Romania certainly wasn't top of our travel list , but when me and my girfriend decided to go on our first European trip together our destination choice had to be somewhere neither of us had been.
After seeking out cheap flights online our holiday destination was sorted. Having read some positive reviews of a place called Timisoara our flights were booked, train tickets purchased ( to get from Bristol to Stansted ) and some free cancellation hostel bookings made.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I was sat out on the harbourside with a Polish mate , dangling our legs over the side of the quay near Arnolfini , catching some sun while sipping suitably chilled beer.
'So we are heading to a place called Timisoara , you know it?'
'Yeah , definitely not somewhere you'd spend an entire week , not much there to do'
With this piece of advice we checked and found flights were actually pretty cheap from Timisoara to Bucharest , so after a little rebooking we had now got our trip properly sorted , we'd see two cities, but otherwise remain pretty much unplanned , which looking back was definitely the right way of doing things.
The train journey down to London was pretty uneventful, tube was without incident. It was all good until we hit Liverpool street, then there was a little drama as one of us ( not me ) thought they'd lost their train ticket while still stuck on the wrong side of the ticket gate manned by two unsympathetic looking members of tube staff.
After a bit of cursing and heightened blood pressure and tickets found it was into the station to get our next and final train to the airport. We looked up to the departures board.
1625 Stansted - CANCELLED
1637 Stansted - CANCELLED
1717 Stansted - CANCELLED
Oh f*ck! This was supposed to be the easy bit!
Apparently the line was completely closed off due to a 'trespasser' whatever that meant , but it sounded ominous.
We did a little running around before finding where the coach stop was and left the station to join a rather large looking queue of people. Would we even get on this coach as we didn't have tickets? The queue in front was pretty big, so our chances looked slim and the thought of missing our holiday flight was gaining credibility.
There was a young couple next to us and after a brief friendly exchange of words they suggested we share an uber. It was going to cost around 20 quid each but when your desperate and we really didn't have many other options it sounded like a good idea.
Not to be outdone by Uber a nearby black cab driver must have overhead our conversation.
"You guys heading to Stansted yeah? You can only get the coach and I don't think your going to get it. I've got a 6 seater so can take you for 15 each"
Not a bad price at all*, so the 4 of us and two other people nearby got to his black cab and clambered in. Just as we were all in the vehicle a middle aged Middlesborough chap suddenly joins us.
"You don't mind if I squeeze in do you? Am only going to Mount Fitchin'
We all looked at each other quietly, there was no room for this guy , but unperturbed he squeezed himself in forcing one lady to sit on the floor rather than get squished for the journey. Later on the guys sat next to him mentioned how he reeked of booze , which was weird when he said he was off to get his car back after working all day....as what!?
Within minutes of queuing at that coach stop we were on our way, for a price way cheaper than the coach would have been and much faster.
We sat chatting with each other, the young couple we'd met were heading to Lisbon then on a driving holiday around Portugal, between us we shared travel stories, there most intriguing destination had to be Kiev, having gone only a few months back, they could only say good things.
Roughly 50 minutes later we got out and into the airport, through security relatively quickly , then with a few hours to spare we reckoned a pint and burger at the weather spoons was in order.
Two storeys of cut price alcohol and power points to charge up phones.
We managed to catch the taxi guys again inside the bar which was good as we wanted to see them off, without them I don't think we'd have caught that black cab as we would probably have held on for the coach and suffered for it with longer travel time and price tag.
After a couple beers, some food and socialising we were on our Ryanair flight destined for Romania.
It seemed like just about everyone on the flight was Romanian and the people we did exchange words with were friendly. There was an extremely stressed toddler who had a massive meltdown, this episode highlighted how nice Romanians can be as another mum a few rows away handed a doll over to help console the little one.
When the captain announced our flight was only 2.5 hours we had the happy realisation that the flight was shorter than expected and our destination time was late at night due to the two hour time difference.
The flight was fine, very little turbulence of which I am not a fan. As we landed and the wheels made impact with ground a group of passengers started applauding , something we found on all flights during our trip in Romania.
Once off the plane we found Timisoara airport was pretty small, as we entered passport control and queued a ceiling panel was dripping water into a strategically placed bucket, a guy in the queue turned to us grinning ' only airport where it rains inside'.
Passport control wasn't the friendliest , a sour looking police officer gave me a relatively stern glare then slapped my passport down dismissively, no words exchanged but then it is a pretty serious thing and they probably want to stress you a little, test you.
As girlie waited for her luggage I headed outside and immediately hit a wall of smokers. Scanning the car park I clocked a sign for 'tudo taxis' one of the companies recommended by our hostel. I headed over and spoke to one of the drivers who spoke pretty perfect English.
'Hey , we've got to get a taxi to a street just off street decembrie?'
'No I don't know it am afraid'
'Ahh k , well my girlfriend has the directions in Romanian so I can go get her'
I turned to walk away then turned back, my brain not working properly'
'How much will that be by the way?' I asked stupidly.
The guy chuckled ' well I don't know where you want to go'
'Ahh jeez yeah' I said laughing giving him a playful jab on his arm then clutching my head to emphasise my idiocy.
Once with girlie I realised I had the instructions written down in my rather poor handwriting so handed it over.
'Ahh yes I know this'
One mistake I had made was noting how much the price should be, which he spotted. 40-50 RON had been quoted by the hostel.
'I have to say price will be 45 not 40 or 50' he said smiling.
Now 45 RON is OK , in the day it is around 35 for the same distance, at night it might well be prices go up a bit but we did notice he didn't turn on the meter so I reckon he was charging us more than normal. But hey ho, this is not a Romanian thing this is a taxis thing and they are all at it in every country. Besides when you do the rough translation on the price that wasn't a huge amount extra to pay for us. As a Mancunian traveller we later met said about this sort of thing "Hey, you've gotta hustle" in sympathy to the taxi guys making a living.
The driver was nice atleast, pretty friendly and sparked up a bit of conversation with us. As we drove at fair speed with no working seatbelts ( the taxi drivers never wear theirs, ever! ) listening to some banging house tunes we passed a power line that had been hit by a vehicle during a storm only a few hours earlier. Later on we would encounter such weather again and it was biblical!
We pulled up in a residential area with some nice looking buildings and some of the more imposing 70s style flats you see in Bristol, the only thing we could hear was the crickets chirping.
One thing to note is Romania has some beautiful architecture but also some really imposing communist structures. I imagine the locals have a love/hate relationship with this part of their history. Later on in our holiday we would visit the houses of parliament which once housed the brutal dictator 'Ceaușescu'. To give you an idea of the contrasting views in the country, the houses of parliament was recently voted one of the best looking buildings and at the same time one of the worst.
The building with the same number as our hostel directions had a big gate on it and looked like a swish house, nothing like a hostel. I tried the buzzer twice too no avail, girlie went for it and tried the gate, opened it and walked into what I thought was someone's front yard.
Rather than hearing shouting and barking dogs we'd found the right place. Shoes off and a welcome place to drop off our bags welcomed by a serious looking but very friendly Argentinian staff member.
The room in the hostel was remarkable, it was definitely more like a hotel, the quality of the place exceptional for the price. It wasn't a party hostel as it was situated in a residential area, although as we later tried to sleep not too far away someone with an impressive sound system was having a techno party till the early hours.
Hitting the country so late we really fancied some food, so got directions to a 24 hour supermarket a mere 4 minutes walk away.
From an English perception the biggest differences was how quiet it was except for a load of dogs that got vexed by our presence but luckily weren't bothered about coming our way to say hi. The grass verges were overgrown and hard to walk on , something you just don't really get in England. Save for that it was an extremely peaceful place and the more we saw of Romania we encountered a lot of chilled people minding their own business, no intimidating groups of kiddies, no drunks and drunken brawls, nothing like the night commotions we'd normally encounter back home.
In the shop we found prices actually pretty much equalled the prices back home, I must admit this was highlighted by the price of Pringles , but everything seemed about the same. I bought a chunk of brie, some bread and some interesting looking paprika crisps.
As we paid I held up my phone with the google translate loaded showing the word thank you in Romanian, the cashier laughed then leant forward and pronounced the word slowly so we could try and mimic her - 'multumesc' ( mult-sue-mesk ). Romanian definitely sounds way more Italian than I expected, quite an expressive sounding language.
So there we were in east Europe for the first time, the last part of our day was spent munching on crisps, getting travel tips from the hostel guy and a fellow guest from Austin,Texas before getting a good nights sleep occasionally getting awoken by a bastard mosquito that had found it's way into our room.
The next day would be spent traipsing around Timisoara and then in the evening a flight to Bucharest which was going to be a heck of an experience and a fair contrast to the quiet little city we'd bedded down in for the night.
*apparently not as after checking online we found the coach only costs 10 pounds