I arrived Monday afternoon (September 19) on a Tarom flight from Istanbul IST to Bucharest OTP, which took about 80 minutes. Virgil, the very personal but non-English speaking driver from the Commission, was waiting for me and drove me to Sector 4, where I had rented an apartment for my five-month stay in Bucharest.
Bucharest is the sixth largest city in the EU. The drive from the airport to Sector 4 took almost as long as my flight. The city is vast and sprawling, and many neighborhoods are row after row of the same stark-looking block buildings. My neighborhood appears to be very working class, and few people I’ve encountered can speak any English. Very easy access to public transportation and grocers but surprisingly few restaurants nearby.
So far, my biggest Fulbright “mistake” is that I didn’t secure the proper paperwork for my apartment lease. Without the right papers, I cannot be registered, begin the residency paperwork, get paid by Romania, get a bank account, etc. It’s a big issue and one that I must have resolved in the next few days.
For my fellow Fulbrighters, I strongly recommend reading the handbook very closely, communicating far in advance, and then meeting as soon as possible with the Commission officers and your host institution liaisons.
Initial impressions of Bucharest…impressions, not facts, mind you:
- Older folks don’t speak any English; younger folks might speak some English. I need to learn as much basic Romanian as possible…and soon.
- Material goods are much more available, varied, and cheaper than I would have expected.
- Bucharest has plenty of cheap public transportation, but it takes time and can be extremely crowded. I am unaccustomed to investing hours each day in transit; I wish I lived closer to work.
- Meals are heavy on meats, fats, and starches. I must work more produce into my diet.
- While there are some lovely neighborhoods (Primavera) and charming spots to hangout and nosh (Old City), most of Bucharest has that cliche “former Communist” look, particularly when it comes to housing.