On the wings of a shiny new Turkish Airlines A330, we flew into Bucharest airport and were greeted by our transfer driver appropriately named, Vlad. The city of Bucharest, capital of Romania, contains some of the most beautiful buildings built in La Belle Epoch style outside of Paris. Our hotel was located on the edge of the old town with a view out over Piata Unirii which is a dense green square. It’s this part of the city that contains the most glorious buildings, and in the middle of them we found the world-famous Carturesti bookstore, which has the most stunning interior.
Although, as Maggie observed, (perhaps a little unkindly in my view), there wasn’t actually a lot of stock.
Like the museums in Istanbul, the museums in Bucharest need dusting as well, so a long trip to view the National Romanian Peasant Museum was disappointing, as this highly regarded cultural facility was also closed. But no trip is ever wasted and we conquered the Bucharest Metro which costs just A$1.62 for a return trip anywhere on the system.
We did find another remarkable cultural institution just twenty minutes walk away. Many of you will be familiar with my Aunty Madeleine from Auckland. (Well, not actually familiar, but you know what I mean…) Well, she was born just down the road in Constanza, and this is the house in which she was born.
Well that’s not strictly true either. This is a house typical of those from Constanza, and it’s part of the National Village Museum, an exhibition of 363 different complexes; houses, cowsheds, windmills, churches etc from all over Romania. In many cases the the houses have been disassembled in their home location and trucked into Bucharest and reassembled. In many cases there are people from the region demonstrating the weaving or potting of the respective homeland.
We walked and walked the old town, which is know for touristic reasons as Little Paris. This part of town is brimming with history. Little churches abound, often with the most amazing frescos and mosaics, many built in the 1700s.The Romanian Athenauem, is part of the official European Heritage list, and although it doesn’t seat thousands, is a great performance space.
But there is decay and many of the once beautiful buildings have fallen into ruin. There’s graffiti and tagging everywhere you look. There’s a danger from falling masonry and the footpaths are rough and uneven. Much of the old town is taken over by huge outdoor bars and Bucharest has become party central for young guys wanted to host a bucks’ night away from the censorious eyes of their family.
EVERYONE in Bucharest smokes – everywhere. There’s no such thing as a smoke-free area in a restaurant or cafe. And, while there are beggars, they’re now ubiquitous to cities everywhere. Maggie gave a small amount of money to a withered old hag who was bent parallel with the ground, and it was distressing to have people ask for the scraps from your plate before you’d finished your meal. But of the “masses” of refugees, we saw not one.
There is an underlying sadness in the Romanian people. I’ll leave it to the history scholars to offer a view on this. All I know is we started feeling very apprehensive about Bucharest, but over two days it really did grow on us. We’re already talking about returning in the future and renting a car to explore the country which abounds with castles and folklore.
But now we’re comfortably seated in our compartment on the Euronight Ister as we glide gently out of of Bucharest railway station.
Next stop Budapest.