Bucuresti (Bucharest) is a city living in two times or maybe more. We are staying near the Jewish Quarter and the highrises around here are tired looking on the outside, and speak strongly of communist influence. Inside, however, they are spacious and comfortable if or apartment is anything to go by - small bathroom, large kitchen with stove, fridge, washing machine and all the normal accoutrements and a large bedroom complete with lounge and TV - this may have once been two rooms - oh, and a small semicircular balcony.
A few minutes walk from here and we come upon Kotor - a large shopping mall with all the known international names - we don't bother going in - seen one, seen them all. We start to see some of the splendour of Bucuresti on our walk to find the hop on - hop off bus. Canals and fountains - fountains everywhere which is a sight for hot eyes on another 34+ degree day. They spew forth - some continuously in a fine mist, others in rythymic patterns.
We try the tourist office around the corner where we are staying - supposedly open from 10 - 6 daily, except today for some reason. So we head towards the Old Town as my web research shows that the bus goes near here. Michael stops at a news-stand where the seller speaks Romanian and French and just a little English. Between them, Michael manages to buy a map and she very helpfully shows him where we are and we think where the bus leaves from. There is a flower seller nearby and he buys her a posy and makes her day! 30 Lei for the map, 30 Lei for the posy! (About $10 each). Might sell the map on ebay when I get home ;)
So off we wander again - the sun is burning hot and I scurry from shade spot to shade spot, managing to keep out of the sun for the better part. The streets are very wide - accommodating 3 + 2 lanes of traffic in each direction - 2 local and 3 through lanes. Crossing them is something that you do quickly - no jaywalking here! We continue on and I see one of the buses, mid route. Further still and we still haven't found the stop. We cross the Dâmbovița River that begins its journey high in the Fagaras Mountains - really now just a canal and spy a local fisherman and diving ducks chancing their luck!
An angry policeman has pulled up to move on a couple of Roma women who are selling home grown flowers on the sidewalk. There are lots of florist stalls, and I guess these undercut them and don't contribute to the local economy. The two women are arguing with him and he is getting very agitated. Slowly, they pack up and make to leave. We ask him if he speaks English and he is delighted to help. We are still about half a block and across the boulevard from the nearest stop for the Tourist Bus, and he willingly shows us where to go, wishing us a great visit. Like most of the Romanians we have met, he is super friendly.
Ah, a shady spot and a soon arrived bus - who could ask for more. At 25 Lei ($8) each, it's a bargain! We set off to do one lap and to get our bearings. The route is a little more than 9 kms, and it takes just over an hour to do a lap. The bus is full, and the upstairs open air deck is full before we get on - I'm just pleased that we manage to get a seat for this first trip.
And the Arch of Triumph is modelled on the famous French one - closed for renovations at the moment. Not sure how I managed to snap a shot with no cars in the frame - this is almost as busy a stretch of road as the one in Paris! This one celebrates the victory of the Romanian soldiers in WWI.
Down past the Palace of the Parliament - the second largest civic government building in the world after the Pentagon. Built by Communist president Nicolae Ceausescu during 1984-1989, it is 84 m high, it has 12 floors and 6,000 rooms (hundreds of offices, dozens of reception and conference halls). The building was intended to house the presidency, the ministries as well as the headquarters of the communist party. The building is endowed with an antinuclear bunker with 1.5 m thick walls covered with radiation-proof panels and is connected to the main official institutions through a 20 km-labyrinth of tunnels. Much of the old city was destroyed to provide space for its construction with some 40,000 people displaced, leading to countless suicides we are told. It is jarring in its arrogance and holds no interest for us to explore.
Back to where we began, we opt to alight at the next stop along (I make a mental note that this will be the closest stop for us to get back to the apartment later today also). We are close to University Square and it is here we find the first of some very unique Orthodox churches.
The Coltea Church - the Three Holy Hierarchs was consecrated in 1702 and replaced an earlier timber church. It has weathered the hundreds of years with little impact to its external and internal frescoes - but those flagstones have been worn with the feet of the faithful - as in most of the churches we are seeing in Romania.
From here we cross into the Old Town and explore little streets, back alleys and tiny squares. The architecture through here is Romanesque and Baroque. Not quite classical, but stunning just the same. The attention given to statuary on rooftops is amazing. There are full copper roofs gleaming in the heat of the afternoon sun. I peer into a shady courtyard and smile at the City's attempts to manage people parking on
We hear music playing as we pass by the first national Romanian Bank building and in the next square there is a musician frantically and with much fervour, belting out tunes on an instrument that looks something like a zither. He grins broadly when Michael deposits 5 Lei in his bucket and hits away with renewed energy.
Another amazing Orthodox Church - this one Stavropoleos Monastery completed in 1724 and dedicated to the Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel. It is more a convent than a monastery and we see a quite young nun bustling about her chores - dressed from head to toe in black - how hot she must be at this time of the year. We marvel again at the frescoes and at the collection of carved tombstones and pieces - we even find a couple of early coptic written pieces. They offered early travellers solace here and in the cool courtyard, we can appreciate how much other might have also enjoyed the respite. In the outside burners for remembering the dead, we light three candle to the memories of our dads and Michael's mum.
Man, its hot. Its now almost 2 in the afternoon and we need somewhere to sit and have a cold drink. There are a number of cafes on the streets, but one in particular seems to draw us. Caru' cu Bere was truly buzzing and the interior was one of stained glass opulence, but we couldn't get near inside for the tour groups - so we happily joined the 'plebs' sitting under the outside covered awning. We were lucky to spy a couple leaving, so made a dash for their table - I think we were meant to wait to be seated, but there was the quick and the thirsty today!
A waitress soon materialized and asked if we wanted a drink to start, when handing us the huge menus. Yes, "limonade please" - "with mint and honey" she asked, "mmm yes please, and sparkling water." You have no idea how refreshing this is - straight lemon juice, a handful of mint leaves and about a tablespoon of honey to which is added enough sparkling water to make it up to 1 litre. My new favourite summer drink.
We then order cooked cheese balls for me and Peasant's Pie (with cheese and yoghurt) for Michael, served with some lovely nutty brown bread and a fresh salad. 96 Lei ($32).
Lunch done and it is back on our feet.
We have walked from one side of the Old Town to the other and have managed to come out just beside the National Museum of the History of Romania (the former Postal Palace). And we find it shut on Mondays and Tuesdays - the story of our day today :(
So its back on the bus to continue the loop to our starting point. As we look out from the balcony of our apartment, we can see the Biserica Sfântul Gheorghe Nou down below us. A service is in progress, so we don't go in but in the
frescoes painted on the outside, this more modern church highlights hell - much to Michael's amusement. And in the grounds there is a huge astrolabe with the degree representations for many of the cities we have visited!
We are hoping to catch up with Diana and Lorena who we met in France for dinner tonight and I wait by
the phone for a call.