Bucharest and the Old Town Jacket
The Dacia Express from Vienna to BucharestEric Ambler's spy novels conjure up romantic images of eastern Europe, the Balkans and the near East before the outbreak of World War Two. All intrigue and heavy overcoats.
My particular favourites are The Mask of Dimitrios (there's a so-so film adaptation with Peter Lorre, but it's well overdue a remake) and Uncommon Danger, and were partly the inspiration for a train trip I made from Vienna to Bucharest overnight on the Dacia Express. The other part was that I wanted to listen to some live gypsy music, one of my favourite gypsy singers being Romica Puceanu from Bucharest.
The Dacia Express leaves Vienna's Westbahnhof station in the early evening. I took a sleeper cabin and was woken on the border of Hungary by guards who needed to inspect my passport - perfect. I listened for the sound of gunshots and falling spies passing on notes before they persish, but all was quiet in my carriage.
Next day I woke to wonderful views of Transylvania and the Carpathian mountains. In the dining carriage, which I shared with Germans travelling down for a walking holiday, they made heavy Russian breakfast of chips and pork chops cooked with red pepper.
Try the Peasant Museum in BucharestThe train pulled into Bucharest North station in the afternoon. Bucharest feels very much on the outer edge of Europe. Much of the old parts are falling down, but the area around the museums shows how elegant and sophisticated the city must have been, with its wide boulevards, before communism reduced the city to a cultural ground zero. Ceauşescu's Palace was an obscene reminder of its later history. I enjoyed the Peasant Museum, which contained lots of interesting ethnic costumes, and Caru cu Bere was a highly decorative place to try the local beers. But could I find any cosy little places playing gypsy music? None. Perhaps I needed insider knowledge, but even the staff at the hotel had no idea where I might hear some. Another time perhaps. I'd love to visit Bucharest again
Old Town provides the perfect jacket for the job
Anyway, I say all this as background to a jacket I bought from Old Town, of Holt in Norfolk. If there was a poster-child for the type of British business we support, then Old Town might well be it. They are inspired by Britain's cultural heritage and produce clothes in-house and by hand on a small scale using British cloth where possible. The web site articulates their ethos extremely well - lovely looking thing.
I wanted a jacket to wear on my trip. It needed to be hard-wearing, good for travelling in and adaptable - I might have to sleep in it (and in fact did on the next leg to Madrid - another story). I didn't need anything too thick for the time of year, in May, but not summery either. The Stanley, in tan cotton drill, from Old Town seemed like the one. I phoned in my order and it was dispatched. Not long after we made the trip together and it served very well indeed.