Jesse and I had a great time in Budapest for five days, and now we were on to our next stop on our Eastern European Summer 2022 tour, the capital of Romania, Bucharest. To get from Budapest to Bucharest, however, required us to take the third traveling option; not the normal planes or automobiles; it was train time. The train was not the fastest, but it was the cheapest ($100 for both of us). However, it was an overnight train, as the trip takes 15 hours. Yes, 15. We had to book the tickets online, and really did not know what to expect.
We arrived at the Budapest train station with our backpacks and one rolling suitcase that has been our travel set since we left Gijón back on April 1st. We had wanted to get a private room on the train, but none were available, so we had a four-person cabin. We arrived first; there were two couch seats facing each other, and above them, two top bunks. We put our bags in the ample storage space that our cabin allotted, and waited to see who we would share our cabin with.
After a while, a young man joined us, and soon after the ticket agent came through to check our tickets. The agent told our fellow traveler, in Romanian, that it was just the three of us for now, but if anyone else joined the cabin, Jesse and I had the top two bunks. Our fellow traveler’s name was George; he was Romanian but had studied in London and has lived there the past 12 years, working as an architect.
The train prepared to leave the station; it was 5pm, and we were scheduled to reach Bucharest at 8am the next morning. We talked with George awhile; he told us a lot about Romania and gave us great recommendations on where to go and the best places to eat in Bucharest, as he was used to bringing friends from London and showing them around his home city.
The train car was very dated, and, while we had two windows, only one opened, and it was quite sunny and hot. Our first stop was at the Hungary-Romania border; we waited as the Hungarian authorities came through, stamped our passports, and went to the next car. Once that was done, the train traveled about thirty minutes in Romania, and the Romanian authorities came through and stamped our passports to acknowledge entry into Romania.
After a while Jesse climbed up the thin metal ladder to the second bunk, George and I laid on each coach, and we tried to nap. After a couple hours, the sun went down, and we all ate snacks we had brought with us, and talked some more, and soon in was almost midnight. We brushed our teeth in the pretty gross train bathrooms, and went to sleep.
Our trip took us through the Carpathian mountains and Transylvania, where it was cold, and we wound up needing the blankets the train company provided us. It was a bit hard to fall asleep, but sleep we did, and soon it was 7:30 am, and the train agent came to wake us up, and let us know we were approaching Bucharest. We had made it, 15 hours, like it was nothing! Welcome to Bucharest!
We arrived too early in the morning, so we could not check into our rental apartment for a few hours, and found a cafe in the train station, ate omelets and drank four cups of coffee over the few hours wait. Finally we could check in, so we took a taxi, and arrived at our rental apartment, which came with a balcony and a nice view of the city.
Near our rental was the famous Romanian Athenaeum, a concert hall built in 1888.
As fancy as it looks outside, the inside entryway is just as grand.
Up those stairs, was the concert hall, a cozy place where there was not a bad seat in the house.
The ceiling was especially cool.
It was Sunday, and George informed us that on Sundays Victory Street, which leads to Victory Square was closed to all cars, so pedestrians and bicyclists could travel down the street unimpeded. We were only a few minutes away from Victory Street, so after we left the Theater we meandered our way down Victory Street, stopping for ice cream (I had a delicious and refreshing Basil Lime sorbet, some of the best I’ve ever had). The street was pretty relaxed and without too many people. We eventually made it to Victory Square, which, while extremely important in the history of Romania, and for the 1989 Romanian Revolution, is not much to look at. So we walked back, taking some pictures along the way of churches, buildings, and a park full of sculpture heads.
The next day was a trip to Old Town, and a restaurant recommended by our train friend George named Caru’ cu bere, with traditional Romanian food, their own brewed beer, and one of the oldest restaurants in Bucharest (since 1879). We ate three courses for a reasonable price, while we were serenaded by a violinist and an accordion player (though not at the same time). The inside is all hardwood, stained glass windows, and the feel of being in a classic place with excellent food.
After lunch, we walked through more of Old Town, and then a walk along the Dâmbovița River on the way to Cismigiu Park.
The map of the park shows a man-made lake, but it was dried up; it also tells of a Rose Garden, but that was nowhere to be found. There was a restaurant on the water, but now it looks like a dilapidated space ship. At least there were a lot of benches and chairs to sit in the shade, but it was quite underwhelming as parks go. There was a nice clock, pictured at the top of the post.
Our next day was devoted to visiting the Palace of Parliament. The Palace is one of the largest government buildings in the world, with 1,100 rooms, 3,930,000 sq ft; only the Pentagon is larger. It was begun by the ex-dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceaușescu, though it was finished after his execution in 1989, in 1994. The building was constructed almost entirely of materials of Romanian origin, and is the heaviest in the world.
The rooms, staircases, theaters and hallways were massive, built and decorated with the finest materials; and after our hour-long tour we only saw 5% of the building. It is such a crazy huge building, and so excessively decorated, that only a dictator could have ordered it done. Here are some of my favorite pictures inside, starting with the ceilings and one floor.
Hallways, stairs, doors, and such.
Of course, the best view was on the huge balcony facing the city, as Ceaușescu had plans to give grand speeches from it. But it never happened for him. The view is pretty cool though.
That wraps up the first couple days in Bucharest, stay tuned for the rest of our visit, where we visit the Ceaușescu home, visit a Map museum, and view some of the wildest art that we never expected to see!