I was fortunate enough to squeeze in one final trip before the world started to shut down in the middle of March, and my last adventure was to Romania. I know I have said certain countries weren’t on my radar before, but really and truly I never imagined I would visit Romania. I can confidently say I will return, solely for the purpose of getting lost in the mountains, but today we will talk about Romania’s capital city, Bucharest.
We’ll start at the beginning, when my roommate and I left our room at 0500 to catch a bus to the Munich airport. I didn’t sleep well the night before, and my body ended up having a bit of a Sjögren’s flare with all the travel. Thankfully our Air B & B in Romania (pictured above) was an amazing sight for tired eyes.
But before we made it to the Air B & B, we had to get our rental car.
This was a comical encounter – as we had asked for a small car and were given a van. A VAN. My roommate was the first driver on this trip, but navigating a somewhat busy city in a small bus was something that triggered anxiety in us both. Me as a passenger, her as a driver. Thankfully we found our Air B & B fairly easily and decided to spend the remainder of the day inside – sleeping.
Pro tip: don’t just pick a cheap place to sleep, pick a place you actually want to be inside just incase you arrive and need to rest.
We had one full day in Bucharest (after our arrival day), so our plan was to tag along with two free walking tours. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Walking tours are my favorite way to see a city when I have limited time. Bucharest is full of history, but one of the first things we noticed about this city was how run down it looked.
In the early 20th century, Bucharest came to be known as the “Paris of the east” thanks to its Art Nouveau architecture and grand municipal buildings, often French-designed. This architecture is now mixed with utilitarian buildings left behind from decades of communist rule. 2019 marked 30 years since the Romanian Revolution in 1989, when Romanian leaders Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu were assassinated on Christmas Day.
I knew nothing about Romania before I arrived, and I left with more knowledge than I would have learned in any of my school classes. I’ll save the history lesson for the Google, and instead show you some of the highlights from the two walking tours. Our Air B & B was about a 30 minute walk from the city, and after asking a Romanian police woman where to go (she spoke no English, but was very kind) we found our way to the city.
We passed by the Romanian Orthodox Church, which we later discovered is the bane of Bucharest’s existence. Bucharest has churches everywhere, and this project is costing the tax payers money they would rather be spending on hospitals, roads, schools, etc. Alas, the church continues to have construction costing more and more $$$.
Our first walking tour covered the general history of Bucharest, but the majority of this tour took us to see some of the many churches throughout the city. During the communist times, churches were lifted by engineers and moved, often to places that were hidden. We saw one church that was squeezed between and slightly behind other buildings.
How people can lift and move an entire building is beyond me, but they did this many times in Bucharest, specifically in order to make room for the Parliament building which is the second bane of Bucharest’s existence (and the second largest administrative building in the world.) The electricity cost to keep this building running, in rooms people don’t even use is astounding.
Before his assassination, the Romanian leader wanted the Parliament building built to specific standards, which meant apartments and churches needed to be moved to make room. The apartments on the street leading up to the parliament were literally lifted and moved just slightly to make the path wider. Insert eye roll here, what a waste of funds.
Of all the churches we saw, the most memorable was the Church of Saint Anthony. This church is the oldest in Bucharest, but what made this church so memorable was the story behind what happens here on Tuesday’s. Saint Anthony is the finder of lost things, and the saint of small requests, so on Tuesday’s people line up outside of the building to ask Saint Anthony for lost items.
On Tuesday EVENINGS, women line up to ask Saint Anthony for love. We happened to pass by on a Tuesday and were able to see the line out the door. I should have come back that evening to ask for an Irishman.
After our first tour, we had a few hours to kill before our second tour. We headed towards Cărturești, aka one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Walking into this bookstore felt like walking into a fairytale. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I could have spent hours in there with a good book and a hot cup of coffee.
As we made our way towards tour number two, we ran into a small friend. If there is anywhere in the world I belong the most it would be in Romania, simply for the amount of stray animals. The number of cats we saw was unimaginable, and all of them friendly.
I tried to feed her some of my salmon, but she wasn’t having it.
Tour two covered more of the communist history of the city, and our adorable tour guide named Serban was a plethora of knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this subject. Serban took us through neighborhoods with bullet holes in the tops of buildings, past buildings that were used as old decoys without anyone actually living inside, and gave us a history lesson about King Carol I, Romania’s first king.
King Carol I was German, and he was a was a babe.
We weaved in and out of alleyways, saw “hidden” apartment buildings, and talked about the three United Principalities of Romania before Romania became…Romania. These were Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia (which became the basis for the Kingdom of Romania.) We also walked underneath buildings that were literally crumbling due to the fact the Romanian government has left all these buildings as they are.
These dangerous alleyways had a unique beauty…as long as we walked quickly.
My first impression of Bucharest was not favorable, but after this day of history and exploration I saw the charm. However, one day here was enough for me and I’m glad we spent more time in our other cities. Next up: two times the castles, two times the fun.
Q: Have you been to a city where you prematurely judged the book by its cover?