Bună from Bucharest!
Today is our last day in Bucharest, so we spent the first part of the morning packing up our things and left our bags outside of hotel room- luxurious! It feels so strange but delightful to not worry about lugging my bags around.
The plan for today is to take a tour of the city in the morning and take a tour of the Bucharest Parliament before hitting the road to the ski town of Brasov while visiting Pele’s Castle along the way. It’s gonna be a big Romanian day, so let’s go!
In the lobby we grabbed a coffee until it was time to embark on a brief city tour before breakfast.
Bucharest city tour and a bit of history
While driving along and admiring each building, we learned that they are all so lovely and ornate because the architects mostly studied in Paris, hence, the prevalence of baroque style.
We first traveled down Aeroport street which is one of the major roads in Bucharest. Admiring the Parisian-looking architecture, the existence of these beautiful buildings is a miracle, considering many managed to go un-destroyed during the communist era. When driving through Victory Square, we took in the series of huge concrete buildings with Coca Cola advertisements on top, along with the government building which they call “the farm”.
Why? Because according to locals, “that is where all the donkeys are”. Apparently, there is a bit of problem with corruption at the moment, so the relationship between the Romanian people and the government is tense.
En route to Union Square, we got a bit of Romanian history. Romania was formed from 3 kingdoms: Transylvania, Valeria, and Moldova.
These were formed from the older kingdom Dacia. When the Romans occupied Romania, their language and culture mixed with Dacia to form Romania. Hence, the Romanian language is 90% Latin, 10% Slavic.
There are 290 noble families here in Bucharest, but during the communistic era they were forced to give up all their homes and possessions. Now many of them are back, but are embarking in the process of getting their homes back. There are tons of legal hoops to jump through, so the whole process can take 20 years!
Arriving at Union Square, we were immediately told that this place is very important. It includes the library of the first king, Carol, who was beloved by Romania. His horse statue (because every great leader’s gotta have one) has his right hoof raised, indicating he died in battle even though he died from a heart attack.
There is also the former dictator, Ceaușescu’s palace. He tried to flee the country, hijacked two cars and got arrested. In the center is the Rebirth Monument, which is lovingly called the “potato monument” and symbolizes the country’s rebirth after communism.
We also passed an Orthodox Church, built for the donors wife. I want to see the inside of an Orthodox church so badly because Byzantine art is just mesmerizing. I think we will eventually, but hopefully soon!
Continental breakfast is better in Europe
Then we returned to the Novotel for breakfast. As is typical for a hotel’s continental breakfast, there was quite a buffet spread, so I enjoyed some familiar foods and and some new ones too. Egg and potatoes, sausage, eggplant stew (amazing!), pickles and pickled onions, elder flower juice, white cheese, smoked fish, and Romanian apples. Yes, that sounds like a lot! But I just got a little of each to try.
There was some drama with getting everyone back to the bus on time and everyone having their passports, since we’ll need them for the Parliament tour. But I would guess that is just an example of all of us getting into the swing of things. Our guide made sure everything turned out fine anyways, so it was no big deal.
Touring the Romanian Parliament
The Romanian flag colors’ symbolism is as follows: Red= blood and democracy, yellow= farming and wisdom, blue= sky and freedom.
The Romanian Parliament is the biggest building in Europe and the heaviest building in the world!
It was built by dictator Ceaușescu to make speeches and to impress the rest of the world during Romania’s communist times.
Now is used for senator and deputy/representative meetings, much like a standard democratic capitol building.
All the materials used to build the Parliament building are from Romania. The marble comes from Carpathian mountains, the oak comes from nearby forests, and woven carpets come from Moldova. The walls are lined with paintings by Romanian artists, and there are a couple of displays with traditional clothes.
While all major buildings of government serve a purpose of showing off a country’s wealth and culture, the finished product is always different. The ballroom, for example, has skylights, and the color palette is soft, lots of white with touches of gold hand mounded plaster, pink marble, and soft blue paint.
We also enjoyed views over the city from the sprawling balcony, where the dictator envisioned making speeches and watching military parades.
Inspired by the city of Paris, he had the boulevard on front of the Parliament cleared so fountains could be placed all the way down. Each fountain represents a district of Romania, sorta like the hunger games. one fountain has mosaics of flowers, the next has one with, fruit baskets, etc.
Michal Jackson also used this balcony to greet his adoring Romanian fans, but he did get one thing wrong- he said “I love you Budapest!”… yikes man.
Through we visited all of the major rooms, we only explored 3% of the Parliament on this hour and a half long tour! It makes sense because there are 1000 rooms and the building is actively in use, so it is impossible to truly see it all.
After exiting the tour, we were allowed a few min in Celebration Square, so we were able to see some of the fountains, including the big one on the middle from a distance.
Exploring the Old Town
While driving to Bucharest’s Old Town, we got to briefly visit the monastery from 1746 (covered up during communist era but lovingly restored).
Afterward, we visited an Orthodox Church. Yay! Our guide Vlad showed us how to make the sign of the cross in Orthodoxy: curl three fingers tightly and touch right shoulder before the left. This is why I love having a local guide, it provides the insurance that you’re adhering to the local customs.
Then we had an hour to wander around the Old Town.
Since my sister and I have seen most of Old Towns sights, we got pastries at LUCA again and slowly strolled along the cobbled and potholed streets. We were warned to be extra careful here since random holes in the cobblestones can be real “ankle breakers”! On the way back to the bus, we came upon another church, but it was unclear if the open door meant visitors were allowed, so we opted to just enjoy the church’s gardens instead.
After meeting everyone back (no stragglers, yay!), we finished the city tour and left Bucharest.
Last sights in Bucharest
The Freedom of the Press building was actually built during communist era and was not free at all. The statue in front of it was destroyed immediately after.
We drove through a wealthy neighborhood where a senator and owner of Romanian football team has gold facade and gold Jesus statue. According to Vlad, he spent 2 years in prison for corruption. However, he also gives thousands of lei to the poor citizens who wait at his gate. So I suppose it kind of balances out. People are complicated.
We also learned about the effects of communism on the current consumer and political culture of Romania. When people go from being allowed to have nothing, to being allowed some things, they naturally want to own lots of things. Expensive cars, especially. They also love to joke about current events and politicians since this was previously not allowed.
Graffiti is rampant, expensive to remove, and difficult to catch. The official punishment is 7-15 years in jail, but the actual punishment is usually a beating from police followed by 7-15 years in jail. And yet, it’s so prevalent! Definitely a surprising contradiction.
Once you leave city center, the landscape shifts to forested really fast.
Visiting Pele’s Castle
Here is a note I made in my journal that doesn’t really connect with anything else and I can’t remember why I wrote it down: “Left for Sinai, saw the first Petri manufacturer in Europe.”
Now back to the normal chronology of our day!
Our next big stop was Pele’s castle, built by King Carol as a summer palace where he and his family could enjoy hunting in the Romanian forests. The inside of the palace is closed on Mondays, but a ton of it can still be enjoyed from the outside.
If you think Pele’s castle is b-very B-avarian looking, then you would be correct! King Carol was originally from Germany, and so wood trim with exquisite detail and outdoor frescoes is a taste brought from there.
The frescoes on the outer clock tower and in the courtyard are of medieval-looking guys peeking out from behind columns. My personal favorite fresco is the bear hunting tableau in the courtyard.
A brown bear hunting scene makes sense here because there are thousands of brown bears and foxes, and hundreds of wolves in the forests of Romania. It’s awesome to see how biodiverse Romania is.
The main garden is full of Roman style sculpture and the side garden has some Byzantine looking mosaics and statues. In the surrounding forests, birds are singing and summer blooms make everything smell so good. I think I love the Romanian countryside.
After taking our time in admiring the Pele castle, we had enough time left to briefly check out Pelisor Castle. It’s much smaller than the Pele but I loved the shiny hexagon tiles on the roof.
You know me, I love a good roof.
Traveling on to Brașov
Then it was off to the ski town of Brașov! On the way, we passed a Roma village. According to our Romanian guide, the relationship between the Romanian and Roma populations is not great. This seems to be because the two groups have different societal structures that clash. However, I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.
Our guide told us the following about Romani life: Many Roma people farm, craft, and know trades. He says they get government assistance too and live with that. Allegedly, they refuse to let their kids progress beyond 4th grade because of fear that they will fall in love with a Romanian, German, or Austrian person which is not allowed. They own horses. As for their governmental structures: there is a Roma king and emperor. More wealthy families have homes. This is the case for the community we passed by, they looked as though they live just like any other Romanians to me. I worry when including this that it will be one-sided since I didn’t have the chance to meet a Romani person, but figured that this perspective from our local guide could give some valuable insight into how the communities interact. I certainly learned a lot and am trying to read and learn more about it from both sides.
Settling into the ski town of Brașov
I am so happy with the ski lodge we are staying at. It looks so nice!
It is summer time so naturally, the ski lifts aren’t running. I am sort of sad about it since I just learned how to ski in Mammoth Lakes and would love to ski in Europe. Thankfully, there are still plenty of things to do in our free time, like hiking and enjoying the spa.
It was surprising to see animal pelts on couches and floors of the lodge but that is more normal here. PETA back home would have an aneurysm.
We had some time to freshen up before dinner, so we explored the hotel a little. We found the spa which has a huge pool, sauna, and indoor and outdoor jacuzzis. We’ll definitely be spending an afternoon here if given the chance!
Dinner is at the lodge’s buffet. Once again, I tried a small bit of everything. White cheese salad (the new love of my life) with green olives, Greek salad, roasted veggies, pork neck (not bad but would not try again), chicken with prosciutto and cheese and tomatoes, vegetable cream soup, two mini cakes, and of course, a glass of red wine.
After dinner, we tried to go to spa but found it closed!! It is only open 4 hours per day which is unusual but I’m determined to get there. At least we’ve got the robe and slippers.
Bună Noapte from Brașov
Today was a big travel day with lots of stops and things to see on the way. I liked that. I much prefer it to just driving straight through from point A to point B. Especially with the limited amount of time we have here in Romania.
It was also a very educational day, we learned so much about Romanian life and history that I’m worried I’ve forgotten huge chunks of it already! Please let me know if I got any names or dates wrong, I’d be so grateful to correct the errors.
Tomorrow, we’ll be headed to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania! Muahahahaha
Good night! Bună Noapte!