Posts Tagged With: Michael Jackson

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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