0800: Following breakfast, we gathered in the hotel lobby. Our Tour Leader, Raz, started off with an overview of the tour and an introduction to Romania. Here are some facts that I could remember:
- Geographically, Romania is the size as the UK. It is roughly the shape of a fish, and borders the Black Sea, Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria.
- Romania a population of 20 million people, 2 million of which live in Bucharest.
- The Carpathian mountains are in the centre of the country and shaped like an elbow. The region in the crook of the elbow is Transylvania. The region South of the mountains, (where Bucharest is) is Wallachia and the region to the North-East bordering Moldova is Moldavia.
0900: Starting our Bucharest walking tour at the Bucharest Athenaeum. This was built in 1888 for musical concerts and hosted many performances by George Enescu.
Opposite the Athenaeum is the Royal Palace of Bucharest. The building dates back to the early 1800s and is currently home to the National Museum of Art in Romania. Romania was a monarchy from 1860s to 1948. (More details in the next post, where I will talk about the Romanian Royal family).
A short walk away is Revolution square, with the monument marking the revolution in 1989.
Opposite the square is the communist party headquarters, which was the location of the infamous last speech by Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989, before having to abandon the speech and flee from the roof of the building in a helicopter.
As we continued the walking tour we were able to see many other buildings, all once grand, but now rather run down. Our guide explained that this is partly because many of the old buildings were taken over to the government during the communist regime and after the revolution, the process to hand them back started. But many building still have a tussle over ownership, so nobody wants to pay for the upkeep of the building until ownership is resolved.
1000 – 1115: Visit to the Palace of Parliament, aka House of the People, or House of the Republic. This is the 2nd largest government building in the World (after the Pentagon). It also holds the record for being the heaviest building in the World.
Building works started in 1984, and completed in 1997, after the fall of the communist regime. The building houses over 1000 rooms, and is 80m above ground and 90m below ground. Many consider it to be a vanity project by Ceausescu, intended to demonstrate the might of the communist regime. The building of the Parliament destroyed a 5th of Bucharest at the time and cost 5.5 billion Euros in today’s money.
Tours of the building take place on the hour, and is given in number of different languages. You need present your Passport to enter.
The building’s Chief Architect was Anca Pretrescu, a young architect, who was in her mid-thirties at the time. Inside, the building it is as grand as you would expect it to be, and many if the interior decor is marble. Built to impress, many of the interior features are said to be modelled after the Hermitage in Russia. Each room has its own style and is very ornate, even down to the ventilation shaft in the ceiling. Many believe they are really listening shafts, used by the regime for spying on people.
The Parliament is so large that our 1 hour tour only covered about 3% of the building.
Tour ended in the main senate room, Alexandru Ioan Cuza Hall and the main balcony, which looks out on the Unirii Boulevard. This balcony and the boulevards was intended to be the scene of grand state occasions for years to come, but the fall of the communist regime meant that this was not the case.
Today the building hosts several museums, and is used as a conference centre (as well as being the Parliament).
Tips for Visiting Palace of Parliament – Bucharest
- Take your Passport with you. Without this you cannot enter.
- Book the tours in advance.
- Standard tour costs 40 lei, but for 45 lei you can visit a couple of underground floors as well.
1215: After the Palace of Parliament, our walking tour continued around the old town of Bucharest. Like many other European old towns, there are many cobbled windy streets, cafes and bars.
We went through the Macca-Villacrosse passage. Dating back to 1891, it’s a covered passage between two streets in Bucharest and home to number of cosy cafes. It’s similar to many other covered walkways I have seen in cities such as Brussels and Leeds.
Short stop at Caru’cu Bere restaurant. It dates back to 1879 and is one of the oldest restaurants in the country.
Short stop at Stavropoleos Monastery Church, which was built in 1724. The interior in style, was very similar to the St Basil’s Church in Moscow, and I was struck by how similar the art was to that seen in Sri Lanka.
We also stopped at Curtea Veche (the Old Princely Court). This was built as a palace during the time of Vlad III Dracul 1459. However, restoration works mean that we couldn’t go inside.
1315: Stop for lunch.
1400: On to the mini bus and our journey to Bran begins.
As soon we were out of Bucharest, I was surprised how similar the landscape and houses were to Sri Lanka.
1600: Few hours later, we were in the Carpathian mountains.
1745: Slight change of plans. The original plan was to go to the bear observatory on the way to Bran, but heavy traffic means that we are severely delayed. So the bear watching needs to be postponed to tomorrow.
1930: Arrive at Casa Zada guest house, our home for the next 3 nights. Simple, but comfortable family run guest house with 10 rooms. We were warmly welcomed by the owners, Steffie and Theo.
2000: Traditional Transylvanian dinner – vegetable soup, pork wrapped in cabbage, with Sauerkraut and Polenta. Vegetarian option was battered and deep fried courgettes. Great chance to reflect on the day and catch-up with everyone else.
What are your thoughts about my Transylvania weekend trip? Have you been to Romania? Would you like to visit? Leave a comment below and let me know.