up by old ladies, young couples and mothers with baby strollers. I also spotted some people walking on the frozen lake; first I thought they were ice skating, then i thought they were fishing and then… I am not sure what they were doing…

Herastrau park

Herastrau Park and Lake

Herastrau Park and lake

The weather was great! It was +3 C, the sun was bright and warm so I ended up walking for 2-3 hours. A little past 4pm I was at the Aviatorilor metro station (that’s the one right near the park entrance) and I headed home. I forgot to get off at Piata Romana, where I live so i decided to get off at the Universitate and head to Lipscani for lunch… When i got to the old town, I remembered how much I wanted to pass by Caru’ cu Bere, one of the town’s oldest restaurants.

Caru cu Bere

I was told that all the tables are reserved for later, however if i wanted I could only stay for 2 hours… I agreed. It usually takes me less than 2 hours to eat a meal. I was surprised by the authentic neo-Gothic-like design, that alone is worth a trip.

Caru cu Bere

Caru cu bere Bucharest

(the iPhone pictures don’t do it justice, you’ll have to see the place for yourself)

Once I was shown to the table the menu was brought to me within minutes. I ordered Carnati Plescoi (hot sausages) with Romanian fried potatoes (covered with cheese) and a 400ml glass of Caru’ cu Bere draught.

The meal was served within 15 minutes (beer came much earlier) and it was very very delicious. The sausages were hardly “hot”, but still very tasty.

Caru cu Bere beer

Caru cu Bere Meal

I was surprised to see that I was charged extra for the bread… It was only $0.5 or so, but the principle of it… anyways, the whole meal including the beer was about $10, so very affordable.

Everyone, from good looking young ladies that greet you at the door to friendly waiters speak English and offer good service. The menu is Romanian and English. Caru cu Bere also offers free wi-fi. I definitely recommend this place to everyone and i will be coming back 😉

Lipscani, eating, drinking and more.

Saturday, January 30 I walked to the Lipscani district (Old Town). In the Middle Ages this was the most important commercial center in Bucharest. The district was planned to be destroyed during the communist times but this never happened. As of 2008, the city started renovating the district but they ran into a dilemma;  after digging up the streets the ruins from the old buildings were discovered and this fact gave the city council 2 options: first one, to preserve the ruins and turn them into an historic site (which requires a lot of money for maintenance) and second option is to simply pave the streets and move on. The Bucharest mayor’s office cannot make a decision and some streets are left all dug up until… no one really knows when.

Lipscani Bucharest

Lipscani Bucharest

Lipscani Bucharest

Lipscani Bucuresti

The district is now very popular when it comes to night life.  Some websites claim it hosts over 60 cafes pubs and restaurants (as of early 2009), I would say this number must be closer to 100.

Well, after walking for a while I went to have an espresso at Grand Café Van Gogh on Str. Smardan. This Dutch owned café must be one of the best in town. Beautiful interior, big long windows, friendly staff, reasonably priced coffee, food and alcohol make it a great place for any time of the day.

Grand Café Van Gogh Bucharest

I will surely be back to Lipscani to check out some of its popular pubs and restaurants… Later on that night I went to Silence pub with Bogdan and his friends; two Vlads and Dan. This small and kind of hidden bar is right next to Piata Romana, besides alcohol and coffe you could also enjoy Turkish Shisha. Beer is rather cheap, 0.5L of Beck’s costs under 5 Lei (less than $2) and the atmosphere is very nice.

A little past midnight I made it to Deja-Vu cocktail bar, I guess I can call it the “usual” place for me. It’s conveniently located just a few blocks away from my building, the cocktails are great and both barmen; Sergei and Ivan make sure that preparing a cocktail looks like a show or a ritual of some sort, very entertaining… I had quite a few drinks, some were on the house and at 5:30 when I was getting ready to leave, Sergei surprised me by bringing a plate of fresh, hot and very tasty ciorbă and some bread. That night (morning) I went home pretty tipsy, well fed and happy :)

On Sunday I woke up pretty late, since I went to bed at about 7am. Ruxi called at 3pm and told me Radu and her were going for lunch or maybe a drink and asked me if I wanted to join them – of course I did. Radu suggested that we should go for some “mititei” also referred to as “mici”. I already knew what mici was since I have quite a few Romanian friends in Montreal but for those who don’t know; ” Mititei or mici (Romanian for little or small ones) is a traditional Romanian dish, grilled minced-meat rolls made from beef (usually mixed with mutton and pork), which contain garlic, black pepper, thyme, coriander, anise, savory and sometimes a touch of paprika.” (thank you, Wikipedia).

There were a lot of people so it took about 30-40 minutes until we got the food; mici, fried potatoes and pui la jar – chicken grilled with garlic and other spices. Beer, of course goes very well with mici so we had the local Ursus.

Mici La Cocosatu Bucuresti

Next time you are in Bucharest, make sure to stop by La Cocosatu restaurant for some amazing mici!

Sailors Pub and Deja-Vu cocktail bar.

Here is the next post :) It was about time.

Sunday, January 17th was a pretty calm day. When I woke up, in the afternoon, I decided to go check out Unirii Square, actually the Unirea Shopping Center. It’s one of the first (if not first) modern mall in the country, over 250 shops are spread through 4 floors… I did not like the way it’s organized, however if you are looking for clothing, gifts, cosmetics, cellphones – you cn probably find what you need at Unirea.  The metro stations right in front of the center is called Piata Unirii. I walked there from Piata Romana, where I am staying then I got a call from Bogdan who told me we were going to a pub, so I went home by metro to save some time.

I think it was after 9 when I met Bogdan at the Victory Square (Piata Victoriei metro station). We walked for a few blocks and made it to the pub called “Sailors”. Pretty cool place, it has 2 floors of sitting area and in the basement you can play darts. The beer is well priced, 6 Lei (about $2) per 0.5L (I think that’s what it was) of Beck’s… Some of Bogdan’s friends were there some came later. By the end of the night there was Bogdan, Sebi (whom I keep calling Stefi), Sebi’s girlfriend Georgiana, Theodora, Ionica (another Bogdan), Alex a.k.a Pizdinu (I will not translate his nickname -but those who know, know) and me. The party ended a bit after midnight because most people have a job to go to in the morning. Georgiana being the most sober one drove Sebi, Bogdan and me home… I love how Touareg handles winter weather :

When I got home I did not want to go to bed… so I decided to go get a drink at a bar. Since I live downtown I figured there should be many bars near me. After walking for about five minutes I spotted a place called “Deja-Vu” so I went in. The bar had a Russian theme going on (posters from communist times), the music was ok and there were 2 very good looking and almost naked girls dancing on the bar…  I got a Jack & Coke (how American of me).

deja-vu cocktail bar in Bucharest

I met both barmen for the night, Sergei and Ivan – I spoke Russian to them. They told me the place is indeed a Russian bar/club and is a known cocktail bar. The cocktails are very overpriced; 24 Lei ($8) for the Jack’n’Coke. It’s a normal price for Canada but for Bucharest it is very expensive, Sergei confirmed it, he told me they are one of the most expensive places in town. Beer, however is not as expensive, 10 Lei ($3.5) for a glass of Heineken on draft. Sergei also offered me a drink on the house. I can’t remember the name but it was made out of Vodka, melon and garlic – I liked it.

The atmosphere is nice, from what they told me the music is usually good (live DJ mixing mainstream house, much of it is Russian and Romanian house) and on Wednesdays they have live music from 11pm til 1am. I will be coming back to Deja-Vu :) You can check them out online: Deja-Vu Club

Yours truly,

Alex