Another nice, cool but sunny day in Bucharest! Since we had the day free to do what we liked, we were able to sleep in and enjoy a good breakfast at the hotel.
After breakfast, we walked to the Parliment Building to pick up the Hop on/Hop off tour bus. It was about a 10 minute walk there and we crossed over the Dâmbovița (dim bo vitsa) River, the river that flows thru Bucharest. It has never been navigivable; there are 16 bridges over it.
The bus runs an hour and half route on a small section of the city, mainly hitting major buildings. We got on the bus around 11am and rode the entire route to start. There was a personal audio player with a headset but it wasn't quite synched with the bus and the info was a bit sparse. But here are the highlights:
1)The Parliament Building is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon in the US. A colossal building, designed and supervised by chief architect Anca Petrescu , with a team of approximately 700 architects, constructed over a period of 13 years (1984–97), it was built as a monument for a totalitarian kitsch style of architecture, in Totalitarian and modernist Neoclassical architectural forms and styles, with socialist realism in mind. The Palace was ordered by Nicolae Ceaușescu (1918–1989), a megalomaniac Communist dictator. Today it houses the two houses of the Parliament of Romania: the Senate (Senat) and the Chamber of Deputies (Camera Deputatilor), along with three museums and an international conference center. About 70% of the building, almost four decades later, still remains empty. As of 2008, the Palace of the Parliament is valued at $3.4 billion dollars, making it also the most expensive administrative building in the world. The cost of heating and electric use and lighting alone exceeds $6 million dollars per year, as much as the total cost for powering a medium-sized city.
2)The Monument to the Heros of the Air was built between 1930 and 1935. Attached to the top of the obelisk, which reaches 15 m, is a 5-meter, 5-ton statue depicting a flying man, his wings outstretched. Three aviators, each in a different stage of flight attempt, are depicted around the base of the obelisk. These men died pursuing various goals: skill development, performance, adventure and fighting in World War I. After the official dedication, 99 additional names have been posted on the side of the pedestal.
3) Arch of Triumph. The first, wooden, triumphal arch was built hurriedly, after Romania gained its independence (1878), so that the victorious troops could march under it. After several other replacements, this one was built in 1935. Presently, military parades are held beneath the arch each December 1, Romania's national holiday.
4) Victoria Palace on Victoria Square is a government building housing the Prime Minister of Romania and the cabinet. The building suffered heavy damage in the 1944 Bombing of Bucharest in World War II. It then underwent significant restoration and reconstruction works. It has been the site of protests since January 2017. While protests on a smaller scale continued to happen almost daily, mass protests erupted again on August 10th, 2018, when an anti-government protest with the "Diaspora at Home" motto was held in Bucharest. This protest was marked by unprecedented levels of violence in comparison to the other 2017–2018 protests, and lead to an ongoing resurgence of mass protests in Romania. We didn't see any protesters while we were there.
After finishing the loop, we got off at the "Old Town" area so we could walk around that and find some lunch. The whole Old Town area is a pedestrian zone with cobbled streets. We found the Taverna Covaci on one of the scenic streets; we liked the "tourist menu" where you could sample different traditional dishes for 1 price. This included soup (I had vegetable; Jef had bean), main course( I had chicken & mashed potatoes; Jef had grilled pork with roasted potatoes), salad (mine=fresh vegetable; Jef= fresh cabbage salad) and dessert (mine= chocolate cake, Jef= flan). It was all pretty tasty and very filling! We ate outside since it was such a nice day.
One thing we've noticed around town is how many people, of all ages, smoke. There were several middle/high schools in the area we were having lunch and the kids were everywhere for the lunch break. They'd gather in little groups and smoke but one group of 10 or so 14 yr olds sat outside at the bar/restaurant right across from us. When we looked over a little later, we noticed that ALL of the were not only puffing away but were drinking beers too! Seriously--where were their mothers??? We'll have to find out about the drinking age in Romania but apparently the bar had no problem serving these kids and during lunch break from school!
So after that, we walked around a bit and then got on the hop on/hop off to ride about half way around the loop to our hotel area stop. We just saw the same things but again, it was a nice day. Instead of getting off where we bought the tickets, we decided to try a different area that would let us walk through Cismigiu Gardens. This large garden was completed in 1860 with more than 30,000 trees and plants brought in from the Romanian mountains and exotic plants from the botanical gardens in Vienna. It's looking a little run down but it's still a lovely area.
We were hoofing it to make it back to the hotel by 6pm for our first meeting with the tour group.
We made it on time and found people gathering in the reception area. Our leader, Dris, is from Belgium but living in Hungry. He's around mid-30's and speaks english well. There are 12 of us in the group:
1) Penny, from Australia, mostly retired and single
2) Paddy, from Ireland, works in IT south of Dublin, single
3) Nyarie, (like Diary with an N), from New Zealand, retired IT person, single
4) Bjorn, from Germany, IT guy and single
5) Margaret, from Australia, retired tour guide, single
6) Tom, from Denmark, not sure what he does yet, single
7) Daniel, from Switzerland, technician for Swiss national TV
8) Glen, Australian, insurance/finance, single
9) & 10) Guermo & Patty, Chile, not sure what they do but about same age as us.
And us for 11 & 12. We are the only Americans!
After we all introduced ourselves, Dris gave us the run down on the tour and went over the "rules". He'd arranged, for anyone who wanted to go, a dinner at the Caru' cu Bere, a famous and popular beer hall in Old Town. Everyone decided to go. So we walked back to Old Town (20 mins). Caru' cu Bere (means the beer wagon) was opened in 1879 and has been in it's current location since 1899. It is noted for its distinctive art nouveau interior decoration. It's a huge hall with tons of beautiful stained glass. It was very busy but Dris had reserved a table upstairs for us. We all ordered traditional Romanian dishes (except we just got sides since we'd had such a large lunch not that long ago); Penny and I (the only non-beer drinkers) ordered a carafe of white wine to share. It was a very nice Romanian Sauvignon Blanc. We had a good time talking and getting to know one another. At the end of the meal, a lot of people tried the traditional aperitif called pălincă. It's fermented from fruit, most commonly plums. It has a 52% alcohol content and is kind of like grappa. Jef tried the plum while others tried quince and other fruits. It's served in a small, tall bud vase-looking glass.
After dinner, we waked back to the hotel, through Cismigiu gardens again.
Our tour officially begins tomorrow with some free time in the morning and then moving on from Bucharest to Tulcea (tool cha), an eastern city on the Danube delta.