Bucharest, Romania

I’ve always wanted to visit Romania, and when I decided to come to the Balkans, it was a no-brainer to spend time in both Bucharest and Transylvania (see other posts for details of my wonderful two-day Transylvania tour!). I actually originally planned to just fly in and out of Bucharest, spending minimal time in the city – but, once I arrived and saw how vibrant and interesting it was, I decided to tack on four additional days after my time in Transylvania.

This post aggregates 3 half-days worth of exploration in Bucharest; since it’s become my “home base” outside of the Transylvania tour, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time here regrouping on things that need to be done after almost a month abroad (i.e., paying bills, doing some laundry, planning for my next leg of this trip, ensuring everything is in order when I get home in a couple weeks). Since most of my exploration hasn’t been in full-day sessions, I figured I’d condense the memories and photos here! Tomorrow, my last day in Bucharest, should be pretty full, so I’m leaving that to be a separate post.

Now, on to the good stuff:

The day I arrived / before I left for Transylvania, I opted to see a couple of the main sites of the Old Town Bucharest area, at that time trying to ensure I could at least see some of the major items before I left (thankfully, I would have much more time to explore afterwards at a much less frantic pace!). So, I started with a small walking tour of the Old Town area, which is filled with stately buildings. Frankly, Romania is a modern, developed country with an extremely beautiful capital city, aptly named “Little Paris” or the “Paris of the East”.

My walking tour covered the area near Piața Universității, or the University Square.

It wouldn’t be Europe without running into at least one interesting church, and of course I ducked in.

I was actually trying to find the City Museum of Bucharest, but ended up finding two others sites instead: first, the Colțea Hospital, which is a stately looking building that was actually one of the first hospitals in the city (and still operates today). Right next door, I stumbled upon the Biserica Colței, an Orthodox church.

After inspecting my map more closely, I finally found the City Museum, which is actually located right across the street and had been inobtrusive enough that I walked right by it, twice!

The City Museum is fascinating and has quite a good exhibit. It was my first real exposure to Romanians outside of my hotel, and it set a great precedent – although we didn’t speak the same language, they were warm, friendly and very helpful, talking me through how to purchase both the ticket and the photography supplement online (I also love the photography supplement – it makes it so much clearer when I am / am not allowed to take photos and avoids any awkwardness with museum security!).

The Museum’s exhibits are quite varied, starting with the building itself. It’s a gorgeous old restored home, with sweeping mirrors and incredible woodwork. The collections include:

  • An overview of prehistoric and Bronze Age research and artifacts found in Romania
  • A collection of sketches and paintings by a famous Romanian artist during the communist regime
  • An overview of the city of Bucharest and it’s varied history, from the Belle Epoque to the period of royal reign to communism to Soviet-era communism (although Romania was never part of the Soviet Union, it definitely experienced significant influence during the height of the Soviet period)
  • An overview of the city’s history from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s, with a variety of artifacts
  • A forensic reconstruction of a famous Romanian, apparently one of the first of its kind
  • A collection of lovely paintings

After that, I visited the Muzeul “Micul Paris” (aka, the Museum of Little Paris), which is set in a house in the middle of the Old Town area. It’s only a three-room museum, but it took me over an hour to get through because the owner / proprietor was super chatty – and, not in a bad way! He and the only other guest (a woman taking lots of stylized photos) gave me the deepest history of Romania, from the various empires which had conquered it historically to modern anecdotes, common expressions in Romanian, an overview of the Romanian language, a description of where else to visit in the country, etc. Again, they were incredibly friendly – and the museum itself had a great collection of items from the era during which Bucharest earned its nickname. Apparently, Bucharest fashioned itself as a Francophone hotspot during the early 1900s, with many people speaking French, dressing in French fashions, and often traveling to France.

After that, I headed to one of the best restaurants in the Old Town area, Caru’ cu Bere. They offer a great weekday lunch menu with 4 courses for $15, which includes chicken soup, cabbage salad, traditional Romanian sausages and roasted potatoes.

The following day I headed on my Transylvania tour (see other posts), and upon return, I decided to explore the city further. On my second full day in Bucharest, I did a bit more exploration, heading first to the National Museum. The museum includes only a couple exhibits, describing Romania’s participation in the second World War, providing a view of Romania’s historical postal system, and showcasing a variety of Roman and Greek artifacts, including a replica of Trajan’s column (Trajan was said to have conquered Romania and therefore started the ‘true history’ of Romanian history, so this is a key part of their heritage).

The really impressive piece, though, is the National Treasury’s collection of gold and jewelry displayed in the basement.

After the National Museum, I ambled up towards the National Art Gallery, passing a couple sites on the way. Sites included: the Piaţa Drapelului, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Odeon Theater, the Memorial of Rebirth, an interesting half modern / half old building, and the Romanian Athenium.

I also passed the St. Nicholas Built-in-a-Day Church, which was lovely inside.

The National Art Gallery sadly had only half of one exhibit on display (and was a stifling temperature inside – outside it was about 95, but it must have been 100+ inside). The art was beautiful, but limited.

After the art gallery, I really needed to cool down, so I decided to visit on of the gelato shops (Velocita) my guide through Transylvania, a Bucharest native, had recommended. It was delicious and well worth it!

Then, I meandered my way through the less touristy part of Bucharest. Of course, I ultimately ended up seeing some additional churches, which were beautiful. I also passed what appeared to be the Bucharest symphony and the National Military plaza.

Finally, I arrived at a spot my guide had recommended for happy hour, called Fix Me a Drink. It’s a bit of a melancholy, kind of grown-up-emo bar located in a converted warehouse. They focus on seasonal drinks using local Romanian products, so I tried one of their summer spritzes and it hit the spot! Finally, I made my way back to the old town area.

I went to dinner again at Caru’ cu Bere since the food was good and the price was right, passing through the Vilacrosse Passage. The passage by day is a trendy-looking covered passageway that has ample restaurant seating – by night, it’s completely overtaken by hookah bars. Amusingly, the restaurant had “traditional” live dancing, after which they invited restaurant patrons to join in a sort of Romanian conga-line. I didn’t participate, but did get a good kick out of watching!

On my third day in Bucharest, I decided to brave the heat and take a small walking tour south of the Old Town, heading for the Parliament building. First, I went to… guess where! for lunch (in fairness, it’s SO cheap and really good – the couple times I’ve tried other restaurants, even places with a 4.6+ on Google in Bucharest old town, it’s been incredibly disappointing, so I figure why mess with a good thing). My first stop was right around the corner: the Stavropoleos Monastery Church, a monastery from the early 1700s.

It has absolutely incredible artwork, a vibrant interior, and a beautiful plaza.

On the way, I passed the “Vlădica din Prund” Church, which was a nice stop-in and is designed in the “Neo-byzantine” style (and is remarkably older than many of the sites here, having been built in the 1900s).

Then, I stumbled upon the Mănăstirea Antim, another Orthodox monastery from 1715.

As I attempted to weave my way back out to the main road to find the Parliament building, I stumbled upon one of the churches that had been “rehomed” during the communist period (the City Museum had a fascinating exhibit showing how the churches that weren’t demolished were instead relocated to more desirable (aka, out of the way) locations via rail. Now located in a nondescript parking lot, this one was completely out of the way and now covered in glass paneling. You could also still see the remains of the rail which had been utilized to transport it.

Finally (finally!), I found the Parliament building, which sadly was blocked from street access by huge shrubs on one side and a massive government parking lot on the other.

So, instead, I made the relative mistake of attempting to walk around the building and found myself walking… and walking… and walking for almost a mile until I finally could turn. Ultimately, I ended up at the complex of the National Cathedral, which at least offered air conditioning at a chapel, although the Cathedral itself was under construction. It was a nice view!

After refreshing myself slightly in the air conditioned chapel, I headed on the long trek home in the heat. Tomorrow is my final day in Bucharest, and I’m hitting two of the more major museums far to the north of the city. Then, I’m on to Spain for the remainder of my time in Europe!

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