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Published: January 25th 2012
Village museum, Bucharest
We visited during heavy snow.
Whether his intention was to enhance his own personal glory, or the glory of the party, or perish the thought even the glory of the Romanian people; Ceausescu left the capital city of Romania a far different place than it was before he came to power. Bucharest was at the centre of his grand obsession to outdo the French, with it's main boulevard built slightly larger than the Champs D'Elysees, and the Arch of Triumph also larger than the famous Paris attraction. The sheer scale of the work recently undertaken in Bucharest may never be matched in Europe, and could only have occurred under a communist dictator. Sixty thousand houses were flattened and their tenants evicted to clear the land for the Palace of Parliament, with matching architecture in the new buildings lining the three kilometre boulevard. This is a modern architectural project on an unprecedented scale, and the parliament building is only eclipsed by the Pentagon as the biggest building in the world. It's an astonishing sight to catch that first glimpse of the colossal structure and the buildings along the boulevard.
The journal continues, dear reader, from where we left off in Sofia. It was time to bounce
In perfect sunshine after heavy snow the previous day.
and the ten hour train journey from the Bulgarian capital came to cross the mighty Danube river, where we stopped in Romania for immigration formalities. It was another couple of hours on to Bucharest, whereupon I jumped a taxi to the top ranked hostel in hostelworld. This has been my happy home for the past week, and I caught up with my English friend from Sofia to relax in a family type atmosphere for a time. The owners of Doors Hostel are wonderful people, and even provided a superb home cooked meal for us one evening. The turnover has been negligible during the week, and most people who come to this hostel are content to take a breather from hectic travelling to relax and soak up the atmosphere.
We stepped out on our first day to check out the staggering Palace of Parliament building. We decided to go inside for the parliament tour, and the grandeur and scale of the building is even more impressive from the interior. There's more marble in the building than any other in the world, and one auditorium features exquisite pink marble pillars. The marble is complimented by magnificent chandeliers, gorgeous carpets, twenty metre
Arcul de Triumf
A major attraction in Bucharest.
high ceilings, and huge oak doors. The tour is highly recommended, and our guide was knowledgeable about the history of this monumental architectural achievement. Ceausescu simply demanded materials from the Romanian people, and they were expected to comply often without payment. Also there were many military personnel and students working on it's completion who were never paid for their work. The work was overseen by a team of 700 architects and was completed after the revolution, as it was deemed more expensive to demolish the structure considering it was already 70% complete.
We spent another day in heavy snow walking to the Arch of Triumph, and then on to the Village museum. This outdoor museum features replica houses from various periods in Romanian history that are furnished just as they would have been during the time. The snow was falling as heavily as I've experienced during our visit, but the temperature wasn't too bad and we had a nice time amidst the beautiful surroundings. Bucharest is a big city that's quite spread out, and it takes at least a few days to get a feel for the place. But there's heaps to see, and the old part of the
city is particularly impressive. There is grandeur here that's almost on a par with Paris.
I also popped down to revolution square to the sight where Ceausescu gave his final speech to outraged compatriots, and was eventually forced to flee the building by helicopter from the roof. There's footage on YouTube that capture the drama of that day with his speech not only being interrupted by angry citizens, but also at one point by screams from the crowd as soldiers loyal to the dying regime began to fire on them indiscriminately. Bucharest was at the centre of history during December 1989 resulting in the overthrow of the communist regime. The potency of those momentous days reverberated around the world, and Romanians have struggled with the transition to democracy in the twenty years since the fall of the regime. For Romania, however, there's no turning back to the repression and privation that marked the final years of communism.
Of course there's great nightlife here in Bucharest, with pretty girls out and about in the capital. I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this topic lately, so suffice it to say there are good times on offer. I've
noticed an edge to Bulgaria and Romania not seen in other Balkan countries, and it's important to be conscious of your behaviour. Of course this applies when travelling anywhere in the world, but the hard edge of communism still seems a part of the Romanian people who endured so many years under repressive regimes. However, I've met many brilliant and helpful people in Bucharest to my pleasant surprise, and young Romanians speak flawless English as the norm. Membership of the EU has opened the country up to Europe and rest of the world as never before; and Romania is an exciting travel destination where, basically all of you should be here now!
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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