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Okay…so here’s what we’ve been up to in Bucharest, Romania

Jim and I left the U.S. on May 13 and arrived in Bucharest, Romania the next day. First thing in the morning while we were having a great breakfast at the hotel, called Hotel Marshall, a woman came to us saying that a trip was organized for us but we didn’t know about it yet. We were supposed to leave at 9:00am. At 9:00am a driver arrived along with the sister of the woman who organized this meeting in Bucharest. The sister chatted with the driver. After a bit she introduced herself to us and gave us an itinerary for the next two days. We were going to spend the next night at a hotel in the countryside. So we threw together some things to take with (Jim will have a totally different take on this part that he can explain if he wants to.) and came down to the driver and car outside the hotel. Off we went… Mind you we were major tired, jet-lagged, and what-have-you but I figured that sitting in a car couldn’t be too stressful and we’d get to see parts of Romania that we might otherwise miss.

After driving through lots of beautiful countryside with lots of small farming communities we came to a huge castle called Pelish Castle. It’s huge and impressive with phenomenal wood carved doors, lush furniture, and lots of ballrooms. It was built by Carol I who was one of only 4, I think royal type heads of state in Romania. Along the way it had electricity installed, plumbing, and even an elevator. We had a very enthusiastic, English speaking tour guide and an extended tour had been paid for, for us. I don’t remember how long we were in that castle but long enough to be incredibly impressed. It has been and I believe is still in active use by leaders of Romania. In fact, Vladimir Putin is one of many who’ve been there for official meetings.

After visiting Pelish Castle we went to see the ruins of another castle. Actually, it was in such a state of ruin that there wasn’t much to see. However, it was located way above the town below and provided a 360 degree view of a vast area of that part of Romania. Much of it was untouched and some of it was farmland and even less had housing on it. When we came down the steep walkway that led to these ruins we bumped into some puppies we’d seen when we first got out of the car in the parking lot.

First I must explain that we’d heard and read about the fact that Romania has a lot of dogs running loose on the streets of Bucharest and elsewhere. There is an interesting history to how this has come about. When most of Bucharest was just a larg-ish village and Chaochescu came to power he decided to urbanize Bucharest. He moved whole villages of people, erected huge concrete apartment buildings, and moved the people into them. In these apartments people weren’t able to keep their dogs like they’d been able to when they had a house or a farm. So many well-loved pets ended up being turned loose on the streets. To their credit, the Romanians have never turned to a policy of extermination of these dogs that are loose. I imagine that some of it has to do with the fact that many of them lost pets that they loved. The idea of harming one of these dogs is hard to conceive because they represent a loss that many of them suffered…the loss of their homes, their way of life, and their pets.

The policy that they have towards these dogs is to alter and vaccinate those that they capture and then set them loose again. Despite that, you can see canine youngsters around. Well…the dogs, thank goodness, are treated humanely. You don’t see skin and bone dogs like you might in China. People love their dogs here and feed them. Chaochescu, on the other hand, was overthrown in 1989. We walked to the famous square where he gave his last attempted speech to the people of Bucharest. He was shouted down. He set the Iron Guard on the people in the square. Journalists in the Inter-Continental Hotel…which rises imposingly over this portion of Bucharest…could see, photograph, and report what was going on in the streets and couldn’t believe their eyes. By the next day, the Iron Guard had turned against President Chaochescu who fled, with his wife. They were soon apprehended and killed. They were considered to have been especially evil working together so they were buried in different cemeteries far apart from each other with barely a marker on their graves.

…so back to the puppies in the parking lot. When we came back to the parking lot I actually could only see one of the puppies. I grabbed a stick of cheese I had with me in the car and walked up to the one puppy wondering where the other two had gone. As soon as I offered the cheese to this one puppy the other two came out from their hiding place behind another vehicle. The first one was shy and unwilling to take the cheese from me. I was about to toss a piece to make it easier for him to get it when the alpha puppy came right up to me to see if he could have some cheese. I handed it to him and he readily took it from my hand. At which point the second bravest puppy who’s been hiding with the alpha boy also took the cheese from my hand. The shy boy was still uncertain so I directed the two less shy kids off to my left with some cheese and tossed a piece to the right for the shy boy…who was quick and got it! Success. Not one of these puppies was skinny or boney. That was really nice to see.

Our driver asked if we wanted to go to the town of Brashov – kind of a younger, smaller town with a lot of university students. We said we were too tired and were ready to go to our hotel for the night. When we got there and checked in we went to dinner right away. The most reliable items we’ve learned to eat in Roumania, which is a place where they want you to eat A LOT of food, are veal schnitzel, breaded veal with kartofi (potatoes). There are wonderful salads here too but you’ve got to learn which ones are the good ones and which ones are just a few greens on the plate topped with smoked salmon or some other topping. Tomatoes are very popular which I loved! The hotel turned out to be sort of a resort where there was singing until late into the night and a bonfire and stuff like that. There were chickens and roosters running around as well as several dogs. We only know about the late night singing because we were mostly sleeping through it all, waking up every now and then to wonder how late the music and singing would go on. In the morning it was time for breakfast and then off to Brashov. The famous site there is the Black Church named because of a fire that scorched it but didn’t burn it down. Luckily, it was closed on that day of the week to tours…so we didn’t have to tour the thing! We walked around the square which was really nice and had some fun open air shopping stalls…with great prices too.

I almost forgot…most of our travels in the countryside were in the county of…Transylvania!!! They try to capitalize on the Dracula and vampire myths that are frequently identified with Transylvania. We even went to a castle called Bran Castle where they really tried to use the vampire hype to sell things. Unfortunately, there was no truth to even Vlad the Impaler being at Bran Castle. But it was fun going there anyway…no matter how tired we were!

After Bran Castle we headed for a leisurely lunch (all restaurant meals seem to be VERY leisurely here – like four hours if you don’t hurry things along) and then home…that being the Hotel Marshall. We didn’t get there until around 7:00pm. Before arriving in Bucharest we stopped for gasoline. I went into the little mini-mart at the gas station and it could have been any mini-mart/7-11 I normally go into, in the States. Even the layout of where cold drinks were located and where the bathroom was located was familiar. Back at the Marshall Hotel we hit our room. The next day was Sunday and Jim was going to run around the city, despite the heat! So we needed a good night’s sleep and another one of the buffet breakfasts they have here.

Where did Jim take us on Sunday? Well, we’d already been on the Bucharest Metro…Jim loves going on any Metro anywhere. On our first day in Bucharest, even though we had arrived around 5:00pm and had agreed that we’d just sack out, Jim wanted to find a Vodafone store so he could buy a chip to put into his cell phone in place of his U.S. phone chip. It turned out that these chips were everywhere but we didn’t know that. We got to a nearby Vodafone store but it had closed just a short while ago. A young woman on the street came up to the door of the store too and was disappointed. We asked her if she knew where to get the chip. She asked us if we knew Unirii…in Plaza Unirii she seemed to say we could find a Vodafone store. So, of course, off we went, onto the Metro just one stop to Unirii. Well, when we didn’t see any Vodafone store I went to the station police who were very visible and began asking them. They weren’t sure but a young man hanging out with them motioned us to follow him. We were running up the stairs and out of the metro station (to the Plaza Unirii actually) when he turned to me and asked, Germanos? I said no, we’re Americans. He waved me off and kept going. Neither of us knew what to make of his response. Later in the week while we were watching TV we saw many, many commercials for a business named Germanos that apparently sells cell phones and accessories. :-)

So we end up at a small newspaper stand of which there are hundreds everywhere around this city. The young man explains to the man behind the stand what we want. At first he doesn’t understand. Jim shows him the cell phone and opens up the back and shows him the chip…ahhh…and he gets a chip out to sell to us. Jim demurs and puts the chip in the phone and makes sure that it works before paying for it. (He’s been through this ritual before not always with the desired results.) The phone makes the right noises and does the right things and everything looks great. So we pay for the chip and finally, finally…go back to the hotel. I think we just collapse and go to sleep. I don’t want to go running around the city on Sunday…but off we go!

On Sunday, first we make our way to Gard de Nord a main train station in Bucharest where later in the week we’ll catch an overnight train to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. On this day we’re just here to buy tickets. We want to be in a second class cabin with beds. There are four beds to a second class cabin so it’s likely we’ll have company but you never know for sure. And like anything else in life, company can be good and not so good. Mostly it’s very helpful to have a native speaker who’s willing to be helpful and let you know what’s going on when you don’t understand something.

After buying our tickets we head to Plaza Unirii which turns out to be a very important location. We walk along a street that was built, on purpose, to be wider than the Champs Elysee in Paris in an effort to outdo her. Bucharest also has a copy of the Arche de Triumphe. Up this wide avenue we go, with large fountains along the way representing each of the counties of Romania. On ether side are huge concrete apartment buildings all built by the infamous Chaochescu. There are a few restaurants but, as we’d read, many of the storefronts are not in use and some of the apartment buildings are for sale. At the end of this avenue is the world’s second largest building…not by height but by size and volume. It’s the Palace of the Parliament built by Chaochescu but never finished. We were told that he’d personally come by to make decisions about how to build or decorate parts of it. He demanded huge amounts of expensive marble, crystal, and gold from all over Romania to build this Palace at a time when Romanians were literally starving to death. On a lighter note, several years ago, Michael Jackson performed from the balcony of the Palace of the Parliament. Before doing so he wanted to greet Romanians and announced to the huge crowd that he was very happy to be in Budapest…OOPS!!!

I’m going to take a break from this story. Just so you’ll know…right now we’re in Odessa in the country of Ukraine. Odessa is on the Black Sea. It’s that place that we used to read about that was a vacation destination for many Russians who could afford such luxuries. We arrived here around 4:00pm this afternoon and we’ll be here for two nights. Then we get on a ferry for two days and nights headed for Istanbul. More to come…

On this day..

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3 comments to Okay…so here’s what we’ve been up to in Bucharest, Romania

  • Harleysmom

    OH I am so envious that you got to see the castles! I have heard it’s haunted! What fun! I’d love that. Why is it called the Black seas? Educate me a little! I have to live my travel life vicariously through you I guess!

  • sheltiestew

    Thanks for the link. Wonderful to hear what you are doing. Did you know Romanian is the language closest to original Latin from which so many other European languages descend? (It’s been so long since I’ve contributed to sheltietales, I have no idea what my registered name/password are.)

  • It sounds incredibly busy, but wonderful! Thanks for taking time to give us a taste of what you’re seeing on this trip. I’m so jealous. I would love to be able to go visit the places your describing in person someday…

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