James Went To Bucharest

Early last year, myself and my most important advisor (family excepted) decided that we would have a party weekend away somewhere.

Ideally I wanted to go to a country I’d never visited, and again ideally somewhere inexpensive.

We batted a few ideas around but given that we intended it on being a clubbing weekend, and most of my favourite DJs nowadays are from Romania, it made sense to visit the new centre of minimal techno – like visiting Berlin would have in 2004 when the last wave of minimal was really starting to make waves.

For a variety of reasons it didn’t happen – money, studying, work, detoxes and more detoxes – the dreadful nightclub fire then put paid to any chance of going in late 2015 as most nightclubs were closed whilst safety checks were carried out.

We did consider doing Time Warp in Germany instead but Easter clashed, and I really did have my heart set on going to the heart of the scene that excites me so much right now, so many great producers and DJs – Barac, Cristi Cons, Arapu, Priku, Dubphone, Kid Chriss, Zefzeed, VincentIulian, Vid, Petre Inspirescu, Rhadoo, Raresh, Groovesh, Funk E, Egal 3, Nu Zau, NTFO, Livio & Roby, Lumieux, Melodie, Mihai Popoviciu, Motiv, Dan Andrei…

I could go on and have probably missed some obvious ones – maybe one or two of them are actually from Essex but you get my drift.  The Romanian scene is currently as exciting as Berlin 10-15 years ago, or Chicago 30 years ago.  Something very, very special is brewing and I wanted a taste.

There was a slight problem in that very few events in Romania are advertised more than a few days in advance – unlike over here where promoters are probably about to start selling NYE tickets.

And there was a more moderate-sized problem – Sunwaves, a pretty massive minimal techno festival in Romania started the weekend after.

The only reliable source to hear of events was checking dozens of Romanian DJ pages the week before but I’d been checking every week and there were always some good events.

However I spent all week prior to leaving, looking for something on the Friday night (to avoid too traumatic a plane journey back on the Sunday).  No minimal techno.  I spent hours combing Facebook.  Nothing.  Nada.  Nicht.  Until late Thursday evening, finally a party appeared – I’d never heard of the DJs but their music was nice so all was sorted.

The very early morning wake-up and obligatory early morning beer ensued, British Airways supplied the transport and 3 hours in an aeroplane later, I found myself back in the 20th Century.

Despite the ridiculously cheap taxi prices, we decided to get the train to the city centre, assuming it would be something similar to the Gatwick Express.  Instead, 10 minutes or so on a rickety minibus, we found ourselves in a car park with some kind of Chernobyl-inspired walkway to the dilapidated one-platform station.  I even thought I could see Chernobyl in the distance.

But it was warm, the sun was shining, and we had some new Romanian friends (one was a hottie) and the train going the other way was a proper Communist-era monster.  I was suitably impressed.

Sadly when it came to getting our train to Bucharest centre, it was a more modern affair – albeit replete with cracked windows where rocks had been thrown at the train.  I’m clearly not the only one who preferred the Communist-era trains.

Our Romanian friends proceeded to warn us about the dangers of pick-pockets and thieves in the city, advising us to avoid groups of people, along with advising us not to get a taxi at night.  They were quite emphatic on the dangers and I was becoming a little duly concerned.

So my first impressions of Romania were that it was poor, still well in the 20th Century, and also possibly quite dodgy.  Though it was green.  There were loads of trees.  I like to think that Britain has a lot of trees but Romania puts it to shame on that aspect.

Our hotel was a non-descript Communist-era Ibis.  We did have a little look at Airbnb but many of the buildings in Bucharest were either dilapidated or identikit Communist-era apartments so they were not exactly appealing.  Oh and we did have a quick check on our party destination – the party was cancelled.  Sigh.

In the evening we went out for dinner at the Gram Bistro.  It didn’t serve what I was hoping for but I did get a small rib-eye steak.  Apparently in eastern Europe they do not know that you can cook a steak anything other than medium.  And meal portions were on the small size – there were no fat people in Romania.  It was warm enough to eat outside and watch the world go by, drinking fairly cheap beer and eating fairly cheap food.  Oh and surprisingly they also did a very nice blueberry cheesecake.

Food and drink wasn’t quite as cheap as I’d hoped in Bucharest but it was still cheap.  £10 for a steak, £2 or less for a beer, £3 to £4 for a double vodka and mixer.

Afterwards we discovered Bucharest’s version of Friar Street with a variety of bars pumping out rnb, cheesy deep house or random pumping cheese.  We found a bicycle themed bar where much of the seating and decoration was made out of old bike parts and was pumping out half-decent tech-house, although punctuated with the odd dreadful track like a saxophone-filled remix of Faithless’ Insomnia (insert vomit).  The bar was pretty decent – but sadly, it was empty.

We didn’t find any minimal techno and after a bit more wandering around decided to give up and save ourselves for Saturday night, via a pretty crap piece of pizza.

I’m not allowed to tell you how long I waited for my accomplice to apply her make-up on Saturday, but I was happy enough to drink a warm can of beer, straighten my hair and try to assess our party options for the evening, along with restaurant options.

Prior to our trip I had been wasted enough to agree to go to a raw food/vegan restaurant whilst in Bucharest and I stuck to my promise, despite really requiring bacon and eggs.  For those that don’t know, raw food is totally uncooked food (assuming I’ve actually been listening) and the theory is that it offers a higher vitamin/nutrient intake.

Everything looked weird, although the cakes looked amazing (if a little weird too).  I discombobulatedly plumped for some (uncooked) cheese in peppers with some salad leaves.  I ate most of it.

The cake was more appealing, I had a large slice of the chocolate cake (no baking, no cooking, remember) and the chocolate was very strong on the cocoa front.  Kind of nice but it wasn’t cake and I’d had enough by the end.  James does not leave cake though.

Needless to say, I will not be swapping to a raw food diet any time soon.  I did get chatting to the (assumed) owner, who was an occasional minimal techno producer, and apparently it was somewhere that Rhadoo often eats at.  You do know Rhadoo, don’t you?  He recommended Club Guesthouse for the evening – which is what we had planned.

Next up was a walk to the park, through generally much nicer buildings, including the rather impressive building housing the Democratic Socialist Party.  Of course, why would socialists just have a plain old Communist-era building?

I should add that we had glorious sunshine and temperatures around 20’C.  I was getting quite a bit of attention – was it the mullet?  Was it the bright pink socks?  Maybe it was my pretty accomplice but I suspect it was my beauty grabbing all the attention.  I would just like to add that Romanian women are hotties.  Spanish women are sooooooo 2015.

It was a very large park, much of which was slightly unkempt, a large lake to walk around and a very pleasant setting.  Inside the park was a museum – Bucharest isn’t exactly known for its culture – around 80 historic village buildings had been transplanted to the park – old houses, an old church, mills, etc – from previous centuries.  It was interesting to see how people in Romania used to live centuries ago.

We looked for somewhere to have a beer on the walk home but everywhere we saw was (surprisingly) very exclusive looking – quite a contrast from the majority of the city that we had seen so far.

In the evening we went to the delightful Beca’s Kitchen.  They had about 10 tables, there were just a handful of dishes to choose from – 3 fish and 2 meat dishes for my requirements.  I could have done with a mixed grill after earlier but went for the herb-encrusted salmon – with a cuboid of zucchini, tomato and some other stuff in.  Super tasty.

Later on we found our minimal techno.  Club Guesthouse was a simple space, with a bar on the front, toilets on the left, dancefloor at the end and a crisp, clear and fairly powerful soundsystem.  I truly felt at home with Melodie’s minimal warm-up.  One track was just absolutely sublime and I cannot wait until I work out what it is.

However the minimal didn’t last for that long – Cab Drivers came on afterwards and played a mixture of dub techno, tech-house and techno – some good, some not so inspiring.  We stayed until around 5:30am, probably about as long as we could push it with a midday check-out.

Waking up was painful, and the first beer took forever to drink.  We soon realised that the hotel bar was hosting some kind of Romanian Pop Idol contest – the only time I’d seen anyone in Romania looking gay kind of gave it away.  And the piano, and occasional singing.  But there was no motivation to go elsewhere.

We had a disappointing incident on the way home.  Some taxi drivers do try to rip you off, though even their rip-off prices come to £5 which is hardly extortion.  But we’d agreed a figure with our taxi driver to the airport, who looked like a thug, smoked in the taxi, drove angrily and looked like he was about to chase some driver down who I couldn’t see had done anything wrong.  He tried to charge more than we’d agreed – twice what was on the meter and we refused.

Eventually he stormed out of the taxi and literally threw our suitcases on the ground in the hope of breaking something.  Twat.

Apart from that, everyone we met and spoke to in Romania was really nice – the raw food restaurant owner came and joined us at Club Guesthouse, people were warm, friendly and helpful – most people spoke English very well.

Not at one point did I feel unsafe or like there were people looking at my wallet.  Of course I was only there two days, but I thought Barcelona was far more dodgy than Bucharest.

I had an excellent weekend away.  Yet I’m not sure I would recommend it unless you are the type of person to go for city breaks away from the usual western European trail.  It certainly doesn’t fit into my must-visit list, though very few places do.

It’s a good city, up and coming, cheapish beer and food, hot women.  Not a lot of culture.  Great minimal techno scene – if you can find it!  There were plenty of tourists.

I had a great time in Romania.  I’d go back for Sunwaves – or to go to Transylvania.  But there are many other countries on my list too.  I’ll certainly be back in eastern Europe though.

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