When I think of Romania, Dracula is the first thing that comes to mind ! 🙂 I know, I know don’t cringe, just keeping it real… Bucharest might not be your typical weekend getaway destination but this makes it just perfect if you are looking for an authentic and original travel destination.
Day 1 : Friday
The plane flight time is only an hour and a half from Paris. I got up very early in the morning (which is something I’m not fond of) and Charles de Gaulle Airport was still asleep…
The Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport is quite small and is located 16.5 km from the Bucharest city center. It also clearly had Dracula in mind, check out this duty free shop :
A tour guide and a small shuttle bus was waiting for us. The sky was pretty overcast but the city architecture caught me by surprise. I guess I was expecting the communist influence to be more prevalent and find a lot of heavy “soviet” type buildings but the city actually had a lot of classic European architecture. The shuttle bus provided us with a tour of the civic neighborhood ‘Centrul Civic’. It harbours a lot of the important institutions of the city.
The first order of business was to check in to our hotel. The Hotel Cismigiu was right in the city center. It was built in 1912, and was once a theater for a couple of years.
I have a premium suite with a full kitchen and a living room. The room is very nice. The only complaint is that there are not enough plugs for all my electronics! Yes I know the woes of the bloggers! 🙂
Once we were checked in we headed out to meet with our local guide and start a tour of the old city. We started in front of the National Military Circle. This highly ornate building was designed in French neo-Classical style by Dumitru Maimarolu, Victor Stefanescu and Ernest Doneaud. Construction started in 1911 and ended in 1923 with most of the funds being donated by the Romanian Army officers. The Army Club replaced the monastery church of Sarindar which used to sit here.
The guide then took us to see Revolution Square which is a square in central Bucharest, on Calea Victoriei. Known as Piața Palatului until 1989, it was later renamed after the 1989 Romanian Revolution.
The spiked monument or Memorial of Rebirth is not that tasteful in my opinion with blood painted dripping down. Subtlety isn’t their thing I guess. The guide told us the building of the former Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party that can be seen above is where Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife fled by helicopter on December 22, 1989 during the revolution.
I also found the crumbling statues on the benches to be down right creepy. What do you think?
We strolled along the streets taking in the views. When we happened upon an old church, right around a corner, I thought now that is my cup of tee. I’ve always loved churches and the beautiful artwork prevalent in many of them. I also just plain appreciate the peaceful and serene atmospheres. We went inside to admire the glass stained windows and painted wood on the walls.
My favorite church was the Stavropoleos Monastery, also known as Stavropoleos Church during the last century when the monastery was dissolved. It is gorgeous inside and out. It used to be an Eastern Orthodox monastery for nuns in central Bucharest. Its church is built in the Brâncovenesc style in 1724.
It stood unassuming in the middle of other buildings and it seemed we had stumbled upon a gem by chance. It is completely dwarfed by the surrounding architecture. The dome hand-paintings are superb. I love the orthodox style churches as the art is always plentiful and gorgeous.
The monastary is beautiful with columns and trees. I could just picture the nuns in as they strolled peacefully.
From there we went to visit a museum the Curtea Veche or “Old Princely Court”. It was built as a residence during the rule of Vlad III Dracula in 1459. Basically Count Dracula’s crib ! Archaeological excavations started in 1953. Sadly, the main things left are a couple of ruins and a church.
I love vampire fiction so it was exciting to see the historic side to all the vampire legends. Vlad the Impaler established his court in 1459 in Bucharest. Most of his reign was dominated by conflicts with the Turks.
The sun had come out for quite some time now and we were all getting thirsty and tired. A much needed stop was made at the Hanul Manuc or Manuc’s Inn. It’s the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest, Romania. It also houses a popular restaurant, several bars, a coffee-house, and (facing the street) several stores and an extensive bar. It has a massive, multiple balconied courtyard. The inn was first built in 1808 and you definitely get that feel while staring at the wooden balconies.
The coffee house is now… guess what? Yes, a Starbucks ! So I just HAD to add a Bucharest mug to my Starbucks mug collection.
After a refreshing drink (no NOT Starbucks, but a mint flavored local lemonade), we discovered a beautiful park : the Cișmigiu Gardens built in 1847. They surround Lake Cișmigiu which is located in the center of Bucharest, Sector 1. The lake is actually artificial and has a surface of 29.500 m², a length of 1.3 km, a width of 50 meters and a depth of 1–2 meters. The word cișmigiu comes from Turkish: a Ceșme is a public fountain and a cișmigiu (or cișmegiu) used to be the person responsible for building and maintaining public fountains.
After that we headed back to the hotel to refresh ourselves before going out for a Romanian dinner. We asked our guide for a recommendation for a typical Romanian restaurant with local food. He said there was one place we couldn’t miss : Cacru’ cu Bere – but it might be tough getting a reservation on a weekend at the last minute. Since it was the place to see, we decided to head out early and just cross our fingers. We were lucky and got there just before the heavy dinner crowd and were able to secure a table.
We certainly didn’t regret it. The restaurant opened in 1879 and serves typical Romanian fare. Eating there was definitively an all around experience with food, traditional music and even traditional dancers !
Romanian food is quite good, if a little heavy. It’s a good thing being a tourist is hard work with lots of walking and going up and down stairs because I’m not sure the calorie intake here is the chef’s main priority !
The food was very good and hit the spot after a long day. We had a nice local beer with it. But no three course meal, we couldn’t eat another bite. Desert came in the form of entertainment with musicians playing instruments and the dancers coming out and twirling around us in traditional costumes.
After a very long day – we did wake up around 4.30 am ! – we decided to call it a night and didn’t go out for a late night drink but headed straight back to the hotel for a much needed good night’s sleep.
To be continued…. Day 2& 3
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