With the delays crossing the border, combined with our lethargic states from over eating before leaving Bulgaria, we were now, once again, in a new country in the darkness. Romania, country #32.
It had been a tiring day of driving, and I didn’t want to go much further. We found a wild camp not too far from the border, so made the slight detour. What we found wasn’t quite what I had expected to find. It was light up with some giant portable lights, as if they were filming a movie here. There were dozens of other white vans parked in the area, so we drove a little further along the muddy path… and when attempting to stop in a flat area, became stuck. Risa had to get out and push, and I was amazed how well she’d managed to push us, only to find out afterwards that some of the guys in the area gave her a hand.
I still didn’t know where it was that we’d parked, other than being a small clearing by a lake/river. I was surprised by the trickle of 4WDs and vans that were driving up and down this road. Thankfully we managed to leave without any problems this morning, not getting stuck the way we did last night.
I had read advice about driving in Bucharest – which was basically, “don’t”. So, needless to say, I was less than excited about driving in Bucharest. I guess this advice is all subjective, and whoever wrote it might not have had the experiences that we’ve had. It was actually rather tame, just congested.
I was honestly surprised to find that there was a glut of free parking in an enormous outdoor car park across from the Palace of Parliament – which just so happens to be the World’s 2nd Largest Building (after the Pentagon). At first we were stunned by the size, because it’s honestly megalithic. But, when I started to think of the pointlessness of such a building, surely built for the sake of bragging rights from their former dictator, at what was likely an extreme cost for a not-so-wealthy nation.
The area surrounding the Palace was equally grandiose on scale, with enormous boulevards, lined with equally grandiose buildings. It was certainly an impressive sight, so, job well done?
The further we walked from the Parliament building, the more run down the town became. It became a mismatch of different era buildings, but all in a uniformly drab bare concrete. The only thing that gave it life were the enormous advertising, with many covering the entire façade of buildings, giving residents what must be quite a limited view from behind these giant banners – maybe their rent is subsidised to compensate for this?
Once we finally made it into the old town, we were pleasantly surprised with just how pretty it was there. The buildings were ornate, if somewhat run down. The area felt refreshingly authentic, with little development or gentrification. It seemed to show an honest snapshot of a more prosperous time in this country’s history.
It was an act of random urban exploration, taking turns as they took our fancy. We came across several spectacular buildings along the way, though they turned out to be banks, and not only was it not possible to enter if you were not a customer, but the security stationed in front became agitated as I pointed my camera in that direction – so no photographs.
It felt like a really energetic place, even though the streets were empty, and it was a cool and grey morning, on a random weekday. I imagine in an evening, especially during the summer months, this area must be a buzz of activity with all the bars, clubs and restaurants that are packed in these narrow streets.
Venturing a little further from the confines of the small old town, the architecture turned into a mess of eras, with some truly horrendous socialist era concrete slabs, which are now in some pretty sad states of decay. It’s like they attempted to be creative with the designs, but were limited with either skills or with budgets. Their unattractiveness was only further exaggerated when stood next to some beautiful older buildings.
We only stayed a few hours, and were already on our way out of town a little after noon. Of course, here, like just about everywhere we visited, there was likely a huge amount of untapped potential that we were skipping. But, Europe’s a big place, and to see it all, we have to keep moving. I say keep moving, and it’s certainly what we tried, but Bucharest had other plans for us. We were stuck in a slowly moving car park, inching forward at a pace that wasn’t slow enough to take your foot off to the clutch to relax – but not fast enough to feel like you were moving.
We cleared the city, and once on the highway progress improved markedly. Risa saw an advertisement for what she thought was a giant aqua park. She did a little Google-fu, and was pretty excited about what she found. So, at the next opportunity (which wasn’t that opportune), we turned around, and were headed back towards Therme Bucharest.
It seemed so out of place at first glance. This enormous, shiny, new complex, was set out in an industrial area not too far from the airport. It seemed at complete odds with the greater area – though, I have no doubt that in time, the area surrounding will catch up.
We parked in the enormous parking area, doing our best to remember where we’d parked. I realised that it’s probably a little pointless with such a large vehicle. We stepped inside, and were once again overwhelmed. It felt like walking into an airport, but with maybe the kind of check-in desk you’d expect to find in first class. The word of the day is overwhelmed. We now had to make a choice about which package that we wanted, and were overwhelmed with the options. I felt like I was about to sign up for a phone contract, with a plethora of options and inclusions to choose from. Since we literally could not decide, and since it was only 75RON (€17) for three hours of the full package, we opted for the full package. But, before we could enter, we had to grab some indoor footwear. This was our third visit to an thermal water park, after visiting some with friends in Slovakia.
This full package also allowed us entry to the VIP (my words, not theirs) changing area. We changed into our swim wear, put on our freshly washed footwear, showered, and stepped into a tropical oasis. It was an enormous indoor area, Palm, filled with palms, giant pools, lounge chairs and cocktail bars.
There were also many other smaller therapeutic pools, with various cocktails of minerals and other specialities, including Dead Sea Salt (which was super buoyant), and Lithium (which made my skin tingle). They were only 35˚C, but were still comfortable enough to spend serious time floating around.
Even though the temperatures were cold enough outdoors that a jumper and a wind-breaker were on the limits of comfort, the outdoor pool was still open – and busy. Entry was via a revolving door inside the pool, which felt really odd at first, but a truly brilliant idea. Thankfully it wasn’t too busy. If the 6,000 lockers, enormous car park, and abundance of deck chairs is an accurate estimation of customer interest, then I could only imagine (and dread) what it could be like at capacity.
The resting and relaxing was all fine and good, but there was also a waterpark area, Galaxy, filled with slides. It might have been aimed at children, with rides that weren’t too extreme, but it was still great fun to try them all once or twice – especially one that dumped you into what could best be described as a toilet bowl, which after spinning around several times, drained you down back into the main pool.
The third of the areas that we’d paid for, the top tier Elysium, was a series of luxury saunas. The saunas were themed, with the questionable Hollywood, which had movies showing, to a little more enjoyable Himalaya (lined with pink Himalayan salt), and the wooden Bavarian sweat room. There were others, complete with aromatherapy and varying themes, so we hopped between them, with sessions in the pounding showers between.
It was impressive how serious they took the hygiene and behaviour in these saunas, with attentive staff making sure that no flesh was on the benches. We had to take our towels in with us, and keep our feet off the seats. It seemed a little disturbing at first with them busting in to keep the rules, but it did mean that the area was clean.
The three hours flew by, and before we knew it, the sun was setting, and our three hours was up. We raced to make sure that we’d exited before the end of our pre-paid time, otherwise we’d be faced with additional charges. I had brought in my laptop, thinking I’d have free time to get some blogging and work done, but I’d clearly enjoyed the relaxation more than I could have predicted.
It was now dark. We might have been clean and relaxed, but we were also hungry, and a long way from where we’d like to spend the night – near Brasov.