Arriving Bucharest for our Eastern European Cruise through the Iron Gates

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Athenee Concert Hall as seen from the terrace of the Athenee Palace in Bucharest, Romania.

Boris and I are off to Eastern Europe for another River Cruise.  We will visit Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungry, starting in Bucharest and ending in Budapest.  Serbia will be a new country for me.  Because I wanted to visit Transylvania and a few of the many castles in the region, we are going a few days early.  It will also be nice to  acclimate to the time change by the time the cruise starts.  We have a couple of days on our own, then do some land touring with the cruise line for two days before we get on The Beatrice for our seven-day cruise.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. In Bucharest, pork is the most common meat eaten, but this fried chicken served impaled looked pretty good. Has me thinking of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) whose home we will see tomorrow in Transylvania.

Lots of drama before departure.  Boris’s phone wouldn’t take a charge and it was to be our designated line for international service.  Peabody ran into the street right in front of a car when we opened the door to take the luggage outside-he is just fine.  Then the UBER driver took a route we were not familiar with and gave use some concern about time.  When we arrived at the airport two hours before our international flight to Frankfurt, we thought the worst was behind us.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Early dining, anything before 8:30 or 9 pm, in Bucharest means tourists, older residents, or families with young children. This family was some of the few quests at Vatra when we arrived. Got to love the mom’s bright yellow skirt and watermelon-colored tights.

Then we got to the Lufthansa counter.   I had checked-in on line and it was smooth sailing to check the bags.  The problem was the carry-on bag which had to be so light you couldn’t take electronics aboard and I just won’t check those for fear of breakage or theft.  I was frustrated because I had specifically called about weight and the number of bags.  Since we are Star Alliance Gold I had not anticipated a problem.  Even though I was allowed a carry on and a personal item (purse, etc.) in addition to the checked bags, by having it all in one small rolling bag I exceeded the limit.  Boris was way over.  We weren’t allowed to repack at the counter, so they unchecked the bags and we repacked and reweighed at the open counters down the aisle from Lufthansa.  So much for getting to the airport early.

By the time we got on board, both of us were frustrated.  The flight went fine and we arrived in Frankfurt in time to hustle through the airport to make our second flight to Bucharest.  We had only an hour layover.  We had to go through security again and I was glad we were able to use the priority line.  If you are going through regular security, you  need a layover that lasts a lot longer than an hour.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  No, we are not in France.  This is Bucharest, Romania, sometimes called “Little Paris”.

 

If you want to choose your seat on Lufthansa, you have to pay a fee and book early on line.  Otherwise it is luck of the draw.  In other words, in the summer you are going to end up in a middle seat.  It was worth the extra charge to book early.  When we arrived in Bucharest, the bags came down quickly and we met the hotel driver.  On the twenty-five minute drive in, the driver pointed out several of the landmarks, including the large Soviet-style free press building.  The city has wide, beautifully landscaped boulevards and has been called “Little Paris”.  They even has a replica of the Arc of Triumph.  We drove down the boulevard of the embassies, but he only pointed out the one for Russia.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Athenee Palace Hotel, Bucharest, Romania

In Bucharest, we are staying at the Hilton Athenee Palace for the first two nights.  The hotel is a city landmark built between 1912 and 1914.  It was the notorious hangout of British spies, the Gestapo, and ladies of the evening.  It has a beautiful ballroom with a stained glass ceiling.  The ballroom was set up for a wedding on the day of our arrival.  The hotel was last removed by Hilton in 1997; Hilton still manages the hotel, but sold it in 2005.  The rooms are badly in need of an update.  The toilet seat didn’t even match the size of the toilet.

 

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ballroom of the Athenee Palace Hotel, Bucharest.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lobby of the Athenee Palace Hotel, Bucharest.

They did upgrade us to a junior suite and the hotel is conveniently located and is considered luxury in Bucharest.  The hotel does feature a casino, spa, a nice Italian restaurant, outdoor dining, and an American bar.  One of my favorite features was the photos in the hotel lobby with comparison pictures of the hotel in 1914 and as renovated in 1997.  We are staying here primarily for the history and the Hilton points.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Athenee Palace Hotel, there are photos of the original look, next to the post renovation photos. The hotel is due for another upgrade.

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Hotel Athenee back in the day.

“In 1948 the hotel was nationalized by the new Communist government, who famously bugged every room, tapped every phone (and every pay phone within half a mile), and staffed the entire hotel with informers.” In 2005, Dan Halpern wrote in The Walls Have Ears in Travel and Leisure that “[t]he hotel’s general director was an undercover colonel in the Securitate’s Counterespionage Directorate; the hotel’s deputy director was a colonel in the DIE, the Romanian external intelligence organization. The doormen did surveillance; the housekeeping staff photographed all documents in the guests’ rooms. The prostitutes in the lobby and in the bar and in the nightclub reported directly to their employers; the free-speaking bons vivants and Romanian intellectuals hanging around the café, not to mention a number of the guests, had been planted.”

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. With the hotel’s rich history of spies, Boris felt compelled to purchase, bring with him, and wear his monocle on the terrace of the Athenee Palace.

Boris is in heaven.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  The courtyard at Vatra in Bucharest, serving traditional Romanian food on painted wooden seats in the courtyard or in a more elegant dining room inside.

I was wiped out and decided to rest a bit upon arrival.  We got up later and took a cab to a traditional Romanian restaurant, Vatra, recommended by the concierge.  The weather was perfect to sit outside.  We arrived just after 7pm, really early by Romanian standards.  The restaurant didn’t really start to fill up until about 8:30 pm.  It is not unusual for the locals to go to dinner at 10 pm.

IMG_8651IMG_8649We hadn’t eaten much since our departure from Houston yesterday, so we made up for it here.  We started with an appetizer of pork sausages made with Romanian spices.  Boris also had a meatball soup.  He drank several-light and dark-Romanian beers; I had the homemade lemonade.  The main course for me was meatball made from pork and beef with fried potatoes.  Boris had the cabbage rolls with polenta.  They were served with a garlic paste and bread.  All were fabulous.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen.  Performance in the courtyard at Vatra, Bucharest, Romania

Once the restaurant was full, costumed staff did a traditional dance.  A nice, unexpected treat.  Although we were no longer hungry, we had to partake in dessert.  Boris choose pancakes.  I had the donuts with sour cream and a fruit syrup.  Wow.  Each was big enough for two.  We left nothing.

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Photo @ Jean Janssen. My dessert at Vatra in Bucharest was wonderful donuts covered with cream and fruit syrup.

After our wonderful dinner, we went back to the hotel for drinks on the 5th floor lounge, with an outdoor terrace complete with a view of the Athenee Concert Hall and the Art Museum, the former Royal Palace.  We closed our day with the setting sun.  Tomorrow we are headed to Transylvania.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A side view of the Royal Palace, now an art museum, as seen from the Terrace of the Athenee Palace in Bucharest, Romania.

 

About travelbynatasha

I am a retired attorney who loves to travel. Several years ago I began working on a Century Club membership achieved by traveling to 100 "foreign" countries. Today, at 49 years of age the count is at 82. Many were visited on land based trips. Some were cruise ports. Some were dive sites. Most have been fascinating.
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