No:47 – Romania [September, 2019]

While preparing for No:48, suddenly a work requirement cropped up to go to Romania. Had a fun 10 days in Romania 🙂 (Outside of the intense work-week).

 

Country Counter: Countries/territories I have visited so far …

Travel TipsTips based on my travels so far …

 

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No:47 – Romania: Arrived in Bucharest and then train to Brasov … Overnight travel, a bit tired. Hopefully, full blast from tomorrow 🙂
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Bucuresti Nord Train Station: Had some pastries for a snack … One of them was a bit too cheesy for me.
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Well, what is a (former) Eastern Bloc Country, without a small dose of Capitalism? 
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Inside the Bucuresti Nord Railway Station … Bucharest, Romania.
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Inside the CFR train to Brasov … As you can see, not as plush as the Central European ones. And this is 1st Class 
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City bus in Brasov … A breeze to use.
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Republicii Boulevard, Brasov, Romania … Friday night. Locals (and Tourists) having a good time.
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A nice looking lit building near Old Town, Brasov …
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The Beer on 1st day … 
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Romanian Leu/Lei … Though a part of European Union, Romania is not a part of Eurozone.
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4AM walk from hotel in Old Town Brasov to Brasov Train station. Though we are far from Winter, the early morning air was nippy.
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The rickety interiors of the CFR Regional Train … Brasov to Sighisoara. I can assure you the train did not set any speed records 
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The regional CFR train that took me to Sighisoara, from Brasov.
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Orthodox Church, Sighisoara. Some ceremony was going on when I passed by.
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The streets were lined with beautiful flowers … On the lamp posts.
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View of Sighisoara from the Clock Tower …
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Sighisoara, Romania. Such a cute town, the medieval city center is a must visit. Cobbled streets, narrow walkways, colorful buildings …
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The famous Clock Tower … Sighisoara, Romania.
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Sighisoara, Romania. Such a cute town, the medieval city center is a must visit. Cobbled streets, narrow walkways, colorful buildings …

 

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Sighisoara, Romania. Such a cute town, the medieval city center is a must visit. Cobbled streets, narrow walkways, colorful buildings …

 

Rupea Citadel, Rupea, Romania.

Recorded history from 14th century. Takes some climbing, unless you take a taxi 🙂 You can see it from all around as it is on top of a hill. Each room and hall within this fort is marked and described quite well. Had to rearrange my plans quite a bit in an ultimately failed attempt to see Viscri Fortified Church. In most towns, you would expect the train station to be right in the center of the town. Not the case with Rupea! After exploring the Citadel, in the town, because I could get no taxi or bus, had to do a 7km walk through Romanian highways to get to the Train Station (Was the only person on foot! Several guys stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. But because the weather was nice and I was enjoying the walk, I politely declined 🙂)

 

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Lot of steps to climb to reach the Citadel …
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A good view of the Rupea Citadel … There were quite a few locals visiting the Citadel.
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View of Rupea town, from the top of the Rupea Citadel … It was a beautiful day.
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Rupea town, through one of the windows of the Rupea Citadel …
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One of the halls inside the Rupea Citadel. Looks like this one was for visiting children.
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During the 7km walk from Rupea Citadel to Rupea Gara. The Romania countryside is beautiful!
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During the 7km walk from Rupea Citadel to Rupea Gara. The Romania countryside is beautiful!
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Believe it or not, this is the Rupea Train Station. Real rundown. Romania has a GDP of around 250 Million USD. But man, its railway system desperately needs some funds. Lot of people use the trains, so that cannot be the issue.
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After the 7km walk, treated myself to this …
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The real rundown Rupea Train Station … I was the lone guy getting in from Rupea! Just the station master and me! Very helpful guy, who let me use his staff restroom (There was no common restroom) …
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A carousal in one of the parks in Brasov …Saturday night. Lots of families around …
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Draught Beer and the fried Pork complimentary appetizer … Having Pork after a long time and that too, fried.
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All things Pork … Grilled Pork, Pork Sausages, Pork Ribs … Did not like that yellow blob of some potato-like vegetable.
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I had ordered Plum Dumpings (Since when are dumplings Romanian?) And I thought, great, they serve it with Plum jam! But there was actual plum inside the dumpling 

 

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Early morning walk through Old Town, Brasov. That too, it being a Sunday, I had the streets to myself …
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Strada Sforii (“Rope Street”). … Narrowest street in Romania. Originally meant for firefighters. Just over a meter wide.
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Now that Rope Street is a tourist attraction, a graffiti wall … Some people went on a writing spree
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Baserica Neagra (“Black Church”) … After a major fire, it got its nickname. Even though it was a Sunday, I could not find a way to enter the Church … 
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The buildings are so colorful and pretty … Old Town, Brasov, Romania.
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Old Town Square, Brasov. Romanians love smoking! Romanians also love drinking! I could see several folks, mainly youngsters, who still had the party going on …

 

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Breakfast area in the hotel …. Vintage! I picked the hotel because it is right in the Old Town. If you discard the lack of a few of the modern amenities, it was a decent hotel. Breakfast was yum …
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Bran Castle, Bran, Romania. From the road …

 

Bran Castle, Bran, Romania.

This Castle is highly marketed as “Dracula’s Castle”, which is utterly bogus!

1. When English Author (or Irish?) Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” in 1897, there was no evidence that he was directly influenced by Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, the Voivode of Wallachia (I assume “Voivode” means “Governor”)
2. Vlad Tepes, though very cruel allegedly, was no Vampire!
3. There is no evidence that Vlad Tepes ever lived in Bran Castle.

All this does not prevent from Bran Castle being heavily “influenced” by Count Dracula (A.k.a Vlad the Impaler). His image is everywhere. Souvenirs in his name are everywhere.

But what a majestic Castle. Utterly delicious! Small, beautifully located (as usual, on a hill) and just cute.

I have been blessed with great weather in Romania so far. Hope it continues for the rest of the week (Am here for work, believe it or not). In sunshine, Bran Castle just glows …

I carefully stayed away from any souvenir that had anything to do with Vlad Tepes. Did buy several Bran Castle souvenirs though … My wife complains that our living space is shrinking due to the “stuff” I bring back from my exploits …

 

 

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Waiting in line to buy ticket for Bran Castle. It was quite crowded … Several tourists were wearing Vlad Tepes T-shirts
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The small and cute Bran Castle …It was beautiful weather as well.
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One of the narrow staircases inside Bran Castle …
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View of Bran town from one of the Bran Castle windows …
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Body Armor … Bran castle, Bran, Romania.
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Bran Castle is a hotspot for Souvenir shops. Mainly cheap and tacky and bogus (Count Dracula!) stuff …
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Those loaves look yummy …
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Coffee break … At a Lavazza store, which happens to be the bus stop for buses going back to Brasov.
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Lunch at Brasov Train Station. Definitely not gourmet ….  Pork, again.
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Another beer … Need to keep an eye on the calories!

 

Romanian Trains & Train Stations.

After experiencing rail journey at Bucharest, Brasov, Sighisoara, Rupea & Sinaia, I think I have some “qualifications” on this topic 

Rail travel is quite popular in Romania, especially between major towns. CFR which runs Romanian Rail, does a decent job with the system. For e.g. I was very impressed with the adherence to timings. Other than arriving at Sinaia a few minutes late, departures and arrivals were spot-on w.r.t. the published schedules.

Some trains, especially “R” types, are quite tacky and rundown. But the “IR” types (longer distances, fewer stops) are way better, though not in the class of trains in France/Germany/Etc. I experienced both 1st class and 2nd class.

I would rank the stations thus:

1. Sinaia: Beautiful and clean station. Good amenities and quite regal in appearance (Peles Castle influence?)
2. Bucharest (Bucuresti Nord): Busiest station, but very Communisty … 
3. Brasov: Hmmm … Just about okay. Real junk WC (By the by, most public WCs I have seen are paid ones, 1.5 Lei to 2.0 Lei per use)
4. Sighisoara: Small, but fits the basic needs
5. Rupea: Just the station master and me! Only his office room is operational, rest all are gutted! It was as if I entered a war zone …

The train tickets are very nominally priced and the automated ticket machines as well as the CFR website are a breeze to use … Kudos, Romania!

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The train from Brasov to Sinaia …
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Inside the “R” train to Sinaia … 1st half of the journey was peaceful, and then …
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Train ride from Brasov to Sinaia:
It was just an hour’s journey, in a double-decker CFR Regional Train. The weather was nice and the carriage was quite empty. The ride was bliss, or so I thought … At around 15 minutes from Sinaia, I went and stood at the exit area of the carriage. From a few minutes earlier, I could hear a lot of cacophony from the upper deck (my seat was in the lower deck). Also, the carriage was supposedly 1st class. At the exit area, suddenly a huge black suitcase came hurtling down from the upper deck. What the heck!? Then 2 drunken Romanian dudes came down (the creators of the cacophony mentioned above!). They found it amusing that the bag kept moving from end to end in the rocking train. They encouraged me to laugh and enjoy the spectacle. I gave a polite smile, cursing my luck to be attached with these jokers for the rest of the ride. Suddenly, one of the dudes pushed the other dude, who fell on the floor. Both of them laughed hysterically. I did not find it funny and instead changed to a slightly crouching position (for better balance), in case they wanted their new friend to join in the madness. Luckily, they did not …
At the station just before Sinaia, out of nowhere, some 200 people entered the “1st class” carriage. That too with many bags. Bedlam followed all around me. The drunken dudes loved it! They even got into a verbal spat with a more dignified older gentleman.
LESSON: “Nothing lasts forever” … (From one of the most peaceful train rides to one of the wildest, all within 15 minutes!)

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A beautiful Orthodox Church … On the way to Peles Castle.

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania.

Peles Castle was the Summer residence of King Carol I, who ruled Romania for 48 (!) years from 1866-1914. He had come from Germany to help Romania (formed in 1859) integrate into rest of Europe.

The Castle was built in 1873 and modifications went on till his death in 1914.

From Sinaia Train Station, it is a roughly 2km of climbing to reach the Castle. And when the sunlight falls on it, it is specially spectacular. Photography is not allowed inside, even with phones, as I was to find out later  Managed a few snaps by then though … There was a brief English Tour included in the admissions price. Considering the admission prices at other Romanian sights so far, Peles Castle is pricey. As soon as you see it from outside and see the interiors, you can understand why this castle is the pride of Romania (For e.g. Sinaia Train Station is way better than even Bucharest Train Station!).

King Carol, who spoke German, French, English and Romanian, maintained a library of 30000+ books, most of which is now in Bucharest’s National Library. He had used German architects to create a small but exquisite castle. The castle used 14 types of wood. The King’s Office, Reception Hall, Dining Hall (which seats 36 people), Ladies Smoking Room, Arrival Hall Etc. were included in the tour. Murano glass (some Hi-Fi glass it seems) was used abundantly. The King also had the largest private arms collection of that time. The castle had innovations like central heating. Built in German (and Italian) style, there are rooms with a lot of Persian carpets. There are also some real classy paintings, especially those of the King and his Family. The woodwork is so complex and intricate, it is like “Inception” (Mind-Bending!). If you discount the small size (relative to other famous Castles/Palaces), Peles Castle is definitely one of the best ones I have seen, yet.

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The picture-perfect Peles Castle ….

 

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There are many statues all around the Peles Castle …
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King Carol I, in front of Peles Castle …
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Tiles and slanting roofs … Love it. Tiles is very popular in India too.
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Politics is the same everywhere …  When I keep hearing “These politicians”, “Corrupt politicians” Etc. I keep wondering: Power must be corrupting everyone. Someone who harps on Ethics, Equality, Rules & Regulations Etc., once they get the Power, must be showing Middle-Finger to the very same “Ethics, Equality, Rules & Regulations Etc.” 
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Lunch spread at office …  It is interesting to observe Romanian colleagues and how they go about their lives. Most of them live near to office. A few, staying far away, do take public transit and a lady I met has 1hr commute of which 30min is walking. Romanians smoke a lot …  Smoking in public is very common, gents and ladies. Peak time traffic is bad, by European standards (Compared to Indian traffic, of course it is nothing). Romanians are quite proficient in English, at least among professionals.
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Colored Ceramics … Seems popular here.
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Romanian Red Wine … Caught a Flu and sadly had to stay away from Beer.
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Desserts platter … Know what I ate? Nothing. All these items killed my very small sweet tooth … 
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Walk at Night: National Arts Museum, I think …
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Walk at Night: Real small Orthodox Church …
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Walk at Night: Most apartment blocks in Bucharest looks like this … We saw traffic cops catch someone on DUI (Driving Under Influence) <– Drunk Driving, basically 
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Walk at Night: Not sure who the person is …
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Walk at Night: Through a park … Saw some couples, at midnight …
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Walk at Night: JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel … Phew, that is a long name. Anyway, that is how they call themselves 
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There were a lot of Fire Engines piled up. Some drill I suppose …
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A hotel right next to Palace of Parliament. Hmmm … What is an innovative name you can give?
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Dying grass and litter … This park will not win any awards any time soon.
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I was wondering why the park was so littered … Here is why. There was a concert, looks like …
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Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania. Sitting Presidents also need to advertise? 
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Deea does not believe in Facebook updates … She is old-school and likes Walls and Paint.
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Biserica Kretzulescu: Quite small. Orthodox Church from 1722.
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Biserica Kretzulescu: The ceiling … Some prayer was going on and I did not stay long.
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How is that? Tree stumps for footpath …
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Nice statue of King Carol I … Right next to Ateneul Roman
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Scooters for rent … They can move fast! Some some guys race by. Apparently you can rent it through an App …
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Saw several portable potties in the downtown area … One has to be real desperate to use them though 
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Some dude (or dudette) has left the scooter right in the middle of the footpath … Nice 😦
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Ateneul Roman: Bucharest Theatre/Opera … Did not find any interior tours though.
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Metro Ticket Vending Machine … A breeze to use. 5 Lei for 2 rides. 20 Lei for 10 rides.
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This is around 11AM and hence the lack of crowds …
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A Metro train arriving at the platform …
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Bucharest Metro Map … 70+ stations and 47 stations. It is quite well-used and gets crowded during peak hours

 

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Some of the Bucharest Metro Stations are more elaborate than others … Like this one, Eroilor.
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A nice staircase … Cotroceni Palace Museum.

 

Cotroceni Palace Museum

Cotroceni Palace is the official residence of the President of Romania. It is heavily guarded and there are all sorts of rules and regulations when you visit it. They security check you and keep your passport while you are inside. Also, one cannot enter on their own. It has to be a conducted tour.

When I found that the English tour was at 2PM (they changed the timings, looks like), I thought “Here goes my chance …”, as I had already booked Palace of Parliament English Tour at 2PM. Then I thought, does language really matter? I have read up about the Palace (Could be a guide myself) and know all the highlights and only thing I might miss are the guide’s titbits. So, in order not to miss seeing the Palace at all, I signed up for a Romanian language tour! At 11AM …

I stood out in the tour group like a sore thumb  And the shock in the Romanian Guide’s face when she saw the group, and me, was hilarious … Then we started off, with me bringing up the rear. We had to walk through a courtyard and I started taking pictures as I was walking. The guide (a lady) was saying something in Romanian. I did not pay attention and was clicking away. Apparently you are not supposed to photograph anything but the interiors of the Palace and that was what she was telling! Imagine from her perspective … “What a rude guy to not listen”. Then someone from the group told me in halting English what the guide had meant. Oops 

The Palace is huge. There are countless well maintained rooms. We walked through a lot of the rooms, while the guide went on in Romanian. A Romanian lady occasionally translated for me, though I did not request her to translate.

Really enjoyed the tour … And at the end, splurged in the Souvenir shop as well. Reminded me of my Russian tour at Lake Baikal in 2016, where also I had stood out like a sore thumb 

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Cotroceni Palace Museum: One of the many mind-boggling halls …
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Cotroceni Palace Museum: That is one cool skylight …
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Goodies from Cotroceni Palace Museum 
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Ha!!!! Just like in India … Footpath is for cars!

 

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Walking through a residential neighborhood … Quite close to Palace of Parliament.
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Palace of Parliament: Side entrance … Gulp!

 

Palace of Parliament (“Palatul Parlamentului”)

How can one visit Bucharest and not talk about this massive building … Palace? Parliament? Actually, it is both.

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Palace of Parliament … At dusk.
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Palace of Parliament … At night.

Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist Dictator who ruled Romania for 24 years sure helped create such hatred for himself among the people that he had a horrible (and deserving, many say) death. This Palace was his masterpiece, where he further strained an already strained Romanian economy for 13 years in building this monstrosity to showcase his power and prestige. The entire area was reclaimed for this project. Today, many Romanians do not care for this Palace at all, due to the painful memories associated with it.

The English Tour I took lasted 1.25hr. I was wearing a casual office shoe (not at all a walking shoe) and since I visited the Palace of Parliament after visiting Cotroceni Palace Museum (and the 8km, total, back and forth of walking), my feet was hurting like crazy. But I sucked it up and completed the tour. Know how much of the Palace was covered by the tour? 5%!

Highlights:
# 700 architects were involved
# 20000+ workers were involved
# Recognized as the 2nd largest office building in the World (after Pentagon)
# All the building materials, like marble, carpets, wood Etc. were from various parts of Romania. Nicolae apparently wanted to showcase the power of Romania. by not depending on other Countries.
# Romanian Parliament and Constitutional Court are housed here
# Only 60% is occupied. Rest is empty!
# The Palace has 1120 rooms (Some websites said 3000 rooms! Got overexcited I guess)
# There are 440 offices, 4 restaurants, 30 conference rooma and a Bank
# Some parts of the Palace are open only to Romanian citizens
# One of the Theatres has 600 seats and a 5 ton chandelier. This theatre is typically rented by University of Bucharest for graduation ceremonies. # The chandelier is not crystal, some fake material it seems ….
# There is a bigger theatre with 800 seats (!), used by the Romanian Parliament.
# The Palace has 12 floors above the ground (We started from -2)
# The building is 86m in height
# The building is on a small hill
# There are many paintings by Romanian artists, donated by Artists or Private Collectors
# Wood from Carpathian mountains is used mainly
# Some rooms are modeled on German style, inspired from Peles Castle
# The staircase steps are short as both Nicolae and Elena were short.
# It is interesting to note that many so-called Communist Leaders thought that Communist style was for followers, but they could have all the opulence they wanted ….
# “The Nun” movie was shot here (few scenes) after Vatican did not allow …
# The Palace is not a popular and happy place,. so not many weddings happen here, even though several halls can be rented by outsiders
# Yasser Arafat was here for some peace talks …
# We noticed that one of the ballrooms was being made ready for a Saturday event …
# Nadia Comeneci after her defection to USA was allowed to return, and she held a wedding reception in grand ball room in 1996 …

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I love Sparkling Water … (Plain Soda, as we call in India). After lots of walking, it is pure bliss.
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Palace of Parliament: The entrance to the Turkmenistan Gallery, with a message from the Ambassador.
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Palace of Parliament: One of the paintings from Turkmenistan …
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Palace of Parliament English Tour kick-off … Tour was for 1.25hr. We saw just 5% of the Palace!
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One of the several internal theatres … Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania.
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It will take ages to explore the Palace of Parliament in its entirety …
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Wow! Man, the guy loved opulence … Wasn’t he a Communist/Socialist!?
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One of the many spectacular staircases …
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What a wonderful ceiling … Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania.
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One of the many halls/auditoriums in the Palace of Parliament
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View from the balcony of Palace of Parliament … Nicolae Ceausescu would have planned to give many speeches from this balcony.

 

Museum of the Romanian Peasant, Bucharest, Romania.

 

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The National Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Muzeul Național ahl Ţăranului Român): Hmmm ….Smelled yummy. Bought a small piece of each, to taste … Yum!
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The National Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Muzeul Național al Ţăranului Român): Loved these colorful frames … Bought one.

 

Miscellaneous.

 

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IMAX Theatre … It would be nice to roll this one around 
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On the way to Hanu’lui Manuc …
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Very different and interesting menu … Had to study it deeply before making the choices.
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The “1 Meter Beer” … 10 mugs per tray. Lost count after a few “meters” 
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Hanu’lui Manuc … Very famous in Bucharest. Look at the crowds on a Tuesday night. The place was BUZZING …
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Romanian Sausages … And of course, the essential “condiment” (Beer! )
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Unirii Fountains … Apparently reopened recently. It is huge and toggles between Blue and Pink. Not sure if other colors are involved on other days.
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Unirii Fountains … Apparently reopened recently. It is huge and toggles between Blue and Pink. Not sure if other colors are involved on other days.
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Yet another Pub … I was down and out long before and could not finish my beer here.
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Local magazines … The headline on the magazine towards the right does not augur well …
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BCR (Banca Comerciala Romana) office …
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The tram in Bucharest …

 

 

Adios!

 

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