Update #1: at my local airport
I’m not sure why I always insist on getting to my local airport 2 hours early, it never takes longer than 10 minutes between walking through the front door and arriving at our gate.
Crazy, right? Our airport is crazy small, there’s only like 8 gates and the ratio of TSA agents to passengers going through security is like 4:1.
It’s a force of habit I guess.
At the moment I’m eating an RX bar and watching the sunrise with my sister. I’m so excited to be traveling with her! Traveling on my own was fun but I’m relieved to be able to have a travel buddy on this next adventure. She’s never been to Europe before, and I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about it.
Update #2: typical airline chaos
I thought everything was going well, thankfully no delays, but turns out the plane was “nose heavy”. So they did this whole song and dance of telling 12 people to check their carry-ons, telling us we can’t leave until this happens. We were a bit late making off the ground as a result.
I don’t know what it is about airlines that make them this way. Is it the organization of the company, or an inevitable aspect of the industry? I’m just gonna give airlines the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re doing their best to navigate a high-pressure activity like transporting 100 people across the globe.
Surprisingly, it took a while for people to cough up their bags (don’t worry, my sister and I did too or that would be totally hypocritical). The captain and flight attendant even gave up their bags so we could get moving which was really commendable.
Update #3: arriving at the Chicago O’hare airport
Flight landed with only a bit of turbulence, there was a first time flyer behind me, but she was such a good sport and the excitement was contagious! That’s what I love about traveling with others. Just being able to rave about the trip to my sister as were both experiencing it makes even the most mundane parts exciting.
After arriving at the O’Hare airport in Chicago, we both got giant veggie bowls and split a berry smoothie, since the Balkans are known for having a very meat-centric food culture, we’re at least trying to maintain a balanced diet even before we get there.
My sister must look German, because people on our flight to Frankfurt keep speaking to her in German before she looks panicked-ly back at them, whereupon they realize she can’t speak any.
We got on our flight to Frankfurt with no issues.
Update #4: the transatlantic flight to Frankfurt
I love international flights because they’re constantly supplying you with snacks and drinks. United offers beers and wines with their transcontinental flights too, which I am a big fan of.
Here’s the super legit food review of everything I ate on this flight:
Snack #1: beer and pretzels. Mini pretzels were solid, I wanted to pair it with a Stella Artois since we’re connecting thru Frankfurt (sorta near Belgium), but they ran out and gave me a Mich Ultra, which I like a lot so it was no worries. It was ironic, though, in that they didn’t have the European beer on a flight bound for Germany, bit they did have a lager brewed in Missouri, which is where we came from!
Dinner: veggie stir fry, grain bowl, roll with butter, and lemon sorbet paired with a glass of red wine. I enjoyed every part of this dinner!
Breakfast: strawberry Chobani yogurt, which is my favorite kind of yogurt, cinnamon toast biscotti, and instant coffee. The flavored biscotti wasn’t really for me but I liked everything else.
Besides some crazy turbulence in the middle, the flight was super uneventful, which is always best case scenario.
Update #5: existing in the Frankfurt airport and flying to Bucharest
We walked right off our plane and the gate for our final flight to Bucharest was right next to it. Score! Travel agents really do know what’s up.
Was gonna hold off but knew we wouldn’t get food until 4 or 5pm. And since on this trip I have a better budget, I decided to pull the stick out of my butt and spend 4.4€ on a cucumber cheese sandwich on pretzel bread. I’d missed German food and how magically filling it is! My sister also tried her first of many European coffees.
Lufthansa’s snack was a fancy spring water and a tiny chocolate bar. Simple but a really nice snack for a very short flight.
Update #6: navigating customs and searching for a ride
After arriving at the Bucharest Airport, we made a beeline for customs but it was already mobbed.
Out of the dozen check-in lanes, only 3 were for international arrivals causing a huge backup. We’d booked a transfer to our hotel since I knew after 24 hours of being awake, we’d be too delirious to figure out a taxi on our own. This made me super worried because I thought they were going to leave us at the airport if we took too long to get through. So after finally answering the officer’s standard questions of “why are you here” and “how long will you be here”, our passports were stamped and we RAN to arrivals.
I looked all over the arrivals area, reading every sign, but couldn’t find one with my name on it.
I did the totally rational thing that anyone might do in this situation and panicked immediately.
First I tried to call Trafalgar, but failed because I can’t figure out how the area codes here work. Before completely succumbing to despair, we decided to take one more lap around arrivals, and what would you know, a guy holding a sign with my misspelled name was there!
I was worried that would cause some problems if we needed to do an ID verification, but after telling him that was my name, we were off, no questions asked. It was about a 45 minute ride to the Grand Bucharest Hotel in the heart of the city, given that it was rush hour.
Check in at the hotel was blissfully a breeze, and I have never been so relieved to lie horizontally in my entire life.
Our room here at the Grand Bucharest Hotel is NICE. a well set up room with an espresso machine and a big balcony overlooking the central square makes me think this trip is really gonna be a good one.
Update #7: my hopes and predictions for the adventure ahead
I’m excited to experience traveling with Trafalgar. I’ve heard a lot of great things and a lot of terrible things about this tour company, so am looking forward to forming an opinion of my own.
One standout point of Trafalgar is that they intentionally book 4 and 5 star hotels located in happening areas of the cities you visit, and the Grand Hotel Bucharest is good evidence of that thus far.
I’ll keep you updated on my thoughts and observations throughout this trip.
Update #8: dinner at Caru’ Cu Bere and Bucharest’s Old Town
Next, we set off for dinner to a place our guide recommended, even though he himself isn’t here yet. Caru’ Cu Bere is, according to him, one of the most well known restaurants in Bucharest, and specializes in preparing traditional Romanian food in a darkly elegant, castle-like setting.
It was a quick 10 minute walk from our hotel and thru Old Town, despite it being a Saturday night, we had no issues with getting a table for 2. I decided to try the “Traditional Dish from Bucovina” which featured pork confit and sausage, polenta, and cabbage. WOW what a delicious meal. I don’t even like pork or corn usually, but the meat was so well cooked and flavorful that I really enjoyed it.
The building itself is a Neo-gothic marvel. Built in 1879, it’s soaring groin vaults feature gorgeous paintings of knights, villages, and general nature things, but the dark wood interior makes them a little bit difficult to see. It does add to the castle vibe though, a wicked cool place to eat dinner! It was the perfect place for my sister and I, who were too exhausted to talk to each other, so staring at the walls and stained glass gave us an excellent excuse to eat in silence.
Caru’ Cu Bere also has dancing starting at 7pm. But guess what, we were asleep by then! But to give you some perspective, it was about 4:45pm when we left the restaurant, and so before completely passing out, we enjoyed a little walk through the Old Town.
First, we stumbled upon an absolutely gorgeous Romanian Orthodox chapel. Since the door was open and it was clear that people were visiting, we wandered inside to be greeted by a golden altar covered in icons, and old byzantine frescoes covering every inch of the interior.
In the courtyard, we learned that this is the Stavropoleos Monastery, which is still in operation. The courtyard has a lovely little garden, and is full of old (what I think are) tablets covered in Latin text.
Continuing through, we also passed a Russian Orthodox church, which you can identify by the very iconic gold domes. We went inside here too, briefly to admire the art, but no photos are allowed. When the priest arrived and began to greet people, we said hello but the other visitors and I got the vibe that it was time to leave so that a service could be held.
As we were leaving, the clock struck 5pm, heralded by the ringing of the bells.
Yay! I love church bells and will always feel a compulsion to record them.
However, between chimes, someone in or around the church seemed to be drumming. At least, I think it was drumming. We tried to investigate the source of the sound form outside, but couldn’t find it. Do you know what this is? I managed to catch a bit of the sound on video if that helps.
Update #9: goodnight from Bucharest! At 6pm!
On that note, here was our first full day in Romania and in the Balkans! And what a full day indeed, about 30 straight hours of being awake!
I’m so grateful that all of the traveling went off without a hitch, and am excited to meet the rest of our tour group tomorrow. Stay tuned to see what we get up to in Bucharest before the group’s tour guide arrives 🙂