Bucharest in Surprising Romania

Sunday, 25 May 2014

IMG_5940 - Trajan & Dacian wolf 271I’ve never been to Romania before (it was on my list) so the Global Heritage Fund project project in Transylvania, which I wrote about exactly a year ago, was a good reason to plan a visit.

But first I stopped in Bucharest for a couple of days. Poor Romania has had so much bad publicity – particularly in Britain where some of the UK press seems to be convinced that Romanian immigrants are going to over-run the country and wreck the British way of life – that it was a pleasant surprise to discover a much more encouraging reality. The capital is bright, energetic, sometimes surprisingly beautiful, definitely worth a visit.

◄ The Roman Emperor Trajan levitating a ‘Dacian wolf’ in front of the National History Museum. The statue of the naked emperor was a 2012 installation and quickly became a local joke and a favourite place for Bucharest visitors (like me) to be photographed.

IMG_5945 - Palace of Parliament 542▲ The Palace of Parliament, built in 1984, became an immediate symbol of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s utter madness. Only five years later he – and his equally hated wife Elena – were in front of a firing squad. Large tracts of old Bucharest were knocked down to construct the monstrosity, the largest building in the world after the Pentagon in Washington DC. Usually a tour of the building is on every Bucharest tourist’s itinerary, but unfortunately it was closed to visitors while I was there. Next time.

IMG_6005 - Old Town 542IMG_5998 - Caru'cu Bere dancers 271▲ Fortunately the Old Town area of Bucharest survived Ceaușescu’s destructive impulses and at night it’s alive with bars, restaurants, cafes and students from the nearby university. We stayed in a hotel right on the edge of the Old Town activity.

◄ And ate at Caru’cu Bere, another ‘must do’ for Bucharest visitors. It’s big and bustling, the food is traditional and pretty good despite the crowds and most nights there’s something to see, like this dance performance.

IMG_6049  - New St George's Church 542▲ You can also spend a lot of time checking out the city’s ample supply of churches. Ceaușescu destroyed many of them and hid others away by throwing up ugly Communist-era apartment blocks right beside them. Fortunately there are quite a few survivors, many of the painted with exuberant Orthodox Christian murals, this is the New St George’s Church.