We arrived in Bucharest, Romania before an 18-day tour of Eastern Europe and were so glad we had chosen to spend a few extra days there. Our hotel, the Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest, was in walking distance to the Old Town which was perfect for a little exploration and good food. Our first dinner was at Caru-cu-bere, a restaurant with an interesting history and even more interesting building. The facility was built in 1879 by a Transylvanian beer-making family. The church-like stained glass windows feature beer drinkers and the restrooms are located in the “confessionals.”
Plan ahead if you want tickets to Ceausescu’s mansion; you can’t buy them at the door. Instead, we went to the Village Museum where houses and churches had been relocated from sites across Romania to make a living history outdoor museum. Bucharest has many museums, including the National Art Museum, but it also has fun places to visit that can be seen at any time of day.
We enjoyed strolling through Herastu Park and the Cismigiu Gardens. We watched families and children rowing in the lakes and visited some of the vendors that lined the walkways selling their wares. The parks are a welcome respite from the bustling city.
Another highlight for me were the many beautiful Orthodox churches. We were fortunate that we were in Bucharest on a holy day, so the churches were open for visitors. It is difficult to choose my favorite since the buildings were so different. Some of our favorites included the Old Court Church, Saint Nicholas Church, Stavropoleos Church, Coltei Church and Kretzulescu Church. We discovered that our impressions that the churches were hidden in niches away from the main streets were true and purposeful. The churches that survived the Communist period did so because they weren’t easily seen.
We did not visit the interior of the Romanian Athenaeum, but we passed it often on our way to the Old Town. This beautiful concert hall is the country symbol that Romania uses on its currency. Another eye-catching construction is the Memorial of Rebirth in the Revolution Square. The three-sided, white marble obelisk is surrounded by statues representing the people who fought for freedom and democracy. The nest-like structure skewered by the pyramid represents the martyrs’ sacrifices. Red paint was thrown on the base of the monument by vandals, but it has been left as a symbol and reminder of the blood that was spilled in the fight for freedom.
Our tour took us to the Palace of the Parliament which Ceausescu built. It is currently the largest administrative building and the second largest building in the world. (The Pentagon is larger.) Ceausescu started the building after visiting China where he saw the large squares where the general population was addressed. He came home to emulate this and give himself more publicity. He also constructed a large street, Boulevard Unirii based on the Champs de Elysee, but, of course, longer, to show the world that Romania was again the Paris of the East. (He also had the Arcul de Triumf built using the Arc de Triomphe as a model.)
Ceausescu would review the building weekly and have anything that he didn’t like torn down and redone to his specifications. Upon his death 90% of the exterior was complete while only 19% of the interior was. Everything in the new House of Parliament is Romanian. Ceausescu never saw the building completed because he was overthrown and executed; however, the building was finally finished in 1995 because it was cheaper than tearing it down.
A visit to Bucharest hadn’t been on the top of our list, but we enjoyed the visit, the good food, the beautiful architecture, and the history. Are you interested in visiting Bucharest? Please let us know in the comment section below.