Romania And Our Viking Journey to Eastern Europe
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
“Do you take American? American dollars?” A self-assured tourist is standing at the bar in the InterContinental Bucharest, his arm resting casually on the countertop. He’s got a wad of limp U.S. currency in his hand, and he’s bandying it about as if it were a ceremonial fan.
“We have a conversion exchange,” the waitress answers back. “We convert it into our Lei.”
A smile comes across the man’s face. He flicks through the wad and hands across a series of bills across to the girl. He turns to his barmate as he does so. “See!”, he bellows. “These people like good ol’ American money!”
As this happens, I take a sip of my local Ursus Premium ale and relish in the little moments of humour that travel has to offer.
I arrived in Bucharest late this afternoon, ready to join Viking River Cruises’ 10-day Passage to Eastern Europe cruisetour that will take us through the heart of the eastern Danube as we from Bucharest, Romania for Budapest, Hungary.
When you first land at Henri Coandă International Airport, don’t be shocked if you see your fellow passengers – mostly local Romanians – race past you as you deplane. And these people run. That’s about the time I start getting concerned; when the locals make a mad-dash, you know something’s up.
In this case, it’s the immigration procedures: despite having connected in Amsterdam, I wasn’t stamped into the European Union there. That would take place upon arrival in Bucharest. And immigration and passport control at Bucharest International is confined to the smallest room you’ve ever seen, with little to no organization.
That means you have to just squeeze your way through to the head of the pack, at which point the lines split off into kiosks for EU-passengers only and passengers holding all passports. It looks like every traveller’s nightmare, but it moves surprisingly well: total time, from deplaning to clearing customs: about 15 minutes. Add another 10 minutes for luggage delivery, and you can be out of Henri Coandă International Airport in half an hour.
But once you claim your baggage and step out into the arrivals hall, you’re in good hands: a smiling Viking River Cruises representative, clad in a red polo shirt and holding a red logo-brand clipboard, is there to greet you. You name is ticked off a list, and you board the dedicated Viking coach. It’s just that easy.
Once we’d arrived at the InterContinental Bucharest, our local Viking representative had pre-checked us in to our rooms. All we had to do was pick up the keycard from her, along with an information sheet and options for tomorrow’s tours from the Viking hospitality desk.
I’ll say this: the Bucharest InterContinental isn’t the nicest InterContinental property I’ve ever stayed at, but all the expected amenities are here, from the soft beds to the friendly service. Rooms are spacious and large, if a little quirky: the child-proof safety system on the balcony door looks like it could keep in Houdini, and the main keycard location and lightswitch in the entry hall is positioned at kneecap level.