Picking up from my last post… I was dozing in the hammock outside my hostel when Greg arrived. He immediately had two comments: “let’s get going!” and “I think this hostel is the base of some sort of criminal enterprise”. It is true that the inside hallway was decorated with various paintings of guns and that about five distinctly unfriendly Romanians were just hanging around, but beyond that I didn’t really share Greg’s suspicions.
We gamely headed out into the 98-degree heat and sun to start our tour of Bucharest. Our hostel is about 10 minutes’ walk south of the Piața Unirii, a huge square (although here they’re all circles) ringed with brightly lit billboards and with a beautiful mess of fountains in the center. (Sadly the streets go through the fountains, leaving no space for anyone to use them for heat relief.) Turning west from the Piața Unirii, you immediately see the massive Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (by surface area). It is indeed huge, with ten floors and over 3,000 rooms. It took us about 40 minutes to walk the loop around the building!
The Palace of Parliament is a good metaphor for Bucharest as a whole. The building itself is beautiful and grand, but the wall surrounding it on the sidewalk is crumbling in places and generally unattractive. At various points as you walk around there appear to be abandoned outbuildings (one looked like an underground garage) that look so forsaken it’s hard to imagine that they were ever used.
This is the tale with all of Bucharest that I’ve seen: there are many beautiful buildings, but many seem to teeter on the edge of neglect, an effect enhanced by the general state of disrepair of many of the roads and sidewalks. (We walked around an incredible number of holes and construction sites – which have been there for who knows how long – as we walked through about half the city yesterday.) it’s obviously sad, but it’s also interesting: I haven’t been in that many cities that wear their recent past so visibly.
This, for instance, is taken from another side of the Palace of the Parliament:
From the Palace of Parliament, Greg and I ambled through a park filled with bikers and rollerbladers and home to the coolest playground ever: it was a miniature castle! (pictures forthcoming when I get home.) this led us to the river (quite narrow and walled in by concrete), which smelled fine but boasted a heavy coating of oil and chemicals moving along the surface. (This made me question the wisdom of the couple of men fishing there.)
After crossing the river, we were in the oldest part of the city center, known as Lipscani (the name of one of the streets). It’s still very run-down but has apparently cleaned up significantly in recent years as it used to be a Roma slum. Now, its hole-filled streets are home to shops, clubs, and restaurants of varying levels of class.
Greg and I sat down to eat at a restaurant recommended as serving excellent Romanian food, and we found no shortage of intriguing options on the menu: beef brains in parchment, cock soup, pig killing feast, rooster on the sword, bear steak, and mutton cooked in lard. After learning they were out of bear, we ordered the pig-killing feast and the cabbage leaves stuffed with “forcemeat”, which I think was a combination of beef and liver. All of it was very tasty, though the pig-killing feast was not nearly as exciting as we’d hoped.
By the time we’d finished, it was about 10:00, and the long day and the heat had us both exhausted. Rather than join the Romanians for what I’m certain could have been a very interesting night out, Greg and I opted for heading back to the hostel, where I fell asleep almost immediately despite the heat.