Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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It's funny how so much of a trip involves actually "getting there", I guess that's why its called travel. Anyway, yesterday was consumed with transit to Bucharest. So we reluctantly departed our hotel in charming Velika Turnovo to get to the station 30 minutes before our train was scheduled to arrive, turns out we actually ended up sitting there 3 hours and 30 minutes before the train picked us up! Once we were onboard though, the six-hour journey was quite beautiful. Rolling green hills with endless fields of sunflowers and corn. Arrived in Bucharest at dusk. The area around the train station is not exactly the most charming place I've seen. Imagine crumbling Parisian-style buildings interspersed between 1960's era concrete high rises and apartment blocks, all unpainted and in varied and advanced stages of decay.
Thankfully first impressions aren't always accurate
Of course the obligatory history plug: The former dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu was a bit of a megalomaniac. During his reign from 1965 until he was deposed in the 1989 revolution, he was quite the brutal and ruthless dictator. One very visible way this was demonstrated in a series of building projects he initiated in Bucharest. The biggest of these being building the "House of the People." He had about one sixth of the city (about 70,000 people) evicted from their residences and businesses without compensation and flattened it all to create a series of plazas, a two-mile long "Champs Elysees" style boulevard and the gargantuan "House of the People" which is one of the largest buildings in the world. The whole site is pretty impressive until you start to look around at the vast expanses and absorb the fact that these huge plazas and parks once held entire neighborhoods. Strangely enough, the grand boulevard is a really pleasant stroll but the stores at street level in the grandiose buildings flanking the boulevard were almost all empty and derelict. In addition to that area, we wandered around much of the downtown and saw some key sites in the revolution of 1989
In a lot of ways Eastern Europe has really caught-up with the West but some things you still have to wonder if they are leftovers of the "Soviet style" bureaucracy. Case in point: the Bucharest train station has many very modern trains, a huge automatic schedule board, tons of vendors and ATM's, and multilingual electronic information kiosks with touch screens to help figure out train connections, fares, etc. Sounds great doesn't it? Well, here's the head-scratcher: The ticketing office at the station only sells tickets for up to two hours in advance and only for domestic trains. If you want to buy a ticket to any international destination or a ticket to anywhere domestic more than two-hours in advance, you must go to the railway ticketing office downtown, which is about 3 miles from the station! Go figure...
Bucharest is a strange blend of old communist style buildings interspersed with really blatant capitalist images. For example, there is a McDonalds, KFC, or Pizza Hut on almost every block. Pepsi is running a campaign here starring Christina Aguilera and the subway, bus stations, phone booths, and billboards are absolutely blanketed with it (see pic of giant Orangina bottle). Yet, you can still walk by buildings with bullet holes and in various stages of decay.
Overall, Bucharest is a great place to spend a day and we are looking forward to our upcoming time in Transylvania.