Travelling further south, we arrived by train into the famed capital of Romania, Bucharest!
After being told by numerous locals in Transylvania that we would not enjoy Bucharest, we were a little apprehensive about spending three days in the capital. Our first impression matched their descriptions of a relatively ‘dirty’ city centre, but we saw encouraging signs – notably the copious number of bars and restaurants along our street (featuring incredibly cheap beer!).
We decided to walk the length of Victoriei Street to gain an appreciation for the variety of architecture present within the city. The buildings vary from Byzantine to French neoclassical to the bleak Communist apartment blocks. Along this street we passed the Romanian Atheneum and George Enescu Museum, before reaching the Revolution Square. This Square was where Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, was forced to flee when he was overthrown in 1989. Today there is a monument dedicated to the victims of the revolution, depicting a crown impaled on a marble pillar.
To improve our knowledge of Romania’s communist past we opted to take the Walkabout Free Walking Tour. This tour was a fantastic introduction to the city of Bucharest, and how it has changed in the past 500 years. Commencing in the Piata Unirii Park, the tour took us through the city centre, and visited a number of points of interest such as the the historic Hanul lui Manuc (the Manuc Inn), the Stavropoleos Church, the University Square, and the Trajan & the She-Wolf – a highly divisive statue constructed in 2011. We would highly recommend Walkabout for those who want to delve into Romanian history while in Bucharest!
While in Bucharest we had to enjoy a meal at Caru’ cu Bere (the Beer Wagon), a 135 year old restaurant serving traditional Romanian cuisine. We enjoyed the traditional ‘mici’ sausages here as well as some local beer! If you are also up for venturing out of the city centre, we had our best brunch meal at Frudisac, a lovely cafe located about 25 minutes north of the CBD – the pancakes were amazing!
On our last day in Bucharest we paid a visit to the monolithic Palace of Parliament. Typifying the Communist rule in Romania, Ceauşescu flattened an entire hill and displaced over 40,000 people to construct the building, which is now the heaviest building in the world and the largest administrative building apart from the Pentagon! Running a competition for its design, Ceauşescu simply chose the largest, and proceeded to alter the plans on a weekly basis when he and his wife visited the site (a project managers nightmare!). During our one hour visit (where we only saw 3% of the building), our guide provided us with statistic after statistic, each seemingly more impressive than the last. The building has 9 floors above the ground and 7 below, totalling 360,000 square metres. Inside there are over 2800 chandeliers, including one that is 5 tonnes in weight! Owing to its massive size, and $1 million euros per annum electricity costs, many rooms in the building can be rented for private events. Michael Jackson even made an appearance on the main balcony during his visit to Romania in 1996, although he did mistake Bucharest for Budapest when announcing himself to the crowd!
Tourist tip: obtaining a ticket for the Palace of Parliament tour cannot be done online – so make sure you either call the phone number provided or turn up early to guarantee yourself a spot!
Our final destination in Romania was the small and remote mountain village of Rânca. Popular in winter for snow sports, we were visiting this region to attend the baptism of our friend’s daughter, Samara. After five hours on the road from Bucharest, we arrived in the mountains and its negative celsius temperatures – talk about a temperature change!
The christening was held in a traditional Romanian wooden church, built in the 1800’s, and small enough to only fit 15 people (at a stretch!). This was a beautiful venue, as Samara’s father was also christened here on a visit to Romania some years ago. After the intimate ceremony, we partook in the celebrations in true Romanian style. This centred largely on copious amounts of food, with Samara’s grandparents providing numerous desserts, 25 litres of home brewed wine, in addition to home brewed cherry liquor and cognac – absolutely lethal! Needless to say we rolled into bed 12 hours after the fesitivites started, full of both food and drink! Shout out to Aura and Alexis for driving two strangers for five hours to Rânca, and a big thank you to Anca and Richard for inviting us to be part of Samara’s special day!
With Romania at an end, we bid farewell to our new (and old) friends and travelled west to the Netherlands!
Until next time,
AP and DT