Bucharest – a happening city

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the People’s Palace

Romania may be known foremost for its association with Count Dracula but the entrepreneurs of Bucharest are now promoting the city as a new party destination. With cheap flights and accommodation and with a currency, called Lei, outside the eurozone, it makes it an accessible place for a weekend break, particularly those on a budget. That is not to say that there isn’t a more upmarket and, therefore, more expensive side to Bucharest.

Bucharest is much bigger than I had imagined but the majority of the sites that are likely to appeal to visitors are centred near or around the old town. It is one of those places where you shouldn’t just take what you see at face value, but you will need to explore to find out about it.

Fortunately at Gloria Jean’s a coffee shop in Strada Stavropoleos there is an information point, open every day from 10 – 8pm staffed by people who speak English. From here you can join one of their free, although they appreciate a donation, walking tours. Stefan, my guide was the instigator of this initiative, which also includes a map of the city and a Bucharest City Card providing discounts at various places including restaurants. I found the tour invaluable as an important part of discovering Bucharest is becoming acquainted with its history. As an example in Revolutionary Square, Paucescu House, now the headquarters for the Union of Romanian Architects, is made up of two totally different styles of architecture. There is an historic building on the lower half yet the top half is a glass ultra, modern structure. The older part is said to have formerly been the headquarters of Department Five, the Communist Security Headquarters. In fact you can still see bullet holes embedded in its walls.

Paucescu House – now the building houses the Union of Romanian Architects

Although Romania was under Communist dictatorship, interestingly many religious buildings were not destroyed. Those sited in a prominent position were physically moved to less noticeable positions. The church follows the Romanian Orthodox religion, with ornate painted interiors. Interestingly too, there are still some surviving synagogues.

The most prominent attraction in the city is the People’s Palace built during communist times through the initiative of the country’s then dictator Nicholae Ceausescu. It is the second largest administrative building in the world with levels that go deep underground and tunnels that lead to various parts of the city. To this day, it is still a secret as to exactly what is there. The building now houses the Romanian Parliament. The interior is covered in marble both on the walls and the floor, and each room has a bigger and more impressive chandelier than the next. Visitors can join organised tours, which need to be booked.

Another building to visit is the neo-classical Romanian Atheneum built in the 1880/90s which is now a concert hall. When there aren’t any rehearsals, it is possible to go into the main auditorium with its red velvet seats. That isn’t the interesting part. It is the circular wall fresco which depicts the history of the country that is fascinating for the visitor.

A lot of the city’s historic buildings that remain were built in the era of the Belle Epoque. While there are a lot from the drab era of Communism there are still some impressive and architecturally beautiful old buildings. Packed away in a hidden, horseshoe shaped alley called Macca-Villacrosse are lots of coffee shops and this is where the locals come to smoke shisha.

street dancing

For party animals there are lots of clubs to choose from. In the old town, on a Saturday night from 7 – 10pm outside Pura Vida’s Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel the streets are jam packed with people. Colourful sofas outside provide people with a place to relax and have a drink, but the main activity is a dance party in the street. With speakers booming out loud music, on a raised platform Dontae Brodie demonstrates the steps and encourages his audience, both young and old, to join in and dance.

Bran Castle – known as Dracula’s castle

I couldn’t come to Romania without visiting Bran Castle, known by everyone as Dracula’s castle and, fortunately, this can be done on a day trip from Bucharest which costs €95. Authentic Romania runs day trips in a chauffeured mini-van. The drive takes several hours but is an excellent way to see the country and particularly the countryside. Guide and owner of the company, Alina, accompanied us to the South Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, part of Romania. At the ski resort of Sinaia many of the buildings have Bavarian style architecture, looking very much like chalets with verandas. On its outskirts, Peles has the three Summer Palaces of what used to be the Romanian Royal Family. The main larger one is now a museum although closed on a Monday, the day I visited. However I was able to explore the impressive building from the outside.

Our next stop Brasov is a city with a large main square. With the sun shining I, and my fellow travelling companions, enjoyed lunch sitting outside in one of the many café/restaurants.

Barbequed or roast meat be it beef, lamb, pork or sausages are very popular. One of the staple meals is a local dish is sarmale, minced beef and pork wrapped in cabbage and covered in sour cream served with polenta. Expect to see Romanian doughnuts filled with jam or some type of filling, and covered with sour cream on the menu.

A 300 ml local draught beer will set you back a couple of pounds. Palinka the local traditional drink, with high alcoholic content similar to a liqueur is flavoured with different fruits, and served in a small glass. A bonus was their wine, which I found surprisingly good. Depending on your palate it is worth asking, before ordering, if a wine is dry, as some can be on the sweet side.

Vlad the Impaler

After the meal I headed to the outskirts of the town to find what is known as Dracula’s Castle. Entry is 35 Lei (approximately £8.50). The place however, was a figment of Irish writer Bram Stoker’s imagination. Stoker’s book was inspired by the Gothic horror stories of 15th century Vlad the Impaler. The Gothic castle was in fact built in the late 1930’s early ‘40s as the summer residence of the Queen but bears a strong resemblance to the home of the vampire count.

Bucharest is an inexpensive and fun place to visit and ideal for groups of young people wanting to spend a weekend or a few days away.

For more about Romania, click here.

To read more about Bucharest  and Natasha’s visit go to her blog at www.BarkBiteTravel.wordpress.com

 

Natasha received free airline tickets with Wizz Air to travel to Bucharest from Luton. Wizz Air operates several flights to Bucharest from Birmingham, Doncaster Sheffield, Glasgow, London Gatwick and London Luton, with fares starting from £ 23.99. For more information about Wizz Air’s routes or to book, visit wizzair.com. *one way, including all taxes, non-optional charges and one small cabin bag.

 

 

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