Category Archives: Bucharest

Romania, Bucharest – last few days in the city

After my lovely tour of the Romanian interior I finished up with a few days in Bucharest and also met up with one of my old school friends Lorna.

Bucharest cannot be deacribed as one of Europe’s prettiest capitals even though it is sometimes called the Paris of the East – somewhat of an exaggeration. And although the communist regime ended in 1989 a series of governments considered both “alternative communist” and corrupt has maybe not helped the city progress as quickly as it could have.

I highlighted some key buildings in my first blog on Romania so for the remainder of my stay I visited the ones I hadn’t seen.

A highlight was a visit to the symphony at the stunning Atheneum Theatre. Concert and environment were perfect and all for GBP15! I also did the day tour – which was just and another chap being given the run of the place.

Bucharest has a lot of very large buildings and monuments. These include the memorial to those died in the world wars- (or the football with a stick through it as it is often referred to!)

We paid a visit to the National Museum of Art housing a broad range of Romanian art including the works of Brancusi (who I didn’t know was Romanian) as well as a European collection. Even though it was a Saturday morning we had the whole place virtually to ourselves and I especially liked the four seasons painted by Brueghel.

On Sunday we were due to visit the Great synagogue plus the holocaust memorial ( it is believed 400,000 Romanian Jews were killed) but it was closed for no good reason!

We did however manage to get into the Choral Synagogue modelled on the one in Vienna and also the massive Jewish cemetery which had some very old and much more recent tombstones. There were lots of Israeli visitors there – this is because a lot of Jewish Romanians left the country during the communist regime under a program where Israel paid for them to emigrate. The regime in Romania charged a hefty amount of extra money for the privilege of being allowed to leave so it could take years to actually happen. Many come back to visit relatives who stayed or to get back to their roots.

We also decided to visit the former home of the communist dictator Ceaucescu, his wife and three adult children. I feel that in talking to people, the shadow of this horrible couple still hovers over Bucharest to this day. While much of the country was starving and living in extreme poverty this house, which is deceptively large, is a wholly inappropriate show of wealth, luxury and excess. Nevertheless it is also a fascinating display of what was available to those with money in the late 80s. Because he and his wife made a speech, escaped from the angry crowd, were recaptured, tried and then both shot (the latter three in the space of one day) the place has been left as it was found in pristine condition.

Not only was there a suite for the parents there was also one for Mrs Ceascescu to use during the day and one each for the three kids – plus and indoor and outdoor garden , gold bathroom, indoor swimming pool etc etc. No-one In Romania has any idea about this opulence because locals were not even allowed in the street where they lived and they rarely entertained in this house beyond the immediate family and close friends.

Some of the other people on the tour were locals and visiting for the first time and were clearly horrified at what they saw. Once again an example of people in power preaching one thing and doing another.

A final dinner in the old town with Lorna and large glasses of local wine topped off the visit.

Romania (my 107th country) – 6 day interior tour. Part 1 – A brief stop in Bucharest, the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina and painted eggs

I decided I wanted to see more of the interior of Romania while I was here so ended up booking a private guide/driver to take me around for 6 days. While more expensive than small group trips this is a great way to really get a feel for the place and have a captive knowledgeable person answering all my incessant questions – The lovely Laurensiu has done a great job so far. Here he is picking some young pine needles for me to try nibbling as the locals do – not my favourite.

After a lazy evening enjoying the view from the apartment in Bucharest …….

Views over Bucharest from the my Apartment

……we did a quick round trip of highlights of the city. As I am back for a few days at the end of the tour I will do more of Bucharest then when I will also be joined by my friend Lorna for a few days.

So a must see is the exterior of Palace of the Parliament

The Palace of the Parliamnet

built by the infamous Ceaucescu who wanted to have the largest parliament building in the world – and for a while he did – until the US built the Pentagon and now it is the second largest. That’s the way it goes. This country has around 19 million people and 600 members of parliament! Quite a lot but even though, most of the 1100 rooms are rarely used so it’s a bit of a folly. Unfortunately it is not possible to go inside at the moment as the current President of the EU is from Romania and so until that finishes at the end of this month there are no visits permitted.

Then we passed the Atheneum which is now an opera house, the national museum of Art (which I will visit on my return), the central library of Bucharest, refurbished hotels and the former HQ of the communist party in Revolution Square where Ceaucescu made his last speech on 21 December 1989 thinking he could bring his people round to his way of thinking one more time – he was wrong and the crowd went against him. Even though he escaped he was recaptured within the day and he, his wife and son were shot.

Giant sized buildings & monuments in Bucharest

On to the marvelous Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum which is housed in a massive park on the outskirts of the city that also included the former Royal family’s palace.

The museum is fascinating because it is a gathering of houses and other dwellings/buildings from each of the regions of Romania that have been lifted and shifted whole or deconstructed and reconstructed in this area – so they are all original – and show the diversity of style in building. It’s a brilliant idea because having now been to some of those regions it is clear that there are very few of these styles of houses left so Mr Gusti had an excellent vision to preserve things in this way.

Traditional wooden houses from the countryside

Blue and white colours reflect Greek influences

Local wood is often carved or etched with symbols

Next we had a long drive to the north east of Romania through very scenic countryside ……

and an overnight stay at Gora-Humorului – where I got to try Ciaorba chicken soup and then cabbage and smoked pork – served with garlic cream and sour cream – this meant I was in heaven and then I saw this lovely old trabant which made me laugh. They look much prettier like this!

I also saw the first of many tin covered churches (they look silver) in Bacău and I rather like the variation from the usual gold or copper.

Next morning we started to explore the 3 of the many painted monasteries in Bucovina – starting with Voronet which is the oldest and dates back to the 1400s. The main colour of the exterior painting is blue made from lapis lazuli and is such a unique shade that it is officially known as Voronet blue. Given the age of this monastery (which like most of them is actually full of nuns) the paintings are in credible shape. These monasteries were build as defence strategies against the invasion of the Ottoman Empire and so had walls around them to aid defence and secret storage places behind secret doors for the Christian treasures. (No pics allowed inside)

Voronet Monastery showing off Voronet Blue

After a walk through the local craft market …..

All sorts of handicrafts

…….we moved on to Moldvitsa Monastery built in the 1530s. By now they were building higher walls to aid defence and the external colour focus was more red. The paintings depicted as much of the New Testament as possible and also the stories of the saints and the journey to heaven or hell depending on your behaviours on earth. In the absence of literacy this was a great way to educate the ordinary people on what had gone before and what was to come – I guess they were the emojis of their era?

We headed through more gorgeous countryside to Suceava for some local bbq’d mici (like mini minced meat kebabs but much more juicy) at the peak of the surrounding valleys. Stunning.

On top of the world

Moldvitsa Monastery – no holy water, tap’s good enough for me.

The last monastery we visited was Suzemitsa Monastery – which was the biggest and by now walls were even higher and defence towers stronger. I managed to sneak a few internal pics while the nuns weren’t looking:)

Suzenitsa Monastery looking like a real fortress

Typical wells found at monasteries and still in use.

Interiors of the monastery – nothing is left unpainted.

Finally, a fascinating stop at the private museum of the old skill of egg painting. the museum is in the egg painting artist’s house – and she is indeed an artist – I cannot begin to tell you how amazing her work is or the volume of it (over 1009 apparently). She is famous both inside and outside of Romania for her work. Painted eggs use a batik style approach where designs are etched in the lightest colour first, then dunked in wax, then etched again in the next lightest colour and dunked again and so on until complete. Then the egg is held near heat for the wax to melt so it can be rubbed away and you get this!!!

Egg painting taken to a new level

I couldn’t get enough of these eggs

And my two favourites

Traditional and Art Deco style