May 10, 2015
The plan for today was to go on the free walking tour of Bucharest, which started at 10:30 am from Piața Unirii. So we didn’t have to get up all that early. While having a cup of tea we gave Caroline her birthday present, a photo album of her late dog Rocky; she was quite touched looking at the album. For breakfast we walked down the road to one of the many bakeries in the area, where we bought some pastries to eat.
So far the weather was cooperating, and we hoped there would be no rain. We walked down Bulevardul Nicolae Balcescu, which is the wide boulevard leading to the centre of Bucharest and so would lead us down to the park where the walk started. By the time the tour started there were about 15 people in the group, including an Australian and some people from Spain.
The guide started by telling us about the Palace of Parliament, the enormous building which was started by Ceaușescu. Then from Piața Unirii we walked through the park to look at the Dâmbovița River, which flows through an underground channel beneath the square. The tour headed up through the Old Town, seeing quite a few places we’d missed on our quick trip through it yesterday. It actually wasn’t all bars and restaurants; we also stopped at a historic church in the area. (Today was Sunday and there were people standing outside the door listening because there was no room inside.)
Our tour guide was very informative about the sites on the tour. We had numerous stops, and at each he told us about the history of the site, with humorous anecdotes to go along with it. As we got closer to the University it started to sprinkle, and soon it was raining quite hard. From then on our guide tried to find sheltered spots to stop at, and we finished off inside the University metro station instead of outside by the university.
Caroline was wet and cold, so we hurried back to the hostel, buying some soup and other lunch fixings on the way. By the time we were dried off and warmed up the sun was coming out, so we asked the hostel to make us reservations for the Palace of Parliament tour. Luckily there was space for the three of us on the 3:45 pm tour, so we walked down there, passing by the Atheneum and through Cișmigiu Park before arriving at the back door of the palace just in time for the tour. To get in we had to leave our passports at the check-in desk and go through a metal detector.
Once again our guide was very good. Our tour was the basic tour, which showed us seven of the numerous rooms. The whole palace was decorated with materials from all parts of Romania, and it was intended to be Ceaușescu’s crowning achievement. But it ended up not being totally finished before the Revolution of 1989 threw him out. (He was shot by a firing squad.) It’s the second or third largest building in the world, depending on what measurement you’re using, but anyway our guide knew all the statistics. It has the world’s largest chandelier, about 5 tonnes, and the world’s longest drapes. Today it’s used for conferences, small music concerts, and of course the Romanian parliament.
We had a 6:30 pm dinner reservation at Cara’ cu Bere (“Beer Wagon”), which is rated #1 among Romanian restaurants, so after looking around the Old Town for a bit we went over there, only to find out we didn’t have a reservation because of some website issue. Luckily for us they had a free table, as long as we could be finished by 8 pm. Not a problem! Rosemary and Caroline shared a traditional platter with several kinds of meat plus roasted potatoes and peppers, and Paul had sarmale, traditional Romanian cabbage rolls. For dessert Caroline chose chocolate cake and Paul and Rosemary shared an order of papanași, which are cheese doughnuts filled with cherry jam, and while we were eating we were treated to some traditional Romanian dancing.
After dinner we headed back to the hostel, where we recovered with a cup of tea and chatted with some of the other guests for a while.
May 11, 2015
This was our last day in Bucharest—we were off to the Danube Delta this afternoon and Caroline would be returning to London. Luckily the weather was good, so after breakfast we walked up to Herastrău Park. After walking along busy boulevards for about an hour and crossing an enormous roundabout, the first thing we found at the park was a walking and cycling path named for Michael Jackson! So we followed that into the path, past the little monument to him which was installed after his death.
We had planned to visit the Village Museum, which was an open-air museum located in one section of the park, but when we finally got there we decided to just walk around the lake instead. There was very little wildlife, but it was nice to walk around the lake on a sunny spring day. On the way back we stopped at an Italian restaurant, where we had pizza for lunch, and then arrived back at the hostel at about 2 pm. For dessert we went looking for a small place which Caroline had read about, where they made the best éclairs. It took a bit of searching but we finally located “The French Revolution” on a street close to the Atheneum. Yes, the éclairs were good!
Back at the hostel our driver and birding guide, Florin from Ibis Tours, arrived to pick us up a bit before 4 pm. So we said our goodbyes to Caroline and were on our way.
Next: Tulcea and Crișan