Some notes from my recent trip to Bucharest:
- I was disappointed to see that smoking was allowed inside closed spaces, like the hotel lobby, the restaurants etc. I was almost sick and the existence of smoke just added up to my bad experience.
- Romania uses Lei (RON), so I had to exchange some currency. My previous experiences both at the Athens airport and at the Henri Coanda in Bucharest were bad (bad conversion rates), and I was advised to use my debit card at one of the ATMs available at the airport. I did so, and I decided to leave the conversion to my (Greek) bank instead of having the ATM define the conversion. I got 310 RON in 3 notes of 100, which I found rather hard to use for small buys (e.g. ice-cream, water, snacks etc.).
- Due to the fact that I had plenty of time before the project meeting, arriving early at the airport, I decided to take the bus 783 to the city center. You just have to follow the signs and get to the lower level of the airport. The automatic machine was only available for re-filling existing ticket cards, so I went to the desk next to the bus station (you cannot buy tickets from the driver, inside the bus). I got a two-way ticket for 8,60 RON (including the cost of the card).
- Last time, I got a taxi from the Bucharest airport to the city center; it appeared to be a “pirate” one. I cannot remember how much it costed but I felt glad to arrive safe and receive a receipt as well (even though the driver seemed disappointed to receive the payment in RON instead of EUR).
- The bus included a telematic system and informed the passengers about the next bus stop, both in Romanian and English; I really wish we had such thing in Greece as well.
- Life and goods in Bucharest are still rather cheap; for example, a soft drink at the mini bar of the hotel costs 4 RON (about 1 EUR), you can have a 500mL glass of beer for about 9 RON, and eat at a good restaurant (including drinks and dessert) for about 60-70 RON (less than 20 EUR).
- It is common to add at least a 10% of the total amount of the receipt as a tip for the service; if not, the service is not considered good. However, this amount is not available in the bill nor anywhere else, so it becomes a non-eligible cost for business trips (where you have to provide receipts for all expenses).
- Taxis (at least the yellow ones, with the 1.39 LEI/km sign) tend to be rather cheap; you can go around the city for less than 20 RON (about 5 euros) and calling a taxi is really quick and precise, even from coffee shops and restaurants. A trip from the old city center to the Henri Coanda airport costed about 40 LEI (10 EUR)
- The park near the Arcul de Triumf is amazing; a huge park within a large city, with ponds, canals, bridges, a lot of recreation space, statuses, cultivated ornamental plants, place to have a snack and a drink etc. People jogging, couples carrying babies with strollers, people of all ages cycling and walking, everyone relaxing away from the noise of the city. However, due to the rains of the previous days, some of the paths were full of mud and pools of water; it was a good thing that the numerous benches were dry.
- The weather was constantly changing, like in Athens; starting from warm and really humid, with (almost annoying) sun, to chilling in the afternoon, drizzling and even raining. Maybe that was reason behind my constant headache during my stay in Bucharest – one moment you start seating and the next minute you get a refreshing breeze which gets colder and colder, leading to you getting a nice cold in the end!
- The old city center is worth visit; it took about about 15 minutes from our hotel and 10 RON with taxi to get there. There is a wide variety of shops and goods available at low prices (you have to check this out though), as well as nice places to eat and have a drink, traditional buildings and other sights. Pay attention to the beggars in the streets, as they tend to be really stubborn and insist on you giving them money. The streets there as also crowded, so I paid special attention to my back pack, in order to avoid having it opened by pickpockets.