After having visited several multicoloured towns and villages in Romania it came as a shock to see that the city of Bucharest was fifty shades of off-white. It was as if every pot of coloured paint had been shipped out to the countryside leaving the buildings of the capital in the pale.
The city is also dominated by the second biggest building in the world: the parliament building built by Nicolae Caeusescu after being inspired during a trip to South Korea Finished in 1997, to some it maybe an architectural marvel, to others it’s a very big building planned using Lego. Whilst I was there it was to be the venue of a telecommunications conference the following week, so I could not go inside. Comprised of twelve storeys above ground, four below and over one thousand rooms, I would have liked to have seen the one as big as a soccer pitch, but maybe another day.
Like many cities once ruled by Soviet Russia Bucharest is divided into the old town and the new. Much of the new comprises of rectangular, pragmatic buildings, the old is filled with architectural wonders in need of a little TLC in places and, as mentioned, some colour.
The museum, art gallery and university building were all as spectacular as any in European capital cities and I spent a couple of hours exploring the art gallery, seeing work akin to Monet, Poussin, Kandinsky and Picasso, but all by East European artists whose names I did not recognise. A shameful lack of art history on my part.
I forewent other museums as the queues were long, surprisingly comprised of school children who seemed to be on a school trip on a Saturday – certainly not something I’d see in Ireland when students would be more likely enjoying sport rather than academia. Furthermore, the weather was far too good to remain indoors, therefore the parks were a better bet but they too were busy with people fishing in the blue waters of the lakes or ambling amongst the autumnal trees.
I stayed at the Union Plaza Hotel which has a Sky Bar on the twelfth floor overlooking the city. I enjoyed a fabulous meal there on my first night, but was a little disappointed that the light show in one of the main squares had ceased to operate the previous week. Still the view of the city by night was lovely, the food was delicious and the wine flowed.
I made the most of my final day ambling through the cobbled streets of the old town, enjoying the sunny weather and glorious heat, knowing the following day it was likely to be raining on my return to Ireland. The city was abuzz with people out dining, chatting and shopping in the numerous establishments and market stalls.
I took a peek in the Caru’cu bere, an art deco restaurant where Hercule Poirot would have felt at home, seated amongst the wood panelling and stained glass, but unfortunately it was too busy to accommodate me. I should have booked!
However that night I was welcomed to a show of Romanian music and dance in the Hanu'lui Manuc Restaurant in the old town. A smiling gentleman was playing a cimballo, an instrument I had not seen before and because of the deftness of his handwork you cannot make out in the photograph that it is played with long, wooden handled brushes. It was a fun evening finishing with the crowd doing the conga, a “dance” that seems to be universal when celebrating any occasion.
Bucharest was a long way from the warning of bears when I arrived in Brasov, the multicoloured quaintness of Sighisoara’s old town and Dracula’s 125th year celebrations in Bran Castle; but it is a city with great potential. I may not be around in thirty years, but if I am I may pop back to see if it becomes as fashionable as Paris, as triumphant as Rome or as popular as London. Time, innovation and a little TLC will tell.
For more on my visit to Romania please click on the links: