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Day 4: Tourism in Bucharest

The next morning, we looked out of the window and saw a beautiful blue sky. It would be a hot day with good weather, so we thought. Our optimism made room for doubt and frustration when we checked the weather forecast. In the afternoon, there would be temporary showers and thunderstorms. The original plan was to fly to Bucharest Baneasa airport, and enjoy the sight of the beautiful mountains in which the Bran castle was located. Due to the fact that we would be flying an hour over mountains, with little or no room to divert to other airports, the decision was made it would be too risky to fly that day. Instead, we rented the car a few more days, and would drive to Bucharest by car in the afternoon. During breakfast that day, we got a call from Tokol Airport. This was an airport we were going to fly to while returning to Belgium. They just called to check if we would still be coming. It was a very nice gesture, since we were a little unsure if they understood our intentions when we made our first call a few weeks earlier. The guy at the telephone spoke very bad English. With mixed emotions, we finished our breakfast and prepared for some touristic activities: we were going to visit the castle. At last!

The castle itself was quite spectacular. It was beautifully renovated, and made a typical Romanian impression. It was located in Bran, one of the most touristic little villages in Romania. There were a lot of tourists and a lot of locals trying to sell their wide variety of products. I picked up some 5 Euro sunglasses to regain my cool pilot look. It was a very hot day. Luckily, the entrance to the castle was a little bit shaded. The tour of the castle itself was nice, with all the typical elements you’d expect from a castle. It was funny to see though how they are basically absolutely certain that count Vladimir (who was in fact ‘Dracula’) never lived in that castle. Nonetheless, they wrote everywhere that there was of course a remote possibility that he did live there, but nobody can be sure. Their PR-skills are top notch!

Around noon, we enjoyed a local lemonade, bought a road map and started driving towards Bucharest. Fortunately, the air-conditioning in our car did work. We didn’t care about the power steering, extremely difficult coupling pedal or lack of GPS: the airco was working, and that’s what mattered!

Bucharest invasion
On the road map, we could clearly see that there was only possible road to drive from Bran to Bucharest. A road covered with a huge traffic jam. Instead of the average 40 km/hour, our top speed was now 5 km/hour. We were happy to see a hitchhiker next to the road, as we thought this would provide us with a free guide to give some explanations off the scenery. Unfortunately, she didn’t speak English. Two hours of silence was what happened next. Only the occasional bump in the road provided us with some 10 second conversation. When she started waving her arms fanatically, it was time to let her out of the car.
The traffic jam was now behind us, and our average speed was increasing to 60 km/hour. Fast! After another hour, the road started to look like a highway. There were 3 or 4 lanes in each direction, with people selling blue and orange berries everywhere. That was one thing you wouldn’t expect next to such a giant road. Another thing you wouldn’t expect are cyclists crossing the giant road and maneuvering between the cars who were driving a normal highway speed. And the last thing you’d expect was an old man with a cane crossing the road by foot, thus forcing all the cars in some avoid-maneuver. And when that man just keeps crossing, even when there is a fire truck approaching, things really become surreal.

Meanwhile, the afternoon had arrived, and we were looking out for the showers and thunderstorms that were predicted and spoiled what was supposed to be our most beautiful flight of the trip. The sky was completely blue. We drove by Bucharest Baneasa airport –where we would have landed- and headed into the city of Bucharest. There were still a few hours to kill before meeting up with our friends aka “local guides”. The sky was still as blue as a blue sky could possibly be. Romanian weather forecasts are rubbish. We cancelled our flight for nothing. The small depressing moment passed quickly, once we realized we did fly to Romania and we were in bloody Bucharest!

Parking your car in a city like Brussels or Ghent is difficult. Parking your car in a city like Bucharest is borderline impossible. We found a parking spot and were immediately welcomed by the local parking guy who looked like someone who’s face would be the last one you ever saw when entering a dark alley by night. Werner’s negotiating skills made it possible for us to pay the “we’ll protect your car”-fee once we returned and if the car was still there unharmed. After running around for about an hour, and looking for the National Museum, where we were supposed to meet our friends, our “is our car secure”-doubts got the better of us and we returned to collect the car and started the Hunt for a Parking Spot part II. This time, it would be the safest of all parking spots, the best of the best: we parked in front of an embassy and asked the local military guard to look out for our car. He agreed to do so. Our own personal soldier. Jay!
One search of half an hour later we managed to find the museum building which, in the end, was not that difficult to spot: it was the biggest building we had seen so far. One Dracula exposition later, it was time to meet the guides. They showed us around Bucharest, introduced us to some local cuisine in an excellent restaurant. In an attempt to fight the depressing heat, the restaurant was equipped with small sprinklers, providing some cool water for the overheated guests.

The night was spent with a very friendly guide who had a double function as hostess. The air-conditioning was turned on and we enjoyed a good night sleep.

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