I’m taking a travel writing class at the moment, it was my birthday present from my parents because I couldn’t afford it myself. We’ve learned about structure and picking out a few key moments from your trip to weave into the narrative rather than a blow-by-blow account of everything you did over the course of the trip which is how I would usually write. I tried to mirror my own feelings of the trip not going quite to plan yet still being fun with how the city isn’t quite what you’d expect from it but still a delight to visit anyway. I’m not sure how strongly that comes across so as before, any criticism is welcome!
The street sign emblazoned with Xenofon Street crept into view and my excitement piqued. This was it; this was what we’d spent our morning trying to seek out. We stumbled further up the hill, our Instagram feeds were going to thank us for making this pilgrimage – it would all be worth it. We reached the foot of the steps and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. The glorious piece of literal street art we’d been looking for was nothing like we had expected. Instead of a waterfall of colourful paints we were met with a set of steps crumbling to dust like the ancient ruins of Dracula’s castle. “Is this it?” asked Erica tentatively as I tried to hide my disappointment, “It’s not quite how it looked on Pinterest is it?” No, it most certainly was not. In fact it couldn’t have been a more perfect metaphor for the entire trip. Great expectations but in reality not quite what you hoped for.
This was my first ever girls holiday. First ever group holiday really having only travelled with ex boyfriends, family or, preferably, solo before and I was starting out big. Seven of us were sharing an apartment in Bucharest for the weekend (albeit not the original apartment we had booked, that one had cancelled on us without explanation a mere 48 hours before our arrival sending us into a panicked frenzy to find a replacement) having scored cheap flights with Ryanair several months earlier. Romania had never really been on my radar before then and I had no idea that the three-hour flight time plus the two-hour time difference would eat into our weekend quite so dramatically.
Lack of time meant that we spent the majority of it in Bucharest’s Old Town (also known as Lipscani), probably one of the youngest old towns in the world having been redeveloped into the hub of activity it is today just a few years ago. Cobbled lanes are bustling with both tourists and locals alike having spilled out of pubs onto terraces and outdoor seating areas despite the February chill.
Bucharest is not a postcard pretty city, while at ground level it may be packed with pubs, restaurants and shops, looking up (or down at the pothole filled streets) gives a whole new perspective as most of the buildings are derelict in nature above the first floor. This is just hidden behind false facades and massive billboards and the further from the centre you go the less they try to hide this dilapidation.
This urban decay however adds to the charm and allows the cities gems shine even brighter. Drinking a glass of wine at the bar in Caru’ cu Bere with its cathedral-like stained glass windows, dark wood spiral staircases and mosaic flooring after a full day exploring was a highlight for me. As was happening upon Carturesti carusel, a spacious bookshop – that also happens to sell wine – spanning several floors which is every bibliophile’s dream (is there anything more indulgent than sitting down with a good book and a glass of cool, crisp white?) and provided a quiet escape from the busy streets.
In the courtyard of the Stavropleos Monastery a nun lights a candle as part of a religious ritual, while inside the church a peaceful calm washes over me after a stressful afternoon of worrying that no one was having a good time after the faux pas of the morning’s Xenofon steps debacle. Every inch of the inner walls showcases golden gilt work, beautiful carvings and striking paintings many of which have had to be delicately restored over the years. Built in 1724 the monastery has suffered through various earthquakes as well as some intentional demolition leaving this church all that stands of the original building.
We didn’t indulge in the hedonistic nightlife the city is famous for – two consecutive early morning flights will do that to you. Instead, we rounded out the weekend with a three-course meal of authentic Romanian food at Hanul lui Manuc, the oldest restaurant in the city, in an attempt to spend the silly amount of Leu we still had left over. The atmosphere was welcoming and homely, and the service was friendly. As we ordered platters of cheese, croquettes, meatballs and vegetables to share before plates of Bavarian veal goulash, chicken breast schnitzel and my own choice of traditional pork-stuffed cabbage leaves served with polenta, hot chilli peppers and crispy bacon were delivered to the table. Despite being stuffed to bursting we soldiered on and ordered an array of desserts to finish. Everything is ridiculously cheap in Bucharest and somehow even after splashing out on a more expensive bottle of wine our meal still came in well under £20 per head.
Bucharest may not be a conventional tourist location and the city might be a little rough around the edges but it has a heart of gold that’s well worth looking for.