Walk #7, with: Gabe and Rob (born 1972)
Where: Bucharest, Romania
When: 10 April 2016
I first met Gabe and Rob around the time they migrated to London from Seattle in 2006. Gabe and I have become closer in the past couple of years, sharing as we do an interest in personal development amongst other things. Rob works extremely hard, travels a lot and can be elusive, so imagine my delight when they both came all the way to Bucharest to meet me - for the weekend! Bucharest may not be the most obvious choice for a city break, but I was confident Rob in particular - who like me is interested in everything! - would find it intriguing. I think they both found it worthy of 48 hours of their hectic lives, not to mention incredibly cheap!
Having enjoyed a slow morning lazing about in our pants in our AirBnB apartment we finally made it outside around lunchtime, stopping to absorb in silence the admission on the Holocaust Memorial opposite that - after Nazi Germany - Romania killed the most Jews during WWII.
Aiming for Ceaușescu's exorbitant Palace we stumbled upon a popular traditional restaurant with a leafy courtyard and stopped for a lunch of hearty stuffed cabbage leaves and refreshing local beer before setting off again in an unwelcome post-prandial rush along some of Bucharest's vast boulevards in order to make the last Palace tour of the day at 2pm.
After queuing in one place to pay for the tour, in another place to collect our access passes, and still another for permission to take photographs (well they've got to recoup some of the billions spent on the Palace, the second largest administration building in the world after the Pentagon!) we passed through security and finally the tour was underway. I was surprised how candid our guide was. We all agreed we could have coped with slighly less detail about the chandeliers, but it was interesting when - from the rooftop - she pointed out a new cathedral under construction, the cost of which many Romanians feel should be going into hospitals instead.
After the slightly-too-long tour, we paused briefly to note the Fishing Expo taking place in the carpark and for longer to take some silly but rather nice selfies on a climbing frame next to some rainbow graffiti, before making our way back towards the fairly charmless Old Town in search of a pick-me-up. Gabe pointed out a communist-era apartment block with a huge Mercedes-Benz hoarding covering the windows of the top three floors and pondered 'do you get money off your council tax for that, I wonder?'
In fact we struggled to find coffee as good as the flat whites made with love at Origo near our apartment on Strada Lipscani, with its tiny low-hanging lampshades made of Hario V60 coffee drippers. That evening saw us head out again to the Old Town to Lacrimi si Sfinti (Tears and Saints) for dishes such as Rob's delicious 'mutton pastrami', though we passed on the 'hipster risotto' (described in the menu as 'eclectically chosen veggies casually mixed with rice').
Thank you, lovely boyz, for coming all that way. It meant a lot to me.