Hello Bucharest, I'm so glad to be here!
Trip Start Mar 21, 2013
69Trip End Jul 31, 2013
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This is Dave writing this time. Michelle wasn't inspired to say much about Bucharest;
Michelle drafts this blog on her iPod and I edit it into the blog entry by checking and adding a few facts, filling in gaps in our story, and uploading the pictures. Usually, she gives me a well fleshed out story to work with. This time, for Bucharest, she gave me less than 100 words to work with! Hummm……
Below, I'll add details to the story, 6 weeks after the events.
I Know a Little
Dracula, Comăneci (the 1st perfect 10) and Ceaușescu are three Romanians I had heard of before coming to Romania. And I had heard of Transylvania, and Romania's capital, Bucharest but could not point to them on a map. Our cycle trip along the Danube has taught us a lot about the history, culture, customs and geography of Romania.
It is predominantly agrarian. If it weren't for the nuclear power reactors, heavy water production, and the many Romanian assembled Dacia (Renault) cars driving around, you’d think they have no industrial capability. We will miss a visit to Transylvania this time, but we were too close to Bucharest to skip this notable city of 1.9 million inhabitants.
City Bus Tour
TripAdvisor.com readers rate the city bicycle tour as the #1 activity in Bucharest. Having been on a bikes enough lately, Hiro, Junko and Michelle chose the open top bus tour instead.
These quickie tours are a great orientation to unfamiliar cities. Bucharest, like many major cities, has one too, albeit a bit shorter than most. Hiro, Junko, and Michelle bought metro day-passes and rode the subway to Union Square and the start of the tour. They spotted the tour bus on the other side of the square and began taking a short-cut though the massive fountains at the square. Junko was clowning about on the fountain wall. Sure enough, she garnered enough attention to be admonished by a security guard. "Hey" he shouted. They aborted their planned trespass and obediently walked around to the bus properly.
Bucharesters were at one time enamored with Paris.They built a long wide boulevard modeled after the Champs-Élysées, installed a replica Arc de Triomphe, and named a city square after Charles de Gaulle.
One striking observation, from seeing their photos, is the absence of vehicle traffic. A city of almost two million on a Saturday would be jammed with cars anywhere else.
Meanwhile, I needed to get the computer fixed.
Our netbook has warned us several times about an imminent hard drive failure (BSOD). We attributed it to a hard drive jammed to capacity with photo files. I’d move some files to our back-up and be good to go for awhile. We haven’t had a BSOD for a month. Then, last night, it would not boot. OH NO!
Nothing I tried worked. Now I needed a pro to help me out. The hotel front desk sent me to Victoria Square, a 10 minute walk from Hello Hotel. “There are many computer repair shops” “You can find one easily just by walking around,” she advised
The streets were deserted. It was already late in the morning and not even restaurants were open. And I could not find anything that looked like a computer store, open or closed. I went into an “Orange” cell phone store and asked if it was a holiday. “No” they said. “Just a normal Saturday and everyone is at home with their families.” The guys sent me to Romania Square.
I found a little hole in the wall shop that repairs cell phones and computers and told the guy that my hard drive seems to have failed. The computer is completely dead. He told me to show him. To my utter astonishment, he pushed the power button and the computer started! Sure, it took almost 5 minutes to boot fully, but it started. I was elated.
I pulled out my back-up hard drive and began to back-up the netbook. 30 minutes went by and it was only at 3%. Two hours went by and it was still less than 10%. With the battery dwindling, I walked backed to the hotel with the lid open as the back-up progressed. By morning, it was at 95%, almost finished. The back-up completed after about 20 hours, but it completed! Our last five months of photo files were safe. I cleared half the space on the netbook and it began running like a champ again.
Herăstrău Park and Folk Village
....On Sunday, the four of us went to Herăstrău Park on the way to Muzeul Naţional al Satului Dimitrie Gusti, a folk village containing 19th and early 20th century buildings relocated from all regions of the country.
We arrived at the park near the Charles de Gaulle statue, which has been called the third ugliest stature in the city. The stature is really nice and the ugly statute contest is a reflection on Romanian sense of humor. Kids playing, people riding rental bikes, rollerblading and taking long romantic strolls are a few of the many activities going under the canopy of trees protecting this large park from the heat of the mid-day sun. The park reeks of peace and tranquility.
...We knew the Folk Village Museum was around there somewhere and had a hell of a time finding the entrance. After a short visit to the gift shop, we went in.
Artisans sell folk crafts from little tables inside the village. Most crafts were simple, a nice souvenir of Romania. None of it is destine to become family heirlooms.
We spent a good two hours going though old wooded homes and churches, by the water-less wheel displays, and the windless windmill displays. They had a wooden Ferris wheel that, at just 25 foot tall, looked like the most dangerous Ferris wheel on earth.
Before going home, we stopped in at the AFI Palace Mall, as modern and pleasant as shopping mall anywhere.
Guided Bucharest Free Walking Tour
On Monday, Michelle and I joined a Guided Bucharest Walking Tour. Junko and Hiro had seen many of the sites already on their own and didn’t join us.
The sun was blazing and we felt like ants under a magnifying glass at 10am. Luckily, Michelle had brought her umbrella and plenty of sunscreen in anticipation. We met Simone, our 20 something guide under the clock tower at Union Square.
First Stop, Palace of the Parliament
Under the Ceaușescu regime, they cleared an estimated five kilometer long by one kilometer wide swath of Bucharest to make way for new modern buildings and monuments to socialist superiority. Having been though the destruction of two world wars and major earth quakes, many historic building were in bad shape. They estimate they bulldozed 25% of the historic core. The crown jewel of this urban revitalization was intended to be the Palace of the People, 12 stories, 3100 rooms 33000 sq meters.complex which ended up being the second largest building ever. The tour inside is suppose to be one of the best ways to see it. We were content to view the concrete Goliath from the outside.
Simone, our guide, told the fable of the first person to give a speech from grand presidential balcony Ceaușescu never got a chance to use. Michael Jackson had the honor. She said he came out and having planned to say "Hello Bucharest, I'm so glad to be here!" Instead, he said “Hello BUDAPEST” Bucharest still loves, Michael she said, just a little bit less for it. We had read about this mistake before which seems to have happened but perhaps at the National Stadium.
Next Stop, The Old Court Church (Biserica Curtea Veche)
Our group walked over to the Old Court Church which has a history dating to the 1500’s but it has been burned and rebuilt over the years so what we see now is not old. Inside are fresco’s common in Orthodox Churches elsewhere. The vast majority of Romanians are Orthodox.
The Caravan Sari and then on to the Vlad the Impaler
We took a quick look through the gate of Hanul Hanuc, a real caravan sarai from 1808, before stopping at an archaeological dig fronted by a bust of Vlad Tepes (1431-76), also known as Vlad Dracula. The 1897 novel and play used his name and a Romanian castle (Slain’s Castle) he probably stayed at for a short time in Transylvania, but the similarity ends there. The real Vlad was a very cruel dude.
Simone told us that Vlad the Impaler got his nick name from the torture and killing technique he ordered on his enemies during his reign between 1456–1462. When impaling is done properly, a wooden pole is inserted up the rectum and can bypass the vital organs. The impalee is then left to suffer on the pole until he dies, sometimes taking several days. Potential enemies would see the corpses on the poles as they approached Bucharest and have second thoughts about going up against Vlad. Vlad is still a hero figure to Romanians because he defeated the Ottoman Turks and kept the region independent for the time being.
The Tiny and Pretty Stavropoleos Church
We were impressed by the simple charm of Stavropoleos church. The ceilings of these types of churches reach to the heavens. Their scale is not big. It’s tradition that they be small. There are no pews, everyone stands. The prevailing wisdom was that a priest could only know a limited number of parishioners well enough to serve them. Thus, a large number of small churches with local congregations formed. .
A number of Bucharest's charming churches have survived earthquakes, war and communism.
Churches were destroyed under Ceaușescu. But he permitted eight to be moved out of the way of his modernization projects rather than be demolished. The ones that were moved, were lifted by their foundation and put to rails and rolled to a new locations, one just a few hundred meters from its original location. Simone showed photos of the buildings being moved on rails.
The Old Town
Bucharest Old town is a quaint and small quarter of sidewalk cafes, bars, restaurants and old historic buildings, many in a state of renovation.
One interesting stretch of buildings is nothing but decrepit shells. Simone’s story on these is that their ownership was disputed after the 1989 revolution and the occupants were evicted until proper ownership could be established though long drawn out court proceedings. Squatters moved in and there was zero maintenance for 30 years. Gradually, the disputes are being resolved and the buildings revitalized. They sit on pricey real estate.
The Winner of the Ugliest Statue Contest
Simone took us to the front of the Natural History Museum to show and tell us about a statue of naked a Roman emperor, Trajan. The relatively new statue is mocked by Romanians and there have been contest to come up with funny alternate names and ideas which could have been worse choice.
As we giggled at her stories, the bronze grew ugly before our eyes. Such is the power of suggestion.
On our way toward the beautiful Opera house, we stopped near 'The Rebirth Memorial Eternal Glory to the Romanian Revolution and Its Heroes from December 1989' monument erected in 2005. It is a spike-like thin tower similar to a white spear going through an odd black ball shaped rock. It looks like a monument to the burned marshmallow. It has drawn other comparisons like; 'potato on a stick', 'donut or nut or meatball on a spike', 'the olive on a toothpick'.
Simone Told the Story of the 1989 Revolution from her Family’s Perspective
We stopped near Revolution Square to talk about 1989 revolution. Ceaușescu was liked by Romanians because he stood up to Moscow and implemented his own vision of communism. Ceaușescu's regime became increasingly brutal and repressive.
He maintained strict controls over free speech and the media. The sole television station broadcasted nightly news for two hours with news concocted to support Ceaușescu's programs. No two people were allowed to be standing together on the street. You needed to be moving somewhere and could not even say anything in confidence within your family because the children were questioned at school and might say something wrong that would come back to haunt you. Ceaușescu ordered the export of much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production. Food rationing was introduced. Homes had electricity only a few hours per day.
Demonstrations began in Timisoara and spread to Bucharest and countywide. Ceaușescu addressed the crowds publicly and stood dumbfounded when the mob dared to jeer. He and his wife were thwarted from escaping through underground tunnels by guards who had changed their loyalty. Ceaușescu and his wife were able to escape in a helicopter but were later captured, tried for two hours in front of a special tribunal, convicted and then shot by a firing squad on December 25, 1989.
Even today, Simone told us, some still reminisce fondly about the good old days under Ceaușescu.
Romanian Atheneum a 1888 Opera House
We ended our walk at an 1888, ornate, domed, circular building which is the city's concert hall.
....And Now for Lunch