Thoughts about food and service in Bucharest

Diverse European food, terrible sushi, mediocre customer service, and my favorite places to eat.

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I’ve been spending an average of 40-50 Lei per meal in Bucharest. One can save money by going to fast food places, making your own food, eating where locals eat, or by not buying drinks/desserts at restaurants. Of course, it also helps to not choose fancy places, but I’m happy as long as I’m spending less than I do in NZ while eating tolerable food. I rely primarily on Trip Advisor and Google’s “near me” search, but I’ve realized this does mean you miss out on some great smelling street food, which is unlisted. (The main obstacle being not knowing what to order from menus written only in Romanian.)

The good

A really cool thing about food in Romania is that restaurants are required by law to list the ingredients of a dish by weight. This means you know what’s in the dish (although a lot of it remains unfamiliar to me), the total weight, and sometimes the weight of each component. No more inadvertent overpaying for tiny portions! I think one can get really good at calculating how much they want to eat.

There are lots of different cuisines here, though it’s hard for me to tell what’s on offer based on the names of restaurants. Romanian food doesn’t seem to be that common, overshadowed by Italian food perhaps. I guess the moral is that real Romanian food is prepared in people’s houses.

McDonald’s is relatively cheap; it’s often more expensive in Asia because it’s not the norm. Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut have exotic looking pizzas. I wouldn’t have thought that possible. Even some higher class restaurants offer online orders and deliveries.

The bad

Menus usually have a decent range, and even the drinks menu is often sizable. However, if you’re after hot non-alcoholic drinks without caffeine, namely hot chocolate, many restaurants don’t have it even if it’s on the menu. It’s also usually not that good of a deal in terms of price and how little you get. For some reason, cocktails seem to be universally present. Unfortunately, there are never any cutesy drinks like milk tea, bubble tea, yogurt drinks, or that kind of thing.

I went to Edo Sushi, the 2nd ranked sushi restaurant in Bucharest (according to Trip Advisor). It was disappointing. Most of the sushi was flavorless. The menu had some pointless items. It was on the expensive side; I got the Maki Fever combo (65 lei) which had 25 pieces, and it didn’t even fill me 100%. None of the staff were Japanese. I’m not saying that only Japanese people can make good sushi, but the evidence points to the fact that Romanians don’t know good sushi since they gave this place good reviews. And I’ve had way better takeaway sushi than this freshly prepared sushi. Don’t bother with sushi in Romania. (Yes, that is a generalization that I feel confident enough to project.)

After another disappointing experience, I’m not going to name and shame, but let’s just say I recommend avoiding Asian food. I also don’t trust Trip Advisor anymore. It’s okay for scouting out places to try, but don’t let it set your expectations. I’m always suspicious of the possibility of fake reviews, and I don’t think there is such an issue here, but places with anywhere between a 3.5 and 5.0 rating are not necessarily comparable due to the relatively low number of reviews everywhere. I don’t know if people are used to bad food here, or they would rather not review than give a bad review, but the scale seems pretty skewed to me. It makes me shudder to think what a 2 or 3 star rating would mean.

Cheesecake. Way different to what I’m used to. Only the topping is sweet, the rest is not really. I guess it’s predominantly… cheese? Even the cookie base isn’t sweet, so the flavor is overall kind of subtle.

Although I haven’t explicitly tried, I don’t think you can get free water at a restaurant, at least not boiled and filtered tap water. It’ll always be bottled water, which costs money. Just bring your own if you want to save money. By the way, sparkling water is a thing in Romania. As in, bottled carbonated water. It’s meant to be for fancy occasions or something. The implications of drinking carbonated water are not crystal clear. Anyhow, I tried it and it was disgusting. Like, about as disgusting as raspberry flavored Fanta. I ended up getting rid of all the bubbles.

Snacks and bakery stuff in the supermarket is skewed towards chocolate. It’s not very diverse and I can barely find anything that would at least give me the impression that it’s not too unhealthy. Muesli bars also have the same weakness. Real bakeries are probably a better option for emergency overnight food, but I have no idea what to get. The truth is, maybe I’m a little spoiled. I’m used to knowing what I get before I buy, but I can’t have that luxury here.

The moderate

Many tourists have described Romanians as being less than great at customer service. (In my experience, this applies to both restaurants and cashiers.) The fact that I look like a tourist who can’t speak Romanian, as opposed to a regular customer, may or may not have a small part in it too. You enter a restaurant and the first line they speak gives me the impression “(Sigh), what do you want?” or “Why are you here?” This is slightly more common among the female staff. One waitress at an Italian place gave me the attitude “Just order what you want” when I asked for advice—on the scale of things, this was considered a friendlier encounter than the average! Men are more likely to treat the dining experience like a business transaction, in which case they don’t show contempt. The friendliest waiters I’ve encountered are at La Plăcinte, which is partly why I’ve listed it below as a favorite place to go. They’re the only servers who have actually helped me order so that I know I’ll be satisfied.

In Romanian supermarkets, they don’t have self-checkout machines like in NZ. They probably wish they did. Interacting with the checkout person seems to be a purely mechanical affair. By the way, in Romania people try to avoid contact when handing money over. For example, you put notes on the counter and they pick it up. When it comes to receiving change, though, it took me a few goes to understand how contact could be avoided or minimized. One of the more elaborate strategies is to take the notes from their hand first, put them in your wallet, and then they can drop the remaining coins in your hand. On my first try, I briefly forgot and tried to take everything, and the man at the counter panicked and dropped the coins. I kind of felt like I messed up at first, but most cashiers are not that paranoid.

Another thing to comment on is the use of Romanian vs English. I’m Asian (surprise!) and I’ve only seen three other Asian people in Bucharest so far. There are a lot of people with dark hair, but I’m pretty sure many people can tell I’m not a native Romanian speaker before I open my mouth. Anyhow, I learned a few basic phrases and how to count in Romanian. (Courtesy of a CouchSurfer I met up with.) Unfortunately, the few phrases I can say are almost completely pointless, because people can understand me either way. People figure out that I’m more comfortable with English, and so they speak English. If I try to pronounce a word in Romanian, even though I know the alphabet now, they’ll just take pity and confirm things in English. I’ve tried making a subtle request for them to speak Romanian, but really the only way to do it is to pretend that you don’t speak English. I’m not quite that desperate to confirm that the words I’ve been taught are intelligible. And for the most part, the few phrases I do decide to utter, like asking for the bill or saying thank you, I’m pretty sure they don’t actually hear what I say, they just assume the meaning when I open my mouth. The only time it counts is when I say “X lei change please”, which indirectly specifies how much money I’m leaving as a tip.

Overall, you get used to the lack of friendliness pretty quickly. As an introvert, I find it acceptable, and the distant interactions makes it easy for me to make weird orders and not conform to people’s expectations. In a way, it makes me feel almost empowered. Money can speak for me. That said, I haven’t been bold enough to test out how much it takes to bribe a restaurant to stay open for an additional 20 minutes for one order. Looking at the average wage in Romania, if I offered 100 lei for, say, three people to work slightly longer, that would be the equivalent (in NZ) of offering more than NZ$30 per person for 20 minutes, a deal that I believe many people would take if they didn’t have other arrangements. Anyhow, once you accept unfriendliness as the norm in Romanian customer service, at least you can be pleasantly surprised. My uncommon positive experiences were when the beautiful waitress at Roberto’s asked me whether the tiramisu was good (an utterly unnecessary interaction by Romanian standards), when an assistant at Mega Image seemingly hunted me down with her sixth sense (or just having noticed by vacant gaze) to help me find specific items (even though one of them was basically right in front of me), and when a friendly cashier at Mega Image spoke to me only in Romanian, even though there was no evidence that I could understand.

Favorites

The most high class restaurant I’ve been to so far is Roberto’s on La Strada. To be honest, around this time I had started thinking “Why try new things? Why be adventurous with food, if average satisfaction will undoubtedly be lower? Why investigate buildings whose architecture and history I don’t actually care about?” Although I’ve barely met anyone yet due to my cold, I’m already anticipating the likely question “How long have you been in Bucharest, and what have you seen so far?” Although my cold has definitely been draining my energy and sense of adventure, something tells me that I shouldn’t have to answer that way. Yes, I’m taking an expensive trip on the other side of the world from home and I happen to have chosen Romania. But who said I am and have to be interested in tourist activities here? Who said I’m here to try new things? People who assume that, well that’s their problem not mine. I don’t have to feel inadequate about being different, about being too lazy or otherwise to explore. That’s my choice and I have my own reasons for being here.

Anyhow, eating Penne alla Norma at Roberto’s was enough to dismiss these thoughts for the time being. The description reads “The most famous pasta dish from Catania in Sicily, named after Vincenzo Bellini’s opera: penne with fried eggplant, tomato sauce and dried ricotta.” I think it’s hard to achieve balance with just these flavors, and I like eggplant, so I’m impressed enough to want to try making this dish at home. So I guess that answers the point of trying new food; to learn and potentially adopt new ideas. I also ate my first real tiramisu here, but it wasn’t in the traditional cake form. The flavor also wasn’t what I expected; not by any means in a bad way, but I’m still not really sure what the iconic tiramisu really is. Needs more investigation =D

I mostly go to restaurants with four-star feedback ratings. Honestly, I think half the food is okay and the other half is better than okay. La Plăcinte is my favorite place, not only due to its convenient location but the menu having more relateable choices than any other place. It also serves my favorite dish so far—Tort Medovik, which is a many layered Russian honey cake. Moldovian pie with potato is also good. My second favorite item in general has been Cappy orange juice. Not the one you buy in supermarkets, but served chilled from a small bottle at restaurants. It’s more or less pulpless, has just the right sweetness, and it doesn’t make you thirsty. I think the taste is almost perfect; it’s not sour and you can stop drinking it without the aftertaste haunting you. Coincidentally or not, I like Medovik for similar reasons. It’s rich in taste and gets sweeter the more you eat, but that’s the thing. It doesn’t really make you crave more. You can eat a little, and stop, and the aftertaste is just fine.

Image result for moldavian pie
Moldavian pie

Old Kitchen is another restaurant quite near to my hotel. It has a smaller menu than most restaurants, and it’s not exactly a popular place, but its items are simple and delicious. I spend about 50 lei for a meal including the 10% tip, but remember I’m a guy who orders a dessert and/or a drink. I have to admit, I usually have no idea what the nationality is of the food I’m ordering. According to Trip Advisor though, this is quite likely the first and only Romanian food I’ve eaten in Bucharest.

Challenge

I’ve realized I want a challenge in Romania. Well, logic compelled me to decide on this trip as a challenge in the first place, but now I actually feel the need for it. I don’t altogether understand how this could be, but the source of my need seems to be from an emotional side. There are times when my logical and emotional circuit are distinctly connected, but this is not a familiar case. Even so, there’s no need to overthink it. I could reflect on a hundred possible explanations, or I could just go out and live and make mistakes and confirm how things really are. In any case, at this exact moment, my instincts are urging me with the idea that challenge isn’t something that just comes to you. (Of course, clearly it does come to us, sometimes in the most unwelcome times, but gut instinct is not one to mind about technical correctness.) I have to go and do things. I have to try things that I might not explicitly want to do, but that’s where challenges arise. That’s the point of trying new things: for the challenge. I want to go where they don’t speak English. People in Bucharest cooperate too easily with tourists. I don’t need to know a word of Romanian, and even if I try to speak it, people don’t hear what I say, they just read my actions. I want to get lost. I want to depend on the generosity of others. I want to depend on chance. I want to depend on my willpower.

Brief update: 13 days in Bucharest

My time so far in Bucharest has still been characterized by having a cold; it’s not unusual for me to take 2 weeks or so to recover. I mentioned trying a few remedies such as taking an Epsom + ginger bath and drinking chicken soup during the first days of symptoms. Did they make a difference? It’s impossible for me to say anything conclusive, but I did start the phlegm-expelling phase significantly sooner than usual. (I have to expel about 95% of my total produced phlegm in order to go back to normal.) From an objective (i.e., non-scientific) point of view, if home remedies make you feel better (without actually harming you)—even if it’s only due to the placebo effect—that’s all that matters.

I’ll just share a few snippets about living in Bucharest so far. I’m staying in Hello Hotels, which is in Sector 1. I eat just one or two proper meals a day due to my cold. (I would probably have recovered quicker if I forced myself to eat more, but nevertheless an interesting thing I found was that eating cakes seemed to help the most for coughing up phlegm.) It’s been difficult adjusting to 11 hours time difference. Since this is my first taste of Europe, most items on a menu are unfamiliar. Basically just pizza and hamburgers would be my only comfort options. Apparently Romanians eat breakfast at home, so few places are open in the morning. Past midnight it’s not so convenient either (Google seems to have inaccurate opening hours sometimes), but you can find a 24/7 supermarket or maybe even a 24/7 McDonald’s.

When you research about Bucharest and Romania in general, there’s lot of conflicting information about healthcare, the chances of getting pick-pocketed, etc. Everyone agrees that Bucharest has changed a lot for the better, so my running theory is this: don’t always trust what locals say, especially older ones. They’re probably more likely to hang on to old impressions and act overprotective.

Food here is cheaper than in NZ, but not that much cheaper. Portions served at restaurants are not big; whoever said that was perhaps referring to the countryside (but I can’t confirm this yet). And ordering a soup certainly isn’t enough, but it’s still an efficient choice if you order it with bread. I frequently spend around $20 for a meal in NZ (more than the average student), and with that amount you can have more variety (a drink other than water, plus soup or salad) for the same price. Keep in mind that with food and services in Romania, price doesn’t dictate quality.

From what I’ve read, the most likely way that a tourist’s life might be at risk is from a traffic accident. Not to say that the risk is high, but it does seem to overshadow the risk of dying as a result of undetected exposure to rabies or to violent crimes. (To confirm, both of these risks are rather low. I did consider getting a rabies vaccination, but it is moderately expensive and requires weeks for a series of jabs that I didn’t have time to do. I’m a hypochondriac in case it’s not obvious.) Anyhow, the basic rules are to obey traffic lights, cross at pedestrian crossings, follow locals if in doubt, and definitely look both ways (there are plenty of one-way streets so you can’t always look one way then the other). However, traffic lights take a while to toggle so many people do decide to jaywalk. Interestingly, it seems to me about half of locals jaywalk at a given crossing while half do not. There’s an almost tangible sense of wariness among those who choose not to jaywalk; it would seem to suggest that cars can speedily appear out of nowhere.

Many people smoke, young and old alike. Rubbish heaps are often stacked on the street. Dogs are like people here—there’s social class, poverty, segregation, disabilities, violence, and homelessness. Romanian women do indeed dress well: stylishly and not scantily. I doubt it’s just because of the colder early spring weather. A random thing I noticed was that when people walk together in mixed-gender groups, with the exception of single couples, there are almost always more guys than girls. I have no particular theory for this. I can also confirm that Romanians do like their PDAs, including people lying down together in embrace. I suppose parks are a relatively romantic setting compared to in NZ. The large parks are big, with stalls and small shops within, plenty of seats, water features, and of course lots of plant features. The spaces are really designed for many people to share, and it makes me think of NZ parks as somewhat minimalistic in comparison. (Though there simply aren’t that many people using them anyway!)

Considering I haven’t ridden a bus or subway yet, I’m not in the most informed position to say this, but Bucharest does seem uniform in its convenient metropolitan nature. There are many supermarkets, especially Mega Image stores, and there are always food outlets here or there. But that’s also a downside in the sense that there’s no one street or block that is tightly packed with things of interest. The buildings and architecture here is a key highlight for many visitors, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

Another thing people disagree about is the drinkableness of tap water in Bucharest. Some say it’s fine to drink untreated tap water, others say boil it and filter it and also get a shower filter because there are contaminants in the water that can affect your skin. Because I live in NZ where tap water is clean (and in fact I drink water from a well), I’m fairly picky about the taste of water. Romanian is meant to have really good bottled water, although I find the taste just okay. I buy a 2L bottle from the supermarket on most days. Tap water has a bad odor so I rinse my drink bottle with bottled water. (Ironic?) I’ve decided not to be quite so paranoid, so when I make instant noodles or tea or Nesquik I boil tap water rather than bottled water. Maybe the water still tastes bad, but the flavor gets masked. I haven’t noticed any residue collecting in the kettle (which I bought from Kaufland supermarket), but there seems to be residue on the shower head in my hotel room. I can also say that my hair has never been so rebellious. It refuses to go smooth or flat.

Note: It turns out that I was drinking the mediocre brand of bottled water, Dorna. This post describes water and other beverages in Romania in good detail.

Hotel Denisa review

Review for Hotel Denisa, Bucharest
Note: Hotel Denisa ceased to operate in June 2017

I chose Hotel Denisa as a convenient place to catch up on some sleep after 37 hours of transit. They offer a free shuttle from the airport, which is less than 10 minutes drive away. The cost was NZ$76 for two nights in a standard single room. There were some cheaper hotels, but I wanted somewhere that had a reliable reputation without being too expensive.

There are three rooms: bedroom, living room, and bathroom. The bedroom and living room look elegant, whereas the bathroom does not. Everything was clean, save for a leaf or two on the carpet. The bedroom has a full size bed, comfortable pillows (in my opinion), a small TV set, a bedside cabinet, a wardrobe with coat hangers and two robes. The living room is quite spacious and has another TV, a couch, a few chairs, a small table, a fridge inside a closet, a rubbish bin, and another closet. I would not call the table a laptop-friendly workspace, and you can’t fit much inside the fridge due to the ‘minibar drinks’ in there already. There’s plenty of empty floor space if you want to yoga or something.

The bathroom is adequate, with shower, toilet, basin, and no bathtub. Comes with hairdryer, soap, shampoo/shower gel, shoe shiner, and shower cap. The water pressure is on the low side. In my room, the shower was disappointing because of the low water pressure and because temperature was hard to control and sometimes went hot or cold for no reason.

The room is air conditioned, but in the end I mostly turned it off. At this time of writing it’s March, which means temperatures like 8 degrees Celsius at night. The thing is, the whole hotel seems to be heated, so if anything the room was actually too hot for me. The location of the hotel is good for going to the airport, but probably not sightseeing. The hotel is quiet, has a games room downstairs, and there’s a restaurant out the front (though I never went to it). My minimal interactions with the staff went fine; at least a few of them speak English. There are restaurants and supermarkets within about 20 minutes of walking.

In summary, I would recommend Hotel Denisa for a short stay if you just want a quiet stop before or after the airport. If you’re a veteran explorer with infinite energy, limited time, and/or a very tight budget, then there are more suitable places provided that you’re booking more than a week in advance.

Day Zero (transit)

TLDR; don’t catch a cold before a long transit and brush your teeth every 12 hours!

My 37 hour transit from NZ to Bucharest/Romania (via Changi/Singapore and Frankfurt/Germany) was chiefly characterized by the unpleasantness of having a cold, which had just started to show its symptoms the day before. Shortly before setting off I took an Epsom + ginger bath. I’ve never tried it before, but I was pretty desperate and had nothing to lose. The first flight, direct to Changi, was pure torture. Watching movies was necessary to make time pass at a reasonable rate, but I eventually decided to try and sleep, just shivering and sweating there for an eternity until at some point I noticed that it wasn’t that cold anymore. Coughing for some reason made my shoulders ache badly enough that by the end of the flight, I had completely exhausted all possible resting positions. The night before departure I had the chance to change my seat to be next to an empty middle seat. That was the right time, but instead I decided to wait until just a few hours before take-off, which was too late. I’ve always been a window seat person for the view, but after day zero I’m seriously going to reconsider. I’ve found there’s no real benefit in comfort (and inferior bathroom access) since my head can’t reach the window for support, at least not without a space-consuming travel pillow.

Another downside that audiophiles might mention is being closer to the plane engines. Anyhow, I had bought a set of Sony MDRZX110NC noise-cancelling headphones just for this trip, and I can attest to everything they say about it. Great price, not the best at its job but it does perform it, can function without battery (without noise cancellation of course), and fragile-looking build. NZ is really bad in terms of being able to buy reputable consumer electronics at the lower price range, so this time I didn’t have to spend hours and hours (like usual) compulsively researching my options. This was literally the only viable choice below $400, and I happen to be satisfied.

I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I was wanting to see cool stuff in the Harry Potter world, but I just wasn’t sucked in by the plot so I found it boring. I did eventually care about the characters by the end, though only because of the comparatively cohesive romantic elements, not because I thought the characters were relatable in general.

During the descent to Changi, I experienced an overbearing pressure in my ears as my hearing became muffled. It was quite painful. (On the pain scale, not as bad as getting kicked in the balls, but still bad enough that distracting yourself is not possible.) I later regained hearing in my right ear but not my left. I read that this phenomenon is related to having a swollen Eustachian tube (or two) when you have a cold. I tried the Valsalva manoeuvre and everything to no avail. It was worse than being deaf in one ear because my tinnitus also went on overdrive in my left air, in addition to the muffling effect. In spite of this, I got by fine with buying things at the airports. It turns out with simple interactions you often don’t need to hear what a person is saying. During subsequent flights, I would regain most of my hearing during the ascent, only to lose it and go through immense pain again when descending.

My layover in Changi Airport was six hours. I found the adored fly in the men’s bathroom that I remember reading from an opinion article. Yes, Changi Airport was certainly impressive. It’s huge and has excellent facilities, including a free sleeper zone, a free 24/7 movie theater (which I used for sleeping too), somewhat affordable massage services (which I missed out on in the end), free city tours (unfortunately not the right time of day for my layover), multiple garden exhibits, and many other luxuries. I was almost tempted to use one of the baby change “rooms”, since no one was using them and to me each unit just looked like a private enclosed couch with a small table. It’s hard to describe, but maybe I misinterpreted and the baby change rooms were actually in the adjacent restrooms, even though the ‘baby change’ signage was specifically above these units? By the time of my return trip, I’ll be brave enough to check it out, okay? It might have been the perfect place to nap without having to physically guard your belongings.

13 hour flight to Frankfurt. Movies, 4-5 hours of sleep, movies. I tend to have an exceptionally poor memory of movies, so I’ll spare you from my opinions and me from the embarrassment of admitting that I can’t remember all movies that I watch. (In fact I’d usually be on the lucky side if I can readily recall the names of three main characters in any given movie. I don’t know why I’m like that but it means my post-movies discussions always refer to “the main character” and “the other important person”, etc.) I found Lufthansa’s service for this flight to be comparable to Singapore Airline’s. Singapore Airlines does have more food choice and that fantastic Kapiti (NZ by the way) ice cream. The check-in lady actually warned me that they’d be plenty of meal/snack times with SA but I didn’t really believe her, so I also wasn’t able to decipher the awkwardly long menu that didn’t seem to list meals in chronological (Circadian?) order. As for Lufthansa, all I had heard previously was that it operates in Europe and they used to be questionable. While the SA stewardesses (and stewards too, I suppose) are unmatched in handsomeness, I overall preferred Lufthansa’s service for their efficiency.

Frankfurt Airport was bound to be disappointing after Changi. Despite having four hours, I decided not to visit multiple terminals as I didn’t fancy going through their thorough customs check multiple times. I had to empty 80% of my bag because they make you take out all electronics, gels, and fluids. (I also had to drink all my water on the spot.) I bought an iced tea drink later to find that the listed price didn’t include tax. I guess that explained the need for a certain tax refund booth. I also ordered a chicken soup at a bar, since chicken soup is known for helping with cold relief and recovery. When I was ordering, I failed to get the attention of the barmaid, despite standing directly opposite and saying hi when she wasn’t interacting with anyone else.

By the way, I seem to have some innate set of traits that allows me to be overlooked more than the usual person. I’ve been overlooked by restaurant staff, flight attendants, and people whose job is to give out free stuff to everyone. Been locked in a bookstore at closing time until I decided to ‘reveal’ myself. I really don’t know how to explain it, since I’m not super short and I don’t wear active camouflage. Maybe I’m the ultimate beta male and I have some kind of aura with an evolutionary cloaking effect? Maybe it’s because I’m an Asian guy that’s usually alone, so I probably look like a high school loiterer who doesn’t have money OR friends. My usual clothes don’t help either, but lately I’ve been working diligently on upgrading from tracksuit pants and T-shirts. My most plausible theory so far is that cool people are socially attuned in such a way as to minimize the wasted  energy of conscious attention given to unlikely human sources of (mutual) benefit. Please let me know if you have a better theory.

Anyway, the barmaid was not responsible for taking orders, the manager was. I ordered the chicken soup, awkwardly hanged around thinking to pay up front (my mistake, I’ve never actually ordered beer at any real bar before, but then I remembered the concept of a tab), and not being gestured to pick a real seat. I decided to just sit at the bar counter so they couldn’t possibly forget about me. The manager had to awkwardly inform the barmaid of my existence for my spoon. Not sure if I was grateful. Come pay time, the manager walked around with a portable EFTPOS machine and explained that I had to enter a tip and otherwise press the green button. I had never heard about tipping in Germany (and yes I am a confirmed idiot when it comes to general and geographical knowledge) and I only knew that tipping was 10% in Romania. In the heat of the moment I thought about how awkward the experience was and chose to press only the green button. The manager then checked the tip amount rather diligently and responded something like “so service was nothing eh.” I’ve never refused to tip before and I don’t expect to do it again. After checking online, it seems a 5% tip would have been fair in this situation.

I browsed around some other restaurants after that in search of dessert. Tiramisu caught my eye but after not being able to figure out where to order and no one taking notice, I bailed. I don’t tend to enjoy looking clueless (even though I usually am) when it comes to interacting with staff, and that’s a bias that I need to work on or else I might miss out on opportunities that are available to more visible people.

The last flight from Frankfurt to Bucharest with Lufthansa was somewhat bare. No audio entertainment, I didn’t a magazine or even a sick bag. They gave out a decent bakery snack though. At Bucharest Otopeni Airport (official name Henri Coandă for some reason), the immigration officer commented that my estimated 30-day stay in Romania was “long”, but didn’t ask for any proof of when/how I intended to leave the country. At customs, there were two “no declarations” lanes and one declaration lane. They didn’t seem to post what needed to be declared but I figured my wine counted at least. Therefore, I took the path of declaration, which was about 5m long and sidestepped into an empty tattered room. Yep, good ol’ customs. I was probably the only person to take that lane, but heck, I brought a book called ‘The Road Less Traveled’ with me. (Okay, not a good excuse for short-sightedness.) I withdrew cash from an ATM (… dilemma of choice, but remember to choose “without conversion”), found my hotel taxi (free service), checked in and slept the rest of the day. After I check out of this hotel (Hotel Denisa) I’ll write a review about it.