Romania 2009: Bucharest and home

On Friday, I went out again in the evening, down Calea Victoriei to see the tourist side of Bucharest (which is much better than the Gara de Nord area). I came across a little church stuck between the modern concrete stuff with some great frescoes in the porch and then I went down to the big park in front of the Palace of Parliament before walking back through the gardens where there was a folklore festival going on, and also old men with pipes playing chess which I didn’t realise happened in real life.

Yesterday I was planning to be a bit lazy and maybe wander a bit. I’d planned to go and find the angel statue, the Piata Charles de Gaulle and the Arcul de Triumf. I found the angel, which turned out to be Icarus and then I went on to the Piata Charles de Gaulle. I could see the Arcul from there but I thought I’d go straight on up and see what was up there before coming back. As I wandered down the road towards the next Piata I thought it looked very familiar. How on earth do you do a full circle of a piata yet think it’s only a half circle? Very stupid.

So back I went, and then straight onto the Arcul de Triumf. I decided I would go through the park, mostly because it was shady. I seemed to walk for miles. I came across the lake, which seemed like something from another world and across it I could see a pointy building. So I followed the lake round and then made my way out past an indoor market and a car park and another bit of park and found myself in Piata Presei Libere. I followed another road but it seemed like twenty yards up the road, the world stopped being interested. It was completely deserted and there was nothing except an abandoned and half-crumbled multistory car park. I did my journey in reverse, stopping at every single shady bench on the way back, which meant it took hours. I didn’t repeat the confusion between Piata Charles de Gaulle and Icarus and I did come across an antiterrorist squad van, which made me look around at what it was parked outside to realise that I was walking straight past the US Embassy. I get nervous around the Romanian police, and there were a few of them there.

I was awake very early this morning because I was a bit worried about getting to the airport. I’d figured out where to get the ticket but the bit with the bus was still a bit of a mystery and I didn’t know if I’d be able to get whoever was lurking in the kiosk to understand me. Should I be looking up the phrases in the back of the guidebook and writing them on a piece of paper? How long would it take? I’d decided to go early because I would prefer to hang around at the airport for hours than be stuck and panicking at the Gara de Nord.

Getting the ticket was no problem and I soon discovered that my bus did indeed stop right there. But when no one got on, I decided it wasn’t the right place and didn’t either. But as soon as it was gone, I wished I was on it. There might not be another bus for an hour and that was cutting it a bit fine for comfort. I asked a Romanian couple by the method of pointing at the bus number printed on the ticket and pointing to the floor and they nodded. I stepped back across the taxis into the shade and immediately another bus came along. I hurried back across the taxis and the Romanian couple were looking round for me and pointing to the bus, so regardless of the fact that no one else got on it, I did and validated my ticket this time.

The bus went off down the south side of the terminal and then stopped on Str. Afluentiulul. This concerned me a little bit but the driver eventually noticed me and with a mixture of English and smiling, he told me that the bus did go to the airport but it was stopping there for ten minutes. That was fine. The bus was going where I wanted it to and I was on it and I would rather sit on a bus on the side of the road for ten minutes than get off and end up lost and confused and worried again.

The bus went off – back to the station. I’d seen the stops it now stopped at but because they were on the other side of the road I’d assumed that couldn’t possibly be the right place, not realising that the bus comes back down there and then cuts across in front of the station and therefore it is going in the right direction after all.

I slightly got off at the wrong stop at the airport. When I arrived, I got on the bus, it went to another airport stop and then it went into Bucharest, so I assumed it would do the same journey in reverse, but it didn’t. I recognised where I got on the other day so I got off and as soon as the bus had gone it dawned on me that the door said “International Arrivals – Internal Departures”. I went to the Billa for drink and bread and chocolate and then luckily found that the two parts of the airport are connected. The international departures place was packed and my checkin wasn’t open so I went back and sat in the quiet bit that joins the two parts. I checked in, along with what seemed like an entire Scottish rugby team and enough cases for the entire population of Scotland and since there were no postcards of the city, I went straight through security, with no problems this time although they made me take my watch off before I went through the metal detector. I sat at the gate with the rugby players. They weren’t what I’d imagined at all. At least six of them sat with their DSs out, playing MarioKarts together and getting knocked off tracks or hit by rockets. They ate little Kinder chocolate bars and watched films on their laptops and phoned teammates stuck on the other side of security about how many bags they were allowed to check in.

The flight was uneventful. I enjoyed takeoff, I ate a bread roll and had a cup of apple juice, we were early so circled north London and then I enjoyed the landing. We sat outside the terminal for twenty minutes because another plane was still parked in our space and then we walked up the longest jetty in the world to get into the terminal.

The end, you might say. But I still had to get to Waterloo and because I was hungry and knew there was a Subway right at the door I stopped at Hammersmith. Then because I didn’t want to faff around changing trains, I got a bus straight to Waterloo. Unfortunately, the bus is slow and I finally arrived at Waterloo three hours after landing at Heathrow. I got on my bus and ate my picnic, glowering at the businessman with too many phones who sat next to me (having been awake for fourteen hours by now and still with a two hour train journey ahead, I quite liked the idea of having a double seat to myself to spread out).

Anyway, I managed Bucharest to Bournemouth with no problems. Bournemouth to Blandford was a bit harder. The main entrance to a station is the logical place to be met, in my opinion. It seems other people have other ideas…

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