Romania

Missed the bus by two minutes

Today we missed the bus from Bucharest to Sofia by about two minutes.

I’m not exaggerating. The long-haul luxury bus left two minutes before we arrived at the station. And, yup, this 4:00 PM bus was the only bus making the seven hour run to Bulgaria’s capital today.

Old train station turned bus station- legendary spot where missed our bus

I kinda knew that something like this would happen eventually on the trip. It is the nature of travel. However, I take pride in being that guy who never misses a flight, is never late for a train, and is never frantically chasing down a bus. I would like to blame the lackadaisical, cell-phone-chatting driver of our “Maxi Taxi” transport from Brasov to Bucharest earlier today. The minibus/oversized van certainly was in no hurry and the driver taking a self-declared five minute break at a roadside stand to buy a soda and a new fishing lure (!) didn’t help matters. But, honestly, it can’t be blamed on a single thing. It’s a life lesson I keep learning: you can do everything right and still come up short. Two minutes! I would have preferred to miss the coach by three hours instead of our heartbreaking sprint and frantic taxi ride just to see the tail lights fade into the distance.

Bucharest Metro GrafittiSo, we shake it off and we suck it up. It is not a big deal because we do have other options to get to Sofia. Our new plans involve booking passage on the night train. It costs a bit more and takes a bit longer, but it should be a cool ride. Plus we’re still on this sensational Round The World trip, so we’ve got that going for us.  Soon after our minor bus debacle, we found ourselves back in Bucharest’s Old Town feasting on some solid Greek Food, sipping a couple of Staropramon and sampling some gelato all of which helped to put everything right back on track. Plus, with some time on our hands, we were able to venture onto yet another city’s subway system. The Bucharest Metro was simple enough to navigate and a mere $1.25 allowed both us to ride. We weren’t exactly shocked to see that some subway cars were just caked in graffiti from bow to stern, inside and out, while some newer cars were clean and untouched. That dichotomy of grime and shine is just about par for the Romanian course. The subway fulfilled its purpose but was largely forgettable; I think I’m still drooling a bit over those incredible stations in the St. Petersburg system.

As seen in Romanian Grocery Store: 2.5 Liter of Beer for Sale in large plastic bottle just like soda. Price? About $2.50

As we waited at Gara De Nord for our 11:00 PM train, Brooke and I rounded up some final impressions from our time in Romania. We’ve concluded that Romanian food borrows much of its menu from nearby nations and, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, the majority of our meals qualify as nothing special. Slow meals are the order of things so if you’re in any sort of a hurry, restaurant dining is not your best bet. Menus almost exclusively feature lots of chicken, lots of pork and a lot of bread. Man, we’re talking baked bread, pastries, pretzels and more. And while the cuisine may not be unique, those fresh-baked, giant, inexpensive pastries are a sensational way to start the day. Although they are not helpful when you’re trying to avoid ending a RTW voyage as large as a double wide. Also on the plus column, we’ve found that the local tomatoes, heavily used in most dishes, are pretty incredible. We think it must be the right time of year.  As for adult beverages, we prefer Ursus of all the local beers and marveled that we haven’t spied a single American beer- bottle or draughts since we landed in Eastern Europe.

Slightly more questionable than the quality of the Romanian food was the quality of the Romanian taste in popular music. Namely the endless amount of Europop we keep hearing. That repetitive, decidedly poor club music is everywhere. And a confoundingly high percentage of it features an accordion. I have no answers, my friends. Only observations. On the upside, the sights certainly outweighed the food and the music. Visiting Bran Castle yesterday, sometime summer home of the Romanian Royal, made me want to go looking for ceremonial scepter in my family! THAT was a cool castle. In fact, our visit generated a genius money-making idea for kitchen ware: Vlad The Impalers Skewers! For all your shish-ka-bob needs. It’s a Macabre Kebab! In stores by Halloween!

Our faux submission for a photo project. We call it “Old Romanian Guy Waiting on Bus.” Artsy!

However, the most important reflection from this trip is that every day- from little things to big things- I’ve managed to see something new, interesting and novel. Every day. As Brooke and I we’re writing some post cards home earlier tonight, I was greeted with the images on the front of all the places we’ve visited and seen first hand. And just over the last three weeks. Seeing those memories collected and laid out like that really hit me. It felt like an accomplishment. Of course, having an exceptional travel partner goes a long way.

Gara De Nord – Bucharest Train Station – at Night

As we boarded the train just a bit earlier this evening, we found a Romanian conductor who spoke broken English. We then managed to talk our way (along with 50 Euros…totally worth it) into a berth on one of the sleeper cars on the Russian section of the train.  Apparently, since this is a long haul train originating out of Russia, there is a separate Russian run section of the train. We’re pretty sure that the Romanian Conductor and Russian Conductor split and pocketed the money we gave ’em for the room, but who are we to judge. Is this the nicest train I’ve ever been on? Not even close. But it is all kinds of awesome. The room itself feels very 1960’s. Instantly our ten hour journey in coach evolved into a nice, and roomy private cabin where we can spread out. A little privacy goes a long way.

Missed bus be damned, we end the day with a hell yeah and two comfy sleeping berths to speed us on our way to Sofia.

-Phil

 

 

 

Categories: Beer, castles, City Visits, Differences, Eating, Europe, Rail, Reflections, Romania, Transportation, Trip Prep, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beautiful Brasov and Bran!

When we arrived in Romania, many people assumed we would be heading to Transylvania, a region north of Bucharest steeped in history and well known to Westerners for its role in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  We had no solid plans upon arrival, so we figured we might as well grab the train and head to Brasov, a city in the central region of Transylvania in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

There is much to do in the Transylvania region, but to really see it all we’d have to be here for at least a week and take our time going from castle to castle.  Instead, we have only a few days, so we decided to base our exploration in the town of Brasov.  Having human settlements which date back as far as the Neolithic age, it has a rich history.  We decided to start a little closer to modern times with the town’s best known landmark, the Black Church.  Built in the 15th century, this remarkable church got its current name after being badly burned in a fire which consumed most of the town in 1689.  It has been cleaned up to the point visitors might not even realize there was ever a fire except for the four blackened statues which have been preserved in their post-flame glory.  This church marks the end of Gothic architecture in the region and claims to be the largest Gothic cathedral between Eastern and Western Europe.  Originally a Catholic cathedral, it is now Lutheran and serves the small German community here in Brasov by holding all its services in German.  The 4,000-pipe organ is still played weekly for public concerts.  Most notably, this church hold the largest collection of Turkish rugs outside of Turkey.  These were gifts over couple hundred years and are now proudly cleaned, repaired, and on display for public viewing.

We found a few things about the church particularly interesting.  One is the painted pews which designated seats for different guilds.  There were seats for the weavers, tailors, hunters, etc. all shown through symbolic paintings on the pews (we were, once again, unable to take photos inside so we cannot show you).  However, there were only 3-4 seats for each, so only the “higher-ups” in these communities garnered a seat.  The low wage workers were sent to the galleries up above.  We were also very interested in the “Black Madonna” painting.  It is a portrait of Mary being given gifts for Jesus and being attended to by angels.  Her dress was originally blue, but after the fire it turned black, therefore it has been given the name “Black Madonna”.  We had a wonderful young guide who gave a strong tour with insights we would not have otherwise had.

While there is more to see in Brasov (some of which we plan to do tomorrow) we decided to take this opportunity and head slightly south to Bran’s Castle.  Many people assume this castle was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Let me make something perfectly clear from the beginning–there is essentially NO CONNECTION!  There is the tiniest, most remote, slimmest chance that Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler who has some miniscule connection to Bran’s castle, but the correlation is mostly created by people trying to drum up tourism.  Don’t get me wrong, the castle is awesome.  And Vlad the Impaler was awful.  But those two things aren’t really related.  Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself…let me start from the beginning.

Bran is a fairly easy bus ride just 45 minutes south of Brasov.  As we pulled into town we could see Bran Castle sitting up in the hillside.  It looks rather small from the outside, but once inside it is actually quite cavernous and impressive.  Housing impressively creaky floors and drafty hallways, Bran Castle has a long history dating back to the 15th century.  It has had royal residents as recently as the late 1940’s and is one of the only castles we’ve been in that we could imagine living in.  Many of the original rooms have been refurbished to suit more modern living.  It has beautiful views and a fireplace in each room to help keep us warm–it was a chilly 48 degrees today so we kind of wish those fireplaces actually had wood burning in them!


There were two rooms dedicated to explaining the connection between Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Bran Castle.  Let me break it down for you–Vlad Dracul was a prince in Transylvania.  He had a son, Vlad the Impaler, who killed people by running a stake from – brace yourself – through their anus to their throat without hitting any vital organs thus producing a slow and painful death. He was also rumored to be ruthless and enjoy drinking blood–hence the connection to Dracula.  That’s about it. Dracula is a completely made up character by Bram Stoker.  We still aren’t sure what the actual connection is to this castle; Stoker never came close to visiting Romania.  It doesn’t really matter, though, because the castle is pretty cool all on its own.  The Dracula connection does make for some fun and kitschy souvenirs and a couple of haunted houses in the town center.

After our visit to Bran, we had planned to head to Rasnov to visit this cool fortress, but it was so cold and so rainy, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to get off the bus.  Instead, we warmed ourselves over some delicious Guinness at Deane’s Pub listening to a big band play some jazz and swing.  There’s something surreal about singing along to Sinatra’s New York, New York while sitting in a pub in Brasov, Romania.  On our way home we stopped off for a nightcap at For Sale, a cozy little bar whose walls are covered with the patrons’ business cards.  We had a drink, posted our business cards on the wall just for good measure, and now are attempting to warm up back in our room.  We think this weather must be unseasonably cold as the heat has not yet been turned on in our hotel.  (Oh well…it feels like we are back in our apartment in New York.)  Now, we plan our next steps.  We aren’t sure exactly what lies ahead, but after a little more exploration of Brasnov tomorrow, it looks like we are headed to Sofia, Bulgaria.  Wish us luck!

–Brooke

Creepy hidden staircase inside Bran Castle. I wouldn’t want to be in here for long!

Phil isn’t really meant for the castle lifestyle–he is way too tall!

We thought this room actually looked like a room people would live in unlike so many of the cold, sterile rooms of the castle.

The inner courtyard at Bran Castle.

Categories: castles, Clothes, Destinations, Diversions, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Romania, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Impressions from Romania

Greetings once more from Romania! As I write this, Brooke and I are currently on a train from Bucharest heading north to the town of Brasov. This ride is our first encounter with a European train – something I’ve been looking forward to all day. Also our first time in one of those shared train compartments occupied by a group of strangers facing each other. Nifty!

So far, our time in Romania has been, quite frankly, kind of thrilling and fun. Bucharest is bustling, the gorgeous late-summer weather is a nice change of pace and makes for pleasant walks through the quality park near our hotel. Impressions so far? While I would hesitate to say that Romania falls under the category of a developing nation, I would say that it’s a nation that’s rebuilding. Hey, your country might be too if it was just over twenty years removed from an epic political revolution that ousted a diminutive, megalomaniacal communist leader. Toss on a parade of crappy presidents that followed afterwards, lingering structural damage from allied bombing during WWII and even a devastating earthquake in the late 1970’s and it’s easy to understand why this is a country trying to climb it’s way back to it’s Mid-20th century nickname of “Little Paris.”

The somewhat gross central canal in Bucharest certainly won’t be confused with those in Venice anytime soon.

Brooke mentioned the dilapidated nature of some of Bucharest, but it’s worth repeating. For every well-maintained building with a stunning facade, there is a neighboring building that’s crying out for an Extreme Home Makeover. Apparently, some of these run down edifices are a haven for squatting Gypsies, while others are owned by landlords who are just waiting for the buildings to crumble on their own (sad). Others still (like the National Theater) are undergoing overdue yet magnificent renovations. Also, there is so much graffiti on the buildings that ARE in use, we’re considering cashing in and opening a spray paint store. You can see neon colored paint on about 75% of buildings. Whether it is an apartment high-rise or a local monument, it has been tagged in one way or another. It’s just everywhere. On a similar note, you have to be heads up for random, loose wires dangling in your path when you walk. Those dangerous urban vipers are everywhere too. Yet, don’t get the wrong idea; we’ve enjoyed our time in the city. We really have. From all that we’ve heard, read and seen, the city motto here could be “Bucharest:  much better than it used to be.”

Phil enjoying morning pastry deliciousness in the heart of Old Town

In fact, it seems like the 1980’s were a particularly awful time to live in Romania for a thousand different reasons. The decade ended with a revolution that ousted Nicolae Ceausescu who was, by all professional accounts, a downright rat bastard. One impact of his regime that we hear about over and over was his destructions of several old quarters of the city in favor of building a modern, Paris-style central avenue. To many a Romanian’s chagrin, wonderful, amazing old parts of the city were toppled by hungry bulldozers. What does remain is the exceptionally cool Lipscani or Old Town. A small section of Bucharest that’s packed with truly beautiful old buildings, an endless array of tantalizingly hip bars and restaurants with outdoor seating and small pedestrian-only streets. Old Town has a pulse and flavor that makes it lively and distinct from the other parts of the city. The only shame is that 30 years ago it was a region that was so much larger!

Face of one of my favorite buildings- The old CEC Bank Building outside of Old Town. Marvelous!

Oddly enough, there are an unsettling amount of wayward dogs who are trotting around the city. Certainly an uncommon sight elsewhere, we’re told that most of these canines are harmless, but they cause enough trouble that reportedly up to 150 people a day get bitten. Straight out of crazy town is that the government has done little to tackle this issue. Apparently, the problem stems in part from the afore-mentioned Rat Bastard’s destruction of people’s homes during which time residents just set their pets loose. Also worth mentioning is the sheer volume of smoking we’ve seen in Romania. I know, I know – people everywhere smoke more than they do in the Untied States. We’ve seen it from Asia to Copenhagen. But, Holy Marlborough Man, I’m telling you do the people smoke in Romania. It is everywhere–street corners, stores and even the train. It is not just tolerated, it’s almost expected. You want to go to a restaurant with a Non-smoking section? Good luck. The law dictates that there must be one token non-smoking table somewhere in the corner, but that’s about it. And, in fact, recent legislation has repealed some of the smoking restrictions. As Brooke lamented yesterday, “Don’t these beautiful girls know they’re going to end up looking wrinkled and old by the time they hit 40?” It’s taken some getting used to. And my clothes smell like they did circa the bar scene in 1998.

Speaking of rules, we’ve learned that many laws in Romania are actually only kind of laws. There are loose interpretations on what’s technically illegal on everything from liquor sales to regulated taxi fares to parking and driving. We’ve witnessed that large parts of the world seems to have a more liberal take of road rules that we do in the United States. Silly us thought that common rules like pedestrian right of way and yielding to emergency vehicles would be universal, but as my dad has warned us, “Don’t assume anything when you travel.” (This would have also been good advice to heed when we had to visit four separate post offices in a confounding attempt to ship a box home.) One of our taxi drivers decided to cover some ground by driving in reverse for a few hundred meters down a one-way street. And the parking golden rule is “just wherever you can find a space” – which means sidewalks, driveways, crosswalks and more are fair game with nary a parking ticket to be seen. We’ve wondered how a few drivers even put the car in a particular space! This site offers some photos of the most bewildering offenders. We once again chose to blame the afore-mentioned Rat Bastard leader (although his hands are probably clean on this one).

All that being said, Bucharest has been a very safe city boasting an impressively low crime rate with apparently pickpockets accounting for the most dangerous threat. Combine that with a large number of people speak at least a small amount of English and we feel as comfortable and safe as New Yorkers strolling through central park. We’ve had some great meals, made a few wonderful new friends, and seen some impressive sights. While we can point out all those unique differences, we also can gush about how interesting it is to visit a corner of the world that doesn’t attract tons of tourists. Just…watch out for the dogs, smokers and loose wires.

-Phil

Just a littttttlllle bit of a bird poop from a boatload of crows on the park benches.

Brooke enjoying dinner at Caru’ Cu Bare – a really can’t miss meal in Bucharest!

Hey, The Cranberries are coming to Bucharest! WAIT, the Cranberries are still around as a band?

Categories: City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Europe, Exploring, Rail, Romania, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

More from Romania!

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.

The George Enescu house and museum!

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.

Brooke with the replica column at the National History Museum

The potato on a stick

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.

Indian Food and new Romanian friends Dorothea and Ionuca

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.

-Phil

In front of the sculpture of famous characters from a Romanian playwrite outside the National theater. Also a popular protest location.Roman

As seen in Old Town, what a great name for a bar

Categories: City Visits, Eating, Europe, Museums, Romania, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Bucharest: A Fixer Upper!

Imagine you go looking at a house or an apartment, and it’s nice, but it needs work.  The ceiling in the living room has a water spot, the roof needs to be replaced and the kitchen needs a complete overhaul.  The bathroom is functional, but a little dingy.  That’s the impression I get about Bucharest.  It has some amazing old buildings, beautiful architecture and vast green spaces, but it could use some work.  Some of the buildings have been kept up with vigor and look like they did on they day they were built, but determining which ones will be kept up seems a bit random.  Much of the architecture is dirty, with busted windows and scattered graffiti.  And there are lots of parks.  Big, spread out parks which encourage outdoor activities.  The one across the street from our hotel is always filled with people and is kept up nicely.  Well, pretty nice.  There is bird poop covering pretty much everything.  While this park is maintained pretty well, the park that sits outside of the Parliament building looks like it hasn’t had any real landscaping done in over a year.  It is this paradox that seems to define Bucharest.  On the one hand it is beautiful, but turn a corner and you have to dodge the stray dogs wandering the street and beware the loose wires hanging low over the sidewalks.

The perfect example of a building with the potential to be lovely, but which is really just neglected and busted up.

All this being said, we have really enjoyed discovering this city and learning about a part of the world whose history is incredibly complex and interconnected to the surrounding nations.  Our main event for today was a visit to the Parliamentary Palace, home to both chambers of the Romanian Parliament.  This building is absolutely gigantic–actually, it is the second largest government building behind the Pentagon in Washington, D.C..  It looks like an old building, but it has actually been less than 20 years since its construction was completed.  The former Romanian Communist Dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, built it as a part of his “reconstruction” of Bucharest.  After visits to North Korea and China, he was inspired to raze a stunning 90% of the historic center of the city, destroying monasteries, museums, hospitals and thousands of residences displacing over 40,000 people.  Not only did he build the Parliament building, but also a huge main boulevard meant to outshine the Champs de Elysees in Paris.  It does look rather grand now, but so many people were displaced from their homes during this time that many people resorted to suicide. The entire area was made over and the centerpiece is definitely the parliamentary building.  It required 700 architects to design and building began in 1985.  Its design centered around the whims of Ceausescu, however he did not live to see it completed.

Romania was a tough place to be in the 1980’s.  Ceausescu limited electricity, food, water and all basic supplies.  Schools shut down because they did not have enough electricity to run.  People didn’t work because they spent their days in lines for their ration of food.  The people got to a breaking point in December of 1989.  There were protests in central Bucharest, Ceausescu and his family fled but were hunted down and assassinated on Christmas Day.  After that, the new government decided to finish the Parliamentary Palace so the man power and resources which had already been put into it would not go to waste.  When we took the tour, it was very interesting to hear all of the parts of the building that Ceausescu designed just for himself.  For example, he was only 5’2″, so he wanted the stairs to fit his footsteps perfectly.  He made them rebuild the marble staircase 3 times.  He also left huge frames on walls where his portrait would have hung.  He has an entrance that was designed for his use only–of course, that was just a plan which he never lived to see through.

The building itself is really something special.  It is constructed entirely of Romanian materials, from the marble to the carpet.  Some of the drapes were hand embroidered by nuns at a local monastery.  Our guide told us they didn’t want to do this work, but Ceausescu said he would destroy their monastery if they refused.  I think there was a lot of that kind of coerced work which was done for this project. It looks more like a royal palace than a state government building with over the top opulence clearly having greater importance than functionality.  The rooms now largely sit empty, waiting for conferences or other corporate events.  We were shown to the beautiful terrace which looks out on the main boulevard.  The first person ever to look out onto an adoring crowd from this terrace was none other than Michael Jackson.  This is where he famously said he was happy to be in Budapest–whoops!  Wrong city, but an easy mistake to make.  It must be since George Bush made the same mistake from the same spot some years later.

Can you see the empty framed space on the wall? This is where the dictator’s portrait would have hung.

When we finished the tour, we had walked approximately 1.5 kilometers and had only seen 5% of the building.  It goes 12 floors above ground and 7 floors below.  It has a bunker suited for nuclear war.  This place is truly massive.  It seems as though much of it is empty or rarely used, and they keep lights off and elevators out of service in order to save on electricity.

Things in Bucharest certainly seem to be better than they were in the 1980’s, but there still seems to be a long way to go.  This city has all the necessary infrastructure–highways, bridges, metro stations–but it could use a face lift.  It needs some people to really invest themselves in cleaning it up.  I’m not sure if that will happen anytime soon.  The man working the front desk at our hotel told us that their current president, Basescu, was just voted out by a majority of the Romanian people.  However, due to a loophole in the constitution regarding low voter turn-out, he will maintain his office despite the wishes of the people.  It reminds us a bit of Russia–is it a democracy?  Not really.

–Brooke

The George Enescu Building, a beautiful example of what many of the buildings here have the potential to look like.

It is hard to capture in photos just how massive the Parliamentary Palace truly is. Trust us…it’s big!

Can you see how small the people appear? This is the infamous balcony where MJ made his gaff!

Here is one of many examples of random wires hanging in the street. Is it live? Hopefully not, but I’m not going to be the one to find out!

Categories: City Visits, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Romania, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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