A week is such a short time to spend in this big country which we know so little about. We started in Bucharest and then headed to Brasov, in Transylvania.
Some backpackers in Bulgaria warned us against Bucharest. They didn’t really feel safe there, felt that they were ripped off a lot and just found the city grim. We also read in our guidebook that the city is full of stray dogs, which could potentially be a bit dangerous. But we loved it and the dogs weren’t a problem at all. There are some beautiful buildings and lots of renovation work being done in the city – EU money coming in maybe. Also a lovely park which we spent a lot of time in, watching people. Bucharest used to be called the Paris of Eastern Europe and I can see why.
As well as the beautiful old buildings there are also some communist-era ones. For me it was interesting to see the balcony of the former Central Committee of the Communist Party building, from which Nicolae Ceausescu gave his last speech in December 1989. I remember seeing it on television and remember the booing from the crowd – from very brave people – which helped lead to the end of his dictatorship – but not before the police opened fire on thousands of protestors.
We also saw Ceausescu’s Palace of Parliament – at the end of a fountain-filled boulevard. It’s the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon in the USA and cost 3 billion euros at a time when there were food shortages and real hardship in the country. He added to the peoples’ hardships by knocking down neighbourhoods and displacing the residents in order to build it.
From Bucharest we headed to Brasov – a very pretty, medieval town. There was a medieval festival this weekend which was great fun and also a pop concert in the main square on Friday night that seemed to be dubiously sponsored by a politician running for the local council. We also visited some beautiful churches and castles. Apparently Vlad the impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) visited some of them but you’d never be sure…
Coming into Romania from Bulgaria was a bit of a buzz. We crossed the Danube river and things seemed to change almost immediately. We saw a lot more rural life (only from the train) – horses and carts, people working the fields without tractors, small villages of ramshackle houses… I guess it sounds kind of romantic but I’m sure it’s a very hard life for a lot of people there.
I kind of associate Romania with rural life for some reason. It’s hard for a tourist with only limited time to experience much of the rural life but in Bucharest, among other things, we went to an interesting museum – the museum of the Romanian peasant. In it we saw some of the spooky old wooden churches and houses as well as getting a bit of an understanding of peoples’ customs and lifestyle.
From Bucharest we went to Brasov. We stayed in a one star hotel there. I was never really sure that one star hotels actually existed. I thought that if you had less than three you wouldn’t advertise the fact but these guys displayed their one star proudly. It was actually a pretty nice hotel too – very clean and with a comfy bed.
I had my doubts about going to a medieval festival (due to a certain Brisbane band from the 90s I’ve always associated medieval stuff with naff Ibanez guitars and atrocious dancing) but I figured since we were in a medieval town it might be worth a go. It was actually pretty good but I did still see some naff guitars and bad dancing.
We left Brasov for Budapest last night. There was a big, full, orange moon rising as the train approached Sighisoara (the supposed birthplace of Dracula) – it was beautiful. Unfortunately the train journey went downhill fast and steep from there but that’s another story that I’ll just summarise by saying that it was a 12 hour overnight journey in a cramped and very smelly train cabin without any sleep. Still it’s better than having a job I guess…