11.06.2012 31 °C
My sleep was interrupted at 2am by a crowd chanting and cheering, and countless car horns sounding on the street outside my hotel. After about an hour, someone addressed the crowd on a loudspeaker and then a fire works display erupted, literally right outside my window. The cause for celebration was the result of local body elections, and although it went on for hours, I can't begrudge the Romanians for having the right to vote. Even if, as a local told me this morning, it was all just an appearance.
While communism took a terrible toll on society, many Romanians also talk about postive aspects of their lives during that time. There are many remnants of communism left here. One of the most noticable is the stray or “free” dogs. They are literally everywhere, and mostly fat and happy, but also rather filthy.
None seem menacing, and people are kind to them, feeding them and helping them where they can. When people were forced to leave their homes and move into city apartments under communism, they had to set their dogs free and the result is today there are tens of thousands of them on the streets. Many prefer to call them “free” dogs, rather than strays. I was dismayed to see one hit by a car today but given the unbelievable amount of cars in Bucharest, it must happen all the time.
I took my last two train rides in Romania today, the first from Sinaia to Bucharest (about an hour and a half) and then used the city metro to get to my hotel. I had good instructions, so it was pretty easy, and only one taxi driver at the main train station in Bucharest gave me any grief. The backpack makes a pretty big target.
“No ,thank you”.
“You speak English?”
“Why not??” shouting at me.
I have heard so many bad things about Bucharest that I was quite apprehensive about coming here. The streets are filled with crime and it's a big, bad, ugly place, or so I was told. After I checked into my hotel, it was time to find out for myself. First, I walked along past a big area filled with fountains, and then down a long, beautiful, green boulevard to the jaw-dropping parliament building.
That place is massive, the second biggest building in the world (after the Pentagon) and apparently while it's 80 odd metres high, there is another 96 metres deep under the ground including a nuclear bunker. Hence, one of it's nicknames is “the iceberg”. I walked along the front and side to where tours start from, but the only one left going was 2 hours, and I had another tour planned for 2 hours later, so gave it a miss and decided to take the hop-on hop-off bus tour instead. That was easier said than done, but I finally found a bus stop for it, and got on board.
The mercury had hit 30 by now, so it was very refreshing to be on an open top bus with the wind whistling between my ears. This is because I forgot to ask for a commentary head set when I got on, but for today I was content just to enjoy the ride and watch the people of Bucharest go about their lives.
Half way around, I hopped off and went for a walk in a lovely park with a lake. I have no idea why Bucharest gets such a bad rap. It is a beautiful city, with lots of trees, parks, and stunning architecture. Of course there are the concrete block communist buildings, but that adds to the character of the city.
I walked through the bar and restaurant precinct tonight and it was absolutely pumping with some very cool bars. This was on my way home from the walking tour which I joined with a few other people. These tours are a great way to find hidden gems in cities that you normally wouldn't find on your own. Tonight we saw a passage between buildings that is transforming into a little Turkish area and many historical landmarks, including Revolution Square, where the down-fall of Ceausescu began.
The guide was telling us about how the communist leaders wanted to get rid of the churches to build the parliament building (they demolished everything else on the land they needed for it) but decided not to destroy the heritage so just moved them behind big concrete block buildings instead. Now they are hidden from view, but at least they survived.
It's a vibrant city, for sure. They say it's a city that never sleeps, but that may be due to the heat as much as anything else.