West to East Micronesia China Mongolia Russia Baltic Region Visegrad Region Balkan Penninsula East to West Ancient Civilizations Straddling the Straight Southern Africa Eastern Africa Ethiopia United Arab Emirates South Asia Crossing Photo Album Trip Logistics Itinerary Transport Logs Route Maps About Us
Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 22,303,552 Area: 237,500 km2 Gov't: Republic Religion: 86.8% Eastern Orthodox, 7.5% Roman Catholic, 4.7% Muslim View Map
Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania, November 4, 2003  

Romanian Flag ROMANIA


November 4. BUCHAREST We slept pretty well in our warm little cabin and arrived into Bucharest early in the morning. It seems that if you aren't leaving at dawn then you are arriving at dawn.  At the end of the platform we were immediately confronted with a bright and shiny McDonald's, incongruous with the drab station.  We had to walk carefully across the slick  tile floor since it was actively being washed.  It seemed like cleaning was always underway during the day in Eastern Europe - around you, under you, and over you - but it couldn't erase that gray the had just come with too much time and use.  

The station was in a dismal area of town, surrounded by tall old buildings with ornate facades that now suffered from deterioration.   The architecture hinted at a city that had once been a more glamorous and affluent place.  The traffic was chaotic and exhaust from all of the cars just added to the grayness.  The weather was bad as well.  We took our lives into our hands and crossed the main street in search of a hotel.  We found ourselves lost in the maze of streets near the station but finally found our way to the hotel.  It was full when we arrived but the man at the front desk said that they should have a room opening up and that we could leave our bags in the lobby and come back later. Romania doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to respecting ownership of property so we just opted to wait in the lobby until we were sure that a room was going to free up.  Fortunately it didn't take very long.  We had to take turns in the small old fashioned elevator to get up to our floor.  The hotel was reasonably clean but very basic and worn.  We had a small balcony that looked out over a busy street and our own sink but the toilets and showers were shared.  The women's facilities were next to our room and the men's were at the other end of the hall.  It would do for a night.

The Citibank website told us that they had an office in Bucharest so we took advantage of the break in the rain and went for a walk.  The bank was amongst a cluster of other banks about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.  But, the ATM didn't work. We had to use the nearby Bank of Transylvania ATM.  It was starting to sprinkle at this point so we grabbed the subway into the historic center of Bucharest.  The steps leading down to the subway were occupied by a family of gypsies.  One young man was colorfully dressed in a bright purple velvet overcoat with heavy black boots.  With his longish hair he looked like a pirate.  The gypsies, or Roma, were always easy to spot, making them easier to avoid, and Romania had the dubious distinction of being home to Europe's largest population.  The official estimate puts the population at about 400,000 but a more realistic number is probably 2 million.     

The old subway was efficient and we were only stops away from the center.  The subterranean shopping area that we passed through as we emerged from the subway was bustling with people and had a big bright Nescafe Cafe.  Where did anybody get the idea that Nescafe was something you want to drink?  We came up at a busy intersection to get our bearings.  The historic quarter was tucked behind a row of grand late 19th century buildings that had been nicely refurbished.  They housed banks and government buildings. But, the historic quarter itself was in various states of disrepair and renovation.  It wasn't the most charming of old town areas that we had seen in Europe but it had some occasional delights and was still a more lived in area than the tourist enclaves of many historic quarters.  We found our way to a recommended cafe, the Amsterdam Cafe, because it was known to have proper breakfasts.  It did but the nicely decorated cafe meant expensive eggs. 

After breakfast we didn't have to go far to find the Central Bank.  We were directed to a cashier that sold coins and collector sets of un-circulated bills.  While Rob was deciding on what to get a man came up with a bag of curled Romanian bills.  Romania is the only country in Europe to have plastic money, a serious downside of which was that they melt.  You must be careful backing up to a fire to warm yourself if you wallet is in your back pocket!

The rain had stopped but the sky was still gray.  We went to explore more of the historic quarter, which was not very big.  Vlad Tepes, the notorious price who is thought to have been Bram Stoker's inspiration for Dracula, ruled the province of Wallachia back in the mid 1400's and made Bucharest the capital. The ruins of his Old Princely Court (1462) stood at the lower end of the old town with a prominent statue of old Vlad out front.  Next door was an active Orthodox church with mobs of people giving prayers to the church saint which looked like none other than Prince Vlad.  It was hard to accept how a man known for his gruesome methods of torture had become a saint but to the Romanians he was a hero who had saved the country from the Turks. 

At the edge of the historic quarter, across from Saint Vlad's Church, we ducked into the old hotel of Hanul Manuc.  A group of gypsies had started to hassle us and we wanted an escape.  On young girl carrying a baby came running after us until we reached the entrance to the hotel courtyard.  We don't really know what she wanted but after all of the gypsy stories we had heard we didn't wait to find out.  It had been told to us more than once that a gypsy tactic is to walk towards a tourist and "trip", throwing her baby in the air for the tourist to catch.  Of course any decent person would try to help and meanwhile his pockets would be fleeced by smaller kids.  Even our dinner pal, Gene, from Vilnius, found himself surrounded by gypsy kids in Russia while the oldest of the bunch tried to wrestle his backpack right off of his back.  The courtyard of the hotel was a nice getaway but the gypsy girl stood at the entrance and watched us the entire time.  When it started to rain again we left quickly, avoiding eye contact with the gypsies.   

On the other side of the small historic area we found the train ticket office and purchased tickets for the next day to Suceava, in northern Romania.  The area had some lovely Art Nouveau buildings mingled among the more austere buildings from the late 19th century.  A precious little Orthodox church was tucked along one street, Biscerica Stavropoleos, built in 1724 by a Greek monk.  Its walls were adorned with lovely frescos and the tiny chapel was lined with delicately carved wooden seats.  The small attached courtyard with a colonnade porch was overhung by a huge tree in full fall colors.   

From the historic area we walked west and then turned south to visit the incredible Palatul Parlamentului, or Palace of Parliament, the world's second largest civic structure after the U.S. Pentagon.  We approached it across a large expanse of grassy park area and, with no signs to follow, headed towards what looked like an entrance.  A tour office was set up but was vacant and a guard directed us to the other end of the palace for a tour.   The building was massive but the greater shock came when we learned that we hadn't approached from the front but from the side!  We had to walk around the corner and cross in front of the palace to reach the south end of the building and it was much longer than it was wide.  It must have taken us a good fifteen to twenty minutes to reach the other entrance.  Facing the palace was a half circle of buildings that opened up to a long boulevard.  The whole area was just built in the 1980's by Romania's President, Nicolae Ceaushescu, whose grand vision had wasted an incalculable amount of money for Romania.  Heavily influenced by the Soviets, the architecture was all done in the Stalinist style and officially the palace is not completed. Ceaushescu was overthrown in 1989 and the palace is now occupied by the new parliament and judiciary.  To reach its present massive state three shifts of some 20,000 workers and 700 architects worked for over five years.  Most of the materials were procured from Romania - the marble, the gold, the carpets.  Construction is continuing but with greater financial restriction and, therefore, much slower.

Our tour of the palace was less than an hour and only covered a handful of rooms but gave a taste of the excessive opulence.  White marble was the most used material and marble mosaics were inserted in the floors with one design cleverly reflecting the basic layout of the palace, in case people got lost.  The rest of the floor was covered in hand-woven red carpets that were made to fit each room.  A grand marble staircase took us up a floor, the third or fourth rendition of the staircase which Ceaushescu had completely rebuilt over and over again since he didn't like using models.  Naturally the palace was inspired by France's Versailles, the cliché inspiration of all palaces it would seem, and while the style was more contemporary it tried to match the opulence.  The fact that it was more recent made the excessive expense seem even more offensive.  Romania is dubbed the wild west of Eastern Europe and an estimated 44.5% of the people live below the poverty line.  They could have made much better use of the funds that were wasted in this arrogant palace.  He even exported so much of the country's food supply to fund his projects in the late 80's that there was a food shortage.  To further mimic France, Ceaushescu had even more historic buildings torn down to create the semi-circle of Stalinist buildings in front of the palace, for housing other government officials, and the long Blvd Unirii that led to a large ornamental fountain and Ceaushescu's new civic center.  From a balcony on the second floor we could look down the length of the boulevard, Romania's Champs-Elysées.

The weather had turned bad during our tour and there were no subway station nearby so we had to make our way back across the front of the palace to reach downtown again.  We were soaked to our thighs by the time we got there.  We made a stop at the post office and then found a cafe to sit in while we dried off.  It was a great little cafe attached to the Hotel Continental, the Cofetaria Continental.  The coffee wasn't actually that great but they had some exceptional deserts, so good that we indulged in two servings.  

From the cafe we walked to the northern part of downtown, where the designer shops were located and we saw a whole other side to Bucharest.  It wasn't really a pretty city but there was something appealing about it.  It was such a mixture of dilapidated history amidst the selectively restored and newly built areas, the old poverty interwoven with modern wealth.  It had the feeling a place that was yet to rediscover itself and hopefully become as beautiful as it once had been. 

We stopped for dinner in a charming little restaurant, Bistro Atheneu, where we had some really good sausages served with a hearty and flavorful bean dish.  It wasn't a long distance from there back to our hotel but the walk was like passing backwards in time.  The nice boutiques and upscale bars quickly gave way to lesser maintained old buildings and then to the grimy area where our hotel stood.

At least the hotel had looked pretty quiet when we had checked in but that changed.  A group of construction workers, or so we guessed from their blue overalls, had checked in the room opposite ours.  They were whopping it up into the night.  We never exactly figured out how many were in the room but from how often they had to go the bathroom they were tossing back a steady flow of beer.  There was one women's voice in the room and since it seemed unlikely that any respectable Romanian women would be partying along in a hotel room with a group of men we figured she was probably a "professional".  In their drunken state these guys couldn't be bothered to use the men's bathroom at the other end of the hall and continuously came and went from the women's bathroom.  This made it uncomfortable for me to take a shower so when I heard one of them go in I casually went in after him and walked to the toilet stall, where he was relieving himself with the door open, and, acting like I was surprised to find him there, I let out a big scream.  He jumped, zipped his pants, and proceeded to make uncoordinated apologetic gestures. I shook my finger at him and gave him the "shame on you" tone of voice.  At least it kept them out of the bathroom long enough to take my shower but we heard them going in again later that night.

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24