The People’s House

Wizzair Bpeing

Wizzair Boeing

I flew to Bucharest, capital of Romania, with Wizzair, a budget airline I’ve used before. Cheap and colorfully painted, it is based in Budapest, but is US owned. I sneaked on-board a large carry-on bag without being noticed or charged; the Wizzair staff were more concerned with an on-time departure. The flight from London took three hours and landed on schedule at Bucharest’s Otapi Airport, from where I took an express bus into town.

 I had booked a hostel in Bucharest on-line, close to the central railway station, Gara de Nord, which is where the bus dropped me. The instructions for finding the hostel were clear: specifying which exit from the station, where to turn left or right, and how to recognize the street address (by a Canadian flag above the door). Soon I was ringing the door bell; a young woman with a Canadian accent welcomed me, and added “This isn’t the Hilton, you know.”

 It was not the Hilton but at $20 a night in a twin-bed room, which I had to myself, it was adequate. A piano stood in the lobby, and visitors were invited to play. There was a clean, shared bathroom and breakfast was included in the price. As I wandered around the immediate area I noticed a lot of traffic, smelled odors from drains, observed a lot of smokers and was reminded how beautiful Romanian women are.

Bucharest Metro

Bucharest Metro

The house was conveniently close to a metro stop, which was my means of getting around Bucharest. The most useful help I had from my Canadian hostess was a copy of Bucharest in Your Pocket, a perceptive, irreverent English-language guidebook. From this guidebook I learned that there were daily tours, in English, around the People’s House, the largest civilian building in the world.

The People's House

The People’s House

In 1984, the Communist president Ceausescu authorized the start of construction of The People’s Palace, intended to house the National Assembly, Supreme Court and the Presidency. 30,000 houses and numerous churches and synagogues were razed to make way for the colossal new structure. 20,000 workers were put to work, using local marble. What finally emerged, in 1997 when construction stopped, was a monster 12-story building in neo classical style, encompassing 3.7 million square feet. Ceausescu meanwhile had been executed by a firing squad in 1989 after a hasty trial by a military tribunal.

"Various large meeting rooms"

“Various large meeting rooms”

Now called The People’s House or formally the Palace of the Parliament, the structure is a popular tourist attraction. Guided tours are offered daily. I turned up for the English language tour, showed my passport and passed through a scanner, observing warning signs about not stray in from the group or touching objects. Our group of 30 visitors, guided by a young lady in a uniform, passed along wide green-carpeted corridors, pausing briefly to peer into various large meeting rooms, noting a 5-ton chandelier, a marble staircase, and various oil paintings. The commentary was delivered without passion or humor, quoting numerous statistics and little else. This was a communist-style guided tour, chaperoned and lacking animation – disappointing.

Later I strolled through the tourist part of town, a pedestrian area of cobbled street with bars, cafes and boutiques. There were few tourists around. Bucharest bustled with vehicles and foot traffic, but everything I read reported that the economy was stagnating, political corruption and lack of competition being cited as the causes.

Next I took a 6-hour bus trip to Tulcea on the Danube delta. The countryside was flat, the fields untended. A lone farmer with a hand scythe standing in the middle of a pasture seemed to symbolize an inefficient agricultural sector. In Tulcea, the bus station was right next to the Danube, which debouches here into the Black Sea after the 1,785 mile journey from its source in the Black Forest. A few barges were on the move upstream against a moderate current, and some tourist boats were tied up along the bank. Local residents were fishing from small boats.

The Danube Delta Eco Museum was a big surprise: fun and informative. Housed on three floors in an old building, the museum had recently been renovated. Visitors could learn that the Danube was Europe’s longest river, with a wide catchment area from Lichtenstein to Albania. The Danube Delta, where the river divides into three streams, is particularly rich in flora and fauna, all of which was clearly and easily explained in interactive displays. On the lowest floor, you could walk around an aquarium housing 24 varieties of Danube fish, including mackerel, catfish and some huge salmon, swimming languidly around seemingly almost in touching distance. In imagination and execution the museum provided everything the guided tour in Bucharest lacked; useful information, cleverly and effectively presented.

Back in Bucharest, I hurried to the Gara de Nord to buy a train ticket to Moldova. I had researched the route through The Man in Seat Sixty-One, an award-wining travel website, which lists train travel around the world. A personal project of one Mark Smith, previously a career railway man in the UK, the site gets a million visits monthly. Ticket in hand ($40, including a berth) I headed to the platform where the Prietenia Express sleeper train is waiting. Uniformed female train attendants stood next to the entrance doors. Off to Moldova!

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Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

Comments

  1. Dorothy Zelazny Angrist says:

    Well Jim, my Friend, you did it again!! I have just experienced – through your wonderful “word pictures” – some fascinating items of another interesting Country & its people.
    You have managed to save me millions of miles & countless dollars – as I “travel through your adventures” in my comfortable chair. Kudos for your commentaries & exciting travels………….Dorothy

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