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Published: September 11th 2017
Bună ziua București!
Greeting the city from the balcony of the Palace of the Parliament looking down the Bulevardul Libertatii
and Bulevardul Unirii.
A short entry this time (I hear many sighs of relief), but before my return to the daily grind there was time to fit in a last-minute city break, hmm, where to go? Rolling the dice of European destinations, the city of Bucharest was the winner.
Although August in Bucharest is usually quite hot anyway, our visit coincided with heatwave covering a large swath of Europe, still I’d recently come back from the heat of the Gobi Steppe, so I was sure I’d manage.
We flew out from Luton airport, not one I usually fly out of and I quickly realised why, it’s a bit of a shed, still we managed to struggle through (First World Woes) and arrive at our destination without too much hassle. We touched down at Henri Coandă Airport and caught an extremely bus to find our apartment which was just located next to the University square in central Bucharest.
As it was a bit of a last minute trip, I’d not done any research and my knowledge of the city and country was rather limited to images of the fall of Ceausescu and an imagined post-Soviet style city. However, it was soon clear
I'm ready for my Romanian education
The Faculty of Geography of the University of Bucharest. The odd statue in front of the theatre is called the 'Caruta cu paiate', a tribute to Romania's best loved playwright, Ion Luca Caragiale.
that Bucharest has a lot more to offer, often described as the ‘Paris of the East’.
We’d rented a flat and met the cleaning lady to pick up the keys, the flat was in an old Art Deco style block which was in need of a bit of renovation, she squeezed us into the tiny lift up to the 5th
floor which at first seemed OK but as we approached our floor I looked up to see the roof of the lift seemed to be missing, suffice to say, we didn’t take the lift again. Still, the flat was fine and had a nice balcony overlooking the national theatre which in the heatwave was a most welcome place to cool down with a cocktail after a day in the hot sun.
Once unpacked we headed out for a walk to get our bearings and see some of the city. We were right by the university and close to the old town so perfect to see all the sights. My first surprise was the realisation that Romanian is a Romance language rather than a Slavic one (apologies to Romania for my ignorance) which made life a lot easier as
The Russians came..
The golden domes of the St. Nicholas Church, built in 1905. Shame about the scaffolding.
if you know a bit of French/Spanish then it is quite easy to understand what is going on. My second surprise was the wide variety of beautiful architecture throughout the city, I started to understand the references to Paris.
Only becoming the capital of Romania in 1862, it is a mix of many different styles, for those architecture buffs amongst you they include: historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and art deco), communist-era and modern, something for everyone! A lot of the city centre was unfortunately destroyed by war, earthquakes and Ceausescu’s programme of ‘Systemization’ (urban planning copied from North Korea of all places), lots of the city’s older building still survive.
The Old town has recently become a bit of a party area in the last few years, still it sounds like it is an improvement on ten years ago when it was said to be a bit of a no-go area after dark. They are certainly making an effort to regenerate the area and there are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from and you can avoid the worst excesses of youthful exuberance if you so desire.
The one thing I did want to see whilst
visiting the city was the famous/infamous Palace of the Parliament (also known as the ‘House of the Republic’ or the ‘People’s House’), the huge ego trip of Romania’s notorious dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Construction began after an earthquake in 1977 which decimated part of the capital and gave Ceaușescu an excuse to further his Systemization project. We headed over there in the morning to book our tour (make sure you take your passport or you can’t get in) although we had to wait until the afternoon as we hadn’t pre-booked.
There was plenty to see while we waited for our slot, we wandered around the city enjoying all the different styles of buildings, cooled down in the beautiful Cișmigiu Park and snacked on the delicious cheese pastries which seemed to be available on every street corner. Heading back for our tour we approached the Palace and boy was it huge, dominating the skyline of the city like a huge wedding cake. The building is apparently visible from the moon and is the second biggest Governmental building after the Pentagon, with 1100 rooms, truly the work of a mad dictator.
We joined our tour and entered the realm of Ceaușescu’s
The Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului - Communst Era style), 1100 rooms of excess, the world's second-largest administrative building after the Pentagon, a bit prettier though.
madness, we only saw a handful of the 1100 rooms, but even then the tour covers over a kilometre. Areas not covered include the nuclear bunker and the escape tunnels to the airport, not that Ceaușescu was paranoid at all.
We did get to see the offices designed by Ceaușescu and his wife, the huge corridors which would easily fit a double decker bus, incredible ballrooms and other spectacular reception rooms. All of it was rather impressive if you are into Dictator Chic, it is hard to fathom the expense in both monetary and human terms. The delightful irony of it all is the fact that Ceaușescu and his cronies never got to enjoy the splendour of their fantasy. It was touch and go post revolution, they spent a year deciding if they should either demolish or finish the palace. I’m glad they decided in the end to keep it and use it as their Parliament (although it was cheaper to keep than demolish). In the end it did become the Palace for the Romanian people rather than the hideout of a madman (saying that Rupert Murdoch apparently offered $1 Billion for it in the 1990s, so it almost
The heaviest chandelier in the world
The palace doesn't disappoint, not surprising to hear that Rupert Murdoch offered $1 Billion to buy it in the 90s. #DictatorChic
Needing some time to recover from the excess of marble, gold and crystal of the palace, we headed back for a rest from the heat of the day for a few hours, ready for a cocktail on the balcony before heading out to try some local delicacies for dinner. We decided to try the famous ‘Caru' cu Bere’ (Beer Wagon) restaurant, very much on the tourist trail but well worth a visit as the interior is decorated in a beautiful Art Nouveau style. I opted for the traditional dish of stuffed cabbage leaves, polenta and bacon, otherwise known as ‘Sarmale’. Washed down with some delicious Romanian wine, it is a great place for dinner, yummy!
After a good night’s rest, the following morning we headed north of the centre on the metro to visit the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum. The museum is located in Herăstrău Park which is also close to Bucharest’s very own ‘Arcul de Triumf’. The museum was first opened in 1936 and contains authentic peasant houses, mills and farms from all over Romania. They have rebuilt 272 original rural buildings in one location, combined with craft demonstrations it is a wonderful place to
What would have been Ceausescu's office, thankfully he never got to use it, oh the irony.
spend a few hours. It is a bit like being in a house supermarket, you amble around having a good nose inside the different houses on offer and chose your favourite. They are all rather cute and like something out of a fairy tale, there were quite a few I would have happily moved into.
We didn’t achieve that much more for the rest of the trip apart from lots more walking, well it was a killer heatwave apparently, but I enjoyed Bucharest a lot and would certainly recommend it for a short city break. It is still a bit rough around the edges but an interesting mix of styles and cultures, in a few more years the city will probably be well polished. For the time being though it is a great value destination, not too globalised and full of delicious cheese pasties, what’s not to like!
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