Romania!

IMG_0230It hadn’t really sunk in. When we were told that we’d qualified to the international rounds in Romania, I somehow didn’t think much of it. I’d been to plenty of exotic, faraway lands before and even though, or perhaps because, I didn’t know anyone who’d been to Romania, I wasn’t particularly excited about it.

We reached Bucharest from Delhi via Amsterdam. On our first day itself we couldn’t resist stepping out of our hotel room (though we should have been preparing our pleadings instead). Wherever we went, the people were extremely helpful, even though we quickly discovered that language was going to be a huge problem. Finally, after talking to quite a few restaurateurs via gestures, and some skillful (lol) French on my part, we reached a pizzeria. The food was cheap and finger licking delicious.

On our third day, we went out with some of the rest of the Indians, some Romanians, the Canadians and the Russians (I’m not sure if I’m missing out anyone, I don’t remember much from that night. Or any other night for that matter). Bucharest’s beating heart is clearly its Old City. At night, it transforms into a thriving hub of bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants and other places that serve a more…ahem, discerning clientele. That night, we went to the Old City Bar and got a slightly secluded place for our party of about 20 in the basement. While I stuck to (LOTS of) good old beer, some of the others had flaming shots while the rest of the Indians challenged the Russians to a vodka drinking competition (something they sorely regretted the next morning, I heard). I also managed to make a Romanian friend who was there at the pub, despite my slightly inebriated state, though I forget his name. He told me about how in Bucharest, law is the real deal because lawyers are really thick with politicians, and how he was thinking of transferring from engineering school to law school. Also, it’s really cute when slightly intoxicated white guys try to dance with/like Indians. Although I’m guessing he also thought I looked somewhat like an epileptic monkey thanks to my two left feet. My excuse? EVERYONE was dancing.

The next night, we decided that we were right down to party, so we hit a club called The Address (after briefly staying in a place called The Vintage pub, which was a little too crowded). Someone told the DJ there were lots of Indians in the house, so he played Mundeya Tu Bachke Rahi (am I spelling that right?). Once again, lots of drinking and dancing. Bucharest was really growing on us.

On Sunday, after all the rounds were over (and we managed to do fairly well, so we were in a celebratory mood), we finally got a chance to look around the city while it was bathed in sunlight. In the daytime, the Old City served as a delightful marketplace and hub of cafes and people lounging around lazily (what is it with these small European cities, do people never go to work?!). We walked down the winding roads, looking around in wonder at the beautiful architecture. Even their national bank, the National Military Circle and the art and history museum had gorgeous facades. We picked up some souvenirs and some delicious ice cream along the way and then finally settled down to a tall, leisurely glass of beer at a pub called Beer O’Clock, in a quaint corner of Old City. The menu itself was a delight to beer enthusiasts (like me), even though it was completely in Romanian. Never before had I seen such a variety of beer under one roof.

After our beer we walked down to the Bucharest flea market, which is only put up on Sundays. It was mostly places to eat with the meat being grilled and cooked up right before our eyes, along with more exotic shops selling special kinds of Romanian cheese and chocolate. The ambience was merry as most people sat around eating, drinking and talking loudly. There were also some beautiful shops selling jewellery and we got there in the nick of time as most of these people were just about wrapping up their wares and returning home. On the way there, we saw Bucharest’s war memorial, a tribute to all those who died for the country. It was a long obelisk sort of thing with a black ball of sculpted men at the top, and a long line of blood trickling down the obelisk from the men. This country really has a thing for gruesomeness.

At night, we walked to a rather isolated bar where we did a couple of shots of absinthe. After this, we went to one of the numerous tiny little strip clubs strewn around Old City. The girls were quite…ahem, talented. After a while they came down and started talking to us. One of them was only 19 and was in the job to pay her way through veterinarian school. When we said we’re from India, her eyes lit up and she told us she loved Bollywood. She could name everyone from Shah Rukh Khan to Deepika Padukone (this after one of our cab drivers started singing Yaadon ki Baaraat when we told him where we were from).

After that, we went back to the Old City Bar, which had magically transformed into a club for Sunday night. After a couple (or more) of vodka cranberries and an amnesia shot (this crazy blue thing you’re supposed to gulp down with a straw and then smoke in its fumes which almost makes steam come out of your ears), I was pretty comfortable with dancing. We returned to the hotel and continued the revelry with more beer in the hotel bar. Finally, we slept at around 5 in the morning.

We woke up after two hours and somehow managed to catch the next train to Brasov, another city about two hours by train. We went straight to the city center. It was like a scene out of a movie. One side was all cafes with chairs and tables kept out in the sun. There was a huge fountain and plenty of benches in the middle of the square, right between the town hall and the Black Church, as well as tiny little alleyways leading to more delights. In the background you could see the hills (with a Hollywood style Brasov sign) and the spire atop the Black Church. We spent most of the afternoon roaming around the alleyways, looking at the Church and generally basking in the loveliness of the city. Brasov was prettier than Bucharest by far. In the evening, we took a free walking tour of Brasov led by our delightful guide, Carmen, who told us all about the historic stories that make up Brasov. My particular favorite was when Carmen showed us the town hall room where they used to hang people (criminals and the like). It is now a tourist office.

We also saw the house of Vlad the Impaler’s mistress. Vlad the Impaler inspired Bram Stoker to create the character of Dracula; he used to impale everyone he didn’t like on a spike. Remember what I said about gruesomeness?

P.S. The so-called ‘Dracula castle’ in Transylvania isn’t actually real. Carmen told us how some American tourist wanted to see ‘Dracula’s castle’, so someone pointed at a random castle and said this is it. It’s actually known as Bran Castle.

Back in Bucharest for the night, I quickly packed all my stuff for my early morning flight. I was desperate not to leave and get back to reality, but I knew duty (and an impending Day Zero) called. Romania may have been like any other European country I’d visited in the past, but it was definitely worth it. Go for the people, the culture and the beauty that awaits you at every corner.

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