Isolated behind “The Iron Curtain” prior to 1989, until recent times Romania was one of the least visited countries in Europe. We headed straight for the capital of Bucharest to try and get an understanding of this countries cruel but fascinating history.
The only campsite in the area is actually located 6 miles north of the city so before heading there we opted to take a quick look around and stumbled upon a perfect secure parking spot (GPS 44.427752 26.100141) on a quiet street which was manned 24 hours a day. For just 25 lei (the equivalent of £5) we were able to leave Boris safe in the knowledge that he would be well looked after. With tree lined boulevards and delightful parks, the city is a vibrant, modern place and most of the sights can be seen on foot.
Our top experiences in Bucharest:
Palace of the Parliament (The Peoples Palace)
Reading up on this place beforehand I was both intrigued and horrified in equal measures by the place. As the 2nd largest building in the world (only the Pentagon is bigger), the building was created by the extra-large ego of Romania’s former leader Nicolae Ceausescu. The communist dictator employed 700 architects and construction began in 1984. Hundreds of buildings were demolished to make way, 26 churches and over 7000 homes being destroyed in the process, and some 50,000 people had to be relocated from the area. The works were carried out using the forced labour of soldiers so that the cost was minimised. It’s estimated that around 20,000 construction workers were on site often around the clock with alternating shift patterns to meet the tight construction deadline which was set originally at 2 years. The building is 240 m long x 270 m wide and 84 m high with 12 storeys and a floor area of 365,000 square metres. Over 1 million cubic tons of marble were used in the build and no expense was spared on the interior fittings with 3,500 tonnes of crystal used in the chandeliers, the largest one alone weighs 5 tonnes! The palace has 1,100 rooms.
All of this happened whilst Romanians suffered. Ceausescu starved the people to pay for the cities modernisation. Farmers were forcibly rehoused in grim housing blocks in the cities. Food and electricity was rationed. They were allowed just 2kgs of meat per year and 2 eggs and 1 litre of milk per month, however often the stores didn’t even have these basic provisions causing huge queues and unending misery. The only saving grace was that Ceausescu was executed before it was finished, in my mind a small justice that he never actually lived there, but the damage was already done to both the city and the countries people. A small number of rooms are now used for the Romanian Parliaments offices and meeting rooms. You can visit the interior on a guided tour which costs 35 Lei pp (£7) although you only cover around 5% of it, but believe me that’s enough!
TOP TIP: Tickets can be purchased at the palace for one of the tours, if you take a camera you will be charged an additional 30 Lei (£6), but take pics on your phone is free!
Walkabout – free guided tour
As we’d recently done a free walking tour in Bulgaria I did a quick google to find out what was available and came up with this. The tour goes twice daily at 10.30am and 6pm from Unirii square park (in front of the clock next to the fountains). The tour takes around 2 ½ hours with a stop off for refreshments. The highlights are Staropoleos convent, ruins of Vlad’s citadel, Manucs Inn and the revolution square. The tour gives a great insight into the history of the city and is an easy way to get orientated. Although they advertise the tour as free, obviously a donation is welcome and very well deserved.
This amazing space is not just the largest park in the city it’s the largest in the country and is a real oasis of calm right in the centre. Spread over 187 hectares this glorious parks main attraction is the beautiful lake which dominates the centre. You really could lose yourself in this huge relaxing space.
Centru Vechi (Old Town)
As well as housing the oldest church in the city and Vlad’s palace ruins, the old town of Bucharest is now filled with bustling bars and restaurants. The alfresco dining and drinking scene enlivens the traffic free streets. Fortunately we visited during the week as I’m sure on weekends the neighbourhood would feel like one big sprawling cocktail party.
We really didn’t know what to expect when entering Romania from Bulgaria, but what we have seen so far has been a vibrant city that is only too pleased to embrace its European status.
Three days in any city is enough for me though, so we are off in search of mountains and the Transfagarasen pass named “The top road in the world” by the Top Gear team. It may be a different experience driving it in a motorhome though!!!
Andi & Paul x