Thursday, 5 May 2011

Bucharest, Romania

When I woke up in Romania on Wednesday morning, I had no idea what to expect.  I've heard so much about cities like Jerusalem, Cairo, Paris, and Berlin, but Bucharest was a mystery.

A couple sitting near a fountain in downtown Bucharest.

The train was headed through Transylvania, a historical region in central Romania made famous by Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Some historians and literary critics contend that Stoker's fictional vampire character was inspired by Transylvanian-born Vlad III Dracula, who ruled this region between 1456 and 1462.

Also known as "Vlad the Impaler," this asshole killed 40,000 to 100,000 Europeans that he deemed useless to humanity, mostly by impalement with a sharp pole.

Transylvania is bounded by the Carpathian mountains, and the first revelation I made while eating breaky in the train was that I felt like I was back in Washington state.  A stunning landscape of lush green forests, mountain passes, and low-lying clouds whizzed by as I drank black coffee and conversed with Kate from London.  I wish I'd thought to take some pictures! 

For the outdoor enthusiasts out there, I hear that there is some kickass skiing and hiking to be had in Transylvania.

Downtown Bucharest.

When I arrived in Bucharest, I was keenly aware of how far I'd come from the plush, sparkly facades of Paris, Berlin and Vienna.  I described Budapest as "gritty"; Bucharest takes that grittiness a step further.

My guidebook's description of Bucharest is priceless (albeit accurate):  "Arriving in Bucharest, most tourists want to leave as quickly as possible, but to do so would mean missing the heart of Romania.  Bucharest does have its charm and elegance - it just needs digging for."

I was determined to dig up that charm and elegance...and I did...somewhere between the ruptured roads, disintegrating buildings, crumbling architecture and other vestiges of Communist rule.   

Palatul Cercului Militar National.

Palatul Parlamentalui (Parliament Palace) is supposedly the second-largest administrative building in the world.  It has 1,100 rooms and a nuclear fall-out shelter.

A walking path...

...and a lake in Cismigiu Park .

A landmark in the middle of Revolution Square.

There were many names engraved on plaques in Revolution Square.  Are these the names of people who died protesting communism?  I'm not sure...

Bucharest has a sweet art museum.

In the process of trying to dig up Bucharest's charm and elegance, I made several observations about the Romanian capital...

Bucharest has a pigeon problem:

And a stray dog problem:

Many of the stray dogs in Bucharest have yellow tags on their ears (like this one).  This means that they have been spayed or neutered. 

Flower vendors abound on every corner:

This flower vendor reminded me of the quintessential Romanian grandmother.

And Bucharest has some of the best chow I've tasted in all of Europe:

Squash filled with minced meat and a side of sour cream.

Who can say "no" to cascaval pane (hard cheese fried in breadcrumbs)? 

On Thursday afternoon, I found myself at a Pizza Hut.  I consider it sacrilegious to eat American fast food while traveling overseas and offer these excuses:
-torrential downpour
-intense hunger
-desire to evade Franz #57

Once inside, however, it was obvious that this was no normal Pizza Hut.  There was a fully stocked wet bar, an Espresso machine, and a dessert menu with creme brulee, strawberry tart, and profiterole.  The crowd was decidedly business class; I didn't see a single person below the age of 30.

I remember the last Pizza Hut I went to...  It was last September, it was dark, and I was driving near Missoula, Montana when hunger beckoned.  Sister #1 and I shared some grub near a table of screaming babies, pregnant teens, obese wives, and men with pot bellies and cowboy hats.  A row of arcade games flashed and sang near the kitchen while the Redneck family talked animatedly about football, tractors and guns.  It was Middle America at its worst, or rather its finest...

 I felt under-dressed in this Pizza Hut.

Romanian Pizza Huts are the shit.

It's hard to imagine that this disgrace of a pizza franchise owns the swanky restaurant in downtown Bucharest.  But no matter, Bucharest is dirt cheap and I enjoyed a pizza, two nonalcoholic beverages, and a chocolate brownie (yeah, I'm a little piggy) for the bargain price of $10 USD worth of lei.

I have one and a half days to unearth more of Bucharest's gems.  Then I take another train south to Bulgaria.


  1. This is awesome. I am loving your travel adventures so far. I hope to be going here next year, so it's great to know what to expect!

  2. Tawnysha, thanks, you'll enjoy it! If you have any more questions about Bucharest (or any of the other cities) let me know:)