The Adventures of the Roving Route #5
As they say, every ending is a new beginning. This week marks the end of our time in the amazing country of Bulgaria but the start of our exploration of Romania, the last country we will visit on the tour.
After a short passport control but a long grueling train ride, we made it to the capital. Bucharest is often known as Little Paris, and after walking around we were able to see the similarities the two have. The wide boulevards, a copy of the Arc de Triomphe (Arcul de Triumf), and to our surprise the cost! For a country that is said to be inexpensive, we were shocked to see how much it emptied our pockets. Thankfully it seems that Bucharest is the only place that the prices have skyrocketed over the past couple of years. It was also a very nice surprise when we arrived and found that Romania uses the Latin alphabet! As such we were able to manage our way through the country with quite a bit of ease and even found that the language sounds quite like French. While the city had some cool aspects, the biggest impact on us was how much the city changed under the former communist leader, Nicholae Ceausescu. It’s always interesting to learn what a leader does with their time in power and what is suppose to be meant for the good of the country results in.
The most interesting site visit was to Văcărești. This swamp area just outside of the city center was ordered by Ceausescu to become a man-made lake. The poorly constructed concrete barrier which was literally just sheer walls of cement resulted in a major flood through Bucharest. With much of the water draining into the surrounding city and the remaining amount seeping into the unaltered bottom of a swamp, the lake would never exist. After the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, the area and project were deserted leaving nature to reclaim the 470 acres. The area has since become home for otters, turtles and birds. With lots of pressure on the government from numerous Romanian and international organizations, it has now become an urban national park. The space is a great example of the good that can come out of a bad situation if you let time and nature take its course.
The other major monument that is evident from his time in power is the Palace of Parliament. With the belief that he could create a world superpower, he figured he needed a parliamentary building to match. Made almost completely from Romanian materials, the second-largest administrative building in the world -behind only the Pentagon- was created. While the building was grand, it came at an extreme cost both financially and socially. He chose a popular hill very close to the old town, evicted over 30,000 residents, and completely flattened the hill. Though it was created during a time when most Romanians were on extreme rations it is the most expensive building in the world. Just to give you an idea on size, the building used 5 times more concrete than the CN tower, used more than 1,000,000 m3 of marble, and has almost 3,000 chandeliers. Ceausescu was so impressed with the building, he decided to change its use and made part of it his permanent residence.
With the sheer sum of money wasted and bizarre public works projects, it is no surprise that the events of 1989 unfolded resulting in the arrest and execution of Romania’s last communist leader and First Lady. We highly suggest you read up more about Nicholae Ceausescu as it is interesting to see the parallels between him and the current "President" of the United States.
After our stay in Bucharest, we moved into another region famous for its bloodthirsty dictator, Transylvania. Probably the most famous region of the country (maybe even more famous than the country itself), Transylvania’s reputation has long been tied to Dracula, both the real Vlad Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stoker, known for his novel, Dracula. Once you wade through the piles of Dracula related tourist junk, you will find a region where the mountains surround you and the towns feel like you have been dropped into a fairy tale. Visiting this area it has become very apparent to us why people know and love this area. With the central town of Braşov as our home base, we set off to explore what the region had to offer.
Our first venture was to the town of Sinaia, another fairy tale place complete with three large castles. As it was only a day trip we needed to move quickly and decided to run from the train to the largest of the castles. However, sometimes it’s important to realize that things shouldn’t always go as planned. While speed walking we noticed an older couple struggling to carry their bags up the stairs. We offered our assistance and after much resistance, specifically with the male (who we found out was 88) as he was very stubborn to claim defeat, we were able to walk along and enjoy the scenery together. It’s amazing the joy you can have with people even when you can’t speak the same language.
We made it to the first castle in Sinaia, Peles castle, a little later than expected and had a nice tour of the interior. It is a very unique castle as it was built only in the early 1900s as a summer residence for the Romanian king and his family. Unlike most other castles, it was not made with the main focus of defense and instead was built for luxury. It was the first castle in Europe to come equipped with electric lights, had rooms whose walls were covered in handmade silk tapestry, and even had a mechanical retractable stained glass sunroof over its main hall.
Our second day trip was out to Bran, known famously for Bran Castle. We decided to use our trip to walk around the area than to enter the castle. What we thought was an established hike turned south very quickly when we started to scale a mountainside like goats. A walk that we thought was suppose to take 3-4 hours round trip turned into us making it about 1/4 the way. With the terrifying idea that we could possibly have to go down the path we walked up, Jacki was determined to continue. To Derek’s relief, we found the path we probably should have taken in the first place and made our way down in an enjoyable fashion.
We will continue to explore Romania. With our trip coming to an end soon and being under budget, we are hoping to splurge a bit. Stay tuned! We are also celebrating our 7 year anniversary, crazy how fast time flies!