Bucharest, Romania: Contrasts, Churches and Communism

Despite being more accessible through low cost flights from all over Europe, Romania is still seen as a little bit of a “why?…” destination. That is, when I told people that Romania was the first destination we were travelling to as part of our year off, a good proportion’s first question was “Why?”. I won’t answer that question just yet, as that is later in the trip, but our opening stop in the country was the capital city – Bucharest.

We stayed at a little AirB&B apartment in the Piata Romana area, which is busy with lots of coffee shops, garden bars and restaurants. You can literally walk from the brutalist Communist style architecture in one street and chance upon a road of ornate (yet in major need of repair) mansions. The front of some of these old houses have been converted into bars and restaurants, and in the hot summer evenings when we visited these were packed with locals of all ages.

The Piata Romana area is located about 15 minutes walk from the edge of the Old Town. This area is well trodden due to the sheer amount of bars and restaurants, but even there you can walk around a corner and find a beautiful little centuries old church or building providing a moment of calm. These are the genuine remnants of the Old Town as most of the larger buildings were actually restored or rebuilt around a decade ago, and this work still goes on.

Before arriving in Romania, we had only a limited knowledge of the country’s recent history so decided to go on a free walking tour (I am a recent convert to these – brilliant and cheap way to orientate yourself with somewhere). Walkabout Free Tour offer these daily in Bucharest, and we heard how a vanity project of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu led to the destruction of many buildings and forced removal of people living in Central Bucharest. This was done in order to build a vast boulevard and Soviet style buildings, including the massive Palace of Parliament – the second largest building in the world.

Our guide also took us to Piata Revolutiei, the location of the former Communist Central Committee Office and where uprisings in 1989 effectively led to the overthrow of Ceausescu and the Communist regime. That is a massive simplification – for anyone travelling to Bucharest I recommend having a read about this period as (with hindsight) it really helps in appreciating the significance and impact on modern Romania.

In the north of the city, we visited quite a unique museum which is essentially full of houses, mills and churches ranging from 400 to 50 years old that were all knocked down and then rebuilt. The site was opened in the 1930s as an attempt to show “city dwellers” how rural Romanians lived. The location in a huge park was a welcome piece of tranquility from the weekend crowds around the city centre. This park is just one of many around Bucharest which offered much needed shade and some time for people watching.

One thing we enjoy when travelling is visiting local markets and seeing all the different food and produce on offer. The largest in Romania is situated in the Obor district of Bucharest and well worth a visit. Whilst exploring, we stumbled across a little shop selling Romanian wines on tap (by the litre and by the glass), so couldn’t refuse a glass at less than €1 each and attempting to chat with locals.

Take a look at this short video from our time in Bucharest!

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