10.18.2012 - 10.19.2012
I landed at the airport in Bucharest, Romania and after going through customs, I made my way to the local bus to my hotel. The guidebook said the bus cost two Euros and I had brought some Euro coins from a previous trip. Unfortunately, the woman would not take the Euro coin (apparently they do not accept Euro coins, but will take paper currency). I tried to pay with my credit card but she said she needed a pin number. Fortunately, a young woman overheard what was going on and offered to exchange Romanian Lei for my Euro coin. And she gave me exactly what is the exchange rate at any bank. I couldn't thank her enough. I quickly got on the bus and we headed to downtown Bucharest which took about 45 minutes. I was very surprised to see many expensive cars on the roads such as BMW's, Land Rovers, and Audis. We drove by the US Embassy, and there were military police with visible automatic machine guns. I asume it was in response to the assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi.
Finally we arrived at my stop at Piata Unirii, and I saw the Europa Royale Hotel just two blocks from the bus stop, just as I had estimated by doing a street view on Google maps. I checked in to a beautiful modern room with a view of the city and a shopping mall with H&M, Pull & Bear, and Zara. After getting settled, and feeling relieved to have finally made it, I went downstairs for dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was a beautiful room and the service was very attentive, and the food was delicious. I had a glass of Romanian wine, a large salad, grilled chicken breast served on a hot stone that continues to cook the chicken, french fries, and grilled vegetables. It was the best meal I have had in Romania.
Next day I went downstairs for breakfast...a standard European buffet...meats, cheeses, rolls, eggs, etc. A young German man who teaches at Bucharest University sat at my table and we had a nice conversation. Then I checked with the front desk and they were able to make a reservation for me at 12:00 to take a tour of the colossal Palace of Parliament originally built by Ceausescu in the 1980s. It is the second largest government building after the Pentagon. I was lucky to get in because it was closed the day before for a conference of the prime ministers of the European Union. After arriving, you have to surrender your passport and go through heavy security. It was amazing! It is decorated with marble, gold leaf, and 4,500 chandeliers, the largest of which weighs 1.5 tons. After we left each room, the tour guide shut off the lights because they estimate that the electric bill costs 500,000 Euros a month!!
After the tour I walked down Bulevardul Unirii and stopped at a McCafe for a cafe frappe. Below is a view from the balcony of the Palace of Parliament.
I walked through the historic quarter known as Lipscani which is a maze of streets and old buildings and houses, some of which are very rundown, but is being regentrified with cafes and clubs. I visited the Old Court Church, the oldest church in Bucharest, dating from 1546. It was beautiful inside.
Then I walked to Piata Universitati, one of the key sites of the 1989 revolution. There are many memorials along the way including stone crosses in the road island to those killed at Christmas 1989 and in June 1990. West of the square is Bucharest University. I continued on to Piata Revolutiei where in 1989 Ceausescu was forced to flee after days of fighting, the crowds surrounding the Communist Party Headquarters, where Ceausescu made his famous speech on the balcony in 1989.
There are two memorials there dedicated to those who died in the revolution.
And the Library of the University of Bucharest.
I walked down Calea Victoriei and ended back at the historic quarter and stopped in at the Stavropoleos Church. After dealing with the traffic and construction noises, I opened the door to another world. This small, intimate church was dark except for a few candles, and the nuns were singing Byzantine chants. A small moment that I will never forget. I had some Hungarian goulash and salad at a restaurant in Lipscani and went back to my room.