The forecast for the next day was promising – twelve degrees, dry and sunny. Before we met I ventured out to buy yet another plug adapter. I seem to have a blind spot when it comes to travel and invariably forget to pack this essential device. I now have an extensive collection. That Saturday we visited Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum. Located on west side of the Herăstrău Park this outdoor museum has hundreds of authentic historic buildings which Romanians lived in through the ages. They’re made from stone, wood or cob and have been carefully dismantled from their original location and put back together at this site and come from all corners of the country. It’s a fascinating place, similar to the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilisation, which I’d visited in Sibiu on my previous visit. This museum is located beside the Romanian Arc De Triumf. In the afternoon I visited the MNAR – the Romanian National Art Museum – a former royal palace on Revolution Square that houses Romanian art treasures. I limit my time to two hours in art galleries as longer is a bit overwhelming. This was two hours well spent however. That evening we wandered about the Old Town and sampled some Romanian lagers – Ciuc, or Bucur or Ursus being the local varieties.
On Sunday morning we had booked a guided tour of the infamous Palace of the Parliament. Inspired by what he had witnessed on a state visit to North Korea, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucesu decided to demolish huge swathes of the city and build the world’s heaviest building as a monument to himself. Designed by chief architect Anca Petrescu, the building took 13 years to complete. Finished in 1997 Ceaucescu never saw his pet project completed – he and his wife Elena were executed on Christmas Day 1989, when the communist regime collapsed. These days the building is home to both Houses of the Romanian parliament; a museum; and an international conference centre. Only 400 of the 1100 rooms in the monolith are in use. Made from Romanian marble and rock, it weighs the equivalent of a mountain. After the Pentagon it is the world’s largest civil administration building. It’s a hugely impressive yet slightly sinister edifice – the folly of a crazed dictator. This vast building looks over the city and is the country’s most famous structure. As it’s a working parliament building you can only access it via a guided tour – our English speaking guide gave us plenty of background information on its history.
After lunch of stewed cabbage, sausages and polenta (this is the Romanian national dish) served by a morose waiter in the Old Town, I was still in a Ceaucescu frame of mind. I took the subway from Unirii Square to the Primaverii Palace – the Ceaucescu family home. Located in the salubrious Primaverii (‘Springtime’) district, Ceaucescu’s predecessor Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej wanted to build this 80 room mansion as the president’s home. As he died in 1965 he never lived there. The Ceaucescu’s lived there from when Nicolae assumed power in 1965 until their 1989 execution. It’s a lovely building. The interior design is very 1970s – including the still working 1973 Phillips television set. The Dutch man on our guided tour of the palace remarked ‘Well it’s Phillips – of course it still works). The Ceaucescus’ reign was murderous, thuggish and brutal and their death by firing squad was inevitable. Their oldest son Valentin – now 74 – still lives quietly in Bucharest. I passed by the Roman Atheneum on my way back to town after my visit – a grand old opera house.
On Sunday evening we visited the Van Gogh Grand Café with copies of some of the earless one’s paintings adorning the walls.
Monday was our last full day and we had no definite plans made. Most Bucharest museums are shut on a Monday so I missed the chance to see the Peasant Museum. Churches are open on Monday however so I decided to visit some of the beautiful Orthodox Churches – including the Palace of the Patriarchate of Saints which serves as the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral. That evening we dined at the Caru’ cu Bere (‘Beer Wagon’) restaurant which is renowned for its art nouveau interior design. On our way home we passed a strip club named ‘Golden Girls’ which I don’t think resembles Shady Pines in Miami. There’s quite a number of strip clubs and lapdancing bars in Bucharest – particularly in Old Town which is now a major stag party destination. This wasn’t the purpose of our visit. Sleazy as it is in parts, the seedy section of the city isn’t too overwhelming.
Flying home on Tuesday morning I reflected on what a marvellous weekend we’d just experienced. It’s a very memorable and exciting place. Highly underrated as a destination for a weekend break I would highly recommend it