The BBA Travellers turn into Meercats in Bucharest

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June 15th 2013
Published: June 21st 2013
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Today was always going to be one of the bigger challenges for the BBA V2 if only for what we have read about Bucharest and the perils tourists can face when visiting the city with scams,gypsies and roaming dogs.!

The weather promises to be fine and the temperature projected to hit 30C+ but has dawned cloudy which might actually be better especially if we clock up a few kilometres touring the city.

The hotel served up an expresso coffee with a croissant and we substituted that for the instant Nescafe as we felt it would give us a buzz enough to keep us going all day.

The reception didn't know anything about a bus to the city and suggested a taxi at between RON 100 to 200 max or about €45 to €90 to get to the city.Well, that was never going to happen on the BBA and we searched out the Metro on Google Maps and found that the terminal station for the nearest line was at Pipera about 5 km away and a Google view of the Metro station showed cars lined up as if in a public car park.So we decided to head down in the car,park it for the day and take the Metro to town especially when an all day Metro ticket was going to cost a huge RON6 or €1.30!

Being Saturday the traffic was light as we drove down to Pipera and we found the metro station but no public car park.What to do,go back to the hotel and take a taxi or search the area and see if we can find a public car park for the day.We opted for the second one and although we didn't find a car park we did find a spot that opposite an apartment block that didn't have any signs forbidding parking and as the area looked harmless enough we took what we always considered to be a risk and leave Cindy unguarded for the day.

There was a machine dispensing tickets on the station for the Metro but it didn't give any change and we didn't have enough Lei1 notes to buy the two tickets we needed.However a security guy came to our rescue and although we were a bit suspicious of showing him how much money we had he was only interested in helping us and took us over to a woman in a booth who sold us an all day ticket and gave us change.Easy!

With trains every 7 minutes it wasn't long before we were on our way for the first attraction we wanted to see,the Bucharest Arc de Triumf built in 1935.It was only two stations away and we were soon doing the meercat thing and appearing above ground and finding the way down a leafy, wide boulevard to a lookalike of the Paris original of the Arc de Triumph.

It was a large structure but not as big as its namesake in Paris although its appearance was strikingly similar.A large Romanian flag in the middle struggled to unfurl with a lack of any breeze.On the rear side from where we stood a number of police and a couple of trucks with water cannons were positioned as if they were expecting trouble at some time today.

Adjacent to the monument was a large green park area with pathways and cycle tracks amidst a forest of trees and people strolled and cycled in and out as we took the sights of the area in.

Looking for another attraction in a piazza commemorating a Romanian victory in a battle we hadn't read about we came across the headquarters for the Romanian Rugby Football Union and the ground at which they play their European Cup games at which looked more like a local rugby ground by NZ standards although it did have some towering floodlights and a very green sole of grass on the field.There were a number of players training on the main ground,just who they were was unclear although there was a poster saying that the final match in the European Cup was to be played tomorrow,Sunday.Unfortunately for me but fortunately for Gretchen we would be on our way to Bran when the game was to be played.So not only did I miss the AB's game on TV against France this morning, our time, as we did the Bucharest tour but I would also miss the chance to see a rugby match on the BBA V2.

We didn't find the piazza and so headed back to the metro to take the train further towards the city and a change of lines to take a look at the Gard du Nord railway station,also modelled on the Paris one of the same name.And again like meercats we appeared from the subway to emerge right at the station.Our first view wasn't what we thought we should be looking at being a rather plain looking portal and then realised the main entrance was a little further away.

The station entrance needed a tidy up like many railway stations these days but one could imagine how grand it would have looked in the heyday of railways.

We had read a lot about roaming,stray dogs in Bucharest and we hadn't seen any at our first stop.However,there were a lot of them in and around the station area but were not threatening as we had imagined.Called 'free ranging urban dogs'there are estimated to be between 40,000 and up to 200,000 of these dogs in Bucharest alone.In one area where there were some people living rough in a small park there was also a pack of dogs that probably hung around as there would be a share of the food the people ate.We must say here though that all the other places we visited in the city during the day presented itself as very neat and tidy and free of rubbish in contrast to many Italian cities for instance.

It was back on the subway and another train change to get to the station closest to Revolution Square which also has the Royal Palace adjacent.It was from here that Ceausescu(herein after called Mr C)tried to appease the crowds and then realising his end of rule was in sight tried to escape from the roof in a helicopter.He didn’t get away and he and Mrs C,who was also very influential,were executed on Boxing Day 1989 by a firing squad.

The palace has recently been restored and is now an art gallery.

On the other side of the road is a very large statue to King Carol I who reigned for 48 years until he died in 1914 and is quite prominent in Romanian history being credited for the advance of Romania during his reign.We should add that Mr and Mrs C have no statues or monuments to them nor any streets named after them such was their dislike by the Romanian people of the time that were successful with their revolution.After their execution their bodies were buried in simple graves in a Bucharest cemetery which apparently are still well attended to by die hard communists.

To mark the revolution is a rather striking looking white monument also opposite the palace and near the top was a large splash of what perhaps was supposed to be red blood symbolising the blood spilt by those revolutionaries killed during the revolution of 1989.We weren't sure if the splash of red was there intentionally as part of the statue or whether it had been added by someone throwing paint at it.

Checking our map we discovered we weren’t far away from the afternoons attraction,The Peoples Palace,another of Mr C’s grand plans for Romania or should we say himself ,such was his megalomaniac character.We had had to make a reservation yesterday to get a place on the 1.45pm tour in English and had signed up for the ‘biggie’i.e.standard tour underground tour and roof tour that would take two hours.

McD’s was on the way and proved to be a handy toilet stop, as they usually are, as well as a top up of fries and a coke to last us until dinner time.

We passed by another beautiful park full of leafy green trees and people strolling around enjoying the now warm sunshine,the previous cloudy conditions now have given way to the sun.

Over the river and there before us taking up all the scenery, was the second largest public building in the world,surpassed only by the Pentagon in Washington DC.Unlike the Pentagon,the Peoples Palace,now home of government in Romania,has been built on a rise so that it stands out from what is virtually a flat city area.

The numbers for the place are staggering and here are just some;

Mr C ordered the demolishment of 8 square kilometres of what had been the Jewish area of the city,30,000 residences were demolished along with 35 churches to make way for the construction.

The building measures 270mtrs x 240 mts and is 86 mtrs high with a further 92 mtrs underground.Floor space of 340,000 sq mtrs

3500 tonnes of crystal was used in 480 chandeliers

200,000 sq mtrs of woollen carpets

It would be very hard not to be impressed by the sheer size and prominence of the building.What was in Mr C’s head when he came up with the plan to build such a huge building,grossly more than a country the size of Romania would ever need for its government, takes some understanding.He of course never got to see it finished as the revolution came along and he was deposed and of course executed.

After the security checks and having to leave our passports with the officials exchanging them for a dogtag which we had to wear at all times we joined a group of about 20 others and headed off on the tour which included descending several flights of stairs to the basement to view the massive ducting installed to carry the electrics,sewage and water to all parts of the building.Down there was also a photograph timeline of the construction of the building which bought several things the guide had talked about into perspective.

We then returned back upstairs and passed through an auditorium with seating for over 1000 delegates with an enormous chandelier in the middle of the ceiling.This was just one of several other chandelier’s that we saw on the tour.Mr and Mrs C(who took a leading part in the outfitting)spared no expense and liked to do things in a BIG way!

To get to the roof we rode in an elevator for eight floors and from there had panoramic views of the city.With everything including the roof pavement painted white or off white the heat of the day reflected significantly and once we had seen what we wanted to we adjourned back indoors to cool off as best we could.

Then it was down to the first floor terrace which faced down a wide 4 km long avenue which was constructed during the period MrC was in charge and was designed to look like the Champs-Eylsee in Paris.At the end of the avenue in front of the Peoples Palace there was a huge open area designed for the people to gather and to listen to MrC make his speech from the terrace.Of course this never happened as he didn't survive to see the building finished.Many historical buildings were demolished and replaced with high density residential blocks.Thankfully these don't look as bad as many of others of that type that are in all of the industrial cities and towns we have passed through and the avenue actually looked very good with large leafy trees lining both sides softening the 'concrete look'.

After a look at a couple of other rooms also with massive chandeliers our tour came to an end and we headed off down the avenue we had viewed from the first floor terrace to the last area left in the central city that still had older historical buildings.We found the area OK which is now the main restaurant/café scene with all of the establishments having tables on the street under large sun umbrellas which by now were really needed as the temperature must have been well into the 30's with bright sunshine.

We went into a church with a Greek connection built in 1724 with a beautifully carved entrance and façade with a lovely garden which was in bloom giving some pleasant colour to all the surrounding concrete.

It was from here that we found an Irish pub(we were desparate for some beef!)amongst the dozens of restaurants in the maze of streets in the Lipscani area.It was only 5pm but we had had a full day with not a lot to eat since breakfast so an early dinner was always on the cards.We ordered up fish and chips(first battered fish for several weeks)and a shepherds pie(well the menu did say it was beef) and a couple of local beers and sat back and watched the passing throngs.

The big test as we got off the metro back at Pipera and emerged from below ground as meerkats for the last time today, was always going to be whether Cindy was still where we parked her this morning,and yes she was!

We struggled up the steps to our first floor room at the hotel and collapsed in the easy chairs gasping for a wine.It had been a big day out of over 8 hours and many kilometres covered on foot as well as the two hour tour of the Peoples Palace.

We must add that we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw in Bucharest and if our experience was anything to go by the guide books should be rewritten to be more positive about the city and its sights.

.The numbers for the palace are staggering

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