Nice sunset view as we pass over London, England, on our way to Albania.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Shkodra, Albania.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Hiking the Peaks of the Balkans, June 13-24!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Exploring Bucharest, Romania

We haven't had any problem with "jet lag". But then, we rarely do. We try right away to put ourselves into the current time without thinking about what the time was when we left Canada. And so even though we had been tired the night before, we slept well and woke up just after 7:00am.

But then it took us a while to get going. We had some internet time and a cup of tea, and before we knew it it was 9:30am. Can't be wasting the day away, because there's too much to see!

And so we set off for a long day walking. That's the best way to see a city!

We headed first to Bucharest's Palace of the Parliament, about 3 kms (1.8 miles) away. It was a warm enough day, with very little wind. But it was overcast and they were calling for showers later on.

(Don't forget you can click on any picture to make it full screen.)

The large Marriott Hotel.

The Marriott Hotel in Bucharest is a big building. But it's nothing compared to what we were about to see.

The Romanian People's Salvation Cathedral.

They started building this church almost four years ago. It's huge! When finished, from ground to the top of the steeple will be 41 stories high. Of course there has been a lot of protest even since they started talking about it because of the cost of this grandiose structure. 

I found a better view online...

It will seat 6,000 people when it's finished in late 2018.

The church is on the same property as the Palace of the Parliament, arguably the most famous building in Bucharest. The Palace of the Parliament is also a huge building, so it might have looked funny building a smaller church on the same property.

The Palace was built during the reign of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was started in 1984, and was still not yet finished when the communist regime fell in December of 1989. 

The palace was built on the site of some monasteries that were demolished. Also, the National Archives, Văcărești Monastery, Brâncovenesc Hospital as well as about 37 old factories and workshops were taken down. Demolition in the area began in 1982. 7 km2 in the old city center were demolished, and 40,000 people were relocated from this area. The work was carried out with forced labor of soldiers so the cost was minimized.

The side view.

The front. I had to get across the main street to fit it all in!

One of our readers mentioned yesterday that the Romanian people hate this building because it was built by the communist dictator. But our hosts here tell us differently. They said that many of the Romanians are proud of it because it really is so impressive and of course it was built by Romanian people.

They offer several tours, and we wanted to do the balcony tour that gives you a view of the city. It was listed on the prices at the info booth on the side entrance as costing 15 lei ($5.10 CAD, $3.75 USD) each. But when we went to pay, the girl said they don't do that tour anymore and we would have to do it as part of the general tour. The cost was then 45 lei ($15.30 CAD, $11.25 USD) each and we decided we didn't want to spend that much.

We had read mixed reviews of the general tour, and quite a few had said it wasn't worth it. So we decided to save our money for something else.

We then walked along Unirii Blvd to the fountains, but they were turned of that day.

The fountains along Unirii Blvd.

We stopped and bought a snack at a small grocery store. Two apples, a 500 ml tub of cherry yogurt (the yogurts in Eastern Europe are delicious) and a bottle of water. Total cost was 7 lei ($2.45 CAD, $1.75 USD). We would find out later that food is cheap here compared to North America. It might even be cheaper than Mexico.

The fountains would be impressive if they were running. Nobody seems to know about a schedule. Sometimes they are on, sometimes they are off. 

An old church surrounded by concrete buildings from the communist times. 

Much of old Bucharest was destroyed in the 1970's by Nicolae Ceaușescu to make room for concrete apartment blocks.

We continued on to the Old Town area. It is the section that did mostly survive the communist years, and there are some nice areas, but it is definitely more touristy.

We came across a Vodaphone cellular store and stopped in to get a Romanian SIM card for the iPhone. 

We think it's funny to see signs in English.

Cristian was our Vodaphone expert, and he spoke half decent English. He had us all set up and we were in and out in about 15 minutes! 

Very cheap cellular service compared to North America. We bought 7GB prepaid internet package valid for five weeks. The total cost, including the SIM card and activation was 37.84 lei ($13.00 CAD, $9.50 USD).

Out exploring downtown Bucharest.

On top of a building.

Looking up inside a church. How did they paint that??

The Birth of the Virgin Mary Saints Martyrs Cuprian and Justina Goldsmiths Church. 
Dating to the 1700's, it was last rebuilt in 1850-1852.

Not sure what this building used to be, but now it's a bank.

The courtyard of the Stavropoleos Monastery.

The Stavropoleos Monastery.

It was drizzling with rain on and off, but it never rained heavily. So we got a little damp, but not enough to bother us. Even so, it sure has been a long time since we've seen the sun!

Out exploring.

The Macca Villacrosse Passage. 
Famous for it's stained glass roof and horse shoe shaped building.

The National Military Assembly.

Anybody need an umbrella?

A guard outside Revolution Square. 
This was the former Communist Headquarters until the 1989 revolution.

What a neat building! 

Old, or new? That is the way they wanted you to think when you saw the headquarters of the Union of Romanian Architects. They used the shell of an historical building that was otherwise destroyed during the revolution, and built a new structure inside  the old building. Neat!

Cars parked everywhere. 

There doesn't seem to be any regulations about where you park your car provided others can still get by. They park up on curbs, and on sidewalks. In communist times up until 1989, very few people had a car. They built all of these huge apartment blocks that didn't include any parking. Now, it is a Romanian goal for everybody to own at least one car, even though there is nowhere to park them!

The Central University Library of Bucharest.
I had to wait a while for a gap in the cars to take a decent photo!

There is lots of traffic. This was looking along the other side.

Around 3:00pm, we started walking home. I figured out after the fact that we had done a total of 13 kms (8 miles). We had said that we would make dinner for our hosts Cosmin and Carmen, so we stopped in to a large Kaufland supermarket and picked up some supplies.

It's always interesting doing grocery shopping in a new country. Trying to find what you're looking for, and comparing prices and how to do things. First, I had to find the right coin to get a shopping cart, then learned how to operate the fancy self serve lock box where we could store our day pack while we shopped. Then, trying to read ingredient labels to check that things were gluten free. Fun stuff!

I bet we were in the grocery store over an hour.

Total bill including six cans of beer (500 ml each, the way beer should be sold!) and a good bottle of Moldvan wine was 127 lei ($42.50 CAD, $32 USD). We bought a half dozen eggs, some ground beef, a bunch of fruits and veggies. I'll go into more detail about prices in another post, but they are very cheap compared to Canada. 

Ruth and Cosmin. Ruth was making a Shephard's Pie for our hosts.

Carmen and the cat, Katya.

Dinner is served! Cosmin, Carmen, Ruth, and Kevin.

Later on, a friend of theirs came over. We were joined by Razvan, a guy who grew up with Cosmin. They were all a great help in planning our future travels, and we solved all the world's problems! Before we knew it, it was midnight! Lots of great conversation. We hit the sack, and didn't get up until 8:00am.

Today, we're off to explore some more. A lot of people say that Bucharest ranks low on the list of worthwhile European capitols, but we're quite liking it so far!

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  1. We actually stayed in one of the corner rooms at that Marriott. I'm enjoying your trip which brings up memories for us.

    1. Looks like it would have been a nice stay there and not too far from downtown. We are happy to bring back some good memories for you.

  2. Agreat first day in Bucharest! I like the buildings, both old and new. Must make sheapards pie soon.

    1. Yes, it was a great day and we love looking at all the different architecture.

      The Shepherd's pie wasn't a true one but it was pretty close and turned out well.

  3. Enjoying your post and pictures. That Shephard's Pie must have been delicious and so agree about the 500 ml beer!

    1. Carmen had mentioned about Shepherd's pie and not ever having it before so I decided to make it for them. It wasn't exact but it tasted delicious all the same. Kevin loves the beer here so far as well as the size and the price of it. :-)

  4. Love these older European cities and you gave us a great first day tour. That old/new building is really extraordinary. The apartment looks very modern.

    1. We love these older European cities, so many old buildings and lots of history to go along with them.

      The inside of the apartment is very modern but the hallway and the outside not so much. Cosim did a great job on his apartment.

  5. Very nice tour...lots of impressive buildings. Too bad the fountains weren't on but still enjoyed the design and color. The cathedrals and their paintings were awesome..I love to tour old churches. Your host's apartment looks modern and roomy. Thank you for the tour :-)

    1. P.S. I read they call the palace of parliament ... the cake. Reading this on Wikipedia.

    2. Yes, it was a shame that the fountain wasn't running when we were there but perhaps they shut it off at the beginning of November because of the approaching cold weather. The old churches and monasteries that we entered had paintings on every single piece of the wall and ceiling, it was incredible to see.

      Yes, Cosim and Carmen's apartment is very modern. We enjoyed our stay with them and hope to return there on our way back home in mid December.

  6. Fun day! What does the lei look like?

    1. It was a great day! We will try to remember to take a picture of the money and post it. It looks a bit like Mexican money.

  7. Fascinating! I especially like the colorful umbrellas in the courtyard, and the old/new building.

    1. We were walking down a fairly major road when I glanced down the "alley" and saw the umbrellas so we had to go check them out, they reminded us of some we saw in Seoul, South Korea.

  8. Awesome photos. I love the Bucharest's Palace. It is huge!

    1. Thanks Paul and Marsha! Yes, Bucharest's Palace of Parliament is huge to say the least.

  9. Right away I noticed some similarities between the The Central University Library of Bucharest and Bellas Artes in Mexico City. I thought at first it was possibly the same architect but it turns out they were both built during the art nouveau period. Bellas Artes wasn't finished then because of the Mexican Revolution but the design continued. I just read that during the Romanian Revolution of 1989, a fire was started in the building and over 500,000 books, along with 3,700 manuscripts, were burnt.

    I love history and you guys seem to be in a ripe place for art, history and architecture. Have fun.

    1. I notice the similarities between Mexico and Bucharest...especially the umbrellas.

    2. We have found many similarities between Romania and Mexico so far, even some of the words are similar!

      If you love history and architecture then this is a great place for it. We can't wait to see more of Romania and learn more. You would love it here Chris!

  10. My goodness. That's quite a lot done on just one day. I am glad to be learning so much about Bucharest from your travels.
    (Lone Grey Squirrel)

    1. Yes, we sure walked a lot that day but it was worth every minute of it. We enjoyed wandering around and just stopping here and there at our fancy. We were able to learn as we went because many of the buildings had placards telling us about the history of that particular building.

  11. We have lots of friends in Romania and also traveled there last summer. Even though groceries may seem very cheap to us, they're actually quite expensive for Romanians. As far as I know, VAT is 25% or something and average Romanian salary is below 400 EUR.

    1. Yes, we realize that salaries are much lower here. VAT in Romania was lowered to 20% on January 1, 2016.

  12. I heard you on CBC Ottawa this morning and thought I would check out your blog. So interesting! We also travelled for many years and lived in Bucharest from 1987-1989 (leaving about two months before the collapse). Really enjoyed looking at the photos of Bucharest now. I can't tell you how bleak and dismal it was when we were there and no Romanians would have ever been allowed to enjoy Shepherd's pie with 'foreigners'. I plan to go back and read your blog from the beginning and look forward to future posts too! Safe travels!

    Ottawa, Christmas 2016

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, so glad that you find it interesting.

      Wow, I can't even begin to think what it must have been like to live in Bucharest just before the collapse. We are so glad that things have changed so much for the better. We really enjoyed our time in Romania and Moldova. We had a lot of fun with many of the locals along with exchanging their culture and ours with them. Lots of great memories.


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