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I love dogs. When I heard that my friend from Timisoara started her own dog sitting business, I had to ask if there was any chance I could help. I’d no idea what I was getting myself into.

Dog sitting is a great way to fund your travels around the world, if you can find the work. Last year, I signed up for Trusted House Sitters and had a couple great jobs. Unfortunately, that website is primarily based in the UK, and I didn’t find any use for it in other countries around the world.

Tina, my Romanian friend from Timisoara, started RinTinTin Dog Sitting last year, which she runs from her apartment in Bucharest with her boyfriend. In Romania, the first week of June has a five-day weekend with two holidays coinciding. As such, there are a lot of people looking to take a vacation that need to leave their dog with a sitter. Tina also wanted to take a vacation, so she called me up and asked if I could cover for the weekend.

She originally said I would be dog sitting three dogs. There would also be a Beagle to walk for a couple hours, one of the days. As the weekend approached, she asked if I could handle a fourth dog. I said that was fine. Turns out, I ended up with five, plus the Beagle!

The first dog to arrive on Thursday morning was a Bichon Havanese, otherwise known as a furball of exquisite cuteness. Her name was Tara, and we instantly fell in love. Over the weekend, she would sleep in my arms in bed, which she guarded from the other dogs sharing.

Selfie Dog Sitting Tara the Bichon Havanese

Next to arrive that night was the mutt Roua – meaning “dew” in Romanian. Roua was a rescue dog, something of a German Shepard mix. She entered the apartment with her tail between her legs, and promptly sprayed half a liter on the floor. She quickly warmed up to me, and claimed her spot in my bed after Tara.

Roua Sleeping

On Friday, I took Tara and Roua with me to pick up Gordon the Beagle. We went out to a local dog park – a small enclosed part of nearly every park in Bucharest. Gordon was lovely, but after two hours I had to return him.

On Saturday, I received an unexpected guest. I knew I had a Beagle coming, but instead I was delivered a black dog, which I didn’t realize until later was a pit bull named Ragnar. Boy was he a handful. Not only did he never seem to sleep, he was constantly teasing and taunting the other dogs. Also, it seems Bucharestians have a morbid fear of pit bulls. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but nearly every person I passed would exclaim something out of fear when they saw him. He also was the least house-trained of the five, although I did manage to teach him the English command “sit” before I left.

Tara and Ragnar Fighting

Shortly after he arrived, I got the call that the Beagle I was expecting had arrived. I took the elevator down to get him. That’s when disaster struck. I reached the ground floor, but the elevator doors didn’t open. The elevator then slowly began to climb, floor by floor, until it reached the 9th floor at the top of the building. Then -2 (lower parking) lit up on the panel. I immediately hit the ground, lying prone and preparing for a drop. While you’re not guaranteed to survive, I learned a long time ago it’s the best position in a falling elevator to minimize injuries.

Selfie Stuck in an Elevator

The elevator didn’t drop. The doors didn’t open. It didn’t do anything. The -2 button continued to flash, but there was no way to open the doors or reset the elevator. I tried to text Tina and the owner of the Beagle, but there was no service in the elevator. There never is. Luckily, the malfunction didn’t affect the emergency button. After pushing it for 10 seconds, I was connected to an operator, who by the grace grace of God spoke enough English to understand where I was and send a technician to my rescue.

With nothing else to do, I sat on the floor and read an e-book on my phone. Forty-five minutes later, someone arrived and tried to pry open the doors. They got it an inch, and then gave up and left. A few minutes after that, the elevator started moving, slowly dropping all the way to -2. The doors opened and I jumped out. I waited outside for the technicians to thank them. A couple minutes later, I got a call from the owner of the Beagle. He had left, but was coming back to drop off the puppy in a couple minutes.

Aussie the Beagle was nearly as wild as Ragnar, and barely better housebroken. I ended up having to keep him on the balcony with Rangar most of the time, if only to protect the other dogs. But as crazy as he was, Beagles are still some of my favorite dogs, and we enjoyed each other’s company.

Dog Sitting Aussie

Finally, on Saturday night I got the fifth and last dog. A huge English bulldog aptly named Winston Churchill. He was by far the most chill dog, preferring to sit or sleep on the floor most of the day. However, he was an alpha, and brooked no nonsense when it came to the other dogs. He barked at Ragnar every time he started to whine, and would get quite upset with any dog that teased him too much. He also had the obstinance characteristic of his breed, and getting him to the apartment’s dog park 100 feet away was quite a game.

Dog Sitting Winston

That night was the hardest. Ragnar and Aussie wouldn’t stop playing, whining and peeing, despite two trips to the dog park. Winston wouldn’t stop barking at their antics. And Tara and Roua were competing to see who would sleep with me. I finally managed to get the two rascals to sleep on the patio, while Tara and Roua each shared a side of my bed.

On Sunday, I left Winston at the flat (he’s not one for walks) and took the other four dogs to a larger dog park near the house. Walking four dogs on the streets of Bucharest is a challenge, to say the least, but we made it with only one hiccup when Tara slipped her harness in the park. Quickly recovering her, we spent a couple hours in the shade of the trees with a great view of the lake.

Dogs at the Park

That afternoon, Tara was picked up. Aussie left on Monday afternoon, and Tina arrived Monday night to take over. I’d managed to keep the house in decent order, and supposedly had even cleaned it more than usual. With dog sitting every weekend, there were some things that Tina just didn’t bother to try keeping clean. After all, it seems a clean window is a magnet for a dog’s nose.

When I say I survived the weekend, I’m not actually referring to the dog sitting. All the messy accidents I had to clean up aside, I had a great time with all the dogs and puppies, and I would watch them again in a heartbeat. I was pleasantly surprised when Tina mentioned she herself had never watched so many dogs at one time. But then, I am known for going all out.

No, I was referring to surviving the Tower of Terror in the elevator. There was a small part of me that thought I might not make it. However, even in the face of that, I was able to keep my cool, and came out of it fine. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic, or afraid of heights!

The pay for the six dogs was quite good, and will either cover my living expenses for the month, or perhaps a short trip to Cyprus or Sweden. I’m still working out my itinerary for the summer. There’s a good chance I’ll end up working at the Pura Vida Hostel for the summer, thus skipping the hottest months and mobs of tourists in Europe. What do you think? Are there any other jobs I should try out in my travels?

Walking the Dogs

From May 12-16, I participated in the Experience Bucharest summit and press trip. Kicking off with an excellent conference, the four days were filled with amazing tours, heavenly meals and never-ending parties. I’m so glad I chose Romania as my next home base.

In 2015, I visited Timisoara and Resita in Romania, and completely fell in love with the country. In 2016 when I was failing at setting up a home base in Edinburgh, I decided I would set one up in Romania in 2017 after Thailand. When Experience Bucharest announced they would select a handful of bloggers to host on a press trip, it was the perfect opportunity to get familiar with the capital of the country I planned to live in until the end of the year.

I applied while still in Thailand and was thrilled to be selected as one of the chosen few. I wrapped up my activities in SE Asia, and flew out to the UK to surprise my dad with a trip to the Isle of Skye. That story ends off where this one picks up – on my way to Romania.

I arrived at the Bucharest airport a little after 11 PM on Thursday night, where the organizers were waiting to greet me. We picked up a few more last-minute attendees and then were bused to our respective hotels. I landed at the Hello Hotel in a two-room suite. The room was really nicely decorated with a modern design, and I certainly wasn’t complaining about the buffet breakfast in the morning. I only wish I had someone to share that big bed with…but that’s another story.

Hello Hotel Room

What is Experience Bucharest?

Experience Bucharest is the brainchild of Travel Massive Bucharest, led by Tudor Maxim. An entire team of social media experts, travel industry professions and sponsors came together to put Bucharest on the map as the next great tourist destination of Europe.

While Experience Bucharest might have primarily referred to the campaign and hashtag used, the activities and media from the project certainly weren’t over at the end of the summit. Within 4 days, there were millions of impressions made with the hashtag, and even CNN wrote about it. Several other bloggers also stayed behind in town to continue to soak in the Romanian culture, and they’ve been great to meet up with every few days.

The Experience Bucharest Conference

As a veteran of being on the production end of elite events in Hollywood, I have to say I was highly impressed at the competence and professionalism of the Experience Bucharest team, not just in the conference, but the entire four-day summit. It was their first time producing such an activity, and they did an outstanding job.

The Experience Bucharest summit began with a conference at the opulent Radisson Blu Hotel. The program began with keynote speaker Kash from the Budget Traveler talking about how bloggers could market Bucharest. This was followed by two Q&A panels of top bloggers and social media managers. I really enjoyed the fact that, while there was a lot of great information for established bloggers, the data was slanted for Romanian bloggers to promote their country to the rest of the world. There were also dozens of sponsors and industry professionals in attendance getting the same information. They learned how to connect with bloggers and what we needed and wanted from them, which is definitely missing in some countries and cities.

Experience Bucharest

This was followed by a buffet lunch in the Radisson’s Dacia Felix Restaurant. While buffet meals usually aren’t anything to write home about, one catered by the premier hotel of Bucharest, and with the high quality of Romanian food, is a different matter entirely. In a nutshell, I pigged out! Two weeks later, I’ve noticed that my waistline has been increasing ever so slightly since being in Romania.

Buffet Lunch at Radisson Blu Prime

After lunch, we had a few hours to clean up, explore or do other respective tasks. By 7 PM, the festivities started again.

Tours, Parties, Meals and More Parties

I actually missed the opening party on Thursday night, but the one on Friday certainly didn’t disappoint. Located at a secret rooftop bar with a stunning view of the city, we all enjoyed an evening of bruschetta, sandwiches, pastries and blue chardonnay. That last was really interesting. The color came from adding the rind of red grapes to white chardonnay, turning the color blue. I’m no sommelier (in fact, it was one of the first alcoholic beverages I’ve had all year), but it certainly tasted good. After all, who can say no to trying blue chardonnay?!

Blue Chardonnay at Sunset

I loved meeting all the new bloggers. There were even a couple familiar faces there. I have nothing against the TBEX events I’ve attended, but it was a lot easier getting introduced to 70 fellow bloggers instead of 700. Having said that, I still consistently forgot the names of people throughout the week. I’m sure I’m not the only one with that problem.

Bloggers at Secret Rooftop Party

Bucharest Crash Course with Slow Tours

The first tour I participated in on Saturday morning was the Bucharest Crash Course Bike Tour. Don’t let the name fool you. You won’t crash, and it’s not that slow. The guide took us on a bike ride all around the center of town. We saw key landmarks and monuments, rode through beautiful parks and learned all about the history of Bucharest. The tour ended at Food Hood, a collection of street food trucks in the heart of the Old Town, where we all had sliders and fries.

Slow Tours Bike Tour

For more information on Bucharest’s Old Town, read “Follow in My Footsteps: Bucharest is The World’s Newest Old Town.”

The Darkside Tour with the Interesting Times Bureau

Immediately after lunch, I was ready for the Darkside Tour. This tour, lead by Anita, started with a locations around the Old Town, and then shortly moved to Bellu Cemetery south of town. The cemeteries in Romania are some of the most interesting in the world, and Bellu is no exception. The massive 54 acres are filled with some of the most interesting tombstones and crypts I’ve ever seen.

Gherorghieff Tomb in Bellu Cemetery

For more information on Bellu Cemetery, read “Follow in my Footsteps: Treading Carefully in Bucharest’s Bellu Cemetery.”

Pura Vida’s Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel

Little Bucharest Hostel is one of the many hostels owned by Tudor. Managed by the talented Luana, the location simply couldn’t be better, right in the heart of the Old Town. That night, we had home-made local dishes served at the hostel. After dinner, we enjoyed the weekly street party put on by the hostel and Experience Bucharest. This was followed by shots at both Shoteria bars. The night ended at the Kulturhaus Bukarest night club, but I have to admit I didn’t stay for that party. It was late at this point, and I needed to catch up on some sleep.

Pura Vida Hostel in Bucharest Old Town

Food Tour with Delish Experiences

It might be unfair, but I have to say this was my favorite tour of the summit. That’s mainly because I love food, and Romania has one of my favorite cuisines. I spent all Sunday afternoon on this tour, and had no problem missing another tour which conflicted with the schedule.

Our first stop on the tour was Vatra Restaurant, which has been serving the traditional Romanian cuisine since 2001 in a century-old, gorgeous building. Our meal started with Țuică, a small glass of 40-45% plum liquor to essentially “whet our appetite.” We were then served basically everything on their appetizer menu: caviar spread, eggplant salad, white bean dip, zacusca (a roasted vegetable spread with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and carrots), and an assortment of local meats, cheeses and vegetables. I honestly have no idea which one I loved more, since they were all a 20 on a scale of 1-10.

Selfie with Food Tour at Vatra

In addition to that, we were served sarmale (Romanian pork-stuffed cabbage rolls) and polenta. There was plenty of food to go around for the six of us “foodies,” although I’d be happy to live on those three spreads for the duration of my stay in Romania.

Sarmale at Vatra Restaurant

The second stop of the tour was at Concerto Fine Dining, the restaurant attached to the Grand Continental Hotel. Yeah, definitely fine dining! The menu might not be entirely in my routine budget, but it’s still a great price by Western standards, especially for the incredible dishes they serve. We started with a local demi-sec champagne. We were all surprised to find out that Romania is the six-highest wine-producing country in Europe.

Wine at Concerto

Although it’s not on the menu, Concerto prepared a special dish for us. Momite, a Romanian dish made from veal neck glands mixed with egg and then deep-fried. Talk about yummy!

Momite at Concerto

The final stop on the tour was Origo Cafe. I first mentioned third-wave coffee when I found Brew Lab in Edinburgh. Artisan roasts are a whole different level of coffee, and they found their way to Bucharest. Origo takes them one step further. Not only is their coffee incredible, but they appeal to all five sensations of taste. They’ll also take the time to give you the full story behind third-wave coffee – something that Brew Lab was always too busy to do. They even have barista and coffee classes every Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve been back more than once since the tour, and I plan to take one of their classes in the near future.

Selfie at Origo

Motorcycle Ride with The Black Helmets

That night we needed to get from the Old Town to our dinner restaurant. Certainly no one at the Experience Bucharest summit expected dozens of Black Helmet Riders to show up on the streets of the Old Town to offer rides. The Black Helmets are Romania’s motorcycle club. They have all kinds of bikes, mostly the big ones. I’ve been riding since I was 15, but almost never as a passenger. I hopped at the opportunity for a ride, which turned out not to take us directly to the restaurant. We had a half-hour tour around town, circling the Palace of the Parliament and the new under-construction Orthodox Cathedral. It happened to be raining throughout the ride, but who cares when you’re having a blast on the back of a bike?

Black Helmets Ride

Dinner at Hanu’ Berarilor Casa Soare

Maybe there wasn’t really anything special about this restaurant, except that damn! they serve good food! There was a buffet dinner waiting for us when we arrived with the motorcycles. While I don’t usually expect much at a buffet, don’t forget this is Romania. There was a pan full of mititei, the small Romanian sausages. They came about after the family ran out of casing for the sausages, and were thus made smaller so they could be cooked on the grill without falling apart. They are uniquely spiced, and oh so delicious. The buffet also included grilled chicken and “normal” sausages, pork knuckles and other assorted meats, cheeses and vegetables, not to mention those delicious vegetable spreads I liked so much at Vatra Restaurant.

Hanu' Berarilor Dinner

Party at Expirat

For the final party of the night, we got a ride on the London Double-decker Bus of Romania to the Expirat Club located in an old factory. It was Sunday night which wasn’t as busy as the previous two nights, but I don’t really need to hype up a club. The setting was really nice, especially the rooftop terrace and it’s twinkle-light arches.

Expirat Terrace

Beautiful Decay Tour with the Interesting Times Bureau

On the final day of the conference, I got to take the Beautiful Decay tour. This turned out to be two separate tours, the first going through urban ruins within the old town, and the second was a trip to Chimopar, an abandoned chemical factory “village” on the outskirts of Bucharest. Anyone who knows me knows I love these kind of places. The locations in Bucharest topped my list of the best urban ruins in the world – even better than Spreepark and the other urban ruins of Berlin.

Selfie at Palatul Adevarul
Photo Credit: Venessa Fey

For more information on the urban ruins of Bucharest, read “5 Locations Which Prove Bucharest Has the Best Urban Ruins.”

Closing Party at Podstel

The final party was located at Podstel. Daniel, the British entrepreneur who recently set it up, describes it as a new type of hostel. The outdoor terrace includes a yoga studio, a stage where excellent music was playing throughout the party, and a bar serving the best smoothies in Bucharest. If you’re looking for the best hostel in Bucharest outside the noisy Old Town, Podstel is it!

Experience Bucharest at the Podstel

Why Bucharest

Bucharest is quickly becoming a top tourist destination in Europe. As the sixth-largest city in the EU (soon to be 5th after London exits), it has dozens of attractions, delicious food (as mentioned above) and a vibrant nightlife to attract visitors. It’s also the jump-off point for exploring the rest of Romania (think Dracula) and surrounding countries. Flights to Bucharest are the cheapest in the region from all over Europe. You can find round-trip tickets on Skyscanner from countries like Italy, Belgium, Germany, the UK and Denmark to Bucharest for under $50 round-trip! Learn about my 5 tips to find cheap flights to get these deals. If you’re looking for a destination off the beaten path, but on the crossroads of Eastern Europe, Bucharest is it!

Come join me! I’ll be in and out until the end of 2017. This is my next home base, after Chiang Mai. I’d be happy to show you around, or get you set up on any of the aforementioned tours of the city. Believe me, you won’t regret it. After all, what have you got to lose? Well…maybe your waistline….

I love exploring urban ruins. In Berlin I snuck into Spreepark, I jumped the fence into an 800-year-old church in Prizren and I still have the Ghost Tower of Bangkok on my bucket list. When I heard about the Beautiful Decay Tour of Bucharest offered by Interesting Times Bureau, I jumped at the opportunity.

Urban Ruins in Bucharest

The history of Bucharest goes back hundreds of years. Established nearly six hundred years ago, it’s now the six-largest city in the EU (possibly soon to be fifth when Brexit is finalized). It became the capital of Romania in 1862, and since then has been a playground of architects and artists. Even the communist era saw the construction of the second largest governmental building in the world by the dictator.

But not all the development has endured. Once known as the “Little Paris of the East,” many historic monuments are a shadow of their former glory. A significant portion of the city was even razed to the ground in the ’80s to build the aforementioned Palace of the Parliament, which is currently 70% empty.

Selfie at the Palace of the Parliament

Yet, some of the more rundown locations offer a wonderful adventure of exploration, and some incredible street art as well. Here’s a list of the locations we saw on the Beautiful Decay Tour.

Palatul Adevarul

The Palace of Truth. Originally opening in 1898, this was the headquarters of the largest newspaper in Romania – Truth Press. After World War II, the Germans took over and printed the Bukarester Tageblatt (Bucharest Daily Sheet). Then Communists took control of the facilities to print their Stea (Star) paper. In 1989 after the fall of Communism, buildings in Bucharest were returned to their original owners, but many couldn’t pay for the continued upkeep. Thus, many fell into disrepair. Palatul Adevarul is a great example of this.

Palatul Adevarul Foyer

The building is located at Strada Constantin Mille 15, behind the National Military Circle (Ballroom). An old guard is at the entry to prevent intruders, but he can be bribed. Just stay away from the windows on the lower floors, and don’t get hurt. Obviously, you explore at your own risk. Shoes, preferably thick soled, are absolutely mandatory with the amount of broken glass throughout the building.

It’s nearly impossible to feel like you’re in the center of a major capital as you explore this building. The decrepitude begins as you enter the building, and gets worse as you ascend the banister-less stairs. On the first floor is a foyer decorated with the original logo of Truth Press. Here you can explore various rooms, the use of which can only be vaguely guessed at. Shattered windows open up to courtyards rife with foliage and doorways leading to empty air.

Palatul Adevarul Urban Ruins #5

Skip the next couple levels. The guard doesn’t want people visible in the windows from the street, and there’s not much of anything different on those floors. Instead, head up to the top levels. The rubble here is a bit less, and there is a new addition to the building – lots and lots of street art. Some are the usual graffiti, but you can also find some really good pieces. There’s also the occasional deep message, such as “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy! I have Alzheimer. Hey, I just met you!”

A couple of the rooms caught my attention. One was a darkroom used by the newspaper. Another was an auditorium, now redecorated with a street art mural.

Palatul Adevarul Auditorium

Take your time and explore. This palace is absolutely massive. With the guard in place, it doesn’t get looted like other places have…or rather, the pillaging has ceased. It’s certainly hard to find anything of value left in the structure.

Click Here for my Palatul Adevarul Gallery

Grand Hôtel du Boulevard

Perhaps the Grand Hôtel du Boulevard isn’t so much of an urban ruin as it is an urban relic. The Grand Hôtel was the first luxury hotel in Bucharest, originally opening its doors in 1873. It later became an office building. Then in 2006, 15 million Euro were spent to restore the hotel. Renovations were completed in 2013, but to this day the hotel has failed to open. The true urban ruin here is what stands behind, and it’s the reason why this hotel can’t open its doors…for now.

Rising several stories above the hotel is a decrepit apartment building which looks to have been constructed by half a dozen different contractors over a century of design. It’s held together with duct tape and silly putty, which is not the smartest idea in a region prone to large earthquakes. The building has essentially been labeled “due to collapse at any moment,” but the occupants refuse to move, regardless of how much money the hotel has waved at them, or how many times they’re told that death is imminent if the building collapses.

Grand Hôtel du Boulevard

With the looming menace of the deathtrap above, the hotel can’t get insurance for its building or guests. It stands fully renovated, furnished and empty. A true testament of a city stuck in a time warp.

The English Passage

Built in 1885, the English Passage takes its name from the English Hotel, located at one end of the passage. It was later turned into a luxury brothel and eventually converted into apartments.

Located between Victory Avenue and Academy Street, it is sometimes confused with the umbrella passage next door. As far as iconic photos go, the umbrella passage is far more attractive, but this is a blog post about urban ruins.

English Passage

There isn’t a lot of exploring you can do here, as the apartments are still occupied. One man has weathered the changes in the building since 1967! On the ground floor is Palarii “La Mesterul Nico” (Hats of “The Craftsman Nico”). I got to meet Mr. Nico himself, who truly belies his 90 years. For 50 years he has worked in the shop with his wife and daughter, crafting beautiful hats of all design.

Mr Nico in the English Passage

I can’t resist commenting on an incredible article I found by Hodina Maria Otilia about the remodeling of the English Passage. One thing I see above all else in Bucharest is how much potential the city has to become a truly world-class tourist destination.

Macca House

The Macca House was built in the late 1800s by colonel Petre Macca and his wife Elena, and designed by renowned architect Ion D. Berindey. Unable to finish funding the project, the house was turned over to the state at the turn of the 20th century, and later became an archaeological museum.

The house certainly has the potential of a masterpiece. Art Nouveau and baroque can be seen throughout the construction. I’ve never claimed to be an expert in architectural design, but there are some features in this place which seem to really stand out. For instance, there are skylights originally installed through three floors to illuminate the bedrooms.

Macca House

Recent efforts have been made to restore the house, and they were even installing a new roof while I was there (beneficial as the house has been waterlogged for decades). However, the fluorescent bulbs illuminating the interior make it difficult to enjoy the design or get good photos.

Perhaps more interesting are the dozens of archaeological artifacts scattered around the grounds of the house. Most countries would have these on display in a museum, but here they are left to weather the elements. Some of them have been placed under a makeshift, dilapidated roof in the back yard, but others are just pushed to the side of the driveway.

Ruins at Macca House

Macca House is located at Henri Coandă Street 11, 2 km north of the old town. Admission is free. Opening hours are unclear, so best is to just jump on the Interesting Times Bureau Beautiful Decay Tour and learn more about the house from your tour guide.

Chimopar

Chimopar is an abandoned chemical factory on the outskirts of Bucharest. By factory, I mean industrial village. Dozens of buildings dot the 80-acre property, which dates back to 1896. Explosions leveled several buildings in both 1923 and 1979. Even the current Google Earth image for the property is nothing like the current state of affairs.

Chimopar from Satelite

This is the kind of place that simply has to be experienced to be believed. Entire buildings are folding in half as walls are weathered away. The land is also under constant looting, with locals carting away anything of the slightest value. While I was there, I watched an old man pick a wall apart brick by brick. He spoke no English, and I have no idea whether he intended to sell the bricks or use them for his own home.

Chimopar Panorama

The biggest use of the abandoned location now is as a street artist paradise. Walls throughout the compound are covered in murals and designs, some of which are really impressive. Other uses of the facilities include regular paintball and airsoft matches, and I even found a tale of the location being used for a porn film.

Located next to the Dedeman Home Improvement Center on the E81 Highway. At the time of this writing, there are no restrictions to visiting Chimopar beyond the obvious safety advisory.

Summary

This in no way is a full summary of all the urban ruins in Bucharest. There are over 2000 buildings in the city classified as historic monuments, and only a fraction of these are renovated. Many were abandoned in 1989, and plenty have been deteriorating since long before that.

The next urban ruin I plan to visit is the Bazilescu Summer Theater, an abandoned opera house in the center of Bazilescu Park, built in 1953 for a youth festival. Every day I walk around the streets of Bucharest and find more buildings boarded up, but perhaps with a colorful history. Recently I found an abandoned hotel across the street from Palatul Adevarul. Yes, I did try to find an entrance. No, I didn’t succeed.

Bucharest Hotel Urban Ruins

Perhaps this isn’t the safest city to explore urban ruins, what with all the Romas (gypsies) hanging around. But the urban ruins covered above are ready to explore, especially with an Interesting Times Bureau tour. Just let them know that I sent you, and have fun!

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Urban Ruins in Bucharest Pin

Further Reading

Looking for more activities in Bucharest? Check out my other articles on Bucharest.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

In a city filled with historic monuments and landmarks, it’s hard to imagine that Bucharest is the location of the world’s newest Old Town. You’d never guess that those stones were only laid down in 2011 as you stroll down the cobblestone-paved streets. What is now a hip, nightlife-infused hub of Eastern Europe was a derelict and dangerous district of Romania’s capital at the turn of the 21st century.

The History of the World’s Newest Old Town

The buildings in the historic center of Bucharest, locally known as the Old City, date back hundreds of years. Vlad’s fortress was built in the 14th century, and there is possible evidence that there were structures here before that.

Having emerged from a communistic era in 1989 which saw the demolition of over 10,000 homes in order to build the second-largest administrative building in the world – the Palace of the Parliament – Bucharest is on a campaign to place themselves squarely on the map as the next big tourist destination. And they are succeeding.

One of the first steps of that campaign was the designation of the “Old Town” in the heart Bucharest, essentially commercializing the Old City. Centered around Lipscani Street, dozens of pubs, clubs, cafes and accommodations have opened up just in the past few years.

Old Restaurant in Bucharest's Old Town

There’s nothing in the Old Town which would merit a UNESCO designation, such as the Old Town of Sighisoara, Romania. Yet the cobblestone paths are only the beginning. Iron-wrought street lamps line the lanes, cafe terraces which would look right at home in Paris serve delicious espressos, and baroque, art deco and other architecture styles are everywhere.

Carturesti Carusel, where I sit right now writing this blog post, is a fantastically gorgeous bookstore and cafe located in a beautifully restored 19th century building. I never claim to be expert at architecture, but the curvy lines and modern design of this place puts it in the list of my favorite cafes and bookshops in the world.

Carturesti Carusel Bookstore

The newest Old Town is far from complete, and many buildings are either barred from entry due to structural hazards, or have beams holding them up. Several properties are available to purchase, and new restaurants and shops are opening up all the time. Unfortunately, the sushi restaurant across from my hostel closed down just before I arrived. (Sad face)

Old Structures in Newest Old Town

Food and Lodging

There are dozens of restaurants, cafes, pubs, and clubs to eat at in the Old Town. While not as cheap as Albania, this is still a cheap region of Europe. A good meal and drink will only put you back about $5-7.

Food Hood

The first place I ate at in the Old Town was Food Hood, and it still remains my favorite. Rather than a single restaurant, Food Hood is a collection of street food stalls, ranging from hamburgers, pizzas, and fish and chips. The prices are great, and the ambiance is even better. Choose the small tables to sit at on one side, or the beach setting on the other. On weekend nights, there is a hidden stage off to the side which rocks the open air with local music and dancing. Personal recommendation: Centru double burger at the burger truck.

Food Hood Burger Stands

Efendi

Next to the Food Hood is a small kebab serving chicken, pork, lamb and falafel sandwiches for only $4 each. The portions are big and the meat is delicious. I’ve been back several times, and I’ve since found that it’s a local favorite. This place always has a line, but it moves quickly. Personal recommendation: lamb kebab.

Fire Club

A friend brought me here, saying they had the best papanasi (Romanian dessert) in town. While I’ve yet to get around to trying the papanasi (since we forgot to order it), I went back the next morning for their breakfast, and stayed for lunch! Their happy hour is from 10 am to 4 pm, and both meals with drinks cost me a whopping $10. The WiFi is great (as it is everywhere in Romania, which has the fastest internet in Europe) and the atmosphere was nice. At night it gets loud as one of the more popular restaurants in the Old Town. Even though they have three large spaces to eat in, we were lucky to get the last available table. Personal recommendation: bacon cheeseburger.

Fire Club Dinner

Caru’ cu Bere

This iconic restaurant is hailed as the oldest restaurant in the Old Town. The building was originally built in 1898 and the lavish interior has been beautifully restored. Locals fill the terrace tables everyday, and at 1:30 pm a string quartet performs in the center of the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant substantiated the claim several locals gave me regarding the substandard level of hospitality in Romania. In truth, the waiter was terrible. The food wasn’t really anything to write home about and the prices are a little higher than average, but at least you get to say you ate at the oldest restaurant in the world’s newest Old Town. Personal recommendation: none, but the restaurant recommends the pork knuckle. Be warned, it feeds four. Most portions in the restaurant are plenty for two people.

Papanasi at Caru cu Bere

Pura Vida

While most of the accommodations in Bucharest are located outside the Old Town, Pura Vida Hostel has two properties located right in the center. With large rooms and friendly staff, the hostel is the perfect location if you’re looking to spend a lot of time in the Old Town. Dorms and private rooms are both available. Spend time lounging on the colorful chairs outside, or watch the sunset from the balcony. Make sure you book in advance, especially for summer weekends. Perhaps you’ll even see me working there this summer!

Pura Vida Hostel in Bucharest Old Town

Shopping

Aside from food, you can also purchase clothing, books and other items in the Old Town. While a glass-fronted H&M is decidedly out of place, there are many first- and second-hand clothing shops available. Many of side streets have hand-crafted apparel and trinkets, and a lady out front of the Pura Vida hostel is always selling Romanian souvenirs.

Because it deserves it, I have to mention Carturesti Carusel again. Although they are a bit pricey, this bookstore offers far more than just books. The basement is full of CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays and board games. The ground floor has all kinds of souvenirs, satchels (a Moleskin laptop bag which I’m dying to purchase) and the largest selection of teas I’ve ever seen in one location. The first floor (second to you Americans) has a section of English books if you’re still working on your Romanian, and the second floor has a kids section. I’m still sitting here on the third floor in the cafe with a building-wide skylight and my cup of cappuccino.

Selfie at Carusel

Activities

There are plenty of things to do in the Old Town. Daily, several tours leave from outside Pura Vida hostel, including the Bucharest Slow Bike Tour and several Urban Adventure walking tours. I always say a walking tour is the first thing you should do in a new city, and Bucharest is no exception.

Pura Vida also puts on several events, in conjunction with Experience Bucharest. My personal favorite is the Saturday Night street party, where you can jump into the traditional Romanian dances, or just go wild with the contemporary hits.

Street Party in Bucharest Old Town

In the southern part of town, you can see an old church, and next to that is the 15th-century medieval fortress of Vlad the Impaler, more commonly known as Dracula.

Church in Bucharest Old Town

Or you can simply enjoy all the street musicians who line the streets. Some are really good, but there’s one old guy who has cornered his…corner in one of the squares. He plays an electric violin day after day to the same couple of songs, and he becomes furious if you dare to take a photo without a commensurate donation. See for yourself.

Old Violinest in Bucharest Old Town

Summary

The Old Town is just one of the many things to do in Bucharest. While most European capitals draw tourists due to their longevity as an established cultural hub, Bucharest is the hip, younger sibling. Whether it can still call itself Little Paris or something new, I see the world’s newest Old Town putting Bucharest on the map as a world-class travel destination. Will you be putting it on your itinerary of Europe? I hope you do, and I’ll stick around until the end of the year to welcome you!

Sunset in Europe's Newest Old Town

Planning to Visit Romania?

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?

Disclaimer: I want to thank Experience Bucharest, Pura Vida Hostel and Food Hood for inviting me to Bucharest and offering the tours, restaurants and activities I partook of.

Graveyards are supposed to be creepy, right? Not in Romania. I’ve yet to to get to the Merry Cemetery in the north, but Bellu Cemetery in the southern part of Bucharest holds plenty of unique and captivating tombstones, crypts, crosses and other memorabilia to keep you occupied for hours.

I booked my Bellu Cemetery Darkside Tour with Interesting Times Bureau, a partner of Urban Adventures. I hear that you can’t take photos at the cemetery without prior approval (and there are guards all over the place), so I’d highly recommend going with Interesting Times.

Urban Adventure Dark Side Tour of Bellu Cemetery

Located just two stops south of the Universitate Station in the Old Town on the M2 metro line, Bellu Cemetery is open everyday from 10 am to 8 pm. Entry is free.

Bellu is the largest in Romania, measuring a whopping 54 acres. The denomination is mainly Eastern Orthodox, although some others have been buried there as well. The southern portion of the cemetery is Catholic, another is Protestant, and across the street is a Jewish cemetery. Nearly every notable Romanian has been interred here.

Gherorghieff Tomb in Bellu Cemetery

There are some really interesting facts about the cemetery. The land was donated to Bucharest by Baron Barbu Bellu in 1858, but it is not maintained by the city, nor the church. Rather, the citizens themselves tend their family’s graves, and sometimes their own.

Flowers in Bellu Cemetery

Yes, even if you’re not dead yet, chances are that if you live in Bucharest, you have a plot ready for you, with your name already on the tombstone. It’s just waiting for someone to come along and chisel in the date of your passing. This does somewhat alleviate the guilt of photographing the dead, as many of the tombstones are technically for people not yet dead.

Maria Photographing Bellu Cemetery

One of the more interesting stories is that of Iulia Hasdeu, a young poet who wrote her first book at the age of 6! By the time she was 11, she spoke English, French and German fluently, and had graduated from both gymnastics and music school! She continued to write and lecture until she was 18, when she contracted pneumonia and passed away. Her plot in the cemetery includes stone sculptures of books, and images of Victor Hugo, Shakespeare and Jesus. There’s also a hidden skull which you have to be a little nimble to be able to see.

Iulia Hasdeu's Grave in Bellu Cemetery #1

Unfortunately I wasn’t so nimble. As I was leaning over the iron fence to get my shot, I slipped and my favorite Craghoppers shorts tore on the spike. Not only that, my underwear was caught on the spike through the hole in my shorts, and I was left hanging. Literally. Oh, the fun I have traveling!

Then there was the statue of Katalinei Boschott, whom I call “The Romanian Mary Poppins” for obvious reasons. Supposedly a doctor killed her either through malpractice or poison, and an unknown man commissioned a famous Italian sculptor to create a statue, which looks to the grave of the doctor on the other side of the cemetery. Behind her statue was a French inscription reading Cet animal de medecin m’a tuee (This physician animal killed me), but it has since been removed.

Katalinei Boschott's Tomb in Bellu Cemetery

What baffled me was the diversity of tombs, statues, crypts and cairns. One guy built his tomb to look like a pyramid, and beside that was a fancy brick structure. In another part of the cemetery was what appeared to be a mound of boulders. Perhaps the guy was a mountaineer. And all around were stone structures, perhaps hundreds of years old and covered in moss. They would have fit better perhaps in Angkor Wat.

Ancient Crypt in Bellu Cemetery

The “lanterns” around the graveyard also caught my attention. At first I thought someone had left their water bottle in the lamp post, but then it was pointed out that a cut-off water bottle of a local brand made the perfect windbreak and diffuser for a candle.

Water Bottle Lantern at Bellu Cemetery

While 54 acres might seem huge, 159 years have filled up the graveyard to capacity. In stead of stacking up the graves in layers like Prague, they’ve just made the roads and paths smaller. So much so that many times I had to tread carefully between the plots. And there was always the watchful eye of the guards to ensure I stayed in line. Of course, if the guards aren’t around, quite a few cats roam the cemetery, although I’m not entirely sure if the cats are there to guard or just be photogenic.

Cats in Bellu Cemetery

There are plenty of attractions to see in Bucharest, but this one should be at the top of your bucket list. Make sure to book with Urban Adventures, and hopefully you’ll get the same guide I had. Anita was wonderful and provided lots of information you can’t even find online. Don’t forget a good pair of shoes. You might have to tread carefully too.

Planning to visit Romania?

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?

Bellu Cemetery Gallery