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Published: February 22nd 2020
I only really had one day to explore Bucharest, so I decided to make the most of it and booked to do two different free walking tours, so that I would get a good oversight of the city. I was staying by the main train station, the Gare du Nord, so my walk to the Old Town, where the first tour began, took about 40 minutes. The area that I walked through wasn't really the nicest. It didn't feel unsafe, it was just a bit rundown. I really liked some of the street art that I came across. I don't know if it was just random or a set towards gentrification. I got a bit lost on my way to the meeting place and was worried that I was going to miss the tour, this seems to happen to me quite often on this trip. However, I found the meeting point and was in utter shock that I was the only person there. I thought because it was the weekend that there may be more people for the tour, but no everyone was having a lie-in. I was the only person for the tour in English and there was no one
for the tour in Spanish. I felt a bit bad for the guide, but this was my only opportunity to do the tour and I didn't feel like wandering the Old Town on my own not knowing what anything was. We waited for a while to see if anyone else would turn up, and watched a tramp get questioned by the police. Bucharest is a bit rough around the edges.
The first stop on the tour was a short walk away, literally just a few footsteps. On the way, the guide explained a little of the history of Romania to me. Originally, Romania had been three separate states; Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania. Curtea Veche (the Old Princely Court) was built as a residence during the rule of Vlad Dracul aka Vlad the Impaler in 1459. There is also a church on site, the Annunciation Church of Saint Anthony. I had a quick look around the site, it was beautifully cared for and I really liked the Christmas style lights that were strewn across the sky. I don't know if they were only there for Christmas or all the time, but they were really pretty. I also took a quick
look in the church, which was beautifully decorated. We walked along Strada Franceză, which is a beautiful street. We came to the Oktoberfest pub, which has a long history of being an pub and inn. This is where a fire started in the past, which destroyed a lot of the area. The next place that we visited was Stavropoleos Church. The church is also a monastery for Eastern Orthodox nuns. The original church was built in 1724, but earthquakes have caused parts of the church to collapse. The guide had to be quiet when we entered the church as she said that she gets wrong off the nuns for being too loud. The church was really, really small inside, but it was beautifully ornate. I also had a look around the churchyard, which was filled with old gravestones.
We walked along Strada Stavropoleos, stopping by Caru' cu bere, a bar and restaurant. Apparently the best instagram spot in Bucharest was just near here. You could stand in front of the bar and around sunset get a great shot of the Palace of Deposits and Consignments. However, Caru' cu bere decided to build a roof terrace or awning, I can't
remember which, and it totally blocked out the sun and killed the view. The Palace of Deposits and Consignments is a really nice building and is situated on Victoria Avenue. This street has been one of the main thoroughfares in the city and has went through quite a few name changes. It was the first street in Bucharest to be lit by candles at night. It was renamed Calea Victoriei in 1878 after the War of Independence. As we walked up the street, we came to Villacrosse Passage. This was a really cute set of streets that were connected and were filled with luxury shops back in the day. Now it is filled with cafes and shisha bars. Since it was still rather early in the morning nothing was really open, but I was informed that it is much more lively in the evening. Out the other side of Villacrosse Passage, we came to the National Bank of Romania. The guide told me a little history about the building and about the Ioanid Gang that robbed the bank in 1959. What was really interesting about this bank robbery is that the perpetrators were not regular criminals but most were members
of the Communist Party and held jobs like journalist, engineers and police officer. After capture, the criminals took part in a film about their exploits and were told that because of this their death sentences would be commuted. However, the authorities did not uphold their end of the bargain and all the male members of the gang were executed in 1960.
The next part of the tour took me to Statuia Lupoaicei, the Capitoline Wolf Statue. The statue was donated by Italy in 1906. From here, we took the underpass, which was nicely decorated with historical information about Bucharest, to Saint George Church. Talk about bad luck with timing, there was a funeral going on when we got there. We took a look around the grounds first and taking in the statue of Constantin Brancoveanu,who was the Prince of Wallachia from 1688 to 1714. He is buried in the church. Then we headed over to Monumentul Kilometrul zero, this is where distances from Bucharest to other cities are measured. The funeral had pretty much wrapped up by this point so we headed over to the church. It was beautifully ornate. I enjoyed looking at all the brightly coloured artwork.
Then it was back to Manuc's Inn, which had been the starting point. The guide told me so popular Romanian foods, both main dishes and desserts. All of them sounded delicious and since it was now lunchtime, I was eager to try some.
I wandered around the Old Town trying to find somewhere that took my fancy. After a couple of false starts, I settled on Taverna Covaci. It had a heated outdoor seating area, but I wasn't feeling it so opted to sit inside. The menu was pretty extensive and included lots of the dishes that the guide had told me about. There was one dish that she had described in great detail that I was very eager to try. The 'Pig's Alms' is a dish traditionally eaten at Christmas, so I was only a couple of weeks late. The pig is slaughtered and cooked, and then eaten as a thanksgiving meal as a family. When my food arrived, I was actually shocked at how large the portion was. There was a lot of meat with a big glop of polenta alongside. Since this dish was just meat and polenta, I had ordered a side of sauteed spinach.
The meat was amazing, it was cooked perfectly and tasted so good. The polenta was inoffensively bland and the spinach was nice, just not piping hot, which would have made it taste better. It is not often I am defeated by a meal, but this one did it, it was just so big.
The meeting point for my afternoon tour was about a 40 minute walk away, so I took a slow meander through the streets of Bucharest. My morning tour had been all about the ancient history and legends of Bucharest and Romania, this one was more modern talking about the recent monarchy and communism. This tour was slightly more popular as there were about three or four of us on it. We met in front of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is a concert hall that was opened in 1888. The building underwent renovation and reconstruction in the 1990s. It is a beautiful building, small but grand looking. We walked along to the next point of interest, the Equestrian Statue of King Carol I. He was the first king of Romania and it was during his reign that Romania fought for and won their independence from the Ottoman
Empire during the Independence War in 1877. The original statue was designed by the Croatian sculptor, Ivan Meštrović and was unveiled on 10th May 1939, Romanian National Day. However, the statue didn't last too long as when the Communists took over in 1947 after King Michael I's forced abdication they demolished and destroyed the statue. The new statue, which was designed by Florin Codre, was inaugurated in 2010 and is not an exact copy as there are some differences. The statue is situated across from what was the Royal Palace and is now a museum. It was really interesting to hear about the Romanian royal family from the guide as I knew nothing about them and I only really knew a little about the Communist history of Romania. We continued on to Revolution Square, which I had passed on my way to the meeting point. The square was renamed after the revolution in December 1989 as people gathered here to voice their frustrations with the Communist government and Nicolae Ceaușescu's regime. At that time the square housed the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. The buildings are still used as government buildings. our guide filled us in on what
went on during and prior to the revolution. I really liked our guide as she gave a very balanced view. She could have been very anti-Ceaușescu, but she pointed out the good things that the Communist regime had done. We saw the Memorial of Rebirth, which honours the victims of the revolution. An interesting tidibt about the memorial is that the red paint that was added to look like blood was actually an act of vandalism that took place in 2012. However, it has been left there as it adds to the memorial. There were a couple of other interesting statues and sculptures on the square, but I didn't find out any information about those.
We headed along Victoria Avenue to the Novotel Hotel. This building is really interesting looking. The front of the exterior is a real mix of old and new. The older part of the exterior was part of the National Theatre building that once stood on that spot and was bombarded during World War II, and the newer glass part of the building houses the hotel rooms. The buildings on the streets next to the hotel were riddled with bullet holes. Another interesting building near
the hotel is the Palatul Telefoanelor (the Telephone Palace), the art deco style building looks a bit out of place in downtown Bucharest. We continued along the street until we came to Hotel Capitol. We headed into the cafe/bar attached to the hotel to take a break and warm up with a hot drink. This area is filled with fancy hotels and just across the road is Casa Capsa Cakery, which has been going since the 19th century. they invented the Joffre cake in honour of the French General Joseph Joffre who visited Bucharest after World War I. We continued along to Cișmigiu Gardens, which is a nice park in the city. It was quite busy and I liked it when we were walking along one of the paths and the lights all lit up. It was very cute. After the park, we headed to the Dambovita River, which runs through the city. By this point the sun was starting to set and the views were nice. We headed to our final stop; the Presidential Palace. The Palace of the Parliament is the seat of government and an absolute beast of a building with 1,100 rooms. Ceaușescu ordered the construction
of the building and took 13 years to complete. I find it quite ironic that Ceaușescu didn't live long enough to see it finished. I had really wanted to do a tour of the building but I didn't have enough time and unless you are part of a group you have to call to make a reservation for the tour or use an outside agency to secure you a place, which was about three times the price. However, I did enjoy watching the sunset over the Palace of the Parliament. After the tour, I took the long walk back to my hostel. It was rather far, but good exercise. Bucharest had surprised me. It is gritty and grimy and the area near the station is a bit sketchy, but the city's slowly worked its charm on me. It is a place that I would definitely like to return to if the opportunity arises.
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