Monday, June 14, 2010

Bucharest, Romania

This past weekend was my first trip to Romania. The country has always kind of fascinated me. It's the land of Dracula and Nadia Comaneci. It's in Eastern Europe but the people are not Slavs. As a former Roman province, Romanian is a romance language and it sounds like a "funny" version of Italian. I remember, when I was a kid, that these were the "good" communists that stood up to the Soviet Union and attended the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Yet, when the Iron Curtain was coming down, Romania's revolution was the bloodiest. So with a cheap flight out of Vienna, I figured why not go finally see it?

I should have known that something was up when my Romanian friends warned me about how dirty the city is, that I would need to be careful of pickpockets and that the countryside is where is where I should go.

It was hot there over the weekend. Around 95°F and humid. The city's metro isn't really designed for tourists. It was built to bring the workers in from the outer parts of the city. So every tourist stop was a hike from whatever the nearest metro stop was. My poor feet were so sore. Plus there was a lot of dust and dirt so by the end of the day I was ready for a shower...bad!

I had always heard that Bucharest was beautiful...that it was the Paris of the Balkans. And I could see where that was probably the case +25 years ago. Nicolae Ceauşescu, the communist dictator overthrown in 1989, did a number on the city. A massive portion of the city was torn up, including old buildings and churches, to make room for the Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of the Parliament).

Lots of people were evicted and forced to move in to the typical socialist flats. Unfortunately, lots of people now had no room for their pets and the city has a huge dog problem. Something like 50 people per day are bit and my travel guides all said that if bit, just go to the hospital within 3 days for a rabies shot. It's been 25 years already, why is the dog problem still a big deal? I did notice that about ½ of the dogs I saw had a yellow ear tag and the other ½ didn't.

Bucharest's Arcul de Triumf was built out of wood in 1922 to honor the Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I. In 1936, it was replaced with the granite version.

Ateneul Român, the Romanian Athenaeum, is the city's musical center. The 19th century building, located on Benjamin Franklin Street, is adorned with mosaics and frescoes.

Piaţa Revoluţiei (Revolution Square) is where the rebirth memorial is for the 1989 revolution. Most people don't really care for this one. I heard it called "the cocktail olive on a stick".

At Piaţa Universitatii (University Square), I found another memorial to the victims of the revolution. A lot of the memorials I saw were already crumbling in places. Pretty sad considering these aren't even 25 years old.

The Peasant Museum was OK and the Village Museum was really cool.

Parcul Carol I, is one of the nicest parks in the city. Here's where the memorial to the unknown soldier is plus tombs for WWI and WWII.

Lipscani is the historical district of Bucharest. It's where a lot of restaurants and cafés are. But most of the streets are a disaster. Apparently, while doing street repairs some archeological sites were found. So the repairs stopped and the area looks more like a war zone.

Well I can cross Bucharest off of my list of places to visit. I got to see a little bit of the country on my trip to Dracula's castle. If I go back to Romania again, I'll skip the horrible city traffic and head straight for the country.


  1. Wow, now that you've seen Romania and I've been to Bulgaria, doesn't it make you realize just how much the Czechs have accomplished since the Revolution? The wealth differential is significant. I'm told a lot of that is due to a feudal past in the Balkans while the Czechs had an industrialized past.

  2. Interesting read, Romania has always been a place I'd like to visit as well.

    Did you have any negative / positive experiences yourself that stand out?


  3. I'm glad that I finally got the chance to visit Bucharest. Especially with the cheap flight out of Vienna. If I go back I'll skip the capital and venture out to the countryside.

    The city is dirty and most of it is run down. There is tons of traffic and a lot of poverty. My Romanian friends kept warning me about pickpockets and gypsies but I didn't have any problems. At one train station there were some kids that kept begging but I never felt unsafe. Late Saturday night on my way back from Dracula's Castle, I had some offers from two different prostitues. They were definitely barking up the wrong tree.

  4. Hello, so you've been to Bucharest :)hope it didn't leave you with a bad taste....
    i'm planning a trip to Prague in three weeks from now and looking through Google for infos i find your blog (which i find it interesting), i will check your blog more often.

  5. Bucharest is a beautiful city. In my opinion this is one of the must visit destinations in Europe. It is full of landmarks and attractions. One can never be bored there.
    I recommend it to everybody who are wondering where to go on holiday.

  6. @Karen: yes, it is true. Both Romania and Bulgaria were (and still are) a lot more "rural" than the Czech Republic. Prague, for me, looks more like central Europe (Germany and Austria) than like Eastern Europe. It is also very well preserved in terms of architecture, especially when you compare it with Bucharest, which is still developing very chaotically.