Call me on a Saturday morning and tell me to pack a small bag, to hurry up and jump on the metro, to ride that metro to the end of the line and to then stand on the side of the road and wait to be picked up and I’ll start to ask some questions. Then inform me that, after being picked up, the plan is to squeeze into an overstuffed car and have my body forcibly bent into unnatural positions because of several huge backpacks, sleeping bags, boxes of camping equipment, a telescope and endless piles of other stuff, and I’m quite certain that I’ll politely decline your invitation.
And yes, I’ll still decline even if you then explain that we would ride for three and a half hours in that car, heading to a small town on the Black Sea coast, where we would arrive, grab something quick to eat and then proceed to party all night long at bars and clubs on an overcrowded beach before collapsing onto the sand sometime after sunrise for an hour or two nap.
Then tell me that the following day, after waking up from that nap, all covered in sand, we’ll go for a swim in the freezing cold water of the sea and then we’ll eat a meal at a chaotic restaurant that takes two hours to be served, and I’ll say, ‘that’s not for me’.
Finish your offer by explaining that, after the above meal, it will be time for me to return to Bucharest, and that I will have to sit in a non-air-conditioned, fully packed mini-bus in the 40C (104F) heat for four hours in order to do so, with a constant stream of sweat pouring off my face preventing me from catching up on some much needed rest, all while you sit in your air-conditioned car, driving home in a different direction, and I won’t even give you a polite ‘No thank you’ as I abruptly hang up the phone and firmly pass on your offer to join this trip.
Yet, when this very situation occurred last Saturday, and my friend called me up and told me everything above, for some inexplicable reason, I instantly said ‘yes’. Shocked was I as I ran around the apartment trying to decide what to throw in my small bag before hopping onto the metro and meeting my friends on the side of a random road. These friends had spent a week camping in the countryside of Romania (a trip I could not make because I was in the Balkans) and were passing by the outskirts of Bucharest on their way to Vama Veche, a popular summer hang-out on the Black Sea coast.
And what makes my decision to partake in this coastal jaunt so surprising is that I’m not much of a party person, especially when the party lasts all night. If I manage to stay awake past 2am these days I consider that a major accomplishment. I’m also not much of a dancer, especially when the dancing is supposed to go on until after sunrise. Five minutes of dancing per month seems to be the perfect amount for me.
However, after surviving the drive to Vama Veche, there was I, enjoying an atmosphere that was far different than what I had imagined. This was no rowdy beach party. It was a laid-back, welcoming scene, with friendly vibes all around, laughter, smiles, live Romanian rock music on the beach, people of all ages and lifestyles mingling together and pints of beer being served in the streets for only $1.50 each.
After sitting among thousands of people listening to the free live concerts for a while, which included both well-known and lesser-known Romanian bands, my friends and I all wandered over to the largest beach club just before midnight, where an excellent mix of music greeted us, as did another densely-packed crowd of people. With nothing else to do but dance, I slowly broke into the only dance I know how to do, a dance that can only be labeled as ‘extremely embarrassing for all those around me’. And that’s the dance I kept on doing, not for one hour, not for a few hours, but all night long.
Only when the dark sky began to lighten did we start to feel a little tired and only when a wonderful rendition of Ravel’s “Bolero” came on the sound system, just moments before the sun began to rise over the Black Sea, did we finally plop down onto the sand and take a break.
And there we sat, just staring out over the water as the sun floated higher into the sky, staring until our eyes could stay open no longer. Moving to a quieter stretch of beach, we simply laid down on the sand and fell asleep to the low-volume music still being played at some of the bars and the faint chatter of those party-goers who still remained awake.
When the sun eventually became too hot, which was only an hour after I went to sleep, my short rest came to an end and I decided to go for a swim in the Black Sea, wading into water that was far colder than I would usually dare to enter. But this time around, such a swim seemed like a natural part of the Vama Veche experience and I did not want to miss out on any aspect of this random weekend away.
My friends and I spent the rest of the morning walking up and down the main street in town – a narrow street lined with restaurants, shaworma stalls, pancake stands, bars and shops – we enjoyed a fresh fruit juice from a cafe and we ate an early lunch at a well-known Hungarian restaurant. We then went back to the beach, which had completely filled up again by now, where we relaxed under some shade, swam some more and nodded off every now and then.
A few hours later, it was time to leave and, with hair disheveled and barely able to keep my eyes open, I boarded that sauna of a mini-bus where I indeed sat, with sweat dripping all over me, staring out the window with nothing else to do, for four straight hours back to Bucharest.
Just like that I was back in my apartment, sitting at the very same desk where I was sitting when my friends called me the day before. However, I could now say that I had experienced Vama Veche, a place and a party that I had been hearing about for months, and that absolutely lived up to its reputation. It is also a place that I certainly will be visiting again before this summer is over.
Have you been to Vama Veche? Are you a summer beach party kind of person? Have you experienced such a party elsewhere in the world?