From May 12-16, I participated in the Experience Bucharest summit and press trip. Kicking off with an excellent conference, the four days were filled with amazing tours, heavenly meals and never-ending parties. I’m so glad I chose Romania as my next home base.
In 2015, I visited Timisoara and Resita in Romania, and completely fell in love with the country. In 2016 when I was failing at setting up a home base in Edinburgh, I decided I would set one up in Romania in 2017 after Thailand. When Experience Bucharest announced they would select a handful of bloggers to host on a press trip, it was the perfect opportunity to get familiar with the capital of the country I planned to live in until the end of the year.
I applied while still in Thailand and was thrilled to be selected as one of the chosen few. I wrapped up my activities in SE Asia, and flew out to the UK to surprise my dad with a trip to the Isle of Skye. That story ends off where this one picks up – on my way to Romania.
I arrived at the Bucharest airport a little after 11 PM on Thursday night, where the organizers were waiting to greet me. We picked up a few more last-minute attendees and then were bused to our respective hotels. I landed at the Hello Hotel in a two-room suite. The room was really nicely decorated with a modern design, and I certainly wasn’t complaining about the buffet breakfast in the morning. I only wish I had someone to share that big bed with…but that’s another story.
What is Experience Bucharest?
Experience Bucharest is the brainchild of Travel Massive Bucharest, led by Tudor Maxim. An entire team of social media experts, travel industry professions and sponsors came together to put Bucharest on the map as the next great tourist destination of Europe.
While Experience Bucharest might have primarily referred to the campaign and hashtag used, the activities and media from the project certainly weren’t over at the end of the summit. Within 4 days, there were millions of impressions made with the hashtag, and even CNN wrote about it. Several other bloggers also stayed behind in town to continue to soak in the Romanian culture, and they’ve been great to meet up with every few days.
The Experience Bucharest Conference
As a veteran of being on the production end of elite events in Hollywood, I have to say I was highly impressed at the competence and professionalism of the Experience Bucharest team, not just in the conference, but the entire four-day summit. It was their first time producing such an activity, and they did an outstanding job.
The Experience Bucharest summit began with a conference at the opulent Radisson Blu Hotel. The program began with keynote speaker Kash from the Budget Traveler talking about how bloggers could market Bucharest. This was followed by two Q&A panels of top bloggers and social media managers. I really enjoyed the fact that, while there was a lot of great information for established bloggers, the data was slanted for Romanian bloggers to promote their country to the rest of the world. There were also dozens of sponsors and industry professionals in attendance getting the same information. They learned how to connect with bloggers and what we needed and wanted from them, which is definitely missing in some countries and cities.
This was followed by a buffet lunch in the Radisson’s Dacia Felix Restaurant. While buffet meals usually aren’t anything to write home about, one catered by the premier hotel of Bucharest, and with the high quality of Romanian food, is a different matter entirely. In a nutshell, I pigged out! Two weeks later, I’ve noticed that my waistline has been increasing ever so slightly since being in Romania.
After lunch, we had a few hours to clean up, explore or do other respective tasks. By 7 PM, the festivities started again.
Tours, Parties, Meals and More Parties
I actually missed the opening party on Thursday night, but the one on Friday certainly didn’t disappoint. Located at a secret rooftop bar with a stunning view of the city, we all enjoyed an evening of bruschetta, sandwiches, pastries and blue chardonnay. That last was really interesting. The color came from adding the rind of red grapes to white chardonnay, turning the color blue. I’m no sommelier (in fact, it was one of the first alcoholic beverages I’ve had all year), but it certainly tasted good. After all, who can say no to trying blue chardonnay?!
I loved meeting all the new bloggers. There were even a couple familiar faces there. I have nothing against the TBEX events I’ve attended, but it was a lot easier getting introduced to 70 fellow bloggers instead of 700. Having said that, I still consistently forgot the names of people throughout the week. I’m sure I’m not the only one with that problem.
Bucharest Crash Course with Slow Tours
The first tour I participated in on Saturday morning was the Bucharest Crash Course Bike Tour. Don’t let the name fool you. You won’t crash, and it’s not that slow. The guide took us on a bike ride all around the center of town. We saw key landmarks and monuments, rode through beautiful parks and learned all about the history of Bucharest. The tour ended at Food Hood, a collection of street food trucks in the heart of the Old Town, where we all had sliders and fries.
For more information on Bucharest’s Old Town, read “Follow in My Footsteps: Bucharest is The World’s Newest Old Town.”
The Darkside Tour with the Interesting Times Bureau
Immediately after lunch, I was ready for the Darkside Tour. This tour, lead by Anita, started with a locations around the Old Town, and then shortly moved to Bellu Cemetery south of town. The cemeteries in Romania are some of the most interesting in the world, and Bellu is no exception. The massive 54 acres are filled with some of the most interesting tombstones and crypts I’ve ever seen.
For more information on Bellu Cemetery, read “Follow in my Footsteps: Treading Carefully in Bucharest’s Bellu Cemetery.”
Pura Vida’s Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel
Little Bucharest Hostel is one of the many hostels owned by Tudor. Managed by the talented Luana, the location simply couldn’t be better, right in the heart of the Old Town. That night, we had home-made local dishes served at the hostel. After dinner, we enjoyed the weekly street party put on by the hostel and Experience Bucharest. This was followed by shots at both Shoteria bars. The night ended at the Kulturhaus Bukarest night club, but I have to admit I didn’t stay for that party. It was late at this point, and I needed to catch up on some sleep.
Food Tour with Delish Experiences
It might be unfair, but I have to say this was my favorite tour of the summit. That’s mainly because I love food, and Romania has one of my favorite cuisines. I spent all Sunday afternoon on this tour, and had no problem missing another tour which conflicted with the schedule.
Our first stop on the tour was Vatra Restaurant, which has been serving the traditional Romanian cuisine since 2001 in a century-old, gorgeous building. Our meal started with Țuică, a small glass of 40-45% plum liquor to essentially “whet our appetite.” We were then served basically everything on their appetizer menu: caviar spread, eggplant salad, white bean dip, zacusca (a roasted vegetable spread with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and carrots), and an assortment of local meats, cheeses and vegetables. I honestly have no idea which one I loved more, since they were all a 20 on a scale of 1-10.
In addition to that, we were served sarmale (Romanian pork-stuffed cabbage rolls) and polenta. There was plenty of food to go around for the six of us “foodies,” although I’d be happy to live on those three spreads for the duration of my stay in Romania.
The second stop of the tour was at Concerto Fine Dining, the restaurant attached to the Grand Continental Hotel. Yeah, definitely fine dining! The menu might not be entirely in my routine budget, but it’s still a great price by Western standards, especially for the incredible dishes they serve. We started with a local demi-sec champagne. We were all surprised to find out that Romania is the six-highest wine-producing country in Europe.
Although it’s not on the menu, Concerto prepared a special dish for us. Momite, a Romanian dish made from veal neck glands mixed with egg and then deep-fried. Talk about yummy!
The final stop on the tour was Origo Cafe. I first mentioned third-wave coffee when I found Brew Lab in Edinburgh. Artisan roasts are a whole different level of coffee, and they found their way to Bucharest. Origo takes them one step further. Not only is their coffee incredible, but they appeal to all five sensations of taste. They’ll also take the time to give you the full story behind third-wave coffee – something that Brew Lab was always too busy to do. They even have barista and coffee classes every Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve been back more than once since the tour, and I plan to take one of their classes in the near future.
Motorcycle Ride with The Black Helmets
That night we needed to get from the Old Town to our dinner restaurant. Certainly no one at the Experience Bucharest summit expected dozens of Black Helmet Riders to show up on the streets of the Old Town to offer rides. The Black Helmets are Romania’s motorcycle club. They have all kinds of bikes, mostly the big ones. I’ve been riding since I was 15, but almost never as a passenger. I hopped at the opportunity for a ride, which turned out not to take us directly to the restaurant. We had a half-hour tour around town, circling the Palace of the Parliament and the new under-construction Orthodox Cathedral. It happened to be raining throughout the ride, but who cares when you’re having a blast on the back of a bike?
Dinner at Hanu’ Berarilor Casa Soare
Maybe there wasn’t really anything special about this restaurant, except that damn! they serve good food! There was a buffet dinner waiting for us when we arrived with the motorcycles. While I don’t usually expect much at a buffet, don’t forget this is Romania. There was a pan full of mititei, the small Romanian sausages. They came about after the family ran out of casing for the sausages, and were thus made smaller so they could be cooked on the grill without falling apart. They are uniquely spiced, and oh so delicious. The buffet also included grilled chicken and “normal” sausages, pork knuckles and other assorted meats, cheeses and vegetables, not to mention those delicious vegetable spreads I liked so much at Vatra Restaurant.
Party at Expirat
For the final party of the night, we got a ride on the London Double-decker Bus of Romania to the Expirat Club located in an old factory. It was Sunday night which wasn’t as busy as the previous two nights, but I don’t really need to hype up a club. The setting was really nice, especially the rooftop terrace and it’s twinkle-light arches.
Beautiful Decay Tour with the Interesting Times Bureau
On the final day of the conference, I got to take the Beautiful Decay tour. This turned out to be two separate tours, the first going through urban ruins within the old town, and the second was a trip to Chimopar, an abandoned chemical factory “village” on the outskirts of Bucharest. Anyone who knows me knows I love these kind of places. The locations in Bucharest topped my list of the best urban ruins in the world – even better than Spreepark and the other urban ruins of Berlin.
For more information on the urban ruins of Bucharest, read “5 Locations Which Prove Bucharest Has the Best Urban Ruins.”
Closing Party at Podstel
The final party was located at Podstel. Daniel, the British entrepreneur who recently set it up, describes it as a new type of hostel. The outdoor terrace includes a yoga studio, a stage where excellent music was playing throughout the party, and a bar serving the best smoothies in Bucharest. If you’re looking for the best hostel in Bucharest outside the noisy Old Town, Podstel is it!
Bucharest is quickly becoming a top tourist destination in Europe. As the sixth-largest city in the EU (soon to be 5th after London exits), it has dozens of attractions, delicious food (as mentioned above) and a vibrant nightlife to attract visitors. It’s also the jump-off point for exploring the rest of Romania (think Dracula) and surrounding countries. Flights to Bucharest are the cheapest in the region from all over Europe. You can find round-trip tickets on Skyscanner from countries like Italy, Belgium, Germany, the UK and Denmark to Bucharest for under $50 round-trip! Learn about my 5 tips to find cheap flights to get these deals. If you’re looking for a destination off the beaten path, but on the crossroads of Eastern Europe, Bucharest is it!
Come join me! I’ll be in and out until the end of 2017. This is my next home base, after Chiang Mai. I’d be happy to show you around, or get you set up on any of the aforementioned tours of the city. Believe me, you won’t regret it. After all, what have you got to lose? Well…maybe your waistline….