Bucharest was a long days ride away at 166 km, but thankfully I was blessed with a tailwind for a good portion of it which took me away from Brasov and the storms. I followed Route 1 into Bucharest which was a pretty busy highway, however it had a decent shoulder which made for safe cycling the majority of the way. I would normally have looked for a quieter route, but as the rain was quite heavy I just wanted to travel on relatively flat and fast roads.
I stopped off at Ploiești along the way for lunch, a much larger city than it appears on the map. There was a huge shopping mall with a large Carrefour store where I stocked up on supplies and just across the carriageway a Decathlon store, where I got a few bits and gas cartridges for my stove.
My hopes of arriving in Bucharest that evening were dashed as the wind which had so helped me earlier in the day was now blowing full into my face, making progress slow. It did however take away the rain and as I camped on the outskirts of Bucharest, I was grateful to be able to put up the tent in the dry. I’m truly amazed how quickly the weather can change here and next morning I had only a short ride into Bucharest under warm blue skies. I headed for the first major landmark which could be seen for quite a distance, the Triumphal Arch – a smaller copy of the one in Paris!
I had downloaded the address and directions to the Youth Hostel from a McDonald’s earlier that morning, so I was able to easily navigate my way through the busy city center. I’m really glad I’d had the foresight to do this, as without the GPS I would probably never have found it, a lovely old building tucked away next to the French Embassy. This was to be my base for a few days as I applied for my Iranian and Indian visa’s.
A Tour Of Bucharest
I did something I wouldn’t normally have done in Bucharest, and that’s join a walking tour of the city. Maybe it’s the fact that it was free, but the main idea in the back of my mind was find out where the best landmarks are. You can see from the following photographs that monuments and statues proved the main source of interest.
Standing in Revolution Square, the statue of King Carol I was created in 1939 and later destroyed by the communists in 1948. The one you see here was re-created from an original model in 2009 and erected on 6th December 2010.
Also in the square you’ll find this strange looking obelisk with a crown skewered on the top. Called ‘The Memorial Of Rebirth’ it symbolizes Romania’s rebirth as a nation after the fall of communism.
A short distance away in the same square sits a statue of Iuliu Maniu as a broken man with an unbreakable spirit. Iuliu Maniu was a politician who served as Romania’s prime minister on three occasions between 1928 and 1933. He became a prominent opponent of Soviet influence in Romania after the end of the Second World War and was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor by the Communist regime in 1947. He died in prison six years later and was buried without ceremony in a common grave in the prison courtyard.
This highly ornate building, The Army Club (Cercul Militar National), was designed in French neo-Classical style and work started on it in 1911. It was completed in 1923 with funds donated by Romanian Army Officers. It is now a highly exclusive restaurant.
The Old Court Church (Biserica Curtea Veche) is the oldest church in Bucharest. Its building started in 1558 during the reign of Mircea Ciobanul (Prince Mircea the Shepherd) and was finished by his son in 1591. The exterior decoration is made of brick stripes alternating with plaster stripes. This church was the coronation place of Wallachia’s ruling princes for almost three centuries (from the second half of the 16th century to the first half of the 19th century).
Stavropoleos Church (Biserica Stavropoleos) was (IMHO) the most beautiful one in the city. It was built in 1724 and is representative of the Brancovenesc style which blends Ottoman and Western elements together with traditional Romanian architectural forms.
The inside is equally beautiful, with wood and stone carvings, paintings and frescoes.
The Romanian Savings Bank building was designed in eclectic style by the French architect Paul Gottereau. Its construction began in 1894 on the site of a 16th century monastery Sf. Ioan cel Nou. This was the only bank that was allowed to do business during communism.
The Central University Library was founded by king Carol I and the building was designed by the French architect Paul Gottereau, who also designed the Romanian Savings Bank (CEC) building.
The Romanian Atheneum (Ateneul Roman) is Bucharest’s most prestigious concert hall. It was built in 1888 in neo-classical style after a design by the French architect Albert Galleron. With its 40 m high dome and the Doric columns it resembles an ancient temple and is the place to hear classical music in Bucharest.
Vlad Tepes is regarded as a hero, particularly in Bulgaria where he defended them both north and south of the Danube. A significant number of Bulgarian common folk and nobles moved north of the Danube to Wallachia, recognized his leadership and settled there following his raids on the Ottomans. He became known as ‘Vlad The Impaler’ after his method of impaling his enemies on long spikes and mounting them on the roadside as a warning to attacking armies. The inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, what is less known is that his father, Vlad II Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, which was founded to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe.
The impressive Union Square fountain is normally surrounded by heavy traffic and I had to return when it was a little quieter (Sunday) to get a decent photograph of it.
The Parliament building is a big tourist attraction in Bucharest (the second largest building in the world in terms of surface, competing with the Pentagon in size), even though the Romanian people both love and hate it. Ceausescu intended the palace to be his personal residence and the government was to operate in it, bringing it all under his control.
My (virtual) tour ends with a statue that the Romanian people loathe, soon I’m told to be replaced. The sculpture, unveiled outside Bucharest’s National History Museum, portrays a naked Roman emperor Trajan carrying a wolf. It is supposed to represent the fusion of the Roman empire with the ancient tribes of Dacia, but even the museum’s curator went on record saying it is of “doubtful artistic quality.”
There are lot’s of restaurants to choose from in Bucharest with cuisine from every part of the world available. While wandering around I came across a covered street, dubbed by locals ‘The Egyptian Area’ with authentic water pipes to smoke (if that’s your thing!) and everything else Egyptian.
It had been a (very) welcome break in Bucharest, the weather had been extremely kind – it only rained during the night and I was actually getting sunburn. It also gave me a chance to apply for my Iranian visa through an agency (I needed to do this to obtain an authorization code) and I should know within 7-10 days if I’ve been successful. After much research the Indian visa can be applied for in Turkey, at either the Istanbul or Ankara embassy. Nervous times, as everything hinges on getting both visas.
So it’s on to Constanta and the Black Sea. The weather is now extremely hot, but I’m not complaining after all the rain!!