Residence Hotel, Bucharest

Bucharest is often accused of being a cold, impersonal city, full of Soviet-styled cinder block buildings and institutional, substandard hotels. We saw plenty of these as we strolled the city streets: harsh, fluorescent-lit lobbies manned by receptionists imprisoned in glass booths. Thankfully, from our little old Bulgarian landlord’s apartment in Veliko Turnovo, I emailed Cristi Topescu, manager of the Residence Hotel, a carefully restored architectural gem in a sea of drab apartment blocks that puts a friendly, western spin on customer service. He immediately replied and offered us a deal we just couldn’t resist.

We showed up in the lobby of the Residence, an elegantly modern space, around midnight, tired and haggard-looking after a long day of travel. Without batting an eye, the dapper receptionist greeted us warmly and handed over the keys to two double rooms, one on the second floor, another on the third. The first, where we deposited the boys, featured an open wooden staircase rising from a sitting room to a bedroom. Two stories for the price of one. This really felt like luxury!

The room Tom and I chose to share with Asher was on a single level but boasted French doors leading to a small front-facing balcony. It was as if the designer of the Residence has asked me to name my favorite décor and designed the rooms to suit. I’d label it modern Asian eclectic–floors and furniture of deep, rich woods boasting clean lines and elegant finishes; simple wrought iron bedframes and light fixtures, and travertine bathrooms with Jacuzzi style tubs. Modern design is a relatively new concept here, but to find it with an Asian flair was even more thrilling…kind of like coming home.

We were in heaven, but since the boys were on a different level and we were carrying the expense of two rooms, we asked Cristi if it would be possible to switch to a single larger room, and hopefully also bring down our expense. He didn’t have any available but offered an alternative. We turned in our key for the boys’ room and minutes later, two women swooped into our room, moved the couch to the foyer, and assembled a second queen-sized bed, iron frame and all. Talk about service! We slashed our cost, had the kids right where we wanted them, and had space to spare.

The most interesting facet of our Residence stay was that we arrived on a weekend. During the week, the hotel caters to international business guests, but on the weekend it was transformed into a Romanian celebration center. The disco was right above us and served as the venue for at least one wedding and two parties during our 3 night stay. Noisy? Yes. A problem? No. This was a slice of local life we were happy to share in. We didn’t take to the dancefloor, but we enjoyed watching the guests come and go and learned that Romanians can celebrate with the best of them.

The Residence was the perfect base for our explorations of the city. We were within walking distance of the Peasant Museum and the Arc de Triumph (two of the city’s highlights) and hopped the metro at a nearby station to everywhere else. Set on a quiet backstreet in a leafy residential neighborhood at the northern end of the city, the hotel is free of the chaos and bustle of downtown but central enough to still be convenient.

After three luxurious nights, we left the Residence rested, relaxed and once again ready for the road. Our stay came with one free transfer and when it was time to go, a friendly guy showed up in a big car and whisked us off to the train station. Within minutes, we were back on the platform at Gare de Nord, with the kids once again begging for McDonald’s (you can’t get to a single train without passing it). Cristi and the Residence made our stay in Bucharest comfortable and most of all memorable. In a city that can seem intimidating and even unfriendly, we found a home away from home to which we’d gladly return.

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