We spent two weeks in Romania. One week was in Bucharest, which to many travelers we met, was too much time. I disagree. There is quite a bit to see and such a contrast throughout the city – Beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings to the severe communist structures, lush green parks to streets with dilapidated buildings. One day, David and I walked 8 miles just exploring all that Bucharest had to offer.
The rest of our trip was spent in the city of Brasov in the Transylvania region. We did day trips to Bran Castle, which was made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. Another day trip was to Sighisoara, one of Europe’s oldest inhabited fortified cities.
I loved Romania…..especially the young people that we encountered. Many adults of our generation did not speak English but most of the younger generation do. Whenever I approached a young person and asked for help, they were always so willing to help and did so in such a respectful manner. Romania is a beautiful country with the Carpathian Mountains. It is still a developing country. From what I understand, in the far northern region, much of the farming is still done with horses and the field work is done by hand. Gradually, people are acquiring the means to purchase tractors and machinery to move into the 21st century but sometimes, I think that traditions get lost when that happens.
The Historic Center
David and I stayed in the Historic Center which is also referred to as the Old Town. Would I stay there again? No, not really. When looking for an apartment in this area, I expected more history to be offered. It wasn’t the case with Bucharest’s old town. In the 1400s merchants and artisans from around the world – Austrian, Greek, Arminian and German lived and worked in the historic center. Over time, the area became known as Lipscani after the many German traders from the city of Leipzig. As the center grew, the streets were named after the various guilds found there. There was the street of the knife-makers, street of the cobblers, street of the blacksmiths, etc.
This area thrived during the 16th century until around the 19th century with merchants and artisans selling their wares. Sadly, during the 20th century, it fell into great disrepair as it was used as sort of a public housing for the Romas who are also known as gypsies. The historic center became the slums of Bucharest. It wasn’t until around the year 2000, that people started taking note of their historic gem and began restoring it to the thriving entertainment area that it is now. Today, the historic center is full of cafes, restaurants and bars. There are a few shops and renovated buildings but for the most part, as the famous traveler/author, Rick Steves, has said about the Old Historic Center, it now houses the liveliest nightlife zones in Eastern Europe. Honestly, had I known that I would have stayed in the University Center, which for this “middle-aged lady” was more my speed!
As I mentioned, there were some churches and stately buildings in the historic district. This is the Old Princely Court Church. It was built from 1546 to 1559 making it the oldest church in Bucharest. Eastern Orthodox Religion is the prominent religion in Romania.
Inside an Orthodox Church, the alter is very simple with the ornate background. Most of the churches we visited, never had pews. Once, we looked inside a church as a service was being conducted and the parishioners were all standing.
The Old Princely Court Church at night.
The Stavropoleos Church was one of my favorites in all of Romania. It was built in 1724 and quietly sits in the midst of the Old Town nightlife. Churches were built for the nearby neighborhoods and were the center of the neighborhood until communism arrived.
The altar – there are no statues in Eastern Orthodox churches but many paintings.
The beautiful ceiling.
This is the courtyard next door to the Stavropoleos Church. Leaning against the walls of the portico were large stone tombstones that had been rescued from monasteries that Ceausescu destroyed during his reign. It was a lovely, quiet spot in the craziness of the Old Town party district!
This is the Church of St Dimitru is named after the patron saint of Bucharest. It dates back to the 15th century but was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1847. This building dates back to 1852.
Renovations were being done when we visited.
Such painstaking work but I would imagine, once done, the reward is priceless.
The Church of St Dimitru at night.
This is one of the buildings that was restored after it had fallen into disrepair. It was constructed in the early 1900s when architects were brought in from France to help build a city worthy to be the capital for the recently united country of Romania. It was the National Bank of Romania and today is called the Museum of the National Bank of Romania. If you are interested in the currency of this country, you would appreciate this museum.
It is difficult to believe that this is the backside of the Museum of the National Bank of Romania. The styles are so different.
I liked this contrasting photo of the more traditional building being reflected in the modern building.
This small, postage stamp was used in 1971 during WWI when no metal was available for coins. I believe this would be equal to a dime in the states.
This grim building is diagonal from the ornate Bank of Romania building. It just gives you a small glimpse of the architecture during the communist era. This contrasting building styles can be seen throughout the city.
Back in the days of merchants bringing goods from Germany, this building was an inn. It was restored after it had fallen into poor condition. The tour that I was on, the guide explained that there are still buildings in need of repair but the cost to do so is very expensive. At this point, the land is worth more than the building. In the days when this was an inn, there were stores on the ground level and the rooms were on the second level. The entrance was large enough to bring wagons of goods inside and if necessary, leave overnight as each entrance had large wooden doors.
This is one of the prettiest streets in Bucharest and after seeing the grandiose buildings on this street, it is easy to understand why Bucharest was once called “little Paris of the east.” As I mentioned earlier, French architects were brought in by Romania’s first king, King Carlos I to beautify the city. David and I decided to walk along this street. It was a dreary day that threatened rain and eventually did rain but it was nice to see the majestic buildings.
I later went back and took a walking tour of the same area just so you will understand why some of my photos are with blue skies!
The CEC Palace was built to house the headquarters of the oldest bank in Romania. The land was purchased and the building constructed with the institution’s funds. It was built in 1897 and completed in the 1900s. I regret not going inside of it!
Macca Villacross Passageway can be found off of Victory Boulevard. It is a covered walkway connecting Victory Boulevard and the Old Historic Center, near the Museum of the National Bank.
There are two covered passways that are in the shape of a V. It is due to the fact that when the city purchased the property for the passageway that they wanted to build to relieve congestion, the owner of the Pesht Hotel, in the center of the property, refused to sell. So, the city built around it. This once housed the first stock exchange building for Romania. After the stock exchange was moved to a more appropriate building, it became known as the “jewelry center” from 1950 to 1990. Today, it houses many cafes and restaurants.
This was another passageway that we passed on Victory Boulevard. I love the colorful umbrellas.
This building is the backdrop for Revolution Square. It was in front of this building that people protested against Nicolae Ceausescu and the Communist Party in 1989. Back then, this building was the Communist Party Headquarters. It was from the balcony on the building that Ceausescu gave his final speech on December 21, 1989.
When Ceausescu came to power in 1965, he was popular with the people. He openly condemned the Soviet Union for the Warsaw Pack Invasion on Czechkoslovakia and eased censorship on the press. The foreign governments liked this and granted loans to help the country grow.
This changed in 1971 when Ceausescu visited Northern Korea, China, Mongolia and Vietnam. Ceausescu liked how China’s dictator, Mao and North Korea’s dictator, Kim dominated their countries without the help of the Russian government. He liked the totalitarian methods that they used. Returning to Bucharest, Ceausescu became more authoritarian. Over time, Ceausescu was considered to have the most repressive government in Eastern Europe.
In the 80s, he started exporting almost everything in his country to raise money in order to pay back the international debt he owed. He wanted the world to see that Romania could be self-sufficient. As a result of the heavy exports, everyday life for the citizens of Romania became very difficult. There were food rations and heating, gas and electricity blackouts became a normal way of life. People became resentful. Our tour guide said that in talking with people who lived through that time the most difficult thing about their life was their lack of freedom. There was actually a plan for October 1989 to overthrow Ceausescu but the military group that was assigned to do it was sent to harvest corn instead!
There were anti-government protests. On December 21, 1989, Ceausescu stepped onto the balcony of the Communist Party Headquarters building as he had done in the past to deliver a speech. It began as most speeches about the achievement of the “social revolution” but what he didn’t realize was the hostile mood of the crowd.
As the jeers and protest became louder, Ceausescu took cover in the building. Protests continued through the night and gained momentum throughout the country. The next day, December 22, the dictator tried to address the crowd but was attacked by rocks thrown. He took cover in the building but the protesters broke into the building and rushed onto the balcony looking for Ceausescu. Little did they realize that Ceausescu, his wife, and four others were hiding in the elevators just feet away from them. The group escaped to the rooftop where a helicopter whisked them away. They were caught the next day about 80 miles from Bucharest. On Christmas day, 1989, there was a hasty trial where the Ceausescus were found guilty of illegally amassing wealth and genocide. From the room where the trial was held, they were taken out back and executed together by soldiers.
This statue is in Revolution Square in front of the old Communist Party Headquarters building. It is of Iuliu Maniu who was a critic of Ceausescu. He was arrested and sentenced to life in prison of hard labor when he was elderly. The broken body of the statue represents a body broken by torture but a mind still strong and could not be broken. The nearby “tree” represents a tree that could not grow in the usual way, like people under communist rule.
Nearby the Maniu statue is the Memorial of Rebirth for the memory of the protesters who died during the revolution in 1989. The people of Bucharest do not like the monument. Many feel that it doesn’t represent the struggle that the victims went through to overthrow communism. On the walking tour that I took, the guide said that it is the most disliked monument in the city.
The plaque in the background has the name of the 1500 protesters who died. The walkway is made of cut logs in the shape of the cross. This represents the young people who were cut down in the prime of their lives. At the top of the monument is a crown of spikes to represent the crown of thorns.
The statue in front of the National University Library building is of Romania’s first king – King Carlos I and it is HUGE! This is not the original statue, however. The first statue was taken down in 1947 by the new communist regime and destroyed. The tour guide said that it was melted down to make a statue of Lenin, the head of communism. This new statue of King Carlos I was inaugurated in 2010.
Across the street from the University Library and King Carlos’ statue is the former Royal Palace. It was built between 1927 to 1937 and was the residence for King Carlos II and his son, King Mihai I, until 1947. It was 1947 when the monarchy was abolished in Romania. Today, this building houses the National Art Museum.
The Romanian Athenaeum building was designed to represent an ancient temple. It was designed by French architect, Albert Galleron. This graceful building was completed in 1888 and building was funded by the public when the original donors ran out of funds. The fundraising campaign, a first for Romania, had the slogan “Give a penny for the Athenaeum. Today, it is used as a concert hall and is the home of the Romanian George Enescu Philharmonic.
The inside lobby has a gold-leaf painted ceiling with a staircase that leads to the concert hall.
Inside the concert hall.
The Great Fresco that surrounds the concert hall shows scenes of Romanian history.
This building houses the Union of Romanian Architects. It was built in the late 1800s and before the outbreak of WWI, it housed the Austrian Embassy. In December of 1989, it was almost completely destroyed because it was suspected to house terrorist. In 2003, the newer addition was added on in conforming with the architectural rules of the neighborhood. However many criticised it as it was considered a historical building and for that reason, it could not be torn down but many felt it should have been restored.
This is another building where the “old” was combined with the new.
The front part of this Novotel Hotel is the old National Theater. It was bombed in World War II and severely damaged. The actual target was the building, partially seen to the left of this photo. That building was the telecommunication building and they were trying to knock out the communication. When Novotel bought the property, they kept the facade of the theater to remember the grand building that once stood there.
This is the Cantacuzino Palace after Grigore Cantacuzino who was believed to be the wealthiest person in Romania in 1899. As Prime Minister, he desired to have the most elegant house in Bucharest and built this lovely neo-classical/art deco building in 1898-1900. Today it houses the George Enescu Museum. He was Romania’s most important composer and musician.
This park is located next to the Filipescu-Cesianu House which houses a museum that explains everyday life in Bucharest over the past 300 years. The park host concerts, theatrical performances and outdoor exhibits. I found the sculptures interesting but don’t know if I like them.
Continuing on Victory Blvd we walked to the Romanian Peasant Museum. We thought that it would an interesting museum to visit. Wouldn’t you know that it had been closed for renovations and was opening the next day. The day that we were leaving for the city of Brasov.
This is a traditional church that was outside the Romanian Peasant Museum.
Since the museum was closed, we decided to continue along the boulevard to Herestrau Park that is located along Lake Herestrau. Right near the gate to the park is the Arch of Triumph.
In 1878, when Romania gained its independence, a wooden structure was quickly built for the returning troops to march under. Another structure built of concrete was built in 1922 but decayed greatly. This current arch was built in 1935.
The Parks of Bucharest
Herestrau Park is on 400 acres surrounding Herestrau Lake. It offers many attractions besides the lovely flowers and statues. There are boats that cruise around the lake, row boats for rent, a Japanese garden and tennis courts. The most interesting attraction though is the Village Museum. This museum is Europe’s largest open-air museum covering 30 acres. It was developed in 1936 and features rural homes from throughout Romania. The homes slated for the museum were painstakingly dismantled, moved to the museum and reconstructed. It gave a true insight of life in rural Romania over the years.
One of the many inviting spots in the park.
Throughout the park were various animal statues.
The bike/walking path around the lake.
Some of the boats that offer tours of the lake. In the background is the House of Free Press. It was built in 1956 and is a smaller version of Lomonosov University in Moscow, Russia. During the communist era from 1956 to 1989, all of the printing presses and media companies in Bucharest. Today, things are mostly status quo in the building but it also houses the Bucharest Stock Exchange. It is a very large building and one of the first that we saw coming from the airport to the Old Town on our first day.
The House of Free Press
We enjoyed the Village Museum. Here are some of the houses that are in the park:
This house was from 1929.
I love the woven wall coverings.
This farm compound is from the 19th Century and was located in the Biharia Mountains in the northwest area of Romania. Surrounding the house are food storage buildings and barns.
The living area.
This 19th-century farmhouse is thatched with rye bundles. It was in Serel in the western part of Romania.
This is the kitchen and….
Each village had a hall that weddings, dances and community events were held. This dance hall is from 1929.
Inside the dance hall. The opening on the far wall was the stage for the musicians.
This 18th-century church is from Turea in northern Romania. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open.
There were many, many more houses on display but far too many to share in this blog. We certainly enjoyed our time seeing the different homes and the way they were decorated.
Cismigiu Gardens is the oldest park in Bucharest. The name is from a Turkish word cismea, meaning “public fountain.” It was opened to the public in 1860 and is a nice place to stroll after a day of sightseeing. Cismigiu Gardens was a 20-minute walk from where we were staying.
The Parliament Palace
This building was built after the devastating 1977 earthquake in Bucharest. The design was influenced by the architecture in North Korea. In order to build the second largest administration building in the world, 40,000 people were displaced, monasteries, factories and a hospital were torn down in an approximately 3 square mile area. Our tour guide explained that the notice given to the people to vacate their homes was very short. She said that people in Romania are extremely attached to their homes. It was devastating to have to move on such short notice and then, watch their homes be torn down.
Construction began on June 25, 1984. To minimize the cost of building this massive building, soldiers were used as laborers. All material used for the construction comes from Romania except for some wooden doors that were a gift from Congo. 20,000 to 100,000 people worked on the construction often in 24-hour shifts. It is estimated that 3,000 people died from various construction accidents.
The cost of the construction went way over budget due to Ceaușescu constantly changing the plans. Estimates for the final cost are over $4 billion dollars. This outrageous expense took place while the citizens of Romania were struggling to survive everyday life. Ceaușescu never saw the completion of the building as he was executed before it was finished. It opened in 1997.
Ceaușescu’s vision for this area was to have all the government offices in one place and the government officials living nearby in newly constructed high rise buildings. The boulevard leading to the Parliment Palace is just a little wider than the famous boulevard, the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
The boulevard leading to the Parliment Palace.
Tree-lined sidewalks along the boulevard.
Some interesting facts about the building. It is 276 ft (84 meters) tall and the basement reaches 276 ft deep. There are 1,100 rooms with 400 of the rooms and 2 meeting rooms still not completed. In the basement, there is a nuclear bunker that has concrete walls about 5 ft (1.5 meters) thick. The amount of electricity and heat used in a year equals the same amount that is used to run a medium-sized city. There are secret tunnels beneath the Palace of Parliament designed by Ceaușescu in case he needed to escape to the airport if there was an uprising against his government. Sadly, the construction wasn’t complete when the revolution began and he never was able to use the tunnels as a means of escape. Michael Jackson was the first person to speak from the balcony and said, “Hello Budapest!” He should have said, “Hello Bucharest!”
Today, the Palace of the Parliament building houses Romania’s Parliament, Bucharest International Conference Centre and the Museum of Modern Art. Tours are available but you need to make reservations at least 24-hours in advance. We tried to make reservations but they were booked for the days we were available to go.
This road leads to the Patriarchal Cathedral which is the center of the Romania Orthodox faith.
During the 1400s, a small wooden church used to stand on this site among the vineyards. These buildings were built between 1656 and 1658. We went inside briefly but a service was in session so we left. I noticed that people seemed to wander in and out throughout a serv
The sun illuminated the gold leaf decoration against the brilliant blue sky. It made for a spectacular sight!
I must preface this section with the confession that David and I are not “foodies.” We will eat out a few times but for the most part, we shop at grocery stores and prepare small meals in the apartments that we rent.
Also, we do not eat meat…fish, yes but no meat or chicken. That often limits any traditional meals in the country that we are visiting. If I had to describe Romanian food, I would say that it is “comfort food” and “food that sticks to your bones.” In earlier days, when people worked the land, they needed food that would sustain them.
Hearty stews with meat and vegetable, grilled meats and sausages and polenta (aka as cornmeal mush) which can be rather bland in a restaurant. However, David had a meal of the polenta, with sour cream and a fried egg that was very tasty and definitely “stuck to his ribs!”
Pretzels stands are everywhere and a favorite snack of the Romanians. Also offered at the stands are sweet or savory pastries and slices of pizza.
This was my Romanian sampler. There was fresh bread, roasted peppers with feta cheese, baba ganoush-a smoky eggplant spread, hummus, tomatoes, olives and zacusca spread – cooked veggies and tomato sauce.
We ate dinner in the Old Town at the vegetarian restaurant Aubergine (the word used in other parts of the world for what we call Eggplant). We enjoyed lentil salad, stir-fried veggies, roasted veggies, hummus and couscous. All was very, very good!
Out and About
Here are some interesting photos that I took while David and I were exploring Bucharest.
Romanian folklore tells the story of how a young shepherd discovered the valley that Bucharest is located in. The shepherd’s wife was named Dâmbovița. This is the Dâmbovița River that runs through Bucharest. It often flooded and after the Great Flood in 1775, the canal was built to contain the river and lessen the damage that the flooding could cause.
It is amazing where you can find art!
The Choral Temple is the main synagogue for Bucharest. It was built in 1857 and is supposed to be stunning inside. Unfortunately, we discovered it on a Saturday and it was closed to visitors. The Menorah, erected in 1991, is dedicated to the all Jewish people, especially the 40,000 Romanian Jewish citizens, who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
This church is “tucked” between two large high rise buildings. It was during the Communist era that many churches were demolished. In order to protect as many churches as possible; a civil engineer, Eugeniu Iordăchescu, devised a way to move the church along railroad tracks. I do not know for certain if this church was moved or it is just by chance that the nearby buildings were built around the church. Either way, this is an example similar to the church we were shown on our tour that was moved and surrounded by high rise buildings. The old adage – “out of sight, out of mind!”
Here is the link with photos from the British news, The Guardian to explain this incredible feat better: www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/dec/14/bucharest-moved-churches-safety-communist-romania. (Copy and paste). It is fascinating and incredible!
This sign was in University Square. This is the area that I would have preferred to stay in knowing what I know about the “Historic Center.”
Right across the street from the sign is one of the buildings for the University.
Occasionally, we would walk past these memorials tucked along sidewalks and in small walkways. They were to honor the victims of the revolution against communism in 1989. It made me reflect on how easy it is to take my freedom for granted. How young these people were to sacrifice their lives to live in a free country. This memorial was near Universtiy Square.
Nearby University Square is St Nicolas Russian Orthodox church. It was built in 1909 by the Russian Tsar, St Nicolas. The gold domes were impressive and beautiful glinting in the sunlight. As you can see by the scaffolding, it was under renovations so we didn’t try to go in.
I had read about this bookstore, Carturesti, online. Glad we found it to visit. It was a great store! It was built in 1883 and was the former home of a wealthy resident of Bucharest.
This was the “back entrance” to the bookstore but when it was a home, I wonder if this might have been the main entrance. It looks more welcoming!
This lovely cafe was part of the bookstore.
This is the room that we first entered when we came through the “back” entrance.
There were various levels throughout the store.
They not only offered books but wine and a room of cooking gadgets.
This area offered teas, coffee, mugs and special candy.
The contrast between communism and the early 19th-century architecture.
I originally took this picture to show the basic building, that I believe is communist era. It takes care of the basic needs. There are no decorations on the facade to make it attractive. Even the building next to it, although in need of renovating, has the potential to be a lovely building.
Right around the corner, was the exact building to make my point. This is a turn-of-the-century building that has most likely been lovingly restored. This was a common sight throughout the city.
No reason for this picture but that I thought it was a nice reflection on life in Bucharest. Two neighbors visiting on a warm spring evening with their dogs. It could almost be a scene out of New York City, Boston or possibly London.
This just about wraps up our time in Bucharest. Our next stops in Romania were Brasov, Bran and Sighisoara.
Wishing you blessings, joy and sparkles ✨✨✨