My obsession with Romania borders on unhealthy. I’m not sure how the obsession started, but one day I found myself in a travel agency buying a flight home from Bucharest (getting there was another story). Bucharest is not my favorite city in Romania. It’s not the nicest city in Romania. And it’s not the most interesting city in Romania. However, Bucharest is the biggest city in Romania, and one that many travelers are likely to find themselves in. Here are some ideas on how to keep occupied during your visit to the city.
You’d have to be pretty silly to visit Bucharest and not check out the Palace of Parliament. We’re talking about a building with 1,100 rooms, that was constructed almost entirely from Romanian materials, and for which 19 Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches (plus eight relocated churches), and 30,000 homes were destroyed in order to build. At the time that Ceausescu built the Palace of Parliament Romanians were living in abject poverty (see 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), and the building quickly came to represent Ceausescu’s excess and waste. To give you an idea of the kind of traveler I am, I walked all the way to the Palace of Parliament but then couldn’t be bothered to walk the remaining distance to the visitor entrance. It just looked really far! So I got a great look at the exterior (note the lack of other visitors!) and continued on my merry way.
Speaking of walking, Bucharest is a gorgeous city to explore by foot. If you ate too many kebabs while you were in Turkey (or too many papanasi in Romania… more on those later), you can burn some calories by walking all over the city! I was there for about three days and covered a good amount of the city center by foot. There is amazing architecture everywhere you look, not to mention gorgeous old churches and huge apartment complexes that are home to more people than live in my actual city! At times, you may find yourself walking along canals that are reminiscent of those you’d find in Amsterdam. There are lots of wide sidewalks and tree-lined pedestrian pathways, so even on a hot day you can enjoy the view from some cool shade. Don’t be afraid to walk around in Bucharest! It’s safe, I promise*!
If you’re not into walking, Bucharest also has a great metro system. The stations have a sort of 1960s science fiction movie feel to them. The cement glows greenish-yellow like it’s radioactive, and many of the trains are a complete blast from the past. The metro system is easy to navigate and feels quite safe, so if you get tired of walking hop on board.
You can take the metro to Parcul Kiseleff, a beautiful inner-city park located near the metro station Piata Victoriei. This park is close to the epic Museum of the Romanian Peasant (where a curator on crack wrote descriptions for the exhibits including “now we celebrate the humble glory of the vegetable”, “we all love grandma… the problem is what to do with the smell of her kitchen when she dies” and “Romania is in the chair zone… the further east you go, the more people are sitting on the ground”). When I walked through the park I found myself in the middle of a huge sidewalk antique fair, with many beautiful mementos from Romania’s past on sale for great prices. Of course there are also beautiful works of public art, shady tree-lined paths and a wee lake for your enjoyment.
If you do nothing else in Romania, you absolutely must try eating papanasi. I saw these on menus for weeks and thought they sounded disgusting. “Cheese filled doughnuts”? I’m from Canada- give a Tim Horton’s Boston Cream doughnut any day, but don’t even think about putting cheese in a doughnut! As fate would have it, one day I was sitting in a restaurant and I saw a plate of pure sin go by. I asked the waiter what I’d just seen, and he told me it was papanasi. Thank God I discovered them a mere three days before I left the country, or today I would be writing a blog entitled “Gastric Bypass Surgery and a Backpack”. Filled with sweet cream cheese, deep fried, topped with berries and whipped cream, papanasi are Romania at its best. The plate in the photo above was enjoyed at the Romanian chain restaurant La Mama, though I also ate them at Caru Cu Bere (two thumbs way down!) and at my airport hotel before my flight home. If you’re doing the math, yes, that is three times in three days!