I am having a hard time deciding if I liked Bucharest or not. I think it depends very much what you are looking for, obviously. Compared to the charming other towns we visited, I would say I would rather go back to one of those. At the same time, I know that Bucharest has so much more to offer than I experienced, so I would absolutely spend some time there next time as well.
To get an introduction, I joined the Walkabout Free Tour. Our first stop was by the fountain and main boulevard, looking down towards the gigantic white Palace of Parliament built by the former president/communist leader Ceausescu. In fact, it is the world’s 2nd largest building and more than 30.000 people were moved to demolish their houses to make room for the palace when it was built in 1983. It also has the nickname “The Iceberg”, as even though it is 84 m tall above the surface, it is also 96 m deep underground.
The boulevard leading from the palace is the widest in Europe. When it was built, Ceausescu asked his architects what was Europe’s largest boulevard. “Champs Elysees in Paris”, they replied. “Make me a bigger one then!” he demanded. And so they did…
In general, it seemed Ceausescu enjoyed building new and moving things… There are many hidden churches in small streets, as he was just hiding them behind large communist buildings. He believed that if people did not see the churches, they would not practice religion.
Thirteen churches were also moved to save them from being torn down during communism. Ceausescu actually paid for the moving of the first, mainly because he did not think it was possible and wanted to prove the initiator wrong. Nevertheless, it actually worked, so many other buildings were also moved, including an apartment building with everything, including people, inside. Then he could brag about his achievements instead. Well, at least it saved some historical buildings, including the Stavropoleos Church.
Going a little bit further back in time, to the 1930’s Bucharest was often referred to as Little Paris due to the French architectural influence. Sadly, the city was heavily bombed during WW2, so many of them were destroyed.
One of the city’s oldest buildings, the Hanu’lui Manuc Inn, has recently been refurbished after being heavily neglected during the revolution. It now houses a hotel and restaurants, and has a nice outside terrace in the backyard.
No tour in Romania is complete without at least one element of Vlad Tepes, or Dracula, so we also visited the statue of him. Even though Vlad Tepes and the character Dracula from Bram Stokers novel are not the same, they are often mixed together. With or without purpose… Anyway. Vlad was the ruler of Valahia, and was trained by the Ottoman Empire. However, he went his own way and turned against them. So when the Ottoman soldiers were sent to get him, he simply impaled 2000 of them on wooden sticks, scaring off others to try the same… Hence the name Vlad the Impaler. Sounds like a nice man…
Back to another not so nice man. The end of the tour was also the end of Ceausescu. The communist leader was trying to calm down the people protesting, but instead it ended in a bloodbath. Ceausescu and his wife were also arrested, and later executed on live TV on Christmas day. In theory, Romania became a democratic country January 1 1990, but sadly followed a period where many innocent people were killed.
During the city tour I had met a few others travelling alone, so we decided to have a few drinks together afterwards. As we felt the old town was filled with less inviting bars, we went a bit uptown to find the locals. On M60 (Strada D. I. Mendeleev 2), we did. Sitting by a table outside enjoying a craft beer while talking to them for a while, we got a few other recommendations. As it was a nice late-summer evening and we wanted to sit outside, we decided to go for the tip Gardina Eden (Garden of Eden, if you did not catch that… Calea Victoriei 107). The backyard garden is filled with wooden tables and chairs under the trees, and even some hammocks scattered around. A real getaway from the busy street right outside.
If you do not want to move out of the old town, I recommend Barza Viezure Minz, a cute café/bar stuffed up by mainly local food, wine and beer. Otherwise there are plenty of bars, you just have to find one of your taste…
So back to my dilemma. Do I like the city or not? Again, I had too little time to judge, but I think it all depends on your reason to go there. If you want a romantic getaway, I do not think Bucharest is the place to go. Parts of the old town are nice, but sadly tacky touristic restaurants and bars have ruined most (in my point of view). If you travel with a group of friends on the other hand, and want to experience the city life in a less known big city, I would give it a try. The choice is now up to you, would you visit Bucharest?