From the pulsing streets of Old Town Bucharest to the medieval towers and forested mountainsides of Transylvania, Romania has a rich history and its own cultural heritage stemming from rural traditions, including its Orthodox churches with painted icons hundreds of years old. It was my first trip to Romania and I found it progressive, but juxtaposed alongside traditional values and with reminders of its Communist past – especially with that era’s architecture in Bucharest. In addition to the capital, I visited the port city Constanţa on the Black Sea, and then on to Transylvania’s Braşov, medieval Sighișoara and Saxon-influenced Sibiu. For tourism information: http://www.romaniatourism.com
BUCHAREST: The Pulsing Capital
Bucharest’s most visited attraction is the Palace of the Parliament, the colossal office building ordered built by the dictator Ceausescu in the 1980s. Used today by the Romanian upper and lower houses, the block-like structure is the second largest administrative building in the world, smaller than only the Pentagon. Inside are columned grand halls, expansive lobbies and meeting rooms.
Along Calea Victoriei (Victory Avenue) sits the former Communist Party Headquarters from where Ceausescu gave his last address before being captured, and later tried and executed in 1989 on Christmas Day. Outside, a marble needle sculpture known as the Rebirth Memorial stands as a tribute to the thousands killed during the revolution. And across the street is the former Royal Palace that now houses the National Museum of Art.
NATIONAL VILLAGE MUSEUM, Bucharest
Away from the city center, I spent a Saturday afternoon exploring the must-visit National Village Museum within Herastrau Park and Lake. Along the lakeshore are several dozen old wooden and grass-covered village homes, windmills, mills and churches, some dating back more than 200 years, relocated to the site from all over the country. Vendors sell jellies, traditional peasant garb, musical instruments and more.
VIDEO: Craftsman and musician Marin Predușel plays a traditional cimpoi at Bucharest’s National Village Museum.
“The museum is very important because it’s about the roots of every Romanian,” explains spokeswoman Andreea Nanciu. “The museum speaks less about our parents, but more about our grandparents because there was a time when our parents moved to the city and kind of forgot where they came from. It’s about our grandparents and their lifestyles and living a very sustainable life in the countryside not very well known by youngsters today.”
OLD TOWN BUCHAREST
“The most important buildings in the villages were our churches. It was not only a place where people went to mass but where people gathered,” says Nanciu. “The houses were not very close to each other, so it was a good place where people would meet and socialize.”
To catch the pulse of Romanians at ease, a stroll along the cobbled streets of Old Town Bucharest is an exciting afternoon or night out. Clusters of outdoor tables and lounge chairs line the narrow pedestrian walkways lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. Street musicians strum guitars and serenade passersby, some of them seemingly very talented.
The historic Old Town is home to several old churches including the 18th century Stavropoleos Church with its Byzantine-style porch emblazoned with icons. The Old Princely Court Church, with its layered architectural design and faded frescoes, dates back to the 16th century and is one of the city’s oldest.
I was a guest for one night and enjoyed my stay at the stylish Rembrandt hotel, located in the heart of Bucharest’s Old Town. It’s only a minute or two walk to the center of the district’s many restaurants and cafes, as well as some of the city’s iconic Orthodox Churches. It’s also a short walk away from the sights along Calea Victoriei. Small and cozy, the hotel has 16 spacious rooms with leather armchairs and an outdoor café along the pedestrian street. www.rembrandt.ro