The plane landed a bit after 3am. I got my bus ticket just in time to see the bus leave. I waited another half hour, and took the bus to town. Despite the fact the it was cold, dark, and 5am, there were a surprising number of people in the streets. Couples walked the park, college students were finishing their night out, and workers were starting to emerge for their jobs. The streets were well lit and I felt perfectly safe. I eventually found my way to the hostel, but they don't make it easy. Some streets had typical "American-style" signs on poles. Others were marked on the sides of buildings, like in much of Europe. But mostly, I couldn't find any street signs at all. Thank goodness for GPS. I dropped my bags and asked about a place to get food. Yes, I was tired from only getting 3 hours of plane sleep last night (short flight), but I was hungrier than I was tired. The guy at the front desk desperately tried to think of a place open at that hour, and finally decided that all of the bars had breakfast, but this one place had a better one. I ventured off to find it. It may have had a great breakfast, but it wasn't open. While there were plenty of bars in the area, none of them were really open either. The bakeries were closed. Even the non-liquor type of convenience stores were closed. No 24-hour diner for the college students pulling all-nighters, not even a gas station store. I just wanted anything. I wandered a bit, sat in a park to read the map I got at the hotel (incredibly unuseful), and then got up again to find something to eat. The hotel guy said things would start opening at 7, so surely there would be some bakery open earlier. I eventually found a convenience store with prepackaged stuffed croissants. It wasn't my first choice, but since it was my only choice, I managed. Having satisfied the immediate hunger, I now had higher standards though. I no longer was looking for just anyplace that sold any food, I now wanted a place I could sit down to plan my day. I got a good look at old town. People were starting to sell anything and everything from tiny tables they set up in the streets, or even just a basket on the ground. Underwear, books, bananas, tablecloths, you name it, somebody had a dozen they were hawking. I passed several of the important buildings in town. I even figured out when services are tonight. I just didn't find anywhere to sit and eat. Close to 8, after I'd been walking hours on a single croissant and 3 hours of sleep, I finally found a place with drinks, ice cream, and waffles. I entered and asked where to order a waffle, at the table or counter. The server informed me that they didn't have waffles, but I could order drinks at the counter and ice cream from the table. Yes, there are three things on the menu and they didn't have one of them. I moved on. I hate eating at American chains while on vacation, but if the local places can't get their acts together, I don't have much choice. I can say that the Subway here has astonishingly clean bathrooms and more or less the same food as everywhere else in the world. I knew I couldn't keep this walking up all day, so I got a bus pass. For 8 leu, I could ride all the busses all day. I had downloaded a bus map while on Subway's wifi, but the map is crap. There are a lot of overlapping routes that aren't marked at splits, not all the busses that were running were on the map. The map didn't make it clear what to do at one way streets if you wanted a bus in the other direction. And it doesn't help that the busses here take odd routes that twist and turn all over town. I rode the bus for a while, just to ride it though. It was a good way to see the city outside of the center. I'd get on the first bus that came by my stop, take it to the end, and take a different bus back toward the city. I saw some nice parks that I wouldn't otherwise have seen. Despite having just eaten twice, I was a bit peckish. The locals were all lined up at this one bakery, so I stopped by to peek in. A bunch of bakers were hand twisting dough into some sort of shapes, throwing them on a tray, and then the pastries went onto a moving oven, like the kind they use at pizza places. They came out hot and fresh, and everybody wanted one. The best way I can describe it is a cherry pie bagel. The dough was shaped into a thin large ring, and the ring was filled with cherries and cherry goop. It was amazingly delicious. I have no idea how they got it filled that way, but I bet the internet can tell me so that I can make it at home. I wandered town a little more and saw the Potato and other things in that area. I figured that was a bit far for the tour to cover, and I was right. The Potato is a huge statue of a blob speared on a thin pyramid. I'm not sure why it's there or what it means, but it's certainly interesting. At 10ish, after having walked almost 4 hours already, I walked back to Unrii park to take the free walking tour of the city. We started in the park, looking at the Parliament building. They both were built by the last communist dictator, Ceausescu. He had done ok for his country for a while- improving the quality of life- but then he decided that he was more concerned with having the biggest things than taking care of his people. He had an entire neighborhood leveled so that he could build the biggest building in the world. It's also the heaviest, and even today, it's not 100% done. He also wanted the biggest boulevard built, so there is a boulevard 1m wider and 20 m longer than Champs Elyses in Paris. However much he was into big things, he didn't get to live his dream of addressing the big crowd from his building. He died before that could happen. He might be happy to know that the first person to do so was the biggest pop star in the world though (Michael Jackson).
Communists in many countries banned and persecuted church leaders. In Romania, they were more tolerant. As long as the church was quiet, the government was fine just building tall buildings around churches so that people couldn't see them, and letting the church be. We saw one of these churches, which is also the oldest Romanian church. In one case though, the church stood on land that the government was taking over in order to tear everything down and replace with the biggest something else. A priest worked with an engineer to devise a system of pneumatics that lifted the church onto train tracks to move the church to safety. Thus, they saved an old church built in the Greek Orthodox style. They eventually went on to use this technology to move people's homes- once even with the people still inside. We also learned a bit of more ancient history as we looked at a statue so ugly it has its own facebook page. It's a statue of the Roman emperor who conquered the Dacians and brought the "Roman" to Romania. He's buck naked, balls hanging low, and for some reason, and holding the wolf who suckled Romulus and Remmus, her tits hanging very low to indicate this. But there's more- the tail of a snake is also sticking out of the back of her head, to represent the Dacians who intermixed with the Romans to become Romanians. He's holding the wolf with his arms, not hands, so people regularly place items there, such as fruits. They also periodically dress him up so he's not as cold. Good thing the Romanians have a sense of humor. Their humor also shows through in their palaces. They really admire French culture, so they hired some French architects to build government buildings in "old French palace style." The Romanians may be the only ones with a post office palace. I also learned a lot about Vlad. He was the first person to write about doing something with Bucharest, so they have a statue of him. Apparently all 4th graders in Romania learn about his gruesome tale. His father fought in the crusades and was awarded some sort of "order of the Dragon" award. Since there were no dragons in Romanian folklore, the people thought it looked like a devil. Also, dracul sounds both like the Latin for dragon and the Romanian for devil. So, Vlad's dad already had a reputation for dealing with the devil. Vlad was born Dracula, or son of Dracul. At that time, the kings of Wallachia were paying tribute to the Ottoman empire. They had to send their sons to Turkey or someplace to be educated and to become loyal to the empire. But when Vlad got back and was in charge, he decided that Wallachia was done paying tribute. The Ottomans sent a small army, which Vlad captured. When they sent a larger army, he took each prisoner that he had previously captured, shoved a sharp stick up their tush, and hung them all along the road the Ottomans were using to advance. Those who had vital organs impaled and died instantly were lucky, others lived impaled for up to 2 days. The advancing soldiers decided that they didn't really sign up for impalement, and so the Wallachians were free, at least for a while. Vlad, meanwhile, got the nickname Tepes, or impaler. He did some other cruel things, but was never thought to have been a vampire until Bram Stoker heard folk tales from a Hungarian friend, and wrote the story Dracula, having never set foot in Romania. On our last stop of the tour, we discussed communism and the revolution in more detail. Ceausescu, the dictator who previously took good care of his people now used all of his country's money to pay off 100% of all foreign debts (good) and to build the previously mentioned palace for himself (expensive). As a result, there was no longer enough food to go around. People didn't have heat in the harsh Romanian winters. People got upset, and a few took action. They were massacred. The government tried to hush that up, but it didn't work. Ceausescu tried to give a big speech to calm people down, but they rioted at him instead. He escaped into a helicopter, but the pilot wasn't a big fan, so he claimed he ran out of fuel and left them in the middle of nowhere. Ceausescu and his wife were captured as they tried hitchhiking, tried within a few days, and executed by firing squad on live tv Christmas morning. The revolutionaries declared a democracy and then everyone elected a guy who was pretty high up in the old government to rule them. After having walked all over town with the tour, I decided that I'd eat at the first sit-down restaurant I saw, regardless of what it was. What I found happened to be an Italian restaurant with homemade pasta. It was also the first time my rule about always ordering homemade pasta failed me. Half of the raviolis were pleasantly aldente, bu half were badly undercooked. The sauce was unexciting, the filling was unflavorful, and it all was undersalted. But at least I was off my feet for a bit. Next, I grabbed a bus to Herastrau park, where the Village Museum is located. Here, they collected old houses from across the Romanian countryside and plopped them down into a little historical village. If you're into 1700-1900s village architecture, or decorating, this is your heaven. If not, it's a quiet walk through a pleasant park with some very unique scenery. At first, I peeked inside of every house, but after the first dozen they all looked the same- embroidered cloths on the wall, a painted wedding chest, some kitchen pots. I did particularly enjoy the machinery they had though. It was all wooden, no iron or stone. The signs explained how it was used to make felt blankets, press oils, or make grape must. As I was walking the village, a wave of exhaustion washed over me. My feet were almost dead from almost 10 hours of constant walking on hard paving stones and concrete. I could feel the lack of sleep. And I was a bit dehydrated too. I realized that any hopes I had of powering through the rest of the day were dashed, and so I headed back to the hostel. Refreshed from my shower and nap, even though it was short, I changed clothes and headed to the Choral Temple for Friday night services. I was a bit disappointed that the women and men sat on opposite sides of the room, but the curtain was sheer, seemed mostly symbolic of history, and both genders were socializing on both sides of it before and after the service, so I didn't feel as second-class as I sometimes feel when women are separated out. Services were unique- they had a group that reminded me of a barbershop quartet singing in place of a cantor. Services were short and sweet and as I turned to go, they invited me for food afterward. They don't just do a little oneg with some snacks, they had a full dinner- soup, chicken, rice, cabbage, plenty of drinks, and dessert. It was so kind of them to welcome me into their community for the evening. Everybody was friendly and full of helpful suggestions as to what I could do on my trip. I really appreciate the kind hospitality of this community. While there, I met a woman who was there for a "discover your roots" trip. She was born in Bucharest, but since her dad was in the army, they weren't allowed to be Jewish. She always knew her family's background, but never got to openly practice until she moved to the states as a little girl. She was back to see the city and community they left behind. I thought I'd grab a snack at one of the tons of old town options, but old town is horrible at night. Every street had become outdoor seating for every bar and restaurant, making it very narrow and difficult to walk through, but also making it impossible to breathe there, even if you don't have asthma. The air was so thick with smoke, you felt like you were inside a smoking room. I have never even been in a nightclub that smoky and the air was worse by far than India or China. I moved through as quickly as possible to not pick up the reek on my clothes and arrived at the hostel. The hostel is very clean. The staff is friendly, if not too knowledgeable. The hot water was instant. There was good pressure in the tiny showers. The beds are comfy. But if sound bothers you when you're trying to sleep- go somewhere else. When started settling in, there was normal street noise coming in through the closed windows. When I woke up to go to the bathroom, I felt like I was in the club. Even I don't turn the music up that loud when I dance around the house or party in the car. It was loud enough that I considered seeing if earplugs were available for safety reasons. It didn't stop me from sleeping, but I've literally fallen asleep in a night club before, so that doesn't say anything. Also, the smoke from the street had wafted up into the halls. It was a good thing our door and window were closed, or the room may have been affected as well.
Early morning park
Architecture combining old and new
Village museum home
Inside the synagogue