We spent a few minutes with our hosts at the excellent Hotel Christina talking about where to eat our first dinner in Bucharest. "We want to know your personal favorite restaurants," we said. "Where you eat, any night of the week."
The hotel manager smiled. "These would not be touristic restaurants."
"Then they are perfect for us," we explained.
There was some discussion in rapid Romanian between the manager and an assistant manager. 'On your first night, even though it is a little touristic, we think you should go to have Romanian food."
"Is there a place where you go for Romanian food?"
Again, that wonderful smile. "I cook it at home. When I eat out, it is to get away from it. But this is a place we think you will like, and it is not far from here: Zexe." She circled it on the map. "You see? Not far."
And it didn't look far. But by the time we took the Metro two stops away to stroll through old town (a bit late in the day for that, I think, as the museums were closing and the night clubs weren't yet open) and then took the Metro back to the closest station, we were actually quite far from Zexe. And when I say quite far, I mean we were very, very, very far from Zexe. As in: "We need to be in Atlanta, and we're in Decatur" far.
Not to worry, we said, and we set out walking. We strolled through several lovely neighborhoods. We stumbled on St. Nicholas church, pictured above -- a luminous jewel of a building all but lost in a sea of crumbling concrete and modern office buildings. We talked with many helpful locals. One woman told us we were very close to Zexe, and pointed us to a spot four blocks further south. There, a doorman walked us to a different block and pointed us down an alley. There, the owner of that restaurant -- not Zexe -- sent us five blocks further west. There, a sweet young couple, indicating that they knew exactly where Zexe was, pointed us in the opposite direction.
We never did have dinner at Zexe, which, if it exists, is too well hidden for two well-traveled men with a GPS and much assistance to locate. Instead, we trekked back to the hotel.
We tried to take taxis. The first one we tried said the hotel was too far away for a taxi, so we walked a bit and tried again. This taxi driver shook his head and told us, "No, that is too close for a taxi. You just walk it."
Many hundreds of thousands of years later, we arrived back at the Hotel Christina, where we tucked into the hotel restaurant. There, a wonderful young man named George brought us beverages, a plate of spring rolls, a passable chicken tikka masala, and a chocolate fondant with ice cream.
After this, he brought us each a shot glass of a clear, pungent-smelling liquid he explained was a local drink, made from apples -- tuzika. "It's on the house," George explained. "It will help you sleep."
Perhaps it was exhaustion. Perhaps it was jet lag. Perhaps it was the tuzika. Whatever the cause, we went straight up to the room and fell fast asleep -- the perfect end to our first long day in Bucharest.
When you're with someone you love, you see, even getting lost is a pleasure.