With little more than a day to explore the city, I gave priority first to one of its major boulevards, Calea Victoriei, brimming with photo opportunities, and whatever else caught my eye on this crisp but sunny day. Museums would have to wait for another visit.
A picturesque building abutting something dreary and graffitied. Not an atypical composition in Bucharest, I discovered.
The grand National Museum of Romanian History. Its colors shimmered in the morning light.
Romania’s oldest bank, and because the Royal Palace is now the art museum, this is also where Romania’s (presumptive heir) HRH Princess Margareta Custodian of the Romanian Crown celebrates birthdays and special events. Hers is an interesting story: born in exile in 1949 and educated in Switzerland and Britain, she returned to Romania after the revolution to help the country heal. As she is the oldest of four daughters, her father, King Michael changed the rules to allow a gender-blind inheritance, as he believes (along with some Romanians) that a return to a monarchist rule is possible someday. From what I have been able to learn, she is thought of favorably by the Romanian people.
An unexpected passage along the avenue. Do you feel like you’re in Paris yet?
Kretsulescu Church, unique for its mesh of Byzantine, Ottoman, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. I simply liked how stately it sat in the square, surrounded by socialist realism.
The Memorial of Rebirth, erected after 1989 and sitting in Revolution Square. The building to the right is the one from which Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu attempted their helicopter escape.
Just behind the monument is this architectural gem. It was quite something to behold.
A block or so away, however, a return to Parisian shabby chic.
Along the way, a stop for a traditional Romanian lunch of Mietiti. Think Kofta, Kebab, or Cevapcici, but with a stronger and equally delicious flavor, and you have Mietiti. That they are ubiquitous is an understatement, popping up in street stands everywhere. Realizing I had walked 11 kilometers, however, I opted to sit for lunch.
Piata 21 Decembrie 1989 near the university area, with difficult-to-reach memorials on a small island in the middle of the boulevard (along with more Christmas lights!)
Bucharest’s lone Christmas market presented itself in the square in front of the Palace of the Parliament, for which I had a tour reservation the following day.
Tredlnik, traditional pastries and hearty fare made by adorable bunicăs, and…nachos! Because, why not? Bucharest was not shy about embracing Americana, either, and if the city had a second official language, I think it would be English!
Based on a few teaser texts from Tony earlier in the week (Like, “You are going to LOVE the old city!), I wanted to save the best snap ops for last. I first stumbled upon a Christmas/Antique Market occupying an abandoned former important villa. Several large items tempted me, until I thought about the logistics of flying them home. Sigh, the villa photos will just have to do.
Bucharest’s beauty isn’t all in-your-face like some of the polished capitals of Europe; it’s more in the eye of the beholder. A little background might help: a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit outside of Bucharest in 1977, destroying quite a few buildings and severely damaging others. Ceaușescu saw the opportunity to make his architectural mark on the city, hence the ugly socialist monoliths that detract from one’s Parisian daydreaming.
Damage within the old city was so severe that it was essentially evacuated and left to history. After the revolution, engineers and architects (along with entrepreneurs) returned to the old city and began restoration. Buildings with significant structural damage were tagged with a red plaque (see the photo in the set below), indicating that they were subject to collapse should Bucharest suffer another strong earthquake. These “Scarlet Letter” buildings meant a lower sales price in the post-Communism economy, so many owners simply removed the circles and have left the buildings to naturally decay.
With the afternoon winding to a close, I hurried to snap Hanu’ lui Manuc before the blue skies turned to dusk. The building is one of few Caravanserai remaining across southeastern Europe and Asia. These inns served camel and horse caravans making their way toward the Silk Road; now, much of the inn is a fine restaurant at which we dined later in the evening, with a tiny corner space reserved for a Starbucks. Of course.
1.400g of Caramelized Lamb Knuckle. The “ultimate” culinary and cultural fusion to be shared between diners of several empires. So said our wait staff. We just thought it sounded fun (and we were quite happy that many of the those 1.400 grams were lamb knuckle bone!) And for the record, it was possibly the most succulent roast lamb we have ever enjoyed.
After dinner we attempted to hail a taxi to the Christmas market (1.400g dinner + 1 bottle of wine + cold temperatures + a 1 kilometer walk…you get the idea.) A (young) taxi driver outside the inn, born after the revolution, could not be bothered with our measly fare of Leu5 (~€1) and declined our request. The (older) taxi driver, no doubt a young Romanian man under Communism, quickly stepped in and said, “Market? Leu20!” The deal was sealed. Funny, but when we walked back from the market (with yet another ceramic piece to carry home on the plane!) the young driver was (still) there.
With my sightseeing clock ticking down, all that remained was the scheduled tour of the Palace of the Parliament in the morning.