Ruminations on Romania (3): our time in Bucharest

  • Our guide book – the Thomas Cook pocket guide – admitted: “even its fiercest advocate would readily admit that when taken at face value Bucharest is not Europe’s most appealing capital”. Between the world wars, Bucharest was known as “the Paris of the East” but most of the features that earned the city this appellation were destroyed during the communist era.
  • Much of the inner city today is pretty grim – if that is not a contradiction in terms – with many buildings in a dilapidated state and graffiti is ubiquitous.  However, when the Romanian relative of a British friend drove us to the north of the city (to visit the Village Museum), we were impressed by the attractive villas and embassies in that part of the capital (which also has its version of the Arc de Triomphe).
  • We stayed in the Athenee Hilton Hotel which the guide book describes as “unquestionably the best hotel in the city”. It was good – but not that good. It was built in 1912 in the secessionist style and overlooks Revolution Square.
  • Although it was the beginning of October, the weather was clear and sunny if crisp (around 10C).
  • However, we did experience an earthquake. My sister Silvia told me on Sunday morning that she had woken in the early morning when her bed jolted. I joked that either she had had a dream or there was a poltergeist but, in fact, the news in the morning confirmed that at 4.37 am there had been an earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale.  In 1977, some 1,500 people were killed in Bucharest as a result of a severe earthquake.
  • Bucharest has no real centre and virtually no old town. Lipscani is the one street in what was old Bucharest that is striving to create an atmosphere with cafés, restaurants and clubs, but even the local events guide describes it as “a work in progress”.
  • We visited several museums: the National History Museum, the Village Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Museum and the National Art Gallery.
  • We managed to take a movie, since in Romania all foreign languages films are shown in the original with sub titles. We saw “Thanks For Sharing”.
  • The most ‘interesting’ monument in Bucharest is that commemorating the victims of the revolution which appropriately enough is located in Revolution Square. The official title of the monument is the Memorial of Rebirth. It is supposed to represent freedom breaking through barbed wire but locals say it looks more like an olive on a cocktail stick.

  • Freedom and barbed wire
    or olive and cocktail stick?

  • In our guide book, there was a struggle to list the top 10 features of Bucharest, so one item in the list was not a place but a food: a type of bagel calked covrigi (there are shops that sell nothing else). We bought one and found it to be delicious.
  • Like many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, the spread of incomes and living standards is now enormous and the cheap and the expensive co-exist side by side. For 10 lei (about £2), one can take a taxi half way across Bucharest or buy a hand-made chocolate from France – both of which we did. We went to the cinema at a multiplex in the Bucharest Mall which is full of shops selling the most expensive designer goods side by side with such fast food outlets as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

Footnote: Since there was fog at Heathrow, we were not able to board our return flight at Bucharest until two hours after the scheduled departure time. Then, a dent in the fuselage was discovered and it took another two and quarter hours before we were given permission to take off. So a flight of three hours began over four hours later than planned.


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