Transsiberian, Day 1: Arrival in Bucharest

Day 1: Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Technically, Romania and Moldova are not part of the Transsiberian trip, but as I am going all in one vacation, we'll go ahead and categorize this under "Transsiberian."

Get ready to get personal.

As recently as college, I had horrendous experiences during my periods. The cramps were so bad that I would get lightheaded and nearly faint after seeing black spots float in front of my eyes. My roommate had to walk me home from class so I wouldn’t collapse.

This hasn’t happened in so long that I can’t remember the last time it occurred. It’s been years.

But there I was, sitting in a silver bird thousands of feet in the air, minutes from landing in Zürich, and the oh-so-familiar pains started their vengeful wrath on my uterus.

First it was just cramps. Then began the sweating and hot flashes. Then the lightheadedness. Then the quivering. I held my hands up and saw them shaking. I didn’t want to look in the mirror, knowing that a familiar pasty white ghost would be looking back at me.

I drank water and had just eaten the breakfast provided on the plane, so there was nothing further I could do to my blood sugar levels. All I could do was ride it out, which is so fun to do in an unfamiliar, cramped environment.

When the plane landed, the pains had thankfully subsided, but only just in time. As we were riding on the tarmac to the gate, I was fully prepared for two scenarios, one in which I had to bolt off the plane, crawling in search of a medic or a restroom, or one in which I would just be passed out until the flight attendant gave me smelling salts to awaken me from my mini coma.

But as the plane landed, my abdomen was like “nah, you’re good” and decided to be completely fine. Only when I was in a metal tube with zero room to lay down or run to a restroom did my body think it was okay to have such symptoms. Now that freedom loomed, all was good again. I had a short stopover in Zurich before boarding my connection to Bucharest. A short nap later, the plane rumbled its landing wheels against the ground in Bucharest, Romania.

I’ve had luck so far in finding English speakers, which is great given that I had to interact with no less than four people to get on a bus to my hostel. First to ask for an ATM, then to get change for the enormous bills dispensed by the ATM, then a grocery store clerk to actually get that change after being denied from someone else, then the bus ticket person, and finally the bus driver. But I got a chocolate bar and instant coffee packets out of the ordeal! Granted, I purchased them myself, but it was worth it. I was in ROMANIA.

I took the bus to my hostel, which was interesting as I tried to figure out what the numbers on the LED screen meant when a bus stop was announced. Was this number of meters to the city center? Why was it growing? Why was it millions or billions or trillions and growing at each stop? 454,262,555,180? I soon figured out that this meant the bus lines that transferred at that stop. Oh the difference a space between those commas would make.

I got to my hostel around 4:45pm, just as the sun was setting. I checked in with Machmud (sp?), who was new and apologized for not knowing much. It appears I have an entire room to myself! I could switch among the six beds at my leisure if I so please. My favorite part of him giving me a tour of the hostel was through his broken English, he told me there was a kitchen in case I needed to “oil something.” Cool!

I went back to the hostel bar and met Gina, another hostel employee, and she gave me some tips along with my map. Off I went to explore a bit. The sun had already set, and although the weather was only slightly warmer than in Chicago (40* F maybe?) I found myself not bundled due to those fun little hot flashes I experienced earlier.

I walked around the boulevard and made a couple observations: one, that Bucharest has some gorgeous buildings and architecture amongst some blah ones, and two, there are a lot of sex shops. Maybe there aren’t so many overall and instead they are concentrated in one area, but I passed no less than three on my fifteen minute walk. In case there were any doubts, one is blatantly called “SEX SHOP.”

The main boulevard of Gheorghe Magheru leading up to the Universtate train stop is gorgeous, covered in blinking and twinkling holiday lights to ring in the upcoming new year. Walking along this I heard live music and decided to follow my ears, stumbling upon a large festival in the plaza. There was a large stage playing live music (or, seemingly, just warming up every once in a while) surrounded by a dozen food trucks serving everything from crêpes to cookies to mulled wine. I got some fish and chips, a cup of mulled wine, and a bag full of cookies for 25 lei…aka six USD. SO CHEAP!

I returned to my hostel to hang at the bar, where Gina and a group of her friends were hanging out. The hostel bar has an alternative vibe, playing some Bush and Pearl Jam on the speakers, along with the occasional Ramones song, while hip Romanians play foosball or pinball, drinking the 7 lei ($1.75) ciders or 5 lei ($1.25) draft beer.

I get that urge again, like I did in Tallinn, that I want to switch to a more social hostel. Around 9:30 I walk to the X Hostel to check their availability for tomorrow night. I talk to the receptionist to gather info on the vibe. The hostel bar is currently dead, so I ask if there was a crowd that headed out earlier, to which she says no, that everyone has been heading out on their own. They don’t do their usual pub crawls at this time of year due to the holidays. The receptionist mentions the daily free walking tours at 10:30am or 3pm. I decide I’ll go to the morning one, hopefully meet some people, and have a group to go to bars with tomorrow night! Woo!

She says the hostel is booked fully tonight but there are some openings tomorrow, which gives me hope. Where there are people, there is a party.

I wander off to old town just to get a general vibe of the area before possibly hitting it up tomorrow. I go through the underground metro stop of Unirii square which is filled with people and feels totally safe, but appears very dirty and rundown like the subway in The Wiz and I’m half expecting a slew of flying monkeys to come around and sing me some Motown.

I emerge in the Old Town and I walk past a variety of establishments to see what they have. Karaoke bar open from midnight to 6am only? Check. Massage parlors with neon sign silhouettes of naked women indicating something that probably is not a massage parlor? Check. Irish pub, Irish pub, Irish pub? Check. American college-themed bar with what appears to be a full library inside, with the slogan “keep learning”? Check. This nightlife should be interesting.

I return to my hostel, take a nice hot shower, do some sink laundry, occupy the whole room with my stuff spread across the coffee table and three beds (just because I can), and hang my laundry over the bafflingly hot radiators. Where there are no people, there’s room to hang wet laundry!

Off to sleep for one full day of Bucharest tomorrow.