Bucharest, Romania

I’m assuming you’re wondering why we went to  Bucharest? Fair question. Essentially, we looked at our big map on the wall of our Lausanne apartment guest room, saw all our pins covering most of western Europe but as we moved east the pins stopped in Budapest and the Greek islands. We had a big empty spot in Romania and the Balkans which made it clear we needed to investigate this area for our European trip. After more research we figured out the whole plan to start in Bucharest and then to spend the majority of our trip in Bulgaria. An added plus, Romania still has their own national currency, the Romanian Leu (Currency abbreviation: RON), which is currently at an exchange of 4 RON/1 USD and prices are significantly lower than elsewhere. This helped to make things verrrry cheap for us. So here we are taking the road a little less travelled (not even Rick Steve’s has a guide!).

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Our travel map with color coded pins. Much of the reason behind our trip to Romania and Bulgaria is to fill in the empty space between Western/Central Europe and Greece. White = Andrew and I have both been, Red = only me, Blue = Only Andrew, Yellow = our old home base of Lausanne.

Accommodation: We stayed at the Podstel Doors Hostel from Tuesday 11 July – Friday 14 July. We had a private room for the two of us and Dani stayed downstairs in a shared room. The house had shared bathrooms. The hostel is in an old building and had a very chill vibe, with a covered lounge area outside, a bar and tons of common space. All the people we met were super nice. A heat wave was going on in Romania, and it was in the high 90s during our stay, so it was pretty tough without A/C but we managed with a big fan at night. The hostel was not the best I have ever stayed in, but it was clean, quiet at night and cheap.

The covered area in the backyard. Pretty sweet spot to hang out! On our first night the hostel hosted a movie night and showed a film comprised of footage of scenery and people from all over the world.

Eats: The food in Romania was rather hearty food, with plenty of meat and potatoes. We tried a few specialties during our time there.

Here we had a “Luca Haiducesc,” which is a typical street food snack. This one is a savory pastry with cheese, ham and onions inside. We had another with a hot dog inside. They also sold some with sweet fillings like apple. It sold for 3.5 Romanian Lei, which is approximately USD 0.87

 

The old city at night

A meat platter with typical items: Grilled pork, mustard, potatoes, pickles, sausages and mici. Mici (also known as mititei) is a traditional ground meat roll made from a mixture of beef, lamb and pork with spices. It was a lot of food for even the three of us to share.

Gardenia Eden
On Wednesday night the three of us went to the Gradina EDEN, this awesome bar in the center of the city. It was hidden behind an old church, but was this huge area of bars with chairs set up under the trees. We hung out ordering cocktails and trying to stay cool – you can see we are glistening with sweat in this picture!

Activities:

We came to Bucharest with no expectations and it was quite different from the western European cities we have visited – which is a great reason to come here. Through reading our guide book and from our tour, we learned that Romania has a very turbulent history and has been occupied and ruled by many others throughout the last two millennia. There are constant reminders of the communist regime that only in the most recent years has started to give way to democracy. Unfortunately, due to all the war and communist dictators, the majority of their old buildings and churches were demolished or ruined – leaving not so much to view but only to hear about through stories. Nevertheless, we enjoyed getting to know the city, the people and the food.

On Wednesday morning Andrew and I went for a run through Parcul Carol and Parcul Tineretului near our hostel before the heat of the day set in. I love running in new cities!

Here I am during our run in the Parcul Carol in front of the Memorialul Eroilor Neamului (Nation’s Heroes Memorial)

On Wednesday afternoon we got tickets for the city Hop On Hop Off bus to see the sites. We stopped at a few places to see.

The Memorialul Renastterii (Rebirth Memorial), a memorial to commemorate the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which overthrew communism. The Romanian people are not so fond of the design and understandably joke that it looks like a doughnut or potato on a stick. It’s clearly a bit damaged as well at the base. 
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The Bucharest Arcul de Triumf. Turns out many cities have a triumphal arch. The arch serves a similar purpose as most others – for military parades.
We visited the National Village Museum, a unique outdoor museum in the Herastrau park. The museum was started in the 1930s and holds real houses from villages typical to different regions of the country. All of the houses were set up inside with typical home furnishings to show you what their homes were like. Most homes were not open for us to go inside, but we were able to peer in windows. It was a neat and very interesting museum to walk through for a while. 

Above, the Biserica Crețulescu, which is a church dating from the 1720s. The majority of the Romanian population is Orthodox and most of the churches we saw were similar construction to this one. We didn’t see any massive cathedrals like what you see in western Europe.
On Thursday we got up early to do a walking tour of the city with Walkabout. The tour was great for giving us a narrative to the history of the city from a local Romanian. This tour is where we learned the most about their history and challenges, especially in the last 50 years.

Above, the Biserica Mănăstirii Stavropoleos, an orthodox church from the 1720s. The church was notable as a good demonstration of the mix of cultures have influenced Romania. The Ottoman Empire left their impression which is noted through the arabesque and arcades on the church. We also saw much French influence in some of the buildings in Bucharest, as the government sent many architects to France to learn their style before building in Bucharest.

Definitely one of the strangest statues, this sculpture is of the Roman emperor Trajan and Dacian wolf. It has become a statue ridiculed by many and several creative photos are taken with it. 
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Sunset in the old city behind the Curtea Veche Church (Church of the Old Princely Court) 
The colossal Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of Parliament)

As I mentioned, we learned a ton on our walking tour about the history of Romania, and especially about the influence of the communist regime. The Palace of Parliament is the second largest building in the world after the United States Pentagon. It is valued at approximately EUR 3 billion, which makes it the most expensive government administration building in the world. Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian president during the communist regime from 1967 until his execution following the Romanian revolution of 1989, was responsible for ordering it to be built. To build the palace and the large boulevard between the palace and the center of the city, Nicolae ordered the destruction of an entire section of the city which included the homes of several thousand people, buildings, markets and churches. This helps to explain why there are not so many historical buildings left in the old town of the city.

Overall impression of Romania:

As I mentioned, visiting Bucharest was unlike any other western European city we have visited. In truth, I won’t say that I absolutely loved it but it was cool to experience such a different place. The history was fascinating to learn, and gave us perspective to see that despite the tough times (which they are still going through as the country continues to try to achieve a democratic government) they have demonstrated themselves as happy and welcoming. Several times we had people go out of their way to help us when we appeared lost. Special thanks to the girl in the grocery store who steered us away from buying the beer that only bums drink and a guy who joked with us (in Romanian) about a statue with no arms. There were not nearly as many bums or homeless people as I was anticipating and I felt very safe the entire time.

Now we’re on the train, moving south into the country of Bulgaria where we will spend the next 10 days. Stay posted!

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