Tag Archives: challenge #2

A weekend in Bucharest

11 Feb

I know that it seems as if I am constantly on holiday (and most people who know me tell me this on a regular basis) but this is all in aid of Challenge 2 on my 40 Before 40 – visit 40 countries in Europe. My trip to Romania means that I have now visited 28 countries in Europe.

Here are some of the things that we got up to on our long weekend in Romania.

First Impressions

Arriving when it is starting to get dark and trying to navigate yourself around an unfamiliar city is not one of my favourite activities. Large cities always look unwelcoming, dangerous and dirty at night. But it was clear that the Old Town was liveliest place to be in the evening, even if there were enough massage parlours to make you think that you might have ended up in Amsterdam by mistake.

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But during the day, the place was transformed with blue skies and busy streets. Some of the buildings are quite run down but the city has a certain charm to it and it is cleaner than a lot of Western European cities that I have visited. The influences of Communism can still be seen in the architecture and other parts of life.

Food and drink

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you might have trouble finding dishes to eat in Romania. The main ingredient in almost every dish seems to be meat, meat and meat. You can by huge mixed grill platters, slow-cooked pork knuckle and different sausages and stews. We were keen to try the local food and beer and even tried the local shots called palinca, which definitely warmed us up on a cold February morning.

We also tried mici, which are small sausages, as well as a cold meat platter which was excellent. There were quite a few dishes that I didn’t get to try because all of the food was so filling.

Free Walking Tour

It is second nature for us to find a free walking tour as soon as we arrive in a city that we were visiting. More than 75 people turned up for the tour and we were split into two groups. The guide that we had was one of the most entertaining guides I have ever had and the 2.5 hours we spent standing with the cold wind on our faces in various parts of the city flew by with his interesting spin on things. We learnt a lot of surprising things about the city, the history and what life was like under Communist rule. I still find it mind-blowing that people living not so far away from us were being suppressed by dictators during our lifetime. It doesn’t really seem possible.

Thermal spa

A friend recommended a thermal spa to us, as he had discovered it on his trip to Bucharest a few years previously. There were an awful lot of people there but it was a great experience. There was an indoor pool, where you can enjoy a cocktail or beer in the pool, an outdoor pool with jacuzzis, aromatherapy pools, massage beds and saunas. The disadvantage of so many people being there was that people were queuing for the saunas, so we didn’t wait for them. It was great fun but not really the type of spa that I had expected – people drinking, smoking (outside) etc.

The Romania Parliament Building

The Parliament in Romania is the second largest administration building in the world, after the Pentagon. We had heard that visitors are able to take tours inside on production of a passport or ID. When we arrived a security guard stopped us at the gate and said that the tours had been fully booked out. The tours are less frequent from now until June 2019 because Romania currently holds the presidency of the EU and the building is being used more frequently for meetings for EU specific topics. It was disappointing as there are not many parliament buildings that are open for the public to view but if I ever go back to Bucharest that will be the first thing on my list to do.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was relaxing, with plenty of walking and fresh air and some nice food and drink.

I have already planned my next trip to another European country – Poland in May. It seems like a long way off but it will give me some time to do some research so that we can maximise our time there.

New Year in Belgium

6 Jan

We rang in the New Year in Brussels. Belgium is one of the European countries that I needed to visit as part of my #40Before40 challenge, and as we would normally be sat at home waiting for the New Year to arrive, it seemed like a good excuse to visit.

We had a total of three full days there, so we had plenty of time to see the sights and enjoy our time there. Overall, I thought Brussels itself was unimpressive and dirty. Admittedly, when you live in Switzerland, everywhere isn’t quite so nice in comparison. But we did get time to visit Bruges which is a beautiful city that we both enjoyed.

Here is what we got up to on our long weekend away.

Brussels

We (somehow) found ourselves in the Brussels Beer Museum at 10am sampling some of the local ales on the first day. There wasn’t a lot to see in the actual museum and I think the main attraction of the museum is the free beer that you can have after the tour. I certainly wasn’t complaining. And the surroundings were pretty cute as well.

After having a beer so early in the day, we also treated ourselves to one of Belgian’s most famous exports… no, it’s not sprouts! We went to one of the many fries restaurants in the city. I was expecting thin chips but the ones that we were served were more like chip shop chips from back home. I was impressed. It turned out that this “snack” was a staple for most of the trip and we are now certified Belgian chip experts.

We also went on a free walking tour, which are always worth the two and a half hours. We learnt a lot about the city, the history, the best places to eat waffles and the best place to drink beer. We also saw the Mannekin Pis, the small statue of the boy peeing and discovered that there are two other statues (minus the historical significance) in the city – a peeing girl and a peeing dog. Naturally we hunted down both of them to collect the set.

We sampled a lot of other beers in the local brassieres and bars, ate waffles, had some amazing moules et frites for our New Year’s Eve dinner and walked around the Christmas markets which were available until 6th January. We also went for a tour of the European parliament, which I found interesting considering events which may or may not be happening at the end of March, as well as a visit to a comic museum, which I thought was overpriced.

We did go in search of fireworks. We were told that there was a big firework display put on by the local government which was free to enter. The display was accompanied by music, DJs, food etc. The venue wasn’t in the city but a bit outside. After two police search we were inside and so were a lot of other people. The problem was that there were only two chip stands, one bar, one churros stand and a waffle van. The queue for the bar was about 200 meters long (no joke) and after a while we decided that it might be better for us to go back into town and find a bar to welcome in the New Year without fireworks because at least then we would be able to get something to drink and eat. So, that is just what we did.

Bruges

Bruges is less than one hour from Brussels if you take the direct train and I was so glad that we did because it is such a charming city. Its atmosphere is completely different to Brussel. It is noticeably cleaner and has lovely little canals and small streets and bridges to get lost in. It is also noticeably colder because it is near the coast.

Here we also took a free walking tour. I personally think the guide was the best guide that I’ve ever had on one of these tours. She was so passionate about the city, knowledgeable about the city and history and had a great sense of humour. She gave us some good hints about where to go and what to do and I was disappointed that we were only staying there for a day. I could have easily wasted hours sat in coffee shops, watching the world go by and eating fistfuls of chocolate.

img_3398We visited the Brugse Zot brewery and ate a very hearty lunch there before visiting the city hall, a beer museum and another brewery, where we tasted six of the beers on tap. After that we just had to try the chips to see if they were as good as the ones in Brussels and a waffle for dessert before heading back to Brussels and later heading home.

I’m glad we spent some time away for New Year. I would recommend it to help you ease back into the next year after an over indulgent Christmas.

It was doubly pleasing for me because now I have visited 27 countries in Europe! I now only need to visit another 13 countries to complete my challenge. With trips to Romania, Poland and Luxembourg planned for later this year (plus a few others), I should be able to complete this challenge soon.