This year I will travel to 11 countries, 8 of them will be my first time to visit. The first long trip of the year to Eastern Europe is with my husband Bob.
Bob decided he wanted to visit Romania after we had a fun conversation with a driver in Chicago when we visited in 2021. He always loved fiction and had of course read, as a kid, about Transylvania and Dracula, which is always a curious tale. And then we watched a travel show that visited Bulgaria and we both were hooked. So he said I should plan a trip to Romania, visit Transylvania and the Romanian countryside, a side trip to Bulgaria and what else?
Well, leave me to plan a trip and I will find ‘plenty’ of ‘what else!’ On this trip, we will visit five different countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic), experience their culture, important cultural sites and eat very, very well at Michelin restaurants!
We depart LAX on our Delta One flight and I love my little ‘pod’ in business class for the 10 hour flight. Arriving in Amsterdam we spent the 4 hour layover in the KLM lounge which is decent but not the best food. Still, it’s nice and quiet for the most part and keeps the stress level down. While I’d love to add the Netherlands to my list of ‘countries I’ve visited,’ a layover does not count. It’s just time spent in the airport waiting for the next flight to Bucharest, Romania. Our hopper flight was uneventful, arriving on time and we are of course exhausted and ready for bed after a quick dinner at the hotel Marmorosch (a Marriott of course, because I’m a ‘Marriott’ girl).
Our first day in Bucharest was a city tour with our private guide Dan. Dan is also a sommelier so of course we did a wine tasting and a city tour combined! Romania was once ruled by King Carol who was actually a German prince who was offered to become king and he accepted. He learned the Romanian language and embraced the culture of the people who had asked him to lead their country in 1866. Under King Carol I, Bucharest thrived. King Carol donated his own funds to build a university library as education was very important to him.
Bucharest is the capital of Romania and in its heyday was often referred to as ‘The Paris of the East’ because of its architecture and beautiful boulevards. If you are an architect lover, Bucharest will tickle your fancy with Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco!
And then there’s the dark time after World War II, the time of communism where Romanians were under the control of Nicolae Ceausescu. Built during the Communist rule under Ceausescu, the ‘People’s House’ aka the Palace of the Parliament is a famous landmark. It is a beautiful building with over 1100 rooms and includes an underground bunker. The building is the second largest building in the world, second only to the Pentagon in the US. It also is distinguished by being the world’s heaviest building (how’d they calculate that?), and the world’s most expensive administrative building.
While the Palace was being built, with the goal of moving all Government offices to it, Ceausescu decided to pay off foreign debt (all at once) which left the Romanian people hungry, angry, and ready for change. Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989 in what became known as the Romanian Revolution. He was tried and convicted of economic sabotage and genocide. He and his wife were executed by firing squad on 25 December 1989.
Revolution Square honors the 1000+ civilian Romanians who died fighting for freedom for their country. The monument that honors the Romanian victims unfortunately is also called olive on a toothpick or potato on a stick. It certainly doesn’t adequately symbolize all the bravery, trauma, and importance of the 1989 Christmas Revolution.
Unfortunately, during communism, buildings weren’t maintained. In fact many were destroyed and it is an ongoing project to rebuild the city. The old town area is returning to a lively area which was lovely to see.
Housing the union of Romanian Architects, this is a very cool building with historical significance. The bottom portion of the building, was once the Austrian embassy prior to World War I. In 1989, it was set on fire due to the belief terrorists were inside, it is actually just a façade now. A unique way to preserve the past and the future.
The Stavropoleos Monastery was established in 1724. It is a beautiful example of Brancovenesc architecture. The heavy doors are beautifully engraved and the inside causes you to pause in silence and enjoy the simple beauty.
The Arcul de Triumf should look familiar to those of us who have been to Paris and visited the Arc de Triomphe which was inaugurated in 1836. First built from wood in 1878 when Romania gained its independence, it was then rebuilt after World War I. The current version of the Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest was inaugurated in September 1936. It is a beautiful structure that stands as a monument to the freedom and independence of Romania.
There are other hints of Parisian influence throughout Bucharest, including parks, and this lovely passageway full of restaurants.
We drove up to the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral, established in 1658 and is still a working Romanian Orthodox Church. The artwork on the entry walls includes the story of good and evil.
One of my favorite stops on the city tour was at the Romanian Athenaeum. The concert hall is in the center of Bucharest and an iconic landmark. A fun fact we learned about the building is that it was built on top of a former circus and that is why the building is round! Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Athenaeum, inspired by Greek temples was a very pleasant stop. If you see a Romanian 5 lei bill, you will find a picture of the concert hall honoring this beautiful building. We weren’t able to book tickets for a concert while we were there, but I would love to return and see the inside!
Manuc’s Inn, now a popular restaurant, is the oldest operating building in Bucharest. Originally built in 1808 by an Armenian known by his Turkish name of Manuc Bei, it was a roadside inn for travelers to rest before continuing their journey. It also was an important trading place and a source of information where caravanners passed on information about the trade routes.
Our last stop of the city tour was wine tasting where we enjoyed 7 different Romanian wines along with finger foods at the Hotel Christina. Dan’s family bought and restored the hotel right before the pandemic and it is a fun and inviting hotel. His dad wasn’t too sure about the pink chairs, but they actually fit the fun vibe! My favorite food pairing was smoked duck breast that Dan’s father had made. Other than liking Donald Duck or watching ducks in a pond, I’m not fond of eating duck, ya no. But, the smoked duck from Dan’s father was so delicious, I grabbed the plate and made sure nothing went to waste. Dan’s knowledge of the local wines was excellent and we ended our day in a very happy place!
Bucharest is full of history and we appreciated that the country is continue to repair the historic buildings. You should spend a few days there before heading out to the countryside.
You can find our incredibly knowledgeable guide Dan by contacting Hotel Christina, hotelchristina.or and click on ‘Tours/Transfers
Tomorrow we drive to Bulgaria!