A travel moment in Bucharest

As a child I spent happy hours gazing at the sky and the beautiful white ribbons trailing behind planes full of people that I could not see, heading for somewhere I could not imagine. Fed on a diet of bike rides and lashings of ginger beer, I struggled to picture this great mystery, but as a Thursday’s child I was told I had ‘far to go’ so I knew that one day all would become clear. Today’s reality of flying leaves me crumpled and weary and thankful for the car waiting to whisk me to my hotel.

I was nine when I first discovered Bonjour Line and the magic of speaking another language. From that day on, I knew that would be my path. Many years and countries further down the road I fancy myself as very different, cosmopolitan even, as I don’t usually have to rely on English to get by. It will be a bit harder this trip though as I never got round to learning Romanian.

Our trip across Bucharest turns into a white-knuckle ride. Our car is now a dodgem able to weave in and out of traffic miraculously without crashing. At least, please not today. The traffic and the fumes thicken as the wide, tree-lined avenues give way to suburbs of neglected villas and dismal tower blocks where human souls must live. Shiny new designer stores flash past the drizzly windows.

Whilst my husband has a job to do, I am here quite simply out of curiosity and I am not the only one. There are eight of us, each from a different country and we will be looked after by a shy young Romanian called Ruruca. Over the next few days, she will practise her English and show us only the best of this city of extremes: the magnificent palaces that guard the beauty and opulence of Romania’s royal past and cosy restaurants with ornate interiors and traditional food.

But we get to escape. On our last evening we take a shortcut through Izvor Park. Although its own lamps are not lit, the brightly illuminated Parliament Palace sheds enough light for us to see that one of the city’s many wild dogs has decided to walk us home. We are fearful, not of her teeth, but because we assume she wants us to adopt her. At the door of the hotel, she slopes off and our consciences are spared. Perhaps like the Romanians she knows she must wait for things to get better.

After a few days in our company, Ruruca’s English and humour seem more fluent. She jokingly tells us how much she was dreading our arrival but that now she is sad that we will leave. I finally learn that the Romanian way is to kiss on both cheeks and I say goodbye to her fondly. ‘You know,’ she says, ‘it has been great pleasure for me to meet typical British woman.’ Obviously, she still has a lot to learn.

L McQue-Michael

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