The large Old Town section of Bucharest is packed with tourists, Romanians on ‘holiday’ and locals eating at the great restaurants. We could have conquered the trolley system, but after sitting around the apartment with our computers all morning making lodging reservations, we needed the exercise the three mile trip offered.
Old Town Bucharest
The walk to Old Town was easy once we got out of the residential area where people seem to refuse to pick up after their dogs. This made walking at night very unsafe! Yes, the streets of Bucharest are unsafe to walk at night due to the dog poop. Taking the trolley was a learning curve we did not tackle. It was obvious they were the same iron cars which rumbled down the street during cruel reign of Nicolae Ceausescu.
Bucharest Old Town Area, Buildings and Monuments
Sights heading into Old Town improved a great deal with elegant old buildings similar to what we might expect, as well as new construction.
Many Monuments to historical figures.
Old Town Restaurants
We found both the variety and quality of the food a welcome change from Spain and Portugal. Finally, we could get surprisingly good Mexican, Indian, Lebanese, Italian, Chinese and of course good, hearty Romanian dishes. But still no Thai food. The old Town section of Bucharest is street after street of pedestrian malls full of restaurants. Some are new but others like the Caru cu Bere have been in business for over 100 years, interrupted only by Communist takeover for a time. The descendants of the original owners got their famed restaurant back in 1999.
Like any area deriving its living from the tourist dollar, there are many individuals trying to eke out a living in any manner they can. Below a violin player and a clown operate in a busy pedestrian intersection.
Food of Romania
Experiencing the food unique to wherever I may be traveling is an important part of the journey. That is a reason Scottish Haggis was ordered three times. Now in Romania, it seemed appropriate to try their unique dishes.
After ordering the Crap once at a restaurant, I discovered it was readily available at the local grocery store.
Finally, who wouldn’t want to try this delicacy?
Free Music Concert
Walking from our rental to the Old Town section we would pass a 25 foot tall metal sculpture of a violin. I learned the reason for this small park and violin sculpture our last Friday night in Bucharest. A very nice concert by a string quartet played throughout the evening. Initially they were playing very recognizable classical music by Bach and Mozart. At the intermission they changed clothes from their black formal dresses to traditional Romanian attire and played Romanian music familiar to the crowd.
After reading about Nicolae Ceausescu, his failed policies and cruel tactics, I felt compelled to go to the site of his famous helicopter escape, what is now called Revolution Square.
The last days of Nicolae Ceausescu is a very interesting read…. Seriously! YouTube has a video of his short mock trial, in Romanian of course. The Christmas Day 1989 execution of Nicolae and his wife Elena moments following the verdict was missed by the film guy since he did not exit the courtroom and get in the execution yard quickly enough. Those in charge of the trial were in a rush as they were worried about a last-minute rescue of the ommunist dictator.
Three Romanian military men were solicited for a ‘special Christmas mission’. Only after being selected and reporting for duty did they learn their job was to be the firing squad executing their ex-dictator. That must have been a shock! When the time came for them to fire away, the first marksman forgot to set his rifle to automatic mode, so he was fire single shots. A second marksman seemed traumatized and did not initially fire his weapon. Only the third marksman fired the barrage of 29 bullets which killed the dictator and his wife.
Only four days prior to his execution, from what is now named Revolution Square, Nicolae Ceausescu attempted to quell the recent illegal demonstrations with a long speech. Workers were brought in by the busload and ordered to cheer or be fired. Unbelievably, the crowd turned against their leader. People across Romania learned of this uprising on TV since the live feed could not be turned off quickly enough. Angry crowds grew when they learned of the death of the minister of defense, whose death was the result of a self-inflicted bullet wound. The minister wounded himself in order to avoid carrying our Ceausecu’s order to fire into the crowds below. Unfortunately the bullet struck an artery and he bled to death. The protestors grew more angry as they believed he was shot for not following orders. Being chased by protestors and fleeing a second failed speech of Communist Party rhetoric, Nicolae got stuck in an elevator due to a power outage. This timely event effectively hid the dictator from the rampaging protestors searching the building for him. Leaflets were dropped by helicopter onto the protesters telling them to disperse. However, strong winds blew them away so no leaflets reached the people and the protesting crowds grew.
Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife eventually fled from this very rooftop aboard a military helicopter. During this flight the pilot ‘tricked’ Nicolae and convinced him they were being fired upon. Nicolae ordered the pilot to land in a field outside of town, short of their destination. On the ground, they forced a local doctor to drive them to the city, but the doctor soon feigned engine trouble and convinced the fleeing party they could hide in the agricultural technical institute on the edge of town. When they entered the room they were to hide in, the institute director locked the door, capturing the fleeing dictator, his wife and two top commanders. Three days later the Communist dictator and his wife would be executed. Over 4,000 Romanians died in the Romanian Revolution that resulted in Ceausescu’s overthrow and death.
Queen Anne of Romania Dies (who?)
Across from Revolution Square there was a large gathering of people placing candles and flowers along a metal fence of an old, ornate building. We learned that Queen Anne of Romania had died at the age of 91. I had never heard of her either, but went to the Internet to learn more. Despite her royal status, her simple life appealed to the Romanians. However, she did not speak Romanian and never set foot in Romania until she was 70, as she lived in exile with her husband, the deposed King of Romania. The black and white photo above the candles is of Queen Anne.
Next we visit the second largest building in the world, the People’s Palace, ordered to be built by Nicolae Ceausescu.