Bucharest, Romania - October 2008

Our final trip to a former Soviet Bloc country was to Bucharest, Romania. We had some concerns about the trip as we had heard from a number of people that Bucharest was not a particularly attractive city and that there was more crime and quality of life issues than elsewhere in Europe. However, while Bucharest is not at the level of Western European cities we were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed our time in the city.

A surprise in Bucharest was the number of old churches that were still in the city. Since Romania was officially atheist under Communist rule we did not expect to see many churches, but there were quite a few.

The tiny but remarkable Stavropoleos Church was built in 1724, designed by a Wallachian prince renowned for his religious architectural accomplishments, and is one of the oldest churches in Bucharest. Built using a combination of Romanian and Byzantine architecture it has a beautiful façade and a delicately-carved columned entrance. Surrounded by a peaceful garden, it is an architectural jewel, with beautiful frescoes and religious icons.

A picture of the frescos

another picture of the frescos

Attached to a church is a charming convent where the nuns who take care of the church reside.

Next to the palace stands the the Old Court Church dating from 1559 and considered the oldest in Bucharest. For two centuries, the church served as coronation ground for Romanian princes. Some of the original 16th century frescoes have been preserved.

Built in 1909 by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II for 600,000 gold rubles, this Orthodox Church has a wooden, gold-gilded iconostasis allegedly modeled after the altar in the Archangelskiy Cathedral in Moscow.

In the basement of the Romanian Peasant Museum there are memorabilia from the Communist days. Susan got a nice picture of herself with Stalin while Tom had to settle for a colorless bust of Lenin.

Initially built of wood in 1922 to honor the bravery of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I, Bucharest’s very own Arc de Triomphe was finished in Deva granite in 1936. Designed by the architect, Petre Antonescu, the Arc stands 85 feet high. An interior staircase allows visitors to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city. The sculptures decorating the structure were created by leading Romanian artists, including Ion Jalea, Constantin Medrea and Constantin Baraschi.

Showcasing Romanian rural architecture since 1936, the open-air National Village Museum is frequently referred to as one of the country's best. There are around 85 different houses, huts, windmills, churches, and outhouses that have been collected from around the country to showcase the depth of variety and architectural beauty of ordinary homesteads and dwelling; most of the constructions are thatch-roofed and built of wood, clay, or mud. Divided by region, the museum's overgrown lawn-fringed concrete pathways take you from Transylvania to Dobrogea to Oltenia and Moldavia in a relatively short space of time.

The day we went, there were lots of crafts and food stands, which you can see inside this lovely wooden date.

This old wooden church was probably the largest single structure on the grounds of the museum

here was lots of good food in the museum, we took a close up of this food as it looked exactly like the nut roll Tom ate when he was young.

In 1878, a large-hearted Romanian returned from Athen, and wanted to build a "home of arts" with a concert hall, exhibition halls, library and a picture gallery in Bucharest, The Athenaeum. They decided to build the Athenaeum with French architect Albert Galleron who built also the National Bank of Romania.

This square gained worldwide notoriety when TV stations around the globe broadcast Nicolae Ceausescu’s final moments in power on December 21, 1989. It was here, at the balcony (identified by the large marble monument) of the former Communist Party Headquarters, that Ceausescu stared in disbelief as the people gathered in the square below turned on him. He fled the angry crowd in his white helicopter, only to be captured outside of the city a few hours later and then killed four days later.

Ceausescu infamously had a sixth of Bucharest flattened to make space for this project, and it kept 20,000 workers and 700 architects busy round-the-clock for 5 years during the main period of construction -- visiting the "House of the People," as it's known locally, is effectively to gaze at the physical manifestation of Ceausescu's unyielding attempt to monumentalize his regime. This is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.

The interior contains tons and tons (literally) of white marble from Romania, especially in this main staircase. Quite a funny story, Ceausescu had a serious size complex and he had the staircases replaced several times because he found the steps too big for his little feet.

Outside of the main balcony is a street which is meant to be the "Champs Elysees" of Bucharest. It is slightly longer and slightly wider than its' namesake in Paris, and in the median are 40 fountains, one for each province in Romania.

The palace forms large squares with halls that seem to continue forever. There are breaks in between, which are large oak, cherry, and glass doors. When closed, they become pocket doors and can slide fully into the walls to make one long, continuous room for entertaining.

The last room on the tour, this had busts of major Romanian political figures.