Canadian christians in Bucharest

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Romania  ,
Thursday, October 26, 2006

In western Europe, motorways go around and between cities, while smaller roads take you into the centre. In eastern Europe, this rule is reversed, so the single-carriageway road I'd been happily following for hundreds of kilometers suddenly became a motorway for the last 10km, with no evidence of an alternative route. There was evidence of the motorway having been used by a horse and cart (actually only evidence of horse- cart inferred). I figured if there was another route the person with the horse (also inferred without evidence [thankfully]) would have chosen to use it, so there was nothing for it but to crack on. The gritty, dangerous ride into town was not justified by the first impression of Bucharest- a dirty, run down city of traffic and concrete communist era project-housing, nor by eventually finding my hostel, because it was weird.

It appeared the same as all the other houses on that street (which is not in itself a complaint- many city hostels do this to avoid unwanted attention. I couldn't get directions to the one in Budapest from people who lived in the same building.) and when you get inside you are greeted with a sign reading 'This is a home, not a hotel'. Which makes you want to reply
-Oh, ok then, can I have my ten euros back?
Other signs around the house inform you that 'God loves you' and that the family who run the place 'observe the sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, so kindly refrain from asking them to do anything between these times'. The way they overcrowded the dorms, using a sofa with a mattress balanced on it and a broken folding bed to squeeze in extra people did little to reduce the sense of having inadvertantly joined a cult. Nor did their blatant attempt to steal my money: 10Euros does not equal 40LEI by any stretch of the imagination. It can equal almost any other number however. Romania recently rationalised their currency, removing four zeros from all prices. However, during this transitional phase both new and old notes are still in circulation. This means the following transaction can really take place:
-How much for that?
-3 Lei
-Heres 10,000 Lei
-That's not enough
-OK Here's 10,005 Lei
-Thanks, here's 1,002 Lei change

I dumped my stuff and headed for the town, where for the first time the collecting capital-city jazz-clubs idea served the purpose for which it was originally intended. viz. something to do on the first night in a city, when too tired and alone to do anything else but not wanting to stay in.

I spent Saturday seeing the good side of Bucharest. The national art gallery's collection of contemporary Romanian art was genuinely enjoyable, taking me through every major artistic movement since about 1850, as interpreted by Romanian artists I'd never heard of. There was half a room devoted to a painter called Nicolae Grigorescu who I thought was particularly good- some impressionist stylee landscapes and portraits that actually made the subject seem like an interesting human being with a story and a future. Not sure what it was about them, but thats how they seemed to me. Plus I thought I saw Michael Palin going in as I was coming out. (If you happen to know he was elsewhere at the time, please don't tell me.)

The Peasant Museum was awarded a gong of somekind by the European council for awarding stuff to museums, so I had to check it out. It was a good museum in many ways, with a decent amount of information in English and some interesting exhibits. The problem with a peasant museum is that peasants pretty much by definition don't have much stuff, so a certain amount of repitition is inevitable. The museum has one of the worlds 'richest collections of chairs' for example. The best thing about the peasant museum was the little plaque that introduced each section, which was either written in or translated into such earnestly enthusiastic language I couldn't help but smile. 'Here we have a collection of materials woven by the peasant women of Transylvania. Look, see how bright the colours are. Notice the intricate patterns. See how skilled the women's work is. Look! See! Do you see?' (I may have exagerated slightly, but not much)

My final stop, before the sunset prevented further sightseeing, was the Arc de Triomph. This is a copy of the one you've heard of, installed by Ceausescu ('communist' dictator), to try and make Bucharest into the 'little Paris' it was reputed to have been before he broke it. Speaking of which, the one impressive sight I caught on the ride into town was Ceausescu's 'People's Palace'. After the Pentagon this is the second largest building in the world (by area) and, after all of N. Korea, probably the second biggest monument to one dictator's insane megalomania bankrupting a nation. A sixth of Bucharest was razed to make way for the palace and gardens, and every aspect of the building- design, workmen, materials, were one hundred percent Romanian. (probably cold comfort to the people who starved to pay for it).
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