Transsiberian, Day 2: Meeting Kiwis in Romania

Day 2: Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Last night was weird.

It was hot as I anticipated, despite my having opened both windows completely. You just can’t compete with two radiators. The up side was my laundry was dry.

I fell asleep around midnight, woke up every few hours due to my jet lag, yet I somehow did get a full night’s rest. I had a dream that I was drinking gallons and gallons of water from the sink, unable to quench my thirst. At one point I woke up because there was something rattling, and I realized it was the bed frame shaking because shopping carts were rolling on the floor above me. With the frequent drifting in and out of sleep, reality mixed with dream world and I honestly don’t know what was real or not.

I awoke officially at 9am, off to hit up a café recommended by Spotted by Locals. However, even with my compass, I went north at the University plaza for so many blocks before realizing I needed to go west, so then I was in a rush to make it to the walking tour. I instead stopped at a little window coffee shop, which was almost smaller than a food truck, to get a croissant and coffee for nine leu. I ask the barista how to say “thank you.”


“Ok, well, mult-sumesk!”

I head off to the Unirii square, indicated on my map by a large clock tower. The X Hostel receptionist had informed me that I “couldn’t miss it.” Well, I almost did because this map isn’t to scale and the massive clock tower on paper was in reality about ten feet tall.

The tour begins at 10:30 and we have quite a group. Since the tour is open to the public (the X Hostel only promotes it), there are a variety of tourists; some are even Romanians from outside of Bucharest. The age range is broad as well. I am on the hunt for future friends and rule out the older crowd (not the nightlife type), the younger crowd (guests from X Hostel that appear to be in high school), any couples (don’t wanna be a third wheel), and hear some English-speaking tourists from New Zealand that I decide I’ll strike up a conversation with.

At the beginning I heard our guide go around and ask people how they heard about the tour, and this group of kiwis said they heard about it from X Hostel. During a coffee break later on the tour, I sat near one of them, Mitchell, and asked him about the hostel. I wanted to find out if it was worth switching. I ended up deciding not to, because soon at the café I was surrounded by Sarah, Becca, Sam, Nicky, Karol and Mitchell, a group of kiwis who all mostly live in London (Karol lives in Berlin) as of recently, but have known each other for years. They invited me to lunch, to going out that night…to all of the things I hoped would happen from this conversation. Success!

As always, I took some notes during the tour to grace you with some interesting facts about Bucharest.

  • that shaking I felt last night in my sleep? That was a 5.6 earthquake. I half slept through an earthquake. THERE WAS AN EARTHQUAKE.
  • the enormous Palace of the Parliament building is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon. And like the Pentagon, it can be seen from space.
  • the parliament building was built during soviet rule, and therefore associated with communism. The massive statement of a structure began construction in a time when the local people were starving or couldn’t afford food. It’s so large that a majority of it isn’t occupied, and they don’t know what to do with it since no one wants to be associated with a symbol of communism. There are many rumors of what it contains, but being government property, there’s no way to tell what’s rumor and what’s reality. The general assumptions include that nine of its floors are underground, there is an atomic shelter, and there are tunnels that lead to the train station and the airport. Our guide tells us she hopes that isn’t true, as their own metro line doesn’t event run to the airport, and that’s just unfair!
  • in 1992, Michael Jackson came to perform in little old Bucharest in little old Romania. It was the first time a star of that caliber had ever come to Romania to perform. And what did he say upon taking the stage in front of 70,000 people? “Hello Budapest!”
  • the old royal court in old town has seen many kings and queens crowned there, once every five or six years, meaning many many ceremonies over the years. They changed not because of democracy, but because of the fickle people who overturned every ruler at any chance they could. The way she explained it sounded like game of thrones, with every ruler claiming they were the one true heir.
  • Manuc’s Inn was a caravan inn early in its history, and was closed for the longest time, only to re open fairly recently as a traditional Romanian restaurant. There are talks of it reopening as a hotel as well.
  • Vlad the Impaler, famously known for being the inspiration for Dracula, ruled for only six years, and impaled over 20,000 people in that time. While he isn’t looked at too fondly by history books, there stood a bust of him in the old town because, as our guide explained, he was an important part of their country’s history and hey, he kept the Ottoman Empire at bay so he couldn’t be too bad, right? He only cared about his country.
  • In the 1980s Bucharest moved entire churches and apartment buildings around the city using train tracks, without damaging them. Some of the apartments still had people inside while they were being moved!
  • One of the big banks in Bucharest was famously robbed, and to shame them, they made a movie about it starring the actual robbers as the robbers. Well, they only got famous from the ordeal. It’s called The Reconstruction and you can watch the movie in its entirety here.
  • The last communist leader in Romania was executed live on television on Christmas day, 1989. There were mixed feelings about this because as I am sure you can imagine, no one wants to associate live executions with celebrating Christmas.

Off we went to eat lunch. We went to Les Bourgeois, which had a menu of the day that provided a soup, main, and dessert for only twenty lei, or five USD. I went with the group of kiwis and their friend Megan joined us as well. We get the bill in the end and the waiter charges us for each individual item despite us ordering from the special menu, so we ask him to take another look. He says he fixes it, but then returns a bill that is still thirty lei over price. This is the first in many instances wherein we become so used to the lei pricing that we haggle prices, until we realize that amongst us, thirty lei is maybe 75 cents more per person. We pay the amount on the bill but leave no more for a tip.

I split away from the group who decide to go shopping before heading out later. By now it is around three. It’s lightly snowing out, but it’s too warm to stick, so it’s almost as though it were lightly raining. I don’t have an umbrella but it lets up after a short while. Off I go to find postcards to send home, and I also go to the post office to buy some stamps. Spotted by Locals recommends Humanitas bookstore, so I enjoy some vanilla rooibos tea while I write up my postcards. Sarah texts me to let me know the group is back at the hostel hanging out and I’m free to join whenever. It’s only about five now, so I still have plenty of time before rushing off to meet them. I wander around a little bit more before heading back to my hostel.

This morning I’d done sink laundry again with my pajamas and, no surprise, they were already perfectly dry as my room was the vengeful heat of Satan’s summer home. Throughout the past couple days I used some of my gel hand warmers and I needed to “recharge” them by boiling them in water. I went back to the kitchen to take a second look only to find there was only a sink and some dishes, but no stove. Not much of a kitchen. Well, I needed to get crafty. Between running hot 40+ degree Celsius faucet water on them in the sink, and pouring the electronic kettle’s boiling water over them, I eventually clip them to the sides of the kettle and successfully turn them to gel again. I also successfully acquire a second degree burn on my index finger. Good thing I have time because this entire process wastes over an hour.

I change into some nicer clothes for going out, throw on some makeup and head off to X Hostel. On the way I pick up some bottles of flavored cider for a dollar each. They end up being disgustingly sweet, like strawberry soda.

I arrive around seven, which is dangerously early for a night out in Europe. We play Precarious, Sarah takes selfies with the group, we get to know one another, and we meet their newest roommate, a Mexican seventeen-year-old named Kenneth. We invite him to join as we’ve overtaken a majority of the lofty 8-bed hostel room, and he indicates he doesn’t know much English. “Ah puedo traducir todo; hablo español!” I tell him.

He seems relieved at this and he’s able to integrate pretty well with me acting as his interpreter. Becca tells me I just got so much sexier by rattling off some Spanish. Ha, aww shucks. Kenneth reveals he just came here from Asia for two weeks, and has about a week left in Europe before heading back to Mexico for the rest of his semester in prep school. Today, in Romania, is his first day ever in Europe.

We order pizza for delivery, as going to find a restaurant with nine people is just going to take far too long. After being in the room a bit, we head to the hostel lobby, which is empty, and we make our own party, taking over the ping pong table and the large Jenga set. The hostel receptionist who ordered us our pizza hangs out a bit and the kiwis relate as she reveals she’s from New Zealand as well. The pizza arrives and we somehow got three free ones due to a special deal. A couple pizzas are normal and one has corn and slices of hot dog on it. They all taste great, but nothing can hold a flame to Papa Johns.

Sarah befriends a dude from Savannah, Georgia, and he comes with us to the bar. We walk about thirty mins to Club Guesthouse. Despite the local drinking age of eighteen, Kenneth isn’t asked for an ID and enters just fine. We pay the pricey cover charge of fifty lei ($12.50…pricey for here) and coat check is one lei per coat. Because I am layering coats, they charge me two, and it’s round two of being spoiled by low prices. I reluctantly pay the extra 25 cents, chiding myself for not tucking my puffer coat into a pocket.

Its 11:30 and we’re among the first to arrive (my coat check number was thirteen). The club is like the one in Riga, playing house music to an enthusiastically disinterested crowd, swaying to the glitchy beats. There’s already a few people in front of the empty room, facing the stage and in their locked swaying positions.

We wander into a lounge room next door, decorated like a modern café with dark reclaimed wood tables, a massive plant wall opposite a bar, and an exposed concrete wall with a neon Grolsch sign. We settle in the corner booth table and play some games and chat about how American clubs are all about bottle service and flashing your level of importance, while clubs everywhere else are just places to be yourself and dance.

Most of the group splits off to dance. By now it’s more crowded. I’m sitting at the table with Sam, Kenneth and the guy from Georgia, and two Romanians hear our English and slide over to chat.

Soon enough, I’m explaining to the male Romanian how he’s preaching to the choir with all the Trump negativity. I agree, my new Romanian friend. The girl has bright pink hair and brown roots, much like I did at the beginning of 2016. Her name is Anca, she is also 28, she studied acting and communications and is now studying to become a psychologist and she speaks near perfect English. She explains how Romania doesn’t dub their TV or movies, which is great because she learned English from watching Cartoon Network as a kid. She also knows Spanish and chats with Kenneth.

She asks me how I heard about Romania. She’s baffled as to why an American would find interest in coming here. I told her I like Europe, I like travel, and I like cheap. I also like cities that are developing, and she agrees that in ten years, Bucharest will be very different than it is today. She also tells me how this club is more expensive (it’s usually thirty leu) tonight than usual, due to the holiday break. Even drink prices are higher!

Soon we’re just a couple of candy-haired girls talking about astrology, how I apparently look like Lauren Graham, and who was the best match for Rory on the Gilmore Girls (Jess, always Jess).

Becca returns to the table and convinces me to join her on the dance floor. We first go to the bathroom, where someone is clearly smoking in a stall. Eau de Europe is cigarettes.

The dancefloor is packed with the crowd of zombies, and I do my best impression, feeling like Rod Taylor in The Time Machine in those scenes where the Eloi follow the Morlock sirens.

It’s now 2am but time passes surprisingly fast when you’re listening to one continuous eight hour song with no lyrics. Becca chats with some dude who says it’s his birthday, and he hugs her. He’s dancing as hard as one possibly can to those type of music. For a genre of music that was invented in Chicago, I guess I’m a horrible Chicagoan for not enjoying it.

The crowd continues to sway and bounce to the beats, and no one is dancing with each other as they worship the DJ before them. Anca is pretty into the moment until she spots me, then rushes over to ask me if I think that Gilmore Girls is officially OVER over. Yes, you read that right, the only thing that can break an intense clubber from a trance is shout-conversing on a dance floor about some Gilmore Girls.

Some stranger near me on the dance floor puts his hand on my waist, then brushes it off when I clearly deny him. He tries again a little later, then eventually asks me in a thick Romanian accent “I don’t want to be rude but can I dance with you?” Doesn’t he know that he’s in an antisocial dance club? This simply is not allowed!

Around 3am I decide to call it a night and ask Anca and her friend about the cab situation. Her friend kindly offers to order me one on his phone, and he, Becca and Anca come with me to get my coat. These people are so nice!

The friend walks me out and is sure I get in the cab alright. There is a group of teenagers lingering on the sidewalk outside the club, asking us for our used wristbands to sneak into the club. Ha.

I hop in the cab and realize every seatbelt has been removed. Not stuck...removed. So safe. Only knowing the street name for my hostel, the cab takes a shortcut with which I am unfamiliar and I can’t identify if we are arriving or not. I tell him to turn around so I can direct him from the main square. Turns out that we turned around one block west of where my hostel was. However, even though the cab meter was running throughout the entire ordeal, the cab still only cost $2.50.

My laundry from earlier is bone dry as the room is only slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. I tidy my things for tomorrow morning’s departure and hear a hostel employee giving someone a tour of the hall, and then just as I cross my fingers “not this room not those room” I hear “and here’s your room!”

In walks Mark from Manchester, who actually ends up being a super nice guy. It’s now nearly four in the morning and he explains he got on a redeye flight from Birmingham and just landed over an hour ago. We chat, or he lets me talk his ear off. I think this dude probably wants to sleep but he keeps asking questions so I must not be as annoying as I feel. I finally cut the conversation around five, as I need sleep before my ten AM wakeup.

We exchange contact info in case he’d like to join the kiwis and me in a tour of the parliament. “as long as it’s not early.” Trust me, if those kiwis are still out, it will most definitely not be early.