Weekend in Bucharest, Romania

Last month I went on a weekend trip to Bucharest in Romania. I chose Bucharest because I’d never been to Romania before and it was the cheapest flight on my chosen date, a bargain 39euro return. I’d seen the Parliament Palace featured on Michael Palin’s New Europe years ago, and heard about the Dracula myth and the contrast of medieval and Communist era architectures. I stayed in the old town overlooking the Museum of Bucharest, on the edge of the Old Town and close to a metro station so I could reach everywhere easily. My first visit was to the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant, which cost £1.60 to visit. There were lots of traditional crafts on display from all across Romania, such as brightly decorated wooden crosses and colourful wooden eggs. I really enjoyed the examples of embroidery, and the large collection of religious icons, ranging from bright primary colours through to gold and silver leafed icons. Upstairs in the museum there were lots of displays of traditional peasant outfits for a variety of occasions, from workwear to wedding dresses. Everything was displayed on tables, or mannequins rather than being in glass cases, and I enjoyed this but found myself considering how this affects the conservation and preservation of the items. There were certainly a lot of staff in the museum, every room had one or two members of staff, and they all seemed to follow me around very closely to ensure I wasn’t touching any of the collection. Maybe I looked suspicious? The rooms in the museum were themed, religion, work life, domestic life, every part of a peasant’s life was covered. In the basement there was a collection of small statues from Communist times, mostly Lenin and some information about the collectivisation policy for agriculture in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. I spent a long time in the Peasant Museum looking at the embroidered traditional costumes and handmade wooden toys and would recommend it as a must see for anyone visiting Bucharest.

After seeing the Parliament Palace on Michael Palin’s New Europe I was fascinated by the scale of this government building. It’s the second largest building in the world, the largest government building and covers 333,000 square metres. This was the most expensive visit of the trip, costing 6 pounds. Parliament Palace is a contentious building because construction began in the 1980’s when the population of Bucharest suffered huge food queues and power cuts. Added to this one fifth of the historic city centre was demolished to create the space for the building, and it’s understandable why opinion is divided over the Palace. Our lovely tour guide Francesc showed us vast conference rooms, huge empty entertaining spaces and grand marble staircases. The tour covered 2km of the Palace, which is only a tiny percentage of the total area. At the end of the tour we were shown the balcony where Michael Jackson spoke to the people of Bucharest and mistakenly said ‘Hello Budapest’. The beautiful avenue leading from Parliament Palace was designed to rival the Champs-Elysees in size.

I also took a walking tour with Guided Bucharest, which covered the entire Old Town, beautiful old churches, museums, and public art. My favourite stop on the tour was Stavropoleos Church, dating from 1724. It had beautiful carved wooden doors and a courtyard at the side containing lots of tombstones from the eighteenth century. Our guide told us that when new buildings were built all the old headstones were moved to the courtyard for preservation.

I really enjoyed my visit, and would like to go back to Romania and see the countryside, especially the castles of Transylvania and the wooden churches and Merry cemetery of Maramureş. It was very easy to get around Bucharest, the Old Town is easily walkable and public transport was cheap and simple to navigate. I don’t speak Romanian but it’s easy to read if you know Italian or Spanish, and most people spoke English. The food and drinks were cheap against UK prices, most main courses in restaurants were between £3 and 5 and a large beer was about £1.40, even in the more expensive Old Town. My hotel was also inexpensive at £45 for 3 nights, so if you’re looking for a bargain weekend away somewhere different I would recommend Bucharest.