I was recently invited to Bucharest with 100 travel bloggers to #experiencebucharest. I had no idea what to expect. Everyone knows Dracula is from Romania and I remember the Romanian Revolution of 1989 but that was the extent of my knowledge. I decided to do some research. I read about wild dogs, women and children begging, pickpockets and taxi scams. I began to wonder what I got myself into. This was one of those moments when the internet is not your friend! I am happy to report: no wild dogs, not one women or child begging, never felt unsafe and Uber is alive and well in Bucharest. Let me show you what I did find…
The architecture in Bucharest is so unique. I was quite surprised by all the parks throughout the city. They provide such a contrast to the gray Communist blocks and urban decay. The city was once called ‘Little Paris’ and the art deco buildings are magnificent. After WWII Romania became Communist and the Communist Blocks began to emerge in the 70’s and 80’s. Little Paris was left to decay. Romania began to modernize in 1996 and buildings are being refurbished. Today you will see urban decay next to refurbished art deco with a Communist Block standing behind them both. Romania is on a fault line and many buildings have a large red dot on them indicating they will not withstand an earthquake. Other buildings are too far gone to refurbish and have been left to eventually fall. I joined a Beautiful Decay Tour to explore some of the abandoned buildings. They have the ability to get you into buildings you could not explore on your own. I had such a great day and I went out with them again the following day to another location.
There are many museums and historic sites throughout the city. I highly recommend taking a Communist Tour. The revolution was recent enough that the guide lived the experience and has firsthand stories you will miss if you DIY this. Besides, Bucharest is inexpensive, you can afford it! Palace of the Parliament, the House of the People, is the highlight of the tour. At 700 architects, 20,000 workers and 1,000+ rooms this is the most expensive administrative building in the world. It was the dream of Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to stand on the balcony and speak to his people out on the boulevard of fountains. The people revolted and he was killed on live TV before the Palace was completed, there’s a lesson or two in that story!
Bucharest originated as a city of neighborhoods with the church at its center. In the 1980’s much of Bucharest was demolished to make way for the Palace of Parliament and Communist Blocks. 13 Churches were saved by placing them on tracks and moving them to other areas, often hidden from sight. These small domed Byzantine style churches are beautiful! Stop in as many as possible. They are completely covered with murals, some are adorned in gold, some have beautiful chandeliers. The small churches appear to remain an important part of the community. I noticed locals stopping in to pray on their way home, those that did not walk in the door paused on the street to mutter a few words while crossing their hearts.
Bellu Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Bucharest and is the final resting place of poets, writers, artist and musicians. Graves are grouped by profession. It is called the ‘Garden of Souls’ and has been described as an outdoor museum. Spend some time wandering through the life-size statues, elaborate mausoleums and tombs; 200 have been listed as historical monuments. Many of the tombs were robbed during the Communist Era and lie ajar. It is a beautifully eerie place.
Bucharest’s old town is a collection of bars, restaurants and small shops. The place is hopping with nightlife and, apparently, is the place to go for bachelor parties in Eastern Europe. I was surprised by the number of casinos and references to Las Vegas throughout the city. Be sure to check out Pura Vida’s Skybar at night for a cocktail and view of old town’s buildings illuminated.
Romanian food is really good and inexpensive. Be sure to try Sarmale and have Papanasi for dessert before you leave the city. Caru cu Bere is the most well-known old town restaurant serving traditional Romanian food. The restaurant was built in 1879 and is beautiful. The waiters were traditional costumes and dancers entertain you in the lobby. It is a tourist attraction. The place is packed and hot, the food is OK and the service is slow. La Mama Restaurant is also in old town and serves traditional Romanian food. The atmosphere is relaxed; the food and service are good.
What about the gypsies? I didn’t have any problem with gypsies in Bucharest and felt safe at all times. This group of people are artists and craftsman. They are unconditionally free; they do what they want when they want. They are also discriminated against and often will not admit to being gypsy. They have had to fight for basic rights and to be recognized as a unique culture, Roma. I wanted to learn more about the Roma people and took a Rroma Heritage Tour. I’m so glad I did! We visited a boutique displaying their goods, stopped at a ghetto and visited a flower market. A woman at the flower market immediately approached us and gave each of us a flower, she refused to take any money. She explained to our guide the government wants to shut down the market and they will have nowhere to sell their flowers. This encounter does not fit the stereotype of being lazy and not wanting to work!
Do I recommend Bucharest? Yes. Yes. Yes! Bucharest has unique architecture, parks, culture, history. It is urban, grand and full of grit. Bucharest will bring out the adventurous spirit in you if you give it the chance!
A huge thank you to #ExperienceBucharest for hosting me in Bucharest. As always, all opinions are my own.