We are now in the land of Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. If that doesn’t get your attention I don’t know what will.
Because of low water levels, we could not go downriver as far as originally planned necessitating us leaving the ship this morning rather than tomorrow morning. Our suitcases were packed and ready to be taken to the gorgeous, ideally located, huge-for-a-city-center hotel, the Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel, before we loaded on the buses for our two-hour drive to town.
As we approached this city of three million we passed block after block after block of apartment buildings, sometimes six deep, that were built during the Russian period to house workers. Our guide told us the apartments have been nicknamed matchboxes because of their size and the thinness of the walls. (Thin walls made for easy spying on one another back in the day.) On the whole they were just as drab as we have seen in the other countries, but many had been spruced up a bit with cheerful paint. High officials, we were told, lived in large apartments in beautiful buildings toward the center of town and were said to be participating in ‘fancy communism.’
Before we got close enough to the city to see the apartment buildings we noticed mini-mansions built along the highway. It was explained to us that they are where Roma people live. I was not familiar with the term Roma, so I asked and learned it is the politically correct reference for Gypsies or in England, for Travelers. It is their habit here to build as big a house as they can possibly afford close to the street for all to see. Animals might live there or they might use the large house from time to time for a big event, but they live day to day in a modest dwelling out back in an area not visible from the road.
Our destination was the Central Historic District. Once there we enjoyed visiting Curtea Veche Church with its large outdoor area for candle lighting and beautiful exterior of cream and red repeating patterns. We stopped at Stavololeos Monestary with its beautifully painted interior and picturesque mini-courtyard. Buskers were performing on the street, flowers were for sale at small stands, and scooters were zipping by on their way to deliver lunch. Bucharest is a city of wide boulevards reminiscent of places in Western Europe. Some of the sidewalks are paved in labor intensive small, square stones. We took note of the detailed manhole covers, contemporary shops, and signs in English as well as Romanian. The city rivals Budapest in sophistication.
Bucharest made its reputation as a trading center centuries ago. Inns were built to house the traders who came to town on business. These two-story inns were large with two long rows of rooms facing a common courtyard. After dark gates at each end were locked to keep thieves out. Sadly fire has destroyed all but the one we saw today.
We drove past an Arch of Triumph on our way to the last stop of the day: Muzeul Satului or the Village Museum. Some 300 authentic dwellings from all regions of the country have been relocated and reassembled, including rural cottages, farmhouses, water mills, summer kitchens, churches, and even a chicken coop. We could peek inside some of them. Oddly what fascinated me the most was the array of fences. Well, those and the two homes built two thirds below ground.
We were pooped at the end of the day and chose to join our new friends John, Patty, Rose, and Peter for bar food in the lobby of the hotel.
By the way, on this day in 1989 East Germany opened the Berlin Wall! A very big day that signaled lots of changes for the countries we have visited on this trip.
… Famous Romanians …
Nadia Comaneci: winner of five Olympic gold medals and
the first athlete to receive a perfect score of 10 in an Olympics gymnastics event.
Elie Wiesel: holocaust survivor, author of nearly 60 books, human rights advocate, and one of four Romanian Nobel laureates.
Dustin Hoffman’s parents: fled Romania for the U.S.
Johnny Weissmuller: an Olympic gold medalist, holder of 67 world records, and the first actor to play Tarzan.
Francesco Illy: founder of Illy Caffè and inventor of the first automatic
steam espresso coffee machine.