A Travellerspoint blog

Romania

Back in Bucharest

Having learned my lesson about Bucharest breakfasts last time I was here, I got dressed and packed, and then hung around the hostel until their breakfast. It wasn't much, but I grabbed sustenance and dashed out to the metro station. I arrived at Parliament in time for the first tour, as planned, but apparently the first tour was only a partial tour. The first full tour wasn't until 10:45. I got my ticket, and figured that I'd do a lap around outside, and still be back with plenty of time to be 15 minutes early for the security check, like the ticket guy instructed. Most of the lap was uneventful. There were very view gates to peek into, and it mostly was open field, as far as I saw. Then, I stumbled upon an interesting little church, which surely wasn't there in communist times. Finally, I got to a gate to go back in. But the guard informed mme that I wasn't on the correct side, I had to go straight, left, and another left to get to the correct entrance. Crap! It had taken me almost half an hour to get this far, and I wasn't close to done. I picked up the pace and power walked into the entrance with just enough time to catch my breath before the guide started his instructions. I would have been ok if I showed up a tad later, because security took a while, but not too much later. The tour began with a walk through many impressively large chambers. This guide clarified the statistics on the largeness of the building- 2nd largest administrative building by area (after the Pentagon), 3rd largest by volume (after where Nasa builds space shuttles and something in Mexico), and heaviest. The whole time, the guide was pretty robotic. He gave his speech, stating tons of facts and statistics, and asking for questions like he didn't really welcome them as they'd be off speech. He regularly pointed out that the rooms were available to rent for events, as if he was selling them, just not very well. The rooms were impressive in their hugeness, but not as much in their decoration. I'm sure the decorations were expensive, but they looked like normal designs you'd find in any lace or on a wedding cake. We took the elevator up to the terrace, but even though it looked big enough for at least a dozen people, the guide only let 7 people in at a time (6 tourist + the elevator operator), claiming a weight limit. The "terrace" of course, means the roof. There are wires and pipes everywhere, and it feels much more utilitarian than pretty. It does have a good view of the city though. We continued to the balcony where Michael Jackson addressed the crowd, and then to the basement. The basement was more or less what one might expect from an unfinished basement- concrete with vents everywhere. There was a tiny display of things from communist times, but it really looked like more of a flea market. Due to the massive size, it was totally worth the money to walk around the palace. The guide said we had walked 2.5 km and only seen 5%. However, I wouldn't necessarily recommend paying extra for the extended tour. I'd say just take whatever tour they had available when you arrive. I grabbed a burger and fries at a local fast food chain I had noticed around town- spring something. It was ok, but nothing special. Then I began my afternoon of exciting museums. Many were closed on Tuesdays, but I had a list of museums that were open. I started at the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. I found the building relatively easily, but because it was undergoing restoration, it was a bit more challenging to find the entrance. Due to the restorations, they had one room open. It had very few items and nothing in English. It was kind of a waste. Next, I headed over to the Storck art museum, just because it was closest. It wasn't exactly where my map had it, but with a good circle around the block, I found it. My map said it was opening hours. The sign on the gate said it was opening hours. But the gate was locked. It was not open. So, I headed to the next closest museum listed as being open. This one was also not located where my map had it. It took multiple circles around the area to finally find the George Severeanu museum. Entrance is 5 leu, my map gave me a 50% discount, so the guy charged me 4 ldeu to get in. I don't know where he took math, but I wasn't going to argue over less than a dollar when the museum probably could use the money. I was the only one there and he even had to run around and turn on the lights for me. The collection is a bunch of old coins that had been issued by the various powers controlling Romania over history, or that were used commonly by Romanians. It was somewhat interesting, but not overly so. At least it was open though. I still had time, so I walked toward the next two closest museums. On the way, I passed the university's art exposition. It wasn't very good, but it was open, unlike the Theodor Aman gallery next to it. I got sick and tired of walking around, trying to find museums that weren't marked at the proper location on the map, and that weren't open anyway. Dear Minister of Tourism for Romania, tourists are interested in spending their money to see what your country has to offer. But the tourist sites need to be open when they say they will be open. (Also, they should be open 7 days per week, but that's something else.) I came away from today with a less-than-great opinion of Romanian professionalism. I grabbed my bag from the hostel and made it to the airport bus earlier than I needed to, but my feet were tired and I didn't have anything else to do in the city since I wasn't even going to try the othedr museums on my list

Parliament Palace from the outside

Parliament Palace from the outside


Church out back of the palace

Church out back of the palace


Huge chandelier

Huge chandelier


Lacy ceilings

Lacy ceilings


A ballroom

A ballroom


View of Bucharest

View of Bucharest


Museum in the basement

Museum in the basement


What was open of the peasant museum

What was open of the peasant museum

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Busteni on a Monday

I grabbed breakfast this morning from the donut place. Usually, they look way better than they taste, but these were quite good. I bussed to the train station, only to discover that the first train to Busteni was 1pm-not any time soon. The train lady was kind enough to point me to the buses, where I found one to Busteni. It wasn't a bus with a schedule, it was one of those buses that leaves when it's full. Fortunately, it was almost full and I didn't have to wait too long. Also fortunately for me, some lady heard that I wanted Busteni. I knew we were close, but hadn't seen any signs out the window indicating that we were there. The lady alerted the driver and I got off just past the town. Busteni is small, so it only took me a few minutes to walk it all and find the train station. I left my luggage there, checked the schedule, and headed toward the castle. Busteni is a gorgeous little ski town. The mountains tower over the village, providing a permanent great view from everywhere. The castle sits on a little hill, just a short walk from the train station. The castle was built around turn of the century by a prince as his summer home. Tours are every hour, and you can't just go in by yourself and look around-you have to go with a tour. Unless you book ahead, they're in Romanian only, but they do have some English signage to help. The tour is short as there isn't a whole lot to look at. The second floor costs extra, but again didn't have a lot. They had a few tiny black and white VanGogh pencil drawings and then a modern digital color "interactive" display related to some of his more famous works. The castle isn't really worth visiting on a day when anything else is open, and even on a Monday, it's only worth half the price they charge. For lunch, I forewent the huge tourist lodge and opted for a tiny pizza place. You win some and you lose some. They didn't have any of the first several items I wanted, so I ended up ordering fried cheese, potato wedges and pickled cucumber salad. They brought me a ham and cheese burrito in place of the fried cheese, so I sent it back for fried cheese. Then, they brought me pickled mushrooms instead of cucumbers. I decided to be adventurous. The flavor was just vinegar, but I wasn't a big fan of the chewiness. Finally, my fried cheese and wedges came out, but the only sauce to combat the dryness was the balsamic vinegar already on the table. It was my least favorite meal of the trip. But, it was enough to power me up the 234 stairs to the monastery. The stairs are a path through the woods, so it was gorgeous and serene. At the top, you get a great view of the monastery in the mountains. The grounds are pretty, and there are 2 other things worth seeing. One is the painted church. The whole complex was built in the 90s, but the church is painted like it was built hundreds of years ago. The walls are covered in murals of saints. Many of the saints have joined a gang or something and are flashing gang hand signals. It's like seeing what all those 1700s churches would have looked like when they were new. The other cool part was the bird menagerie. A large fenced-off area contained peacocks, hens, roosters, turkeys, ducks, tropical birds, pigeons, spotted chickens, and rabbits. The animals were all hanging out together, having a ball. I had checked the weather before I came, and it wasn't supposed to rain at all anywhere, but as I descended from the monastery, the sprinkles turned into rain. In the forest, I couldn't really feel it, but as I exited, it was less-than ideal weather for being outside. I waited out the storm in the nearby grocery store, jealous of the super-low prices. I figured that dinner time would be on the train, so I grabbed some bread and cheese for under a dollar. The rain let up shortly and I made my way back to the train station. I bought my ticket for a train leaving in 15 minutes and grabbed my luggage. The train ride had beautiful scenery. With verdant mountains and a stream flowing by, how could it not? This time, I was in second class, but it was just fine. The seat had plenty of legroom. The only negative was the noise from a school group, but for the price I paid, I could deal. When I arrived in Bucharest, I hopped on the McDonalds wifi to pick a hotel. Villa 11 seemed decent and near the train station, so I went to check it out. It's in a residential neighborhood because it's basically a house with private rooms for rent. It's not the nicest neighborhood, but not the worst either. The hostel is run by a family, who also live there. They were very friendly and helpful. The place is decorated like somebody went nuts at the flea market trying to make it look like your grandma's old house, but that just added to the charm. It was clean, had good wifi, and the price was right for a single with private bathroom, so I took it. The family recommended a restaurant in Cismigiu Park for dinner, and since there was really not anything closer, I took the walk there. The neighborhoods on the way were certainly less lively than old town, but there were still people out on the streets. I even saw some young kids playing street soccer, so I felt ok walking by myself. The park is somewhat spooky at night. It's lit up enough that the fog on the lake lent a mysterious air, and a flock of bats was stirring when I entered. It isn't deserted though, so it wasn't completely creepy. The restaurant, Monte Carlo, has a great view of the lake, and I even saw a few people rowing boats. It also had all of the items I wanted at lunch, but they didn't have. I may have gone overboard ordering the eggplant salad and the pickled green tomatoes and the fried cheese, but it all was good and satisfied my curiosity.

Busteni

Busteni


Busteni Castle

Busteni Castle


View from Busteni Castle

View from Busteni Castle


Stairs to the Monastery

Stairs to the Monastery


Busteni Monastery

Busteni Monastery


Flashing gang signs

Flashing gang signs


Bird cage

Bird cage

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Brasov and Bran

I woke up early in order to make sure to catch the 8am bus to Bran. This bus leaves from a bus station further from old town, so first, I had to take a city bus to get there. Good thing I had a ticket left over from last night! I don't think the ticket office was open and that could have put the kibosh on my plans. I made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. It was pretty cold, but I left my sweatshirt at the hostel in anticipation of it warming up a bit. I went to go sit in the indoor sitting area, but it was so disgustingly smoky (despite nobody actively smoking in there) that I decided that it was a better idea to sit in the cold. It was also somewhat chilly on the bus. I don't think they used heat. I managed though. Otherwise, the bus was comfy, if somewhat old and worn. It stopped at all sorts of seemingly random roadside places, both to pick up and drop off people. It didn't seem like there were official stops, both due to the lack of signs/stands, and also because the driver picked up a passenger, started moving, and picked up another about 2 bus lengths further down a country road. The ride had nice scenery- fields in the foreground and mountains in the background. In about 45 minutes, we were in Bran. The castle wasn't open yet, so I checked out the area around it a bit. The souvenir vendors were all setting up their wares-coats, hats, furs, Dracula items- hut no gloves or mittens. I was cold enough that I would have bought gloves, had they been for sale. Instead, I stood in the sun and warmed up sufficiently. When the castle did open, I was the first one up the hill. I had Bran Castle to myself for a few brief moments, and then everybody else started trickling in. The audio guide explained what was in each room, as well as some of the history of the castle. Most of the rooms had been decorated in the 1800s or even early 1900s, so it wasn't the typical medieval castle look. They did have some old armor, but they also had an old-fashioned elevator. The focus was on the later queens who spent time here, but there were 2 rooms about Vlad Tepes (Dracula/the Impaler). Those rooms pretty much echoed what I'd heard in Bucharest- he was seen as a cruel guy in his age, but really only got famous when Bram Stoker got creative. The museum added another dimension- locals saw him as a type of Robin Hood, since he was so cruel to the big bad guys and took out nobles who weren't so great to the peasants. Next to the castle, I noticed a haunted house. It was cheap enough, and appropriate for October, so I checked it out. It was fun. There were no tricks that made me wonder how they did that, but there was a lot of rattling and things popping out. It was well-decorated. It was fun. I'm not sure I'd call it scary, but it was worth the inexpensive price. From the castle, I had spied some tents set up in festival formation. When I exited the haunted house, I walked over to check it out. I'm guessing it is some kind of harvest festival. There were meats and cheeses galore! Each of the dozens of stands seemed to have the exact same items- the same sausages, the same braided smoked cheese, the same tree-bark cheese, and the same floppy meat. I got a big ball of polenta stuffed with cheese. It was huge and tasty. I wandered the fair, enjoying the mix of local music and Latino music, and came across the animals. The sheep all huddled together. I didn't think it was that cold, but I could see their breath. Huge sheep dogs hung out by the donkeys. Horses kindly stood calm while people petted them. One of the horses had a hairstyle straight from the 80s: crimped hair off to the side and covering one eye. In all, I think I spent about as much time at the fair as I did at the castle. I wandered back to where the souvenir vendors had set up. It was a significantly busier place than it was in the morning. By now, they had broken out all of the goods, and it seemed that a lot of them were actually made in Romania. Wood products were popular choices, as well as fur hats, painted pottery, and Dracula/Bran items. I ended up buying some stuff. The vendor didn't speak English at all, but his Spanish was good and so we spoke in that. I was kind of done with Bran, so I walked back to where the bus dropped us off, and found an actual stop with a shelter and schedule in the direction I needed. A helpful Romanian women showed me the schedule.on the wall. It said there was a bus at 11:40 and 12:40, but she insisted that the 11:40 one wasn't today. I thanked her and then waited for it. It was a few minutes late, which wasn't surprising given all of the festival traffic it had to deal with, but it came. On the way back, we ran into another big jam for another festival that was happening outside of the city, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Again, they had set up a huge tent city, but I couldn't see much else from the road. I walked town a bit, and ate a langos. It's like a semi sweet white pizza, sort of. Then, I went to the fountain to meet for the free city tour of Brasov. The tour had fewer stops than expected, but we learned a lot at each. Romania was the crossroads of three big powers- Moldavia (and Moldova) used to be part of Russia, Wallachia (as evidenced by Vlad's story) was paying tribute to the Ottomans, and Transylvania was Hungarian. The Hungarians wanted to fortify the area against the Ottomans, so they brought in Germans. The Germans built the citadel, the towers, a huge Catholic (later Lutheran) church, and the main town. They collected taxes, made laws for merchants, and formed guilds. They were well organized. They were also proud of their town logo- a crown with tree roots coming out of it, representing the power Kronstadt (German for crown city, Brasov's former name) had over all the nearby root villages that fed into it. While many merchants came from Ottoman areas, the Germans needed everybody to know that this was a Catholic town, so they built a church big enough to hold 5000 people, even though the town's population at the time was only 2000. The church is somewhat unique in that it contains the largest collection of Muslim prayer carpets outside of Istanbul. The merchants would bring them in, people would buy them, and then donate them to the Church for special occasions. The German church (aka the Black church from the soot that colored the walls after a huge fire) became Lutheran later when a popular priest converted. He had brought the first German school and kindergarten, bringing in the ability to read and think for one's self. So it made it easier to disseminate German writings and made it easy to convince people who didn't speak Latin that Lutheran was right for them. His statue is still outside the church, and the schools and library that he founded are still named after him. Later on the tour, we visited the first Romanian school, next to a Romanian Orthodox church and learned a bit of the difference. Of course, no tour would be complete without some discussion of Vlad Dracula. I'd previously been exposed to much of the information on the other tours, but one thing I didn't realize was that he didn't make up impalement. When he was being held as tribute insurance against his dad and being educated by the Ottomans, he picked it up. They apparently taught him how to impale. How ironic that he turned that back on them. The other interesting Vlad story I heard was about a fight he had with the German merchants. They had these taxes merchants were supposed to pay, and Vlad didn't want to. He wasn't in charge of Brasov (he's Wallachian and Brasov was under Hungary) and had no authority. That didn't stop him from trying to impale a bunch of them. Their wives captured his mistress and threatened her in return. He gave in. However, the Germans wrote about the incident and his reputation spread. The story grew and grew as rumors are wont to do. He did impale tens of thousands of people, but the rumors were what made the nickname famous outside of Romania. But enough about Vlad Dracula. We hiked to the White tower for a great view of the city at the end of the tour. Tonight, I was determined to eat Romanian food for dinner. I found a place by my hotel called Pilvax that seemed to have a somewhat traditional menu. I got a sparkling drink that tasted like berry. I got homemade pasta with cabbage. It was super simple- oil, thin flat noodles, shredded (possibly slightly pickled) cabbage, and lots of cracked pepper- but it was surprisingly good. I even got the drunken pears with gorgonzola ice cream for dessert. The only thing that put a damper on the meal was that some of the outside smoke kept coming in through the window, even though I sat in the back of the restaurant. After dinner, I headed back to the hostel to plan tomorrow. Apparently not much is open on Mondays in Romania, and Peles castle isn't open Mondays or Tuesdays. I chatted with the other hostel guests, came up with some semblance of a plan, and fell asleep.

Goats on a farm

Goats on a farm


Empty tourist shops

Empty tourist shops


Inside Bran castle

Inside Bran castle


Bran Castle courtyard

Bran Castle courtyard


Haunted house

Haunted house


Food festival

Food festival


Black Church

Black Church


View of Brasov

View of Brasov

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Bears

I woke up without my alarm in the morning, but it was late enough that the restaurants that weren't open for breakfast yesterday at 7 should be open. I packed my stuff, and headed out for a real breakfast. Except that it's Saturday, when they apparently don't open restaurants until 10. After a small loop around the university area to realize that nothing was open, I gave up and metroed to the train station. I ended up buying a grocery store breakfast of bread, cheese, and cherry jam. I hadn't realized that one of the cheeses I had purchased was horseradish cheese, but you'd be surprised at how well horseradish goes with cherry. The difference between a first and second class ticket was $5. Given my recent experiences in Sri Lanka, I splurged for the first class. I ended up in a spacious cabin with 4 other people. The seats were staggered so that everybody could stretch their legs out straight without interfering with anybody else. It also had a little table that made it convenient to eat my breakfast. At first, I was questioning whether it was worth the fiver, despite the pleasance because I didn't know what second class looked like. And then people ended up standing, making me feel good about my investment. The scenery started out pretty flat, with lots of farmland, but then changed into forested mountains. They were steep and gorgeous, and the type of scenery that makes it fun to take the train. I arrived in Brasov and taxied to as close to the hostel as he could get. The hostel is on a pedestrian-only street, right in the heart of old town. It is clean and cozy, and the guy at the front was friendly and helpful. I got settled, then headed out to check out old town for a bit before I had to meet for my tour. It's quaint and pretty, and there are several impressive large buildings. In the main square, I saw a farmer's market with all sorts of goodies. I saw the biggest carrots I've ever seen in my whole life. They had plenty of pumpkins and other fall veggies. Plenty of pickled veggies called from their briny jars. And the cheese! I saw my first glimpse of the famous local cheese that is packaged in tree bark. But I was surprisingly unhungry. I got a local sparkly juice out of a big barrel and figured I'd come back when I was hungrier. I walked around the park near the bus stop, and enjoyed the lushness and the beauty. Then it was time for me to grab a bus to the meeting point across town. It was quite easy and gave me a good view of the rest of Brasov- the part not for tourists, where real people live. I had made sure to be early, and was early enough to stop in the gigantic grocery store by the meeting point. I wandered the aisles to see if there was anything interesting, but I wasn't very hungry and I didn't see anything particularly different. I met the other 2 people on the tour and the driver in the designated meeting spot-a gas station- and we were on our way. At the edge of the forest, we picked up one other person, and then entered. We drove on a one-lane path through the forest, right through a creek. Later, I asked about that, and it turns out that when the water level is too high to drive through, they have to walk. Even with us parking closer, we still had a short, pleasant hike to the lookout point. The path was mostly a goat trail, unmarked and not wide, but there were a few bridges or handrails to let me know it was for humans. The lookout point is a tiny wooden room with very clean glass windows all along one side. They face a small clearing. The park ranger had placed two cattle carcasses in the clearing, and tied them to posts. The scenery was beautiful and serene. I was enjoying the calm, and then the ranger came into the lookout with us and started whispering with the guide. Their conversation really detracted from the whole experience. It drowned out the babbling brook, the bird song, and any chance we had of hearing the bears coming. But the bears hadn't appeared yet. We sat and waited and sat and waited, and I guess they ran out of things to whisper about, because the silence returned. The quiet became soporific, so I pulled out my book and read. Much, much, much later, somebody pointed out our first bear. It was a very large male, the guide informed us. The reason we hadn't seen other bears before was that he was around to scare them off. They weren't likely to come eat until he had. He walked around a bit, but didn't touch the food. He then returned to the woods. The guide explained that he might not be eating because it was still light out and it can be somewhat dangerous for a bear to be out in the light in a clearing, exposed. But another bear, this one a female, finally ventured out for the bait. While they see different bears each day based on who is in the area, how good the eats are elsewhere, and who is in the mood for a snack, this female is apparently a regular. She took a few bites, but then ran back into the woods. Apparently she also was nervous about the light. This reminded me a lot of the beginning part of the Penguin Parade in Melbourne- some would get brave for a bit and then run back to safety, while others hung out in safety, just observing. Then, as it got darker, they got braver and more and more emerged. At one point, we saw 4 different bears. Because this is real nature and not a zoo or safari park, you never know what you'll get. These bears aren't trained or used to people, so to see 4 wild bears was pretty special. However, we did have to get back to our vehicle safely. We left just before the sun fully set, with just barely enough light to see where we were going- mostly. The ranger lit a cigarette to warn the beads that we were there so that none of us got mauled on the way out. The smoke was right in our path in our faces ans made me cough, so the bears also had auditory warning that we were coming through. We made it back to the vehicle without any mauling incidents, and drove back to town. Despite the fact that it had been over 11 hours since I had last eaten, I was not hungry at all. As I was walking old town, the hunger hit and I decided to find a place to eat. I entered a few restaurants and was told that there were no tables. In a few, the staff didn't even greet me or were nowhere to be found. Apparently you need a reservation to eat Saturday night in Brasov. After being rejected or ignored at every single restaurant for several blocks in a row, I found a Chinese restaurant with some tables open. I felt bad about having been in Romania for 2 days and not having eaten in a Romanian restaurant, but I didn't have a lot of choice and it wasn't for lack of trying. The food was surprisingly good. On the way back to the hostel, I checked out the music coming from the main square. They had set up a stage, and hundreds of people were gathered round to see the live music. I watched for a bit, and then headed back to the hostel. Unlike yesterday's hostel, this was not a party hostel. This was a calm place for people to save money on a bed. A couple of people cooked dinner in the kitchen. Others sat and read. Everybody was polite, quiet, and friendly. The hostel was warm and clean. This is basically the epitome of what a (non-party) hostel should be, at least in my mind.

Lunch

Lunch


Brasov

Brasov


Park

Park


Waiting for bears

Waiting for bears


Bear eating

Bear eating

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Long walk around Bucharest

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

Early morning park


Sunrise

Sunrise


Bakery

Bakery


The Potato

The Potato


Architecture combining old and new

Architecture combining old and new


Tour start

Tour start


Church ceiling

Church ceiling


Village museum home

Village museum home


Village museum

Village museum


Inside the synagogue

Inside the synagogue


Ugly statue

Ugly statue

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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