Bucharest – The Arrival
Part 2 of our exit from Russia.
At check-in at Sheremetyvo airport in Moscow, the woman told us that I would have to have 14 days self-isolation upon arrival in Bucharest. No problem, as long as we can get on the plane together. Olivier, being French and European, had no restrictions.
Passport control in Bucharest
When we finally arrived in Bucharest, I went first through passport control. The guy didn’t understand why I wanted to come to Romania right now.
He asked, “Why are you coming here?”
Not really knowing what to say, I replied, “For a holiday.” Little did I know that there was nothing open here, unlike in Moscow which I’d just left hours before.
He said, “At this time??!” I felt like an idiot.
I told him that we’d lost our jobs and had to leave Russia. I told him that my husband was behind me in the queue. He told me to wait and he left his desk and disappeared.
Olivier and I waited some minutes, I don’t know how long but it wasn’t long, until he came back.
He said, “Welcome.” He stamped my passport and let me into Romania. He didn’t tell me to self-isolate at all.
And apparently when Olivier went through control just after me with the same officer, he asked Olivier if he thought that it would be better here than in Russia. Of course Olivier didn’t know the answer, but the guy let him through, and we were finally in Romania and looked forward to getting to our Booking.com accommodation, a small apartment, and sleeping.
Our Taxi to the Apartment
We had a driver booked through our hotel/apartment waiting to pick us up because we arrived at 11.35pm. But he wasn’t there. There was a driver with a sign “Alex Co”, but of course that’s not us, and he was as disappointed as we were. He continued waiting but his customer didn’t arrive.
We waited 5, 10, 15 minutes. The airport was small and almost empty. Olivier went outside to see if there was a driver there for us, but no, only taxis waiting in vain for a customer.
We waited another 5 minutes. I found the booking reservation for the driver on our tablet, after connecting the airport wifi, and Olivier approached the waiting driver and asked him if he was this driver on our booking. It turned out that he WAS waiting for us, but for some reason he didn’t have my name correct and we had just wasted 20 minutes waiting for each other when we were actually about 10 metres from each other.
We got in the taxi and had a bit of a delay because we had overstayed the time limit and the driver had to pay a bit extra before we could get out of the car park.
He was a really nice young guy and we talked a lot on the way to the apartment. He told us that it was basically a ghost town right now and although there were food shops open there was nothing else open here.
We had just come from Moscow, and there everything was still open, even if a lot of people were working from home. That day in Moscow we could still meet with friends in a café and shop normally. But here it seemed that things were very different.
Our apartment was located in the old town, and cars are not allowed in, so the driver dropped us off at the nearest entry and told us that we had to turn left at the first street and our flat was about 40 metres away. No problem, thank you and goodbye.
Looking for the Apartment
The streets were dark. It was about midnight or just after. There wasn’t a soul outside, everything was closed. We couldn’t even find the name of our street.
The only information I had was the printout from Booking.com, with the address of the accommodation, which is what we were looking for. We didn’t find it.
We found an open hotel, the only place open in the whole area, and I asked the receptionist if he could give us directions to our apartment address. It appeared that the address I got from Booking.com was on the opposite side of the old town. The driver had left us far from our apartment, it seemed.
The nice guy in the hotel gave me a map, showed me how to get to the address I had, and we headed by foot in that direction.
The address was a boulevard, about 10 minutes from where the driver had left us. But we still couldn’t find the address.
A couple were walking towards us, so we asked them for help. They walked with us to the ‘correct’ place, and left us there. There were several entrances to flats at this address. We couldn’t even get in the doors. There were codes, but nobody was around to tell us the code.
At one point a guy came out of one entrance towards us to go into another entrance. We asked him for help. He said we should go around the building to the next entrance.
I tried to call the owner of the flat. It rang and rang but he didn’t answer. He had said to call him when we arrived, but he didn’t respond.
In another building we found another entrance with an old woman concierge. She let us in through the locked door and I showed her the Booking.com reservation.
She couldn’t speak English or Russian. She didn’t know anything about our reservation. Yes, it was the right address but she didn’t know how to help us. We weren’t in the right place, but it was the right address.
She talked in Romanian, and we heard ‘pharmacy’ and ‘arch’. So we thanked her and said goodbye and went back up the street to the arch next to the pharmacy, that we’d just come through some minutes before.
So we walked around until we found another door which led to another concierge in another building. He let us in. He was about 100 years old, like the old woman we had just been talking to.
He didn’t speak English, but in a very frail voice he asked, “Vous parlez francais?” Do we speak French? It seemed that he pulled some schoolboy French from the back of his memory and we communicated to him that we had a reservation and asked if this was the right place.
He was really, really slow. He looked at our paper, which was in English, and he studied it for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably only one. I’m sure he didn’t understand a thing written on the paper, but with the lens of some long lost glasses, taken from his pocket, held up to his right eye, he studied the page as if it held the most important document in the world.
I was exhausted.
He told me to call the number of the owner of our flat, which was written on the paper. I called once again but no answer. He didn’t know how to help us. We asked him if there was a hotel nearby. He walked with us outside and pointed to a big neon Coca-cola sign in the distance and told us that there was a hotel over there.
We said thank you and off we went.
By this time, one of the wheels of Olivier’s suitcase had broken as a result of walking through the cobblestones of the old town. He had difficulty walking with his suitcase, but we managed to get through a big park and crossed a couple of streets to the building with the Coca-cola sign.
The city was empty, just a few cars in the street and a couple of people in the park. They didn’t bother us at all.
We got to the building. It said ‘restaurant and hotel’, and we were ready to pay for a night there and find our apartment the next day.
We got to the front door.
A sign said, ‘Closed for renovations’.
By that time I was weak. So much stress and lack of sleep, I was ready to collapse, but I couldn’t. I had to remain standing because we still hadn’t found our apartment and we didn’t have anything to collapse on.
There were a couple of taxis parked not far from us in the street. We decided to take some money out of a cash machine which was magically standing in front of us in the street.
When we turned back around there was only one taxi left in the street.
I went to the taxi and asked him to take us to a hotel.
He told me that all the hotels in the city were closed, due to the virus.
I showed him the map that the hotel in the old town had given me, and indicated that there was a hotel there that was open. He told me that it was impossible, there were no hotels open in the city.
I asked him to take us there, that we had just been there, and that there was a hotel that was open.
He agreed and so we put our suitcases in his car, got in, and went back to where the original taxi had dropped us off. We were confused and very, very tired.
Finding a Bed
While I went into the hotel I’d been to earlier, Olivier waited with the taxi. If there was a problem we’d take the taxi and go back to the airport and try to get some help.
I talked to the guy in the hotel reception. I told him that we had problems, couldn’t find our hotel, couldn’t contact the owner by phone, and didn’t know what to do. Then I asked if we could stay in his hotel for one night and then decide what to do the next day.
He then became very cautious and said that there were rules now because of the virus and that he had to ask me some questions before he could agree to let us stay. He wanted to know about our health, about where we’d been, about if our flight here was direct or not.
After answering all his questions, he finally agreed that we could stay, so I told Olivier, and we got our luggage from the taxi and proceeded to check in.
We had to fill in a declaration about our health, where we’d been etc, for the government. We agreed to stay for one night and if we couldn’t sort things out with Booking.com overnight we would discuss in the morning the possibility of staying longer.
All the time, since arriving with the first taxi almost 2 hours earlier, we’d seen nothing open and only about 4 people in the street. We didn’t have any idea what would happen the next day.
It’s a really luxurious hotel, and if it had been in France or Australia or somewhere else, it’s not the kind of hotel we could afford to stay in. It wasn’t really expensive here, nothing is, but it was more than we usually pay for a room, considering that we had an apartment somewhere that we’d already paid for.
Finally a Room and a Bed
When we got to the room, I opened my tablet and logged into the hotel’s wifi. We don’t have smartphones and so all the time since arriving, walking in the street and looking for the other hotel, we hadn’t been able to check emails or Booking.com for any information, or to ask them about the correct location of our apartment.
So, I logged in and went to Booking.com messages and asked the owner of the apartment where it was and why he hadn’t answered my calls.
Apparently he’d sent all the details of the apartment to Whats App earlier. Which I couldn’t access not having any wifi since arriving, apart from when we met with the driver.
Apparently, the address of the flat was not the same address that was on our reservation from Booking.com (I don’t know why). I checked, and he had, indeed, sent all the details to us in Whats App – the address, access codes etc, not knowing that we are luddites and only have Nokia phones with a sim card for calls only (Russian sim card). I only used the tablet in Moscow for teaching in lessons, and not for communication, there is no sim inside the tablet.
So, we had the address of the apartment, and it was just across the street from the luxury hotel that we found ourselves in. We would sleep in clean white sheets for one night, and then in the morning we would go across the road and see what was waiting for us there.
Next – our first days in Bucharest