Why go now?
High summer in these parts gets unbearably stuffy; winters are wet and freezing; but now is pleasantly warm. And, if you get there before 22 June, you'll avoid the locals' taunts after they've thrashed Hoddle's hod-carriers: Romania's team of wizards are in England's World Cup qualifying group.
Beam down Romania's national airline Tarom (0171-224 3693) flies from Heathrow to Bucharest daily, taking three hours. For its lowest fares, the airline refers callers to Tradewings (0171-637 0555), which is quoting pounds 237 return in June. British Airways (0345 222111) flies daily from Gatwick for a fare of pounds 287. A visa on entry costs $23, demanded in cash. Get your bearings Otopeni airport is 10 miles north of Bucharest. An express bus (No 783) runs every 15 minutes to the centre and costs 7,000 lei (about 50p). Or take a taxi and make sure the meter is working; it will cost pounds 5-pounds 10. In town there's a great metro system (3,000 lei/20p for any return journey); buses and trams are good, too. Check in The flashy Athene Palace (00 401 315 1212) with its history of no- holds- barred spying by guests and staff alike has just opened after refurbishment: a double room costs pounds 220. For character and old- world charm, it's hard to beat the Hanul lui Manuc (00 401 613 1415), set around a leafy courtyard. Doubles here cost about pounds 35. Even smaller and quieter is the Casa Victor (00 401 222 9436) - about pounds 50 for bed and breakfast. Take a hike Go straight for the bizarre Bucharest. To capture the city's weirdness visit an Eighties architectural folly - the Centru Civic. Take the metro to Piata Unirii 2 and walk past the dehydrated fountains towards the Palace of Parliament, the third largest building in the world and the monstrous, 1,100-room creation of Ceausescu in his maddest, final years. You can go in at certain times and see the marble and gold leaf and the 4,500 chandeliers (11,000 were planned). Go to the left-hand corner of the palace to sense its monstrous immensity - and gape. Wander back past Piata Unirii 2 to see the rest of the complex and its forest of rusting cranes lowering above unfinished cultural centres and socialist libraries. I never knew architecture could make your flesh creep. Lunch on the run After all that you'll need a beer, so hurry to the neo-Gothic coolness of the sepulchral Carul cu Bere on nearby Str Stavropoleos. A big bowl of hearty ciorba perisoare (meatball soup), with bread, will set you back pounds 1. Cultural afternoon Head for the superb Village Museum in Herastrau Park where more than 300 old houses from every part of Romania have been reconstructed beside a peaceful lake. Ancient thatched homes with cabbage patches on the roofs mingle with stately, wooden-spired churches, peasants' underground dwellings, carved wooden doorways. Walk back to the centre. On the way, in Souseaua Kiseleff, drop into Europe's museum of the year 1995, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, for a minimalist view of the simple rural life. Window shopping Bucharest can no longer claim to be the "Paris of the East" as it was in the Thirties with its stores selling silk, carpets and furs, but a faded elegance can still be seen, particularly in the shops along Calea Victoriei. …