Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Day in Bucharest

I have never travelled with friends before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unfriendly, I make friends while I’m travelling, I have travelled with my boyfriend/now my husband, I have just never been travelling with my friends before.

Last week, I finally addressed this deficit in my experience, and my best friend from school and I hit the airport for a short trip to Romania. She had not done much travelling before, and I kind of wanted to introduce her to travelling, and maybe even ‘inspire’ her to visit places that you don’t always immediately think of.

Arriving in Bucharest by bus from the airport, we followed walking directions from the hostel we had booked and checked into the very clean and relaxed Cozyness Downtown Hostel. I have a bad tendency to underestimate how long things take to do, so by the time we had arrived and checked in we had run out of time for sightseeing, and we were hungry and tired so just went out for the first food we could find (an uninspiring kebab) and then back for an early night.

So the next morning our visiting began, starting with a bakery breakfast and moving on to a tour of the Palace of Parliament. Completed by the Ceaușescu regime, this monster of a palace is the world's largest civilian building with an administrative function, the most expensive administrative building and also the heaviest building.

Palace of Parliament

There were no signs to the visitors’ entrance to the palace, so if you are walking up from Bulevardul Unirii then turn to the right when you reach the road in front of the palace, then go round the side to the visitors’ entrance gates.

It is hard to get a full idea of the scale of the building from a basic tour, where you just go into a few rooms. It seems big while you’re there, but then you step outside afterwards and realise that you must have seen such a small portion of the whole place.

Inside the Palace of Parliament

Inside the Palace of Parliament

You have to take a guided tour to visit the palace, which is good as being a functional building there are no signs for visitors explaining what everything is. With the guided tour you learn about how many of the materials inside came from the local region, how many thousands of people were involved in its construction, and you learn how relatively young the building is – it was only begun in 1984. For such a modern building there is some fantastic craftsmanship in the style and decoration, which would be easier to appreciate if so many historical buildings had not been razed to make way for it, and if it were not such a massive symbol of the power of oppressive dictators. Still, I think it would be very disrespectful to visit Romania and not learn about the Communist era destruction and suffering that occurred there, and visiting here is a great way to begin to get an idea of the sheer scale of this.

For contrast, once the tour was over we headed into the oldest remaining area of Bucharest, Lipscani, to take in the atmosphere and get some lunch. 

Stavropoleos Monastery, built in 1724

For the latter we went to a famous restaurant, Caru' cu bere, which we found worth the hype. The staff were friendly, the decor was charming, the string quartet was great and the food was tasty – and very reasonably priced, particularly when compared to eating out in the UK. A dessert later on in the next door ‘Chocolat’ cost more than the meal!

Caru' cu bere

Stuffed peppers at Caru' cu bere

Ispahan Macaron at Chocolat

Early evening, and we decided it was time to move on. There was plenty more to see in Bucharest, but there was also plenty to see in Transylvania, so we had a spare day at the end which we could decide how to use once we had seen both areas. Picking up our bags we took the Metro to the train station, a really easy and convenient journey, and from there we took the train to Brașov to begin our Transylvanian travels.

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