After arriving I had to get myself some of the local currency and navigate to my room for the night. I had booked accommodation that billed itself as a ‘party hostel’, figuring that after the long train ride I would be a bit antsy for some excitement. This was not at all the case though, for in the face of the staff’s jeers I was sawing logs by 10pm. I did get myself a Romanian bedtime beer and also an incredible 650 gram kebab for a ridiculously cheap price.
The next day I arose nice and early, taking advantage of the morning to catch up on life and also the ease into another free walking tour at 11. Nope, it was at ten and I missed it. I hit the streets solo and spent the day exploring and checking out some museums. The first was the national history museum, which also housed the royal treasury and museum of the post office. The best thing about any of this was the statue on the outside.
I first visited the treasury, which before the discovery of King Tut’s burial chamber was the largest in the world. The Russians managed to ‘lose’ some of it during WWI though. Nothing was quite as impressive as the hoard in Turkey, but they had some things from the the monarchy that were interesting. I managed to set off an alarm while touching the display case and felt pretty cool. (“No touch!”)
The other exhibit was a massive replica of a Roman tower, but the explanation of it was basically nonexistent. I moved through here quickly and then on to the post office portion. There wasn’t a whole lot here either, just uninteresting old documents detailing the history of their post and trophies won at stamp competitions. They did have replicas of what the postman wore, and I must say that they were vastly better than anything in America.
The next stop on the itinerary was the oldest restaurant in the country. It had its origins as the first beer hall, but it has come to serve incredible food as well. I don’t do much for culinary tourism, but when I can have it for such a reasonable price, it would be shame to miss out. The place was called Care’ cu Bare, which means beer wagon. The interior was a tourist draw on its own.
As for the food, I got a traditional soup in a bread bowl, and also some local dish. Romanian food is quite fatty, and my pork canned in lard with polenta and sauerkraut stuffed me. I took it all with a café americano.
The rest of the day consisted of another museum, this one dedicated to the life of the Romanian peasant. That was meh, but afterwards I took a long walk through a park before eventually making it back to the hostel.
That night I planned to socialize more than the day before and started with a few drinks from the hostel bar. I enjoyed talking with an Israeli in particular. At some point people decided that they were going to transition to somewhere we could dance. As we were gathering to leave, a fellow American removed his shirt so that we could see him flex. ”It’s not about how many pushups you can do; it’s 2013 and you gotta know how to protect yourself.” I conquered the floor briefly before returning to get some sleep, but the next morning I learned how that shirt guy was jumped, and gathered off the street by an ambulance…
For day two in Bucharest, I joined in the walking tour I had missed before and we strolled for about three hours. Just as in Sofia, I learned a lot about the communist history of the city and how the Soviet regime shaped the urban development. There were a number of monuments to celebrate their independence and democracy. The meaning of one in particular, the guide explained, was mocked by the populace for looking like a bloody potato on a stick. I could see where that description was coming from, but had to laugh when I saw a certain mural on the side of a building.
The other planned stop that afternoon was to the People’s Palace, which was supposedly the second largest building in the world, after The Pentagon. I couldn’t find anything online supporting that claim, so I’m not sure which metric they were using. It was however the largest parliament building and being made almost entirely of marble was listed as the heaviest building as well. I booked the tour, but had to kill an hour before it started, so I went to a nearby park. There was a sort of bike festival in full swing so I grabbed some refreshments and took it all in from a bench.
Back at the palace, we gathered on the other side of security and then made our way into the first of many large rooms. The guy leading the tour wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, but he managed a certain sense of humor that earned from me a few smirks. The palace was absolutely massive though, both above and below ground. We only saw two floors that represented a small percent of the building. This was the ballroom, which every parliament should have.
The beautiful thing about communism is how the rulers always demanded the biggest and best of everything, and somehow expect that there will be enough leftover for the people. The palace offered a great view over the longest boulevard in the world, designed to be a whopping 6 meters longer than Paris’ Champe-Élysées.
The whole palace had been envisioned by their communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu as a monument of the state and the scale went well beyond the realm practicality. The guide wouldn’t share what the maintenance costs of such a structure were, but did concede that the annual water and electricity bills amounted to about 3,000,000 euros. The tour was done and it was time for me to get a move on.
Bucharest had been good to me, but Romania is quite large and diverse. I needed to make tracks if I was going to see any respectable amount of it. When the country was founded, many Romanians used France has a model. This explains the similarities in their flag, and perhaps why they too have an Arc du Triumph.