Country Life: A Month in Bucharest Life

It’s been a nomadic month.

Our brush with Greek Life was followed by a week in the increasingly nasty police state that is Turkey, where Brother-in-law of Bucharest Life – a major in the Romanian army – is currently serving (and enjoying a rather luxurious existence courtesy of Nato).

Then to England, where, amongst other things, we were delighted to discover a Romanian grocery has opened not five minutes walk from Mother-of-Bucharest Life’s house.


We bought seeds.

After a pit stop at the thermal baths in Debrecen, Hungary, we then decamped to Petresti, Satu Mare, for our annual peasant experience.

Highlights included playing Kwik Cricket on a pitch that might well be described as ‘unpredictable’ (thanks to Cricket Romania for shipping the set up to deepest Petresti), naming more than 40 rabbits and picking our own corn, melons and basil (which, we hasten to add, we did not eat altogether). The unquestioned low point of our sojourn la tara was a bout of hayfever as bad as we’ve had in years. And to think some people insist hayfever is a ‘made up’ ailment.

'Might do a bit, that pitch'
‘Might do a bit, that pitch’

Leaving the kids in the wilderness (you can read about Bucharest Life Jr. In Exile here), we returned to Bucharest with a Tarom flight from Satu Mare: no night train to Bucharest for us this year. Why? All rather simple: the Satu Mare-Bucharest sleeper now costs 261.50 lei (€59) per person for a berth in a two-bunk cabin. The journey takes almost 16 hours (if there are no delays: there usually are).

satu mare-bucuresti nord

Tarom charge €63 for a one-way flight taking just over an hour (although note that to get that price you need to reserve a week or so in advance).

We are not huge fans of Tarom: it’s inefficient, badly run, bleeds money and relies on huge state subsidies to survive. It should probably be put out of its misery (or, better, sold off to a foreign airline/private investor). But as long as it goes on offering flights as cheap as the train we will have a soft spot for it.

Back when we began our mini-European tour, the taxi driver taking us to the airport told us that the days of cheap, honest taxis at Otopeni were coming to an end: there are apparently plans to restrict access to a ‘select’ group of taxis charging a minimum 3.50 lei/km. So far, this has not happened, neither have we seen anything about it in the press. Taxi driver scaremongering, hopefully.

Still very much on the subject of motorised urban transport, we were a bit down on Uber when it first tipped up in Bucharest: we couldn’t quite see the point. A couple of months on and we are sold. We use it all the time, the primary reason being that you do not need to worry about having any change (indeed, you don’t need any money at all). We finally gave in and started using Uber after a particularly obnoxious taxi driver refused to accept 13 lei for a 14 lei trip (we had 13 lei in change, or a 100 lei note). He had no change of course, and insisted we go and change the 100 lei note somewhere, as though it were our fault he isn’t smart enough to carry a float. Uber it is from now on. (Another advantage is being able to use the same app and account anywhere Uber is present: we used it in London, much the chagrin of our black-cab driving cousin).

Finally, the month would not be complete without a word on politics.

It is silly season in Romania as much as anywhere else of course: parliament is on holiday, as is the walking-wounded prime minister Victor Ponta, who in almost all public appearances following his return from medical treatment in Turkey rather ostentatiously used a pair of crutches. (For the first few days after his return Ponta also sported one of the most pathetic beards in political history).

Handicapped.  Click for source.
Click for source.

Anyway, besides having to look on as president Klaus Iohannis quite rightly vetoed his utterly irresponsible giveaway budget, Ponta has also now been formally charged by the Romanian Anti-Corruption Unit, the DNA, with all sorts of naughty goings on (until then, he had merely been a suspect). Interestingly, Ponta then resigned as leader of the PSD ‘to spare it any embarrassment’ but has stayed on as prime minister (the message being clear: it’s OK to embarrass Romania). The PSD responded to Ponta’s resignation by electing Liviu Dragnea (who was recently found guilty of rigging a referendum) as interim leader. You couldn’t make it up.

What you most certainly can make up is the story that Ponta was arrested last week by American police for speeding (the great Romanian patriot has of course gone to the US for his holidays). Bizarrely, a rumour to that effect was doing the rounds in the market in Carei last week. Furthermore, according to our father-in-law (not always the most reliable of sources) Ponta had even been prevented from leaving the US.

If only.

  • Richard

    That’s in Morden, right? There’s another one just over the road, too.

    • Yep, Morden. Didn’t see the other one. Next month I will look out for it.

      • Richard

        The guy who runs the other one is really friendly, as is his (Polish) wife. If it weren’t for them my kids would have suffered advanced pufuleți withdrawal through spring and early summer.

        It also has the advantage over Brasoveanca of being licensed, in case you can’t live without Ciuc. I’m hoping I can persuade him to stock up on Igazi Csiki Sör next time he heads back through Harghita to re-stock

  • I flew Tarom to Cluj on a photo assignment recently and they were using an Airbus A318. From take off to touch down was only 34 minutes!

  • Ethan

    This was a really fun read. I’m amazed at the price difference between the train and the plane. I remember my very first train ride in Romania. It was an intercity Bucharest- Timisoara. On every seat was a water bottle and a Poiana chocolate bar. 1996.

  • CommonSense

    I’d imagine you had to fly into England?

    You’d not have got much luck trying to enter via the Channel Tunnel of late.

    I suppose one answer is to open the borders and just let all those hard working asylum seekers in though – then keep the borders open (make thousands of job losses for immigration and border control staff) and increase the UK population by a few million and get the good old British working taxpayer to pay for it !

    Jobs a good’un !

  • Phil

    Looks like that pitch would take a bit of spin, too. Best hit out before you get out…