Hello again from Romania! We continue to explore Bucharest through a series of self guided tours, bus rides, museum visits, dinners and more. Unlike other places we visited, there aren’t many tourists who swing through Bucharest. The larger hotels like the Hilton, Ramada and Novotel are largely stuffed with business travelers. Romania is only on a few people’s Top 10 list which, for us, makes it a very cool place to visit.
We took a ride on Bucharest’s newly-launched $8 Hop On Hop Off tour. Another double decker city tour bus, but this one with a somewhat sparse audio-tour component and even sparser crowd. The bus cruised around two of the main avenues of town. These rides, in any city, always deliver a quality up close look at sights worth seeing. Or at least worth driving by. In this case, we got a great look at musician’s George Enescu’s home, The National Museum of Art, Embassy Row and more. We also rode past Bucharest’s own Arc De Triomphe, statue of Charles De Gaulle and Parisian fountains. See a theme? Tons of french words and a bit of French culture have wiggled their way into Romanian culture.
Later, Brooke and I were oh so excited to visit the National Museum of Romanian history located right next to Old Town in the beautiful old Post Office building. This was our chance tor really sink our teeth into the complicated, sometimes tragic history of this country. We have found some of our favorite and most educational stops have been at museums such as this one. We walked in the beautiful old building, and there was some sort of presentation regarding the Apollo 12 mission to the moon. We were hoping the very obviously American ambassador’s wife would speak so we might understand, but that didn’t happen. As we ventured further into the museum, we realized the exhibits were all in Romanian and French. That is understandable, but what surprised us is that there were no English brochures, audio guides, tour guides, nothing. So far, we weren’t feeling much of this had to do with Romanian history. Then we found the jackpot–a huge column which had been pieced together and put on display. The carvings featured Romans fighting and we were sure this must be significant to Romanian history. Since this exhibit filled the entire basement we figured this must be some amazing find. We managed to ask our English Speaking front door guy about the column. Did it stand on this very spot? Was it destroyed with everything else during the 1980’s? His answer was a clear NO. This column is a REPLICA of one from Italy. It never stood on Romanian soil, was not built by a Romanian sculptor. This put us over the edge. Why was a replica taking up so much space? What did this have to do with Romania’s history? We walked out of there learning a whole lot of NOTHING about Romanian history and instead feeling like we made a charitable contribution to the museum. Argh.
The highlight of our day was rendevouzing with Dorothrea whom we had met through RedditR. Dorothea is a native Bucharest resident currently studying in Berlin who took a turn at playing gracious tour guide. Brooke and I spent a good chunk of the day walking the streets receiving a sensational, informative guided tour of the city all delivered from a local perspective. It was a phenomenal way to see Bucharest and we we’re so thankful that Dorothea took some of her own time just to show us around! We met her near a centrally located piece of art that locals (with affection? With disdain?) call the “Potato on a Stick”. (It’s reassuring to know that the art that we sometimes think looks kinda stupid, locals think looks stupid also.) Since central Bucharest is an area that’s relatively densely packed, we were able to cover a lot of ground in just a few hours. We walked through nice neighborhoods just off the central avenue, stopping to get some history and back story on the buildings and way of life. Our journey took a detour into a great bookstore and we even sampled a fresh baked pretzel which doubles as the most popular Romanian street fare. Between showing us a pair of sensational old Roman Orthodox Churches (there aren’t a lot of old doings left in Bucharest), Dorothea snuck us into a bank in Old City whose lobby rivaled some of the rooms that we saw in the Palace of Parliment yesterday. Amazing! We walked past a beautiful local hospital that had just recently been renovated from top to bottom. We never would have suspected that two years ago, it was on the verge of falling down. Dorothea helped us to see that there IS an effort out there to preserve and restore Bucharest, it is just a very slow process. She showed us several nice neighborhoods that we likely wouldn’t have discovered on our own.
Later in the day, the three of us met up with two of Dorothea’s local friends, and enjoyed a long Indian lunch in Old Town (the food is half off before 5:00 PM!) while trading stories over beers and Masala. We talked out Romania, got to know about their lives here, we talked about our RTW trip and they asked questions about the United States. (Yes, our gas is considerably cheaper then most gas in Europe. Yes, there are a lot of overweight Americans.) Dorothea and Ionuca gave us some fantastic. wonderful insights into Romanian daily life. They even put up with all of our questions – from Gypsys to Politics to the state of Education some of which must have seemed insufferably stupid. Such a quality experience to talk to people who live in the city about their city. These three have a fondness for Bucharest, but a also a realistic view. (Corruption in many forms, Dorothea told us, was common.) It was so incredibly generous of these guys to spend a large chunk of the day with us. The lesson we walked away with here was if you love your town, show it off!
Our voyage continues! We are just trying not to accidentally refer to Bucharest as Budapest as Michael Jackson allegorically once did. Understandably, it’s a point of exhaustion and frustration for the locals. Soon, off to Brasov. Who knows what we’ll see there? But for now, we’ll try to soak up everything we learned today like a sponge and hope it sticks around the noodle for at least a little while.