There is a serious problem with stray dogs in Bucharest. I heard estimates of over one million roaming the streets of the city, and I could easily believe it.
Apparently, during the Caecescu era, many of the old houses were torn down and the people rehoused in modern tower blocks. They were not, however, allowed to keep dogs in them, so rather than putting them down, many people just turned the dogs out into the streets. The dogs did what dogs do, and now there is a huge population of them.
There are packs of them running in the streets, and the noise of their barking at night can be infuriating. They will run at you barking and snarling, and if you are afraid of dogs, I would suggest that it could be a major problem
Forget Ionesco, when it comes to traffic and parking, Bucharest is your absurd theatre stage. The number of cars in Bucharest has gone way over the parking capacity of the city, with only a couple of underground parking lots and very little parking space for old communist apartment buildings. As if this was not enough, the Bucharest Driver (TM) makes it all worse. If someone needs to go to the post office or to a shop, you can bet he/she will park the car in front of the very door. Isn't there any parking space? So what? Is there already a car parked? No problem, the Bucharest Driver (TM) will park his/her car in the street. The other cars passing down the street? "To hell with'em, they can pass by me, let the City Hall build more parking places!" And if, when he/she returns to the car, he finds an illegal parking bill, hell will come down on earth. Everyone, from the president, to the cleaning lady will be guilty, but not our Bucharest Driver (TM).
But there is more to it. A few multistorey parking lots have been built in the last few years, but they have the inconvenient of not being located right in front of the post office or bank our Bucharest Driver needs to go. In an attempt to settle things down, the City Hall assigned many parking lots to as private company, Dalli, and you will see their staff, dressed in blue, charging a fee (1.50 lei per hour). But, as above, there is more to it. Parking places not assigned to any company were quickly "taken over" by smart ad hoc antrepreneurs. You will see them near Bucuresti Nord railway station, on Splaiul Independentei, near University Square or on various streets where parking is possible and the demand is high. They will show you where to park, even tell you how much you can reverse, a bit more, yes, straight on, OK, stop! And then they will expect (actually ask for) money. Illegal? Yes, it is.
Police. Police officers always wear official outfits when on duty. If asked to provide your documents by someone, do ask for his / her ID and make sure it is not an ordinary plastic ID everybody has in Romania. Police officers must have a badge and a cardboard legitimation with a picture saying “Politia Romana”. If in doubt, ask to be led to the police station and refuse to produce any ID.
Passports and valuables. As real police officers are entitled at any hour to ask for ID and, in your case, the only accepted one is your passport (or ID card for EU citizens), you could consider leaving it in the hostel or hotel and bearing on you a copy.
Exchange. Never, but never even think about changing money in the street, it is both illegal and stupid, as there are so many exchange offices around. When changing in such an office, look at the rates very well, as some of them charge an outrageous 6-8% commission. Look out of “0% comision” posts. Banks are always trustworthy for changing money and their rates are good.
Environmental fee. Romanians are among the last people on earth to care about the environment. So, obviously, there is no environmental fee to be paid in Bucuresti Nord Station. Those asking for you to pay that are going to fool you. This scam is rare nowadays, but it is better to know about it.
Representatives. No hotel or hostel in the city has people welcoming tourists in the station unless someone has booked a transfer. People working for the information office in Bucuresti Nord Station lie only inside their office.
General. If you are approached by someone which is bugging you with useless questions or pretends to be something he / she is not, simply shout “politzia!”. Most of the scammers in Bucharest being just little children compared to others, they will vanish like the wind.
The more expensive the car, the less they know (or pretend to know) of the traffic rules. A BMW never uses lights when turning to the right or left. A Mercedes never slows down, the others have to go away. Anything that is smaller than one's car has to disappear, or it will be horned, flashed, cursed or thrown things at. Pedestrians? What is that? What? They don't afford a car? To hell with'em. Cyclists? Bastards jeopardizing traffic. Other drivers? They aren't in the same rush like our Bucharest Driver (TM). One way streets (I happen to live on one)? The Bucharest Driver (TM) MUST drive in the opposite direction to prove he/she is a good driver. When approaching a crossing with traffic lights, the Bucharest Driver (TM) MUST speed up and go on yellow or even red; otherwise, if he stops at the traffic light, he/she must be the first to start when it is still red, loudly engaging and horning, then rush in the crossing, horn and curse all drivers there. The others? There we go again: the others do not count, they are not in a rush, they have smaller and cheaper cars. So they can go to hell.
That is the Bucharest Driver's way of thinking (or rather lack of brains), so beware of traffic in this city and in this country generally. Therefore, I have a message for all Bucharest drivers (for, be them academicians, doctors, merchants, bankers or whatever, they all, without a single exception, behave similarly when in traffic, and they are 'never' the guilty ones):
"Stupidity is an elemental force for which no earthquake is a match."
Taxis in Bucharest are notorious for A) the suicidal driving style and B) ripping off unsuspecting clients. The latter is not strictly speaking true as there are a variety of meter rates for taxis and it's really up to you to check the rate before you get in. Having said that, there are rip-off merchants waiting for you too, so beware!
Before you get in, check the rate printed on the front passenger door. The standard rate is 1.4RON/km and 0.9 or 1 RON pornirea. Avoid anything else!! Check the driver starts the meter, by asking 'Aveti ceas?' (have you got a meter?)
The usual tip is 1lei plus the change eg for a 6.30RON ride, you'd round it up to 8 RON.
Most Romanians I know advise ringing to order a taxi - try Meridian or Fly, which will be more expensive than the above advice, but reliable and safe. If you do get a taxi on the street, check the rate and avoid getting taxis outside the big hotels as they'll definitely be the most expensive!
Romania has the largest Roma minority in Europe. According to the last official census, roughly two million Roma, representing ten percent of the population, are living in Romania today. They are considered to be "the most disruptive" minority; an opinion supported by statistics from the Romanian police that reveal a high proportion of crimes are committed by Roma.
Facing cruel poverty ,the Roma are trying to survive by begging in the street, but be careful as some will also try to "pickpocket" you or steal your bag
When on very crowded buses in Bucharest, always keep an eye on your bag and belongings; in fact it is very common to meet "local thieves" that will try to reach your wallett or even try to steal your bag..beware of those people especially when you are standing on buses as you may not realize they are behind you
I know that it is generally assumed around the world that taxi drivers will attempt to cheat you if you appear to be a visitor, but in Bucharest they take the concept absolutely to extremes. When I was there, I heard some complete horror stories about people being ripped off.
In most instancesaround the world, it is always a good idea to ensure the taxi driver uses the meter, but even this is not reliable in Bucharest. Taxi drivers are known to have two speed meteres, one speed for locals, and another much faster tickover for foreigners. My advice would be to always agree a price before the journey, and, if possible, have someone Romanian order the taxi for you.
There has been already a lot of debate on this subject; if only the dogs could benefit from this advertising campaign, they would be well fed at least. There are many dogs in Bucharest indeed. When Traian Basescu (n. actual President of Romania) was Mayor of Bucharest, he began a campaign of collecting the stray dogs and euthanasiating them. This campaign was stopped when several NGOs intervened debating in favour of the dogs. If coming to Bucharest, you will certainly notice these dogs. Some people love and feed them, some others despise them, while others pass by without looking at them. Fact is that, if you look around and do not stir or scare them, you will not have any problem. I am saying this as someone that - not paying attention to where I was walking - I almost stepped on a dog and got bit, beating the path to the anti-rabies section of a hospital afterwards. Every now and then I for one like to play with them; it does not hurt to be human in the end of the day. After all, so much unlike the Bucharest Driver (TM), dogs bring colour, life and a bit of joy to the city. And I like that.
ATM's can be found in most of the larger cities and are connected to the banks in North America. The one surprising issue which I encountered was the problem I had in cashing American Express Travellers Cheques at any bank or money exchange. To cash the cheques I had to provide copies of the original bill of sale from the bank where I purchased the travelers cheques. Luckily for me for some unknown reason I had the original bank receipts with me so I could make a copy and provide it to the Romanian Bank. Without the original bill of sale it is impossible to cash the travelers cheques!!!!!
There was a recent change with the Romanian currency - the LEI. Two different versions of the currency are in circulation. The newer currency drops three of the zeros found on the original currency bills. If you are not paying attention - the locals will take advantage of your confusion with the currency - ensuring that the transaction favours them!!
Beggars and gypsies are everywhere - don't give them any money at all. The best way to deal with them when you are approached is to firmly tell them "NO" "NO" and keep walking.
In one winter when President Basescu was Mayor of Bucharest, he put it the best way: "you know, winter is not like summer". Indeed, both seasons might make it uncomfortable for visiting the city unless one is used to frost and heat. Temperatures can go up to 40C (or lightly above that occasionally) in July or August, respectively as low as -10C or -15C in December - January. Even though the last years saw little or no snow during the winter, the 2007/2008 winter has been kind to us, and we had half a meter of snow fallen in one night. It lasted for a few days and it was like a memory from childhood; I for one enjoyed it greatly. January 3, 2008 saw the main railway station, the two airports, as well as several avenues in the city closed for a few hours, until they managed to clear them out.
On the other hand, I admit it was sadistically fun to see the otherwise all mighty Bucharest Driver (see my special tip about traffic, also in Dangers and Warnings) struggling in the snow, not being able to do his/her typical ego show, trying to take illegal turns just to end with the car slipping into a heap of snow, or having to walk for a change, not being able to start the car covered in a thick layer of snow. Praised be thy name, Nanak, for justice has been done!
This old rebuilt kavanserei (inn) is currently closed until sometime in 2008 for renovation. It features a restaurant and a hotel. They may let you take a peek through the door at the yard, otherwise you just have to be patient.
There are some great bicycle paths along the river. But in places motorists don't care about cyclists at all and just park on the bicycle paths. I can't tell whether it's different during the weekend.
Once when I was just asking the exchange rate for US Dollars to the local currency Lei, I was cornered by about five guys appearing to be money changers who later tried their level best to take away my US Dollars and passport claiming to be undercover cops (when I just asked them the rates for exchange) but I gave them a tough time before they had to let me off unrelentingly and with only verbal talk without even knowing their language since I only spoke English and they did not understand it very well either!!! So you can imagine the kind of conversation that went on!!! HAHAHA!!! But I still managed to get away from them by just shouting my way out!!! If one is meek and gives in then they are bound to have the upper hand!!! One learns from experience and if you are smarter, then from other people's experiences!!! HAHAHA!!! So take a cue and don't ask for exchange rates from local exchange kiosks which have such ruffians hanging around to make a scapegoat out of you!!! Be careful when dealing and don't show them all your money even if you do exchange through them!!!
A colleague of mine who tried to exchange some money got duped when he gave a ten dollar note and found the rate not good enough so he asked for his money back only to be returned a one dollar note instead of the tenner he gave, which he realised only later on and not when he made the unsuccessful deal!!! Lucky he did not give a hundred dollar bill to be returned a tenner in exchange!!! HAHAHA!!!
The traffic in Bucharest, especially during rush hours, can be a bit on the nightmarish side. Occasionally, the subway workers go on strike and everyone who normally takes the subway to work takes the bus or their personal car instead. If you can imagine a sea of cars, all honking (why? since there’s no space to advance to) and just looking like they were parked in the middle of the road, you got the right idea. Many times the traffic of Bucharest looks like that, even when there’s no subway strike. A lot of the mess is brought on themselves by the Bucharest’s drivers who try to inch their way in intersections even when the light is red. Most intersections have crisscrossed yellow lines which are supposed the mark the “Do not block” area of the intersection. Not that anyone pays attention to that :)