This is a Day 1 of my Transylvania long weekend trip with Explore UK. You can read more about the Trip Itinerary and Highlights here.
0600: Arrived at London Heathrow to catch my plane to Bucharest.
Normally I wouldn’t write about the flight part of the journey, but I thought it was worth making a few notes about British Airways Club Europe experience. At Terminal 5 BA has all but done away with staffed check-in, so its all self-service for check-in, printing boarding passes and bag drop. It works, as along as you don’t deviate from the norm. The guy before me in the check-in queue got charged £65 for being 1.4 kg over the baggage weight limit. He paid and walked off in a huff, without hitting the confirm button to send the bag away. Then when it was my turn, the machine tried to charge me £65, as it thought his bag was mine. All in all, it was a bit chaotic to sort out and not helped by the grumpy BA ground-staff. British Airways, if you are reading this, please make sure the few staff you haven’t replaced with machines are a bit nicer.
Security was a breeze, helped by the fast track pass that comes with flying Club Europe. This also allows you access to the BA lounge. Having tried the Terminal 5 North lounge before I decided to try the South lounge this time. Good selection of breakfast food on offer (porridge, bacon rolls, toast, pastries, cereal etc) with plenty of hot drinks. This time, though I decided to explore the magazine rack and ended up stocking up £20 magazines to take on to the flight. The lounge was busy, but I managed to find a seat.
0745: Time to go to the gate as we start boarding. Another perk here as you get to board the flight first. The plane was an Airbus A-320 in a 3 by 3 single aisle configuration. In Club Europe you get the same size seat, but the middle seat is always empty, so there’s a bit more elbow room. Complementary food and drinks are a part of the flight. Breakfast menus was good and the service was attentive.
Departure was delayed by nearly an hour, but this was mostly caught up during the flight, so only about 10 minutes late arriving in Bucharest.
1410: At arrivals in Bucharest airport. A transfer to the hotel was included as part of the tour, and the driver was waiting with Explore sign. He seemed a bit sullen and quiet, but I put this down to the language barrier. His car also had a massive crack right across the windscreen, and I am pretty sure it is illegal to drive around like that (in the UK anyway).
First impressions – Bucharest reminded me of Athens. There’s a lot of faded grandeur. Like Athens, lot of run down buildings, full of graffiti, but there is no litter.
1445: Arrived at hotel Minerva. Minerva Hotel is located about 25 minute walk from Bucharest old town. The hotel is 4-star and is pretty good. Friendly staff and recently refurbished room. Nice spa. Hot water takes a good 10 minutes to heat up, but other than that, the room is great. There’s a kettle and some instance coffee sachets provided, but no tea bags, milk or cups. TV has plenty of good channels. Hotel also houses a good Chinese restaurant and cafe/bar.
1530: Took a little stroll outside and came across a museum, dedicated to George Enescu, arguably Romania’s most well known musician.
Enescu was born in Romania in 1881 and was a child prodigy. He performed his first piece at the age of 10 in Vienna. Over a career spanning many decades, he performed across the World. Although he spent many years living in Paris and the US, when he was in Bucharest, he lived at the Cantacuzino Palace. The palace was built in 1901–1903 by Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, mayor of Bucharest and former prime-minister. \The palace was inherited by his son, Mihail, who dies in 1929. Mihail’s widow Maria, married Enescu in December 1939. After the death of Enescu in 1955, his wife dedicated the building to become a museum. In 1956, The National Museum George Enescu was established in the building.
Today, the building houses an exhibition spread over 3 rooms on the ground floor, dedicated to Enescu’s childhood, early years in music and the period in France. As with the whole city, all the rooms were once grand but now faded. Behind the main building there is the memorial house, with 3 rooms (2 bedrooms and a music hall).
1800: Back at the hotel to meet the rest of the tour group and the tour orientation talk. Our tour leader was Raz, who had worked with Explore for a number of years. There were 8 in total in the tour group. Raz provided an overview of what to expect over the next few days, as well as making not of any special needs and dietary requirements of the group.
1900: Out for another stroll along one of the main boulevard and a very quick dinner. By this time, the early start to the day was catching up-to me, so I decided to call it a day, and headed back the hotel for some much needed sleep.