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Published: September 20th 2011
Adventure before Dementia
The luggage tag of the senior version of the LDTG, who we met on the train platform in Brasov.
We were up at 7 for our last morning in our own personal "People's Palace", packed up, enjoyed breakfast and one last bit of free wifi ... and we were on the road by 9:30
It's a short walk (less than one mile) to the train station, so I argued against a cab. Carrie (she of the heaviest suitcase) said she would only walk if I would trade suitcases with her. We got our exercise for the morning, three of us carting heavy suitcases down Strada Aurel Vlaicu. Leslie was in the lead, with her light duffel bag 😊
We got to the train station with plenty of time; bought our tickets (now that we are about to leave the country, my Romanian is getting better), and managed to get seats all together. We proceeded to our platform and met two older (well, older than us!) women traveling together, on a six week trip to Romania, Macedonia, and Slovenia. They were just finishing up the Romania leg. In addition to the places we have visited, they also saw Maramureş and the Danube Delta, both places we would have loved to go if we had had more time. We were
The view from the train.
quite impressed with how light they were traveling, and we loved their luggage tags: "Adventure before Dementia".
While I was waiting on the platform, a small Gypsy boy came up to me and spoke very quickly in Romanian; I could not catch a single word. I had no small bills or change, and he was quite persistent. I finally realized he simply wanted the rest of my bottle of Coke (already 2/3 gone) ... I handed it to him and his dirty face lit up as if I had given him 20 lei. He yelled "mulţumesc" over his shoulder as he scampered away. I felt a bit as if I was in a coca-cola commercial.
There is quite a large step up from the train platform, but since we help each other with our luggage, we can manage alright. However, a very busy-looking boisterous man with an official-looking hat (also speaking very fast Romanian that I could not understand) scurried up to us with much noise and gesturing and insisted on helping us into the train car and to our seats. He injected himself into our process of settling down, as if he was helping us ... very
While we were there in September 2011, this was a peaceful park. Protests returned in early 2012. Watching the youtube videos was interesting, and the background was so very familiar.
loudly. We unwillingly became the center of attention as he clearly was going to continue to "help" us until we tipped him sufficiently. Another passenger spoke to him gruffly in Romanian, but he persisted. We eventually realized that the official-looking hat was nothing but a prop. But at least he wasn't stealing anything ... other than our dignity. We laughed about it afterwards, pretty sure that we were fulfilling the "loud American" stereotype.
We did not have a compartment this time, but still had comfortable seats facing each other. And there was an outlet for my little laptop (which does not hold a charge well) allowing me to work on this journal.
As I have said many times before, one of my favorite sensations of traveling is the metamorphosis of a place from being "like nothing I've ever seen before" to being so familiar it feels almost like home. From the windows of our train the movie of our ride to Braşov six days ago was rewinding, but this time the sights were familiar. The train tracks run parallel to a road we traveled on more than once with Florin during our Carpathian driving adventures. I recognized sights
as mundane as a grocery store, as well as the soaring peaks of the Făgăraş Mountains.
One of the windows along the corridor side of the train was open. Carrie and I said farewell to the Transilvanian Alps, enjoying the wind in our hair, leaning ever so slightly out of the window (not so far as to endanger ourselves) like dogs enjoying a car ride.
When arriving back at Gara du Nord (yes, just like Paris) we learned that when you catch a cab *from* a transportation hub, the same trip will cost twice as much as *to* that same location. We haggled the driver down to that ... they tried much higher first.
We checked back into the Hotel Intercontinental at 2pm, and made plans to meet back at the hotel at 6pm to head out for dinner. A week before our trip I spent a good two hours reading my guide book, consulting maps, and googling history to decide what I wanted to do for my last afternoon in Romania. I used google maps to create a self-styled walking tour that would bring me past the sights that were important to me. I invited the
The People's Playground
In the forefront is a lovely castle-themed playgournd; in the background is the Palace of Parliament (a.k.a. The People's Palace)
other three to come along, but they declined, and to be honest, I do love a bit of solo adventure.
It was a very hot and sunny day; I think the high that day was 89 degrees. My route included specific sites chosen for their historical significance or because they played a key part in a book I had read (often both) --- and of course I needed my photo op of Romania's National Library.
I started in Piaţa Universităţii, looking up at our hotel and trying to imagine the square teeming with revolutionaries, 20-something versions of Florin, remembering video I had watched on youtube, taken from a balcony in our hotel. Walked back to Old City, looking at it with a slightly more cynical view having read while on the train that it is a very recent site of some harsh gentrification, which gave new meaning to the broken cobblestone and grafitti on the buildings at the edge of the cheerful clubs and restaurants. Can't judge too much; not much different than the H Street development here in DC.
While looking for the Biblioteca Naţională I passed a church where a wedding had just let out.
A very happy bride. Found the National Library, which had a sign (in Romanian, of course) in the window explaining why it was closed; all I could understand was "sorry for the inconvenience." I stopped at Caru cu Bere just to look inside. Very Bavarian ... the oldest beer hall in Romania, now a very touristy location complete with St Pauli girl style waitresses and Gypsy music. Kept walking to the Palace of Parliament. I did not go inside, just took pictures from the park just in front of it. If you do not know the story of this building, google it --- too much to explain here. It is symbolic of the megalomania of Romania's Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauseşcu. It is the 2nd largest building in the world (2nd only to the Pentagon) built by "the people" -- un(der)paid and overworked -- after destroying 40 places of worship and 30,000 homes to make room for it -- financed by incurring great national debt. I found it quite lovely that now there is an extremely large castle-like playground in its front yard, filled with carefree happy children.
From here I walked to Parcul Cişmigiu. It was very lovely. Gardens
One of many brides I saw this day; do you think I might be in their wedding pictures?
and small lakes and playgrounds ... full of families, groups of young adults, and couples walking hand-in-hand. This park is mentioned frequently in The Balkan Trilogy, enough so that I recognized certain walkways and a restaurant. I saw more brides in the park, with their photographers.
I walked out the Northeast side of the park, towards Piaţa Revoluţiei --- there are many sights here that made my list. The Athénée Palace hotel (now a Hilton) was a gathering place for English and then Germans in the 40s --- both in real life and in the book I read. The beautiful Romanian Athenaeum (a concert hall) is here. And this must be the créme de la créme of wedding photography sites --- there was a line of 5 brides waiting with their flower girls and bridesmaids to have their photos taken. A building that was the royal palace stands on the other side of the square; it is now the National Museum of Art. And across from this building is the balcony from which Ceauseşcu gave his final speech, leading to the revolution of December 21, 1989 and the fall of communism in Romania. There are of course many historical
This place was crawling with cute little flowergirls.
markers and commemorative statues and plaques and monuments in this square. I walked throughout and took many pictures, and read what I could understand from the plaques. And once again I tried to imagine a different time. I had watched youtube videos of the speech, of the rebellious chanting crowd, of Elena Ceauseşcu admonishing them as if she was a scolding schoolteacher, and Nicolae Ceauseşcu tapping his microphone as if this was a technical difficulty not a turning point that would lead to his execution.
Nearby this historic location is a pavilion set up for the annual George Enescu music festival. I bought myself an Ursus Black beer, and sat to listen and watch a magnificent female pianist perform, a few hundred yards from the revolutionary site.
After this I walked back to the hotel, passing a few more points of interest. The four of us gathered together at the bar of the hotel, then walked to Piaţa Revoluţiei. I gave a whirlwind tour to the three of them, feeling strongly that they needed to at least see the memorial at the balcony.
Then we went to the English Bar in the Athénée Palace for drinks; decorated
The arrow shaped sculpture points to the balcony from which Ceauseşcu gave his final speech.
so authentically we felt as if we were in London (or perhaps Carrie's basement.) The menu mentions the historic past of this bar as well as referencing The Balkan Trilogy. We had a wonderful Italian dinner at the restaurant in the hotel, celebrating my birthday two days early.
We walked back to the hotel; Linda and I stayed up a bit longer at the hotel bar, then I went back up and sat on the balcony looking out at the People's Palace and writing in this journal. A great end to yet another horizon-widening LDTG trip.
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