Hello from Bucharest! I’m in the city for the day before heading out on a train to Chisinau, Moldova as part of a trip organized by Young Pioneer Tours. Here’s the itinerary if you’d like to follow along; I’ll try to post updates as close to real time as possible.
I arrived in Bucharest yesterday in the early evening and caught a bus that conveniently dropped off at the main train station (Gara du Nord), right down the street from my hotel. Both the bus and the metro system are very cheap, up-to-date, and clean, with the metro being perhaps a bit easier to navigate.
Bucharest is a large city of over a million people and has experienced tons of growth and new building projects in the past 20-30 years. During our city tour today, we heard a lot about recent Romanian history, which is centered around the fall of Communism in 1989 in an abrupt and violent revolution that ended with the execution of president/dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife by gunfire. After this event, Romania has seen several boom and bust periods, but has experienced a period of enviable economic growth that contributed to its acceptance into the European Union in 2007. According to our local guide, there’s a widespread belief in Romania that the sudden downfall of the Ceaușescu regime was actually part of a bigger plan by his associates to prolong their power in the country in acknowledgement of Communism’s coming demise. Indeed, many figures central to the former Communist government remain involved in the Romanian political system which has led to an increasing number of investigations and criminal charges in recent years. As our local guide put it, Romania is trying hard to advanced as a democratic state, but old habits die hard.
Bucharest’s central core contains, among other attractions, a well-preserved old town with many historic churches and other buildings that show off beautiful architecture of old next to the not-so-beautiful style of the Communist era. One of the primary attractions is the Palace of the Parliament (formerly known as the Palace of the People or the People’s House), a hulking building that is now the largest parliament building in the world but was originally built by Ceaușescu as a central hub for Communist-era workings. The construction of the ornate 3100+ rooms nearly bankrupted the country and was likely a contributing factor in the collapse of Communism here.
An interesting side effect of the Communist plans for the palace and the planned grand boulevards surrounding it was the forced relocation of many people and churches from the areas that these gleaming streets now occupy. After people became upset at the simple destruction of churches that lay in the construction’s path, the government instead made a conscious effort to relocate them whole via elaborate engineering efforts involving temporary railways and lots of time and money. As a result, it’s common to encounter beautiful, well-preserved churches on otherwise humble Bucharest streets- a reminder of a bigger vision for the city that, despite changes in government and public opinion, continues to advance today, albeit in many different forms.
During a stroll in one of the city’s many parks with some of my fellow travelers, we chatted with a sidewalk vendor about life in Romania and our initial impressions of Bucharest. He clearly spoke with great pride about his country and was genuinely interested in making sure our visit was positive. This attitude was reflected in most of the other people I’ve met here so far - caring and cautiously optimistic for what I’m sure is a brighter future for this beautiful country.