Right now I am reading a book I bought when I ran out of reading material in Prague. It’s called Revolution 1989 The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen. I highly recommend it. I am fascinated by history in general but having been in Berlin in November 1989 makes the events described in this book especially poignant. And it felt like something I should start reading in Prague…
I am always reading several books at the same time so I am only about half-way through this one. Merely by accident, I just finished a chapter describing Romania under Ceauşescu. I knew the dude was evil but it’s hard to imagine someone treating other people the way that he did. Of course, psychopath dictators likely didn’t score points for sharing in kindergarten. That period of Romanian history is shocking. Hollywood loves to keep blaming the Nazis long after Germany has cleaned up its act. There are plenty of other evil guys – and their Lady MacBeths. They really need to branch out.
You, on the other hand, should just book a plane ticket to Bucharest! I feel very guilty that it has taken me this long to write about Romania but I did make notes so will try to do it justice over the next weeks. There is lots of talk of Cuba and of Myanmar. I have already booked to see the first and am hoping to get to the second before 2016 is complete. But there is little talk of Romania – or Bucharest. I think it’s a place to go now before it becomes totally sanitized and you aren’t sure exactly what city you are in. The internet is a wonderful thing but it – and the Americans’ incredible skills at marketing – are destroying the differences between cultures and making the world more homogeneous.
At least for now, Bucharest feels unique. It’s an eastern European former communist city with a Latin soul. It’s a bit like Las Vegas. Nothing seems to shut and you lose track of time. The first night was safe because I didn’t know my way around the city yet so didn’t want to be wandering the streets at 3am. The second day I did a gigantic tour on a very jet-lagged sketchy night of sleep so partying hard was out of the question. But then I caught up on my sleep, knew how to get back to the hotel in the dark and was ready to fully experience Bucharest 🙂
There is the quintessential charming European Old Town and it’s a tourist mecca. There are the bars catering to the drunken lads and ladettes celebrating stags, hen parties or just the fact that beer is really cheap in Bucharest. You will see them roaming in packs. If that’s your thing, there are definitely lots of options catering to that type of tourist. I am always hoping to meet locals and get a sense of the culture of the place.
Once again, I found the in your pocket guide very helpful. I also just roamed around looking for something interesting, which is how I discovered XIX. Alex was singing in the window and he was fantastic. You could just watch from the street but I spotted a free seat and thought I should support the bar. At the time, it was pretty new on the scene so the servers were very enthusiastic. Had a lovely conversation with two of the staff, one Romanian and one Russian. They were sure I had to try a Black Mojito. It was too sweet for me but the Black Ursus beer is excellent and costs about $3
Alex was a revelation. It was covers but his range was amazing. Music is definitely globalized. It is always disconcerting to hear people singing English lyrics in foreign countries but he is an amazing singer. From AC/DC Highway to Hell through the BeeGees, Leonard Cohen, Coldplay to Roy Orbison “In Dreams” and Radiohead “Creep”.
The “scene” is still under development – and especially as a foreign tourist – it was hard to figure out what to do once Alex had ended his set. I tried a few places recommended by in your pocket but they were either empty or full of sweaty people singing karaoke without air-conditioning so I ended up at the Control Club. It was also a bit quiet but there was music so I bought a beer and figured I would finish it and then head to the hotel.
But, unlike Paris and London, Bucharest is not yet overrun by tourists so the locals are very friendly. I was invited to join a bachelor party and ended up having one of the most memorable nights of my life. I am always hoping to meet locals and get a real sense for the place, not just tick off the tourist sites.
Life in modern day Bucharest is interesting. It is no longer a violent police state and you can sense the optimism but it is also still an emerging market country and – as someone born in the first world, you appreciate how privileged your everyday life really is. What I have found most interesting in emerging market countries is that generally people seem smarter and better informed. They have to try harder than the privileged children of the west with their over-sized sense of entitlement.
It all started as just a friendly sharing of information. The group was composed of civil engineers and architects so my kind of people 🙂 I forgot to check the time. People started going home. The bachelor left. It was just George, Marius and me. George was interested in Canada so we got another beer and somehow it was 4:30am when I got back to the hotel! The young guy on the desk was super friendly so just added to the glow of a wonderful evening where I transcended being a tourist.
Everyone was so friendly and welcoming I went back to XIX the next night and met David Dango who was the musician in the window. The friendly Russian server was on again and I met the owner before I left to head for the Control Club. Once again, expected the night to end at normal time but a friendly Romanian guy had just broken up with his girlfriend and I don’t think the Control Club ever shuts… evening ended at 5:30am this time. I needed to go back to Amsterdam to get some sleep! On second thought, we’ll go with the whole sleep when you’re dead concept…
My time in Bucharest was far too short. I only really scratched the surface. I would love to see the country prosper. At least, it is really heartwarming to see people having a chance to speak their mind and party like it’s Vegas. And they can even joke about the evil Mr. C. Check it out while it is still has the sense of opening a time capsule. Even if history is not your thing, just go for the Romanians 🙂