- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Travel to Bucharest
Economically the most prosperous and the capital of Romania, Bucharest is the sixth largest city in the European Union and its country’s industrial, cultural, and financial center. With elegant architecture and very sophisticated elite, Bucharest is called the Little Paris of the East. The city has a broad range of cultural venues, educational facilities, convention facilities, shopping arcades and recreational areas.
The city of Bucharest is culturally and historically rich, with a temperate continental climate. Believe it or not practically everything in Bucharest is a tourist attraction, from railway stations to churches, sports arenas, private and public infrastructures, political buildings and monuments.
Things to see in Bucharest
In the early 19th century, the high society of Bucharest made their promenades along the willowed embankments of Herestrau Lake . A few decades later, the entire surrounds were designated a city park. Pink, yellow and red roses greet visitors to this park and, in a small conservatory, freshly picked flowers are arranged daily in the Romanian style. Arched bridges lead to an island and the other side of the park, where there is a bar, restaurant, sports complex and rowing boats for hire. There is also a ferry across the lake and, next to the Village Museum, a fun-park with rollercoasters and carousels. However, the area surrounding the park holds even greater treasures.
The streets between Bulevardul Mircea Eliade and Soseaua Kisileff contain extraordinarily beautiful houses (from 19th-century neoclassical to 20th-century art nouveau) and modern luxury villas with ivy-covered balconies and exquisite stone carving. This is where Bucharest's elite once lived - and still do today.
The cobblestone streets between Calea Victoriei, Bulevardul Bratianu, Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta and the River Dîmbovita still comprise Bucharest's most atmospheric area and increasingly are home to an alternative culture of clubs, bars, trendy coffee houses and restaurants - most lively when they spill onto the cobbled streets (or overtake empty lots) during summer. At its heart is the 15th-century Curtea Veche (Old Court), attributed to Vlad Tepes, which contains a few walls, arches, tombstones and one restored Corinthian column. Next door is Bucharest's oldest church, the 16th-century Biserica Curtea Veche. Just east of here is the oldest inn, Hanul lui Manuc, Strada Franceza 62-64, which is still an inexpensive hotel with a basement restaurant and courtyard cafe-bar.
Palatul Parlamentului (Parliament Palace)
Ceausescu's greatest folly, begun in 1984, initially taking 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build. But by the time the dictator was executed in 1989, only the exterior and three rooms had been finished. What is seen from street level on Bulevardul Unirii is a 12-storey monolith rising 84m (276ft) above ground level but it is nearly as deep under ground. It is rumoured to hold a nuclear bunker big enough to contain the entire government, although its actual functions have not been revealed. Inspired by North Korean Communist architecture, which reflected Ceausescu's political leanings, it is 330,000 sq m (3,552,090 sq ft) in area and the second-largest administration building in the world (after the Pentagon). Intended to house Communist Party offices, ministries and state rooms, it is now the seat of Romania's Parliament, headquarters of the International Conference Centre and home to a surprisingly edgy National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Piata Revolutiei (Revolution Square)
On 21 December 1989, 80,000 people thronged the square, supposedly in support of the president after riots in the town of Timisoara, when the Securitate arrested an outspoken priest. But when Ceausescu appeared on the balcony of what was then the Central Committee building (now part of the Romanian senate) people began to chant 'Ti-mi-soa-ra, Ti-mi-soa-ra' and the shock on Ceausescu's face pinpointed the true moment of his downfall - a moment televised all over Romania and, later, the world.
However, this heroic 'people's revolution' is also thought to have been an inside job. Ceausescu and his wife tried to escape in a helicopter from the roof but, being told they were low on fuel, were dropped within the Romanian border, after which they were hastily tried and shot on Christmas day.
A white, marble plaque on the Senate building points to the balcony, inscribed with 'Glorie martirilor nostiri' ('Glory to our Martyrs'), in remembrance of those killed in the fighting. In the middle of the square is a recent addition, the rather ugly Rebirth Memorial (Momorialul Renasterii), built to signal Romania's hopeful future. Just behind the library, a block west of Calea Victoriei, the facade of the building that housed the Securitate (Ceausescu's secret police), has been left in its ruined state, and now frames the glittering offices of the Romanian Architecture Union.
Arch of Triumph
Initially made of wood and built iin 1922 in tribute to Romanian soldiers who fought in WWI, Bucharest's very own Arc de Triomphe was finished granite in 1936. At 26m high (85ft), it offers fantastic city views for those who have the stamina to climb the interior staircase.
Jewish History Museum
Romania's once-thriving Jewish community (numbering over 750,000 at the outset of WWII) has dwindled to about 10,000. There are a few interesting sites to see in the old Jewish quarter Vacaresti, just east of the historic centre and northeast of Piata Unirii. The most interesting is the Jewish History Museum, Mamulari 3, housed in a mid 19th-century synagogue. Here exhibits cover Jewish contributions to Romanian history and the 350,000 Romanian Jews who died in concentration camps during WWII. The Sephardic Jewish Cemetery is in south Bucharest near the Eroii Revolutieie metro station.
Patriarhia Romana (Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral)
Nearly obscured by 1970s housing blocks, this stunning 17th-century cathedral, situated on a small hill overlooking the grey communist-built Piata Unirii, is the Romanian Orthodox Church headquarters. A fabulous fresco of the blessed and the damned, ascending to heaven or tumbling into hell, adorns the entrance, as well as the oldest icon on the site, depicting patron saints Constantin and Helen (1665). Inside, expressive and beautifully painted icons, embedded in an exquisite gilded altarpiece, dazzle the eye in the sombre darkness. St Dumitru, Bucharest's patron saint, lies entombed in the left-hand corner and worshippers constantly climb the staircase to his shrine to pay their respects.