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Published: November 27th 2011
Then – Bucharest.
We made our way, gingerly, down the fantastically bad Romanian road system, marvelling at the only length of motorway in the country. A decent part of the road this, and it really didn’t go anywhere.
We had decided to live it up a little in Bucharest after a few months of camping – we booked a pretty flash room at the NH Hotel Bucharest. A bathroom, aircon and telly – it even had tea and coffee making facilities. Fighting through the Bucharest traffic was easier than I had anticipated. Or perhaps I had simply grown used to the peculiarities of Romanian driving.
Romanians, I had discovered, were really pretty ordinary drivers. Sure, they made it a matter of pride that they can pass on a blind corner, or aiming straight at the Tatra truck coming the other way, but that doesn't make you a good driver – it simply makes you a wanker. It was sort of heartening for me to see an Audi up my arse on the straight crappy roads, lights flashing at me, palms raised in the question “Why is this Frenchman driving so slow?” (in cases like this we were French
– the plates were good for something). Then they pull out and pass on unbroken lines, approaching a blind rise around a bend, putting us all at risk. Not for nothing does this part of Europe have the highest road toll, with most fatalities resulting from head on collisions.
Then...the corners. We would reach some hairpin bends, winding through wooded forests, sweeping along the curves of beautiful whitewater rivers, up into the mountains. And the Romanians didn’t know how to do it. Suddenly, the Berlingo was the fastest thing on the road – and I was by no means pushing it. I was all over the back of a low-slung Audi or Mercedes as they entered the corners too fast, braking all the way around, and then only able to get the power on about two weeks after the apex has past. The entire couple of weeks I was constantly surprised at the complete inability of Romanian drivers to go round corners. Romania was a nation of excellent drag racers with death wishes.
Bucharest was a very interesting place, and definitely worth a few days. We spent a great deal of time checking out the fascinating mix of
communist-era construction, classical style and Eastern European dodginess. A good way to get your bearings of any city is to do a walking tour, and Bucharest offered a good free one – similar to the one we had done in Buenos Aires.
We met under a slightly hard to find clock in the park, and went from there. The young bloke showing us around was great – friendly, easy to talk to, and knowledgeable. He didn’t hold back on the history either – we learned a great deal about Ceacescu and his crimes against his people and history.
Bucharest had once been one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Ceacescu had embarked on a vicious program of rebuilding during his decades in power, almost completely destroying the old centre and replacing it with his vision of a modern city. Not unlike Brisbane in the 70s and 80s, really.
His crowning achievement, or his greatest folly, was the Palace of Parliament. This extraordinary edifice is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon, the world’s largest civilian administration building, and the heaviest building in the world. It was built from 1983 to 1989 after Ceacescu
moved an entire few neighbourhoods of people out of the way, razing 1,000 years of historical buildings and houses.
And it really is huge. So huge it’s difficult to know where to start. So we didn’t – once you’re inside it’s just the inside of another building, albeit one with an insane amount of rooms. Plus – you guessed it – it cost too much to go in. You could do a bit of a walk around the outside, so we did that instead.
It appeared that the current government was in the midst of a massive renovation and preservation of the remnants of the old city, and what had been finished so far was very well done. Parts of it were basically a construction site, but there were some fantastic parts you were able to wander about in and enjoy some very interesting architecture. The restored 14th
century inn was a particular highlight. As was the truly excellent Turkish food we had in the old quarter. Being only one country away from Turkey I guess had its benefits.
A slightly schizophrenic city in many ways. Crazy drivers – mental but strangely courteous.
Massive Communist era constructions…built with a weird French Renaissance influence. Stunningly beautiful Romanian women with desperately unattractive Romanian men. And, after dodging blokes careening down the streets in rickety horse carts you could retire to the hotel and watch MotoGP streamed on the second fastest internet in the world (after South Korea, I kid you not).
I’m not sure what it was, but Bucharest had a certain something I found I really liked.
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