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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bucharest, Romania: Well, where's Dracula?


Synopsis: I've have been trying to go to Romania for some time now. Since Ed repeatedly refused to go to his homeland with me, I just never went. Thanks to Stephanie, we will go for the 4th of July weekend. Celebrating American independence in eastern Europe, with style!

This is the first blog that I am recording in real time. Imagine how accurate it will be. Wait, that's more pressure on me. Stop imagining, right now! You in the back, I can see you still imagining...

Trip Overview:
Day 1: At the Zaventem airport waiting to board. Suddenly we hear our names on the loudspeaker, calling for last boarding. Almost missed the first flight! Get on the plane and we have exit row, oh yeah.

Romania heard we were coming from Brussels, so it, thoughtfully, greets us with light rain showers. We board the bus to downtown and we don't do the validation thing correct, so when the transit cops get on, they try to charge me 50 lei ($15.50). Between my obstinance to pay and the cops' inability to speak english, I am not charged.

Bus stops at Unirii Square and we walk toward our hotel. Leave our stuff at the hotel and head toward Palace of the Parliament for a night-time photo op. Then to Old Town. Later, to Carrefour for snacks and water, and then head back to the hotel.

Thoughts: Lufthansa gives you food and drinks... note to self, keep flying Lufthansa. I thought the transit cops were con-men at first, which is why I really didn't want to pay. They ended up just showing me how to validate the ticket. There are many giant televsions on top of buildings and in the squares. Old Town is a lively place and there are quite a few "Hot Massage" and "Girls Night Dance" places. Some of the restaurants/stores have "Non-Stop" written on them, which means they are 24/7. Even Carrefour was non-stop. This is amazing to me, considering EVERYTHING in Belgium closes at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and doesn't open on Sundays at all!

The fountain started spraying us as we wait for the camera-timer to take the pic


This is totally normal at Carrefour afer midnight



Day 2: We are met at our hotel by a small van and a tour guide. Though I paid for the group tour, we end up with a private tour. Gabriel, our tour guide, is very knowledgeable, entertaining, full of fun facts, and has unique answers to questions,  having lived through the communist period (1947-1989).

We start driving around the city as Gabriel tells us facts about the city, as we pass the Arch of Triumph, completely covered due to renovations. First stop is The Village Museum. All the old houses from different parts of Romania, in one location. We drive around to the Military Museum, the Patriarch's Church, a few other monuments and parks, and then head to the Palace of Parliament. 2nd largest building in the world, in floor space, (Pentagon is #1) and the British show Top Gear raced cars in its basement. This building is bignormously vastgantic and colossalmensive, and after a one hour tour, I only saw 5% of the building. Aside from the size, the building isn't much to scoff at; mostly thanks to the 1989 Revolution and subsequent desire to rid the structure of all communist decorum. Plus, there is a fee to take pictures, and a larger fee to video tape! So, it's more of a "I've been there" attraction than anything.

After 5 hours of touring around, we head back to the hotel. Stephanie found an attraction called Real Escape Room that we head to. We choose the Military Intelligence game, and we have 60 minutes to diffuse a bomb, using our minds and a few helpful hints from the hint box on the wall. Unfortunately, we blow up... and all that blowing up makes us hungry. Head into Old Town for dinner.

Thoughts: After searching the internet, we are unsure if 0 km is the globe monument or the monument in front of the National Theatre. Maybe, halfway between? There is a cheaper hop-on/off tour, but Gabriel made paying for a guided city tour, worth every penny. Today, I learned so much!
  • Romania is the only latin country in Eastern Europe, surrounded by slavic countries
  • There are several differences between the Orthodox and Catholic religions
  • Vlad the Impaler, whom Dracula is loosely/inaccurately based, is a national hero in Romania, and signed the Bucharest charter 20 September 1459. In honor of this charter, there are "555" signs everywhere, in prepartation for the 555 years anniversary celebration.
There is so much green space, plus lots of small and large parks in Bucharest, that encourage you to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. I notice lots of people wearing shirts with funny phrases and expressions on them. Also, there is free wifi almost everywhere.


The Village: Each wooden door tells a story

They would leave food and drink for their guests in case they weren't home
Traditional Romanian house with a traditional Romanian woman on a traditional Romanian cell phone

In front of an old windmill





Athenaeum, orchestral hall and tour group meeting point

Gotta get the right angle (see results below)

Fruit of my labor


The spear of hope piercing the dark cloud of communism, from a Dacia's point of view


Army, Air Force, Navy, Beauty, and a Slacker (guess who that is?)







3 handstands in one photo

Our guide, Gabriel, and us in front of the Palace of Parliament

Legal and legit picture inside the Palace of Parliament

X Hostel where the Real Escape Room was

Steph is a part of the new wave of living art

Is this km zero?

Or is this km zero?

Performing in front of the National Theatre

We're like Patch Adams for the Bucharest patients


Gabriel said, "The reason the roads take 100 year to be finished in Bucharest, is because where you have 7 guys working, 2 or 3 of them are working, and 4 or 5 are watching with a beer in hand."


Day 3: Cab to the Athenaeum, meeting spot for our minibus tour, with Gabriel again.  Head to the Pearl of the Carpathian Mountains, Sinaia. There, we tour Peleș Castle, built by Carol I as a summer castle. This thing has every type of decoration possible: woodwork, metalwork, weaponry, tapestries, paintings, and every room has a different theme.  Next, drive into Transylvania (means "through the forest"), and head to Brasov. In the main square we eat and enjoy the beautiful weather. Go to the Black Church, a Lutheran church, where we pay for a 7 minute tour. It's the largest gothic church in Eastern Europe. Then, head to Bran Castle, aka Dracula's castle, where they so thoughtfully include the photo fee into the normal price. But not the video fee.

In the castle, and it's very underwhelming and not in any way scary or spooky. Interesting history though. Apparently, it was built and used as a fort and Dracula never lived there. Who'd thunk it? Go to the bazaar next to the castle and buy souvenirs.  3 hour bus ride back to Bucharest. 

Back in the Buch' (that's not what the locals call it but I thought it sounded cool) and at the university square, they have the Belgium vs Argentina, World Cup game on an outside jumbo-tron, free for the public. Plus, several other outdoor events like a basketball tournament on the main street, and popup soccer courts everywhere. Walk around and check out the Bucharest Jazz Festival, which is also free. By the national theatre is a free outdoor orchestra concert and we stop by to check it out. I like free stuff. After, we decide to go see Think Like a Man Too. 

Thoughts: The cab to the Athenaeum, about 5 km, cost 5.37 lei ($1.67). In Brussels, it cost 38€ to look at a taxi! Peleș Castle cost 20 lei but it's an extra 32 lei for pics, or an extra 53 lei for video. Who would take photos without paying? I've never paid to go into a church before the Black Church, but I guess the Lutherans aren't ballin' like the Catholics? Cops were everywhere, likely fundraising via traffic tickets, since they probably don't make any money in the winter. On the way there and back, there were lots of vendors on the side of road and in towns, selling raspberries. Must be in season.


Ready for the 2 Castles tour

Statuesque

You have to wear slippers in Peleș Castle

The king's weapons room

Peleș Castle from the outside

Black Church and Brasov's "Hollywood" sign in the distance


One of many weddings we saw. I got to be in this one!

Brasov main square

Who puts a castle at the top of a hill, honestly!?

The super ornate Bran Castle #sarcasm

Free orchestral concert



Day 4: Sleep in, not in a rush to get somewhere today. I can take my time and enjoy breakfast. Today is 30C+ and sunny. We decide to do a tour of the major parks. First, we head to Carol I Park, where we discover the eternal flame and tomb of the unknown soldier (standard monuments in every country) and a large paper clip-looking monument dedicated to WWI soldiers and the reign of the kings of Romania from 1881-1947. 

From there, as we head into Tineretului Park, we are greeted by a lot of overweight old people sunbathing naked in the weeds and tall grass. Yeah, it was weird for us too. Tineretului Park is very large and has several sports complexes, pools, playgrounds, an amusement park for kids, and beautiful green space. You forget how big it is while walking through it because your senses are over stimulated with all that is going on around you. However, there are also many places to relax and enjoy the tranquility of nature. 

Head back to the hotel and relax for a bit. Go out for dinner. Sunday night at 11 o'clock and it's packed with people! No one has to work tomorrow? Can't leave Romania with trying some pălincă and papanași (aka Vicious and Delicious). Stop at La Mama to get our authentic on.

Thoughts: It is nice to walk around and enjoy a vacation when you aren't rushing to see every sight or make tour times. And with the amazing weather, walking around is a pleasure, more than a chore. Noticed lots of graffiti around the city. We also realized that we were staying in Sector 3 and that the city retains its communist city divisions, called sectors.

Sector 3

Hangin' out in Carol I Park
Mausoleum in Carol I Park

Sector 4


Mickey at Orăşelul Copiilor (Children's Mini-town)

Working on my human flag

We found another Quatre Dauphin fountain


Papanași and pălincă/țuică


Day 5: Meet up with Ella, Ed's sister, for a drink and chat for awhile. Get on the bus to the airport and the same transit cops from our first day get on bus. It was like a Western film, as a tumbleweed rolled in between me and the cop. I draw! and hand them my CORRECTLY validated ticket. I win the duel. They won't be bothering' us 'round these parts no more.

We have a 4 hour layover in Warsaw, where we just chill at a coffee shop. Then to Brussels, where upon exiting the plane, we get stuck in the jet bridge for 10 minutes, because our flight got in late and we were the last ones off the plane. They say the doors are on 20 minute timers and we missed it and have to wait for someone to come open them.

Thoughts: Ella was almost as good a tour guide as Gabriel! She made the comment that she likes hanging out with tourists because she discovers new things about her own city. Maybe I need to do that in my hometown (Brussels for now)?

Ella showed us a great time on our last day

Triumphant Arch was closed the whole time


Final Thoughts: When in Rome...ania, do as the Rome...anians do. And we did do! Weather was nothing short of perfect. Real Escape Room was maybe the unexpected highlight of the trip. I learned quite a bit more history and info on this trip, as this is the farthest east in Europe that I have been. Unfortunately, quite a few monuments were under renovation, so I'll have to go back and see those. Mulțumesc to Romania for a great weekend!

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Location: Bucharest, Romania

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