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On Our Way To and Our First Day in Bucharest, Romania

One of the last places I’d ever think I’d visit would be Bucharest. All I knew was that it’s a former Soviet bloc country, it had a brutal dictator after the fall of the USSR and Dracula’s castle is somewhere in the country.

Najwa during a layover at the airport in Paris, France

Our trip to Romania had a layover in Paris. Not long enough of a layover to explore the city, but long enough to know it’s quite expensive there. In the airport at least. I ordered a Coke, just a Coke, and figured it would be a little more expensive than a regular Coke, but at $6.90!?

Since it was a late flight, leaving at 10:00 pm EST, Najwa slept most of the way there. The layover was just enough to simulate running around all day just before her afternoon nap. The flight to Bucharest was two and a half hours and I can’t explain how ecstatic we were that Najwa slept the entire trip to Bucharest! Anyone who has traveled with a 20-month-old will understand.

When we landed in Bucharest, we got off the plane old-school. Stairs leading to the tarmac where a shuttle waited to take us to the terminal. The terminal, though, was pretty modern. Nduku’s work, the reason we’re here, sent a driver to pick us up to take us to the hotel. He was nice. The guy stamping our passport was nice. The hotel staff when we got here was nice. Unlike our short time in Paris, the people in Bucharest are actually very nice people.

The hotel, called the Green Forum, is decent. Spacious, plenty of room for Najwa to run around in circles. One thing About Romania, though, is everyone smokes, and they smoke wherever the nicotine fit hits. The lobby of the hotel reeks of cigarette smoke.

Our hotel, Green Forum, in Bucharest, Romania

In the bathroom is a scale. I stepped on it and the needle stopped at 78. I forgot only in America do we use a different scale than everywhere else. I asked the lady in the lobby for the time; she said it was twenty twelve. I thought she was telling me what year it was. I was trying to adjust the thermostat but had no idea if 25 degrees Celsius was hot or cold.

I read about Romania before we came. The book talked mostly about the politics of the country after the Soviet empire fell apart and the Romanians took control of their own country. We’re talking about a country that’s been here for thousands of years finally getting to rule itself. The land sits in a part of Eastern Europe making it prime real estate for both the Western European empires and the Central Asian empires, specifically the Ottomans.

The book didn’t go into much detail about the religions here, but flipping through the channels, there are a lot of Muslim-related channels. There are over 450 channels! There’s many different Al Jazeera channels, a lot of Afghani channels, Persian channels, Saudi, Jordanian, Dubai TV, Syria, Al This and Al That. There are even provocative channels advertising sex phone chats with Arabic women. That caught me off guard. About a dozen of these, some with still images of topless Arabic women in compromising positions.

The Mentalist was playing on one channel, dubbed over with a foreign language. Sports channels all talked about soccer or rugby. News channels, tons of them, focused on the Arab world. CCTV [China’s CNN] was in English so we watched that. Not many channels in English though a lot of English-programming dubbed in foreign languages. You should hear Scooby and Shaggy talking in Romanian. One channel, Sri TV [as in Sri Lanka], took the cake. They were showing Battleship [still in theaters in America] in English. Interestingly, though, they censored out the curse words. For commercial breaks — which lasts two or three times longer than our commercial breaks — they did news reports. In Sinhala. Or Tamil. And they talk fast!

Taking a shower was different. I doubt it’s a Romanian thing, but every 60 seconds [or less!] the water got ice cold for about three seconds. It’s not as bad as it sounds. You start to develop a ticking clock in your head and sway in the tub every 60 seconds to step out the ice cold water. The first several times, though, I forgot and it’ll shake the jet lag out of you.

We had just enough time to run out and grab a bite to eat. So where do you go in Romania for a quick late night snack? KFC of course. Unlike the KFC back home, this one doesn’t have crispy chicken. Actually, fried chicken isn’t even that prominent here. It’s all about the chicken strips and hot wings. Nduku got the salad. A salad at KFC? The KFC doesn’t have a fast food feel, though. It’s actually quite chic. The seating, the pod chairs, everything.

Nduku’s Kindle Fire enjoying Wifi in a KFC in Bucharest

Nduku is able to use her Kindle Fire in the hotel and the KFC. Wifi is common; hence, I can blog as I go. If I can find an adapter for my laptop’s power cord before the battery dies. Tomorrow we’ll be out and about to see what the city’s really like. First impressions, though, are positive ones. Bucharest is definitely an old city. And it has some old-school habits, but the people are nice and it’s pretty modern for a country that was taken advantage of for so many years.

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