Bucharest : Some time in the Unloved City
Bucharest Travel Blog› entry 179 of 268 › view all entries
âI havenât met a single person who says theyâve spent longer than one day in Bucharest!â pipes up the lass form Sheffield in the Rolling Rock hostel in Brasov some days later. I gently raise my arm in an âI haveâ gesture. Not per se in the cityâs defence. I remain, let us say, friendly but indifferent about Bucharest after spending a total of about 4 days there off and on in my first week in Romania. But rather in defence of the idea that (almost) any place one travels to, if the time is available - and it isnât always I fully accept - needs to be âgiven a little chance to breatheâ I explain to her.
Yes, poor old Bucharest. Not treated kindly by the 20th Century and not much loved by Romanians; many of its residents and certainly not by travellers today. Sheffield Lass is right in the main. Everyone else I speak to too within The Community (of travellers) basically uses it as nothing more than a transport hub. Some never even getting further than the Gara du Nord main train station. âHey, if you say âBucharest sucksâ to a Transylvanian you will be getting on immediately with them!â explains George (a Transylvanian) a week later in Sibiu. Bucharest does not suck (sorry George), itâs just a slowly recovering trauma victim in need of a lot of ongoing TLC.
So having spent some good time there; giving the city a few days to speak to me Iâm not sure how forgiving or generous to be to Bucharest myself. My eyes and pen have a tendency to be a little too much so from time to time I know. Itâs a hard city to assess. Broken down at a historical crossroads with all the financial life siphoned out of its rusted petrol tank ever since the Romanian Revolution in 1989 (and long through the Eighties already), itâs only just getting the jump-start it needs to head in one direction or the other.
Bucharest bears the scars of the troubles and uncertainties itâs faced in the last hundred years most notably to the casual visitor in its schizophrenic architecture. âEclecticâ is often the adjective of choice but is too kindly a word as it implies a certain amount of intent.
The stupefyingly large Palace of Parliament ( often claimed to be the 3rd largest building in the world depending on how you assess these things - so probably not actually the 3rd ) combined with the Civic Centre urban restructuring (read - urban scarification) projects alone, rolled out by Ceausescu in the Eighties required 19 Orthodox Christian churches, 6 Synagogues, 3 Protestant churches, 8 church ârelocationsâ and 30,000 historic residences to be razed to the ground.
In fact those churches that remain, hemmed in and hunched down in the shadows of the many concrete high-rise blocks that denote the jaundiced Communist era approach to architectural pragmatism look to me like scared and timorous creatures. Not the confident sky-piercing houses of God they once were. Still afraid to open their eyes, ruffle their feathers and shine again. Afraid to look and see if the same fate as befell their historical brothers and sisters still awaits them. A small one room exhibit inside the National Museum entitled âIn Memorium Vacarestiâ houses what tiny fresco and architectural remnants were salvaged from the early 18th Century church of that name demolished at Ceausescuâs behest between 1984 - â87.
A strange state of affairs for such a clearly devout people as the Romanians are.
The one part of town that still retains some minor flashes of Medieval Bucharest is the Lipscani area of downtown.
Tudor explains âYes there have been many problems. The Government tried to cancel the restoration contract with the Spanish company but it would cost too much to break the contract, so now things are stuck.
Following inspiration from the âexposedâ foundations of a Church in Sofia Iâd recently visited I suggest to Tudor Iâd love them to do something like finish all the archaeological uncovering thatâs going on under Lipscani and for the streets to then be covered in cobble surrounds and long glass or Perspex strips with under lighting so come night or day you could walk along on route to your beer or glass of wine and beneath you, look down to the beautiful old skeleton of the city visible beneath your feet.
I also ask Tudor about the wildly varied architecture to be found in his city too. âWell, we Romanians like to be individuals. Although we are a joined people these days, we are a very individualistic people so when one person built their home next to the other, it could not be of the same styleâ. I see. This visual variance has only been further exaggerated by the encroachment of modernity. Shopping malls, hotels and skyscrapers. âBucharestâŚ you know what it used to be called?â Tudor asks. âYes, âLittle Parisââ I reply. âLittle Paris of the Eastâ actually. âThatâs right.
So as I say, Bucharest. A historic centre. A modern âwork in progressâ. A lot of it under wraps right now. Old Romani women and their girls sit in doorways of faded grandeur and trim bunches of lavender stalks to sell in front of the mass shrouds of tarpaulin and masks of scaffolding and the ratta-tatta-tatta-clang of jackhammers that denote urban regeneration. Bucharest is hiding. Healing. One to watch for the future. For now youâll have to use your imagination. Look past the boarded windows of once grand buildings.
And whatâs there to do in Bucharest? What did I do? Well, a bunch of stuff I guess.
* Specific details gleaned from Wikipedia