I finally went. I was bound and determined not to go to Bucharest, given that I had only heard negative commentary about it. But then an opportunity arose wherein I would get to help out a friend and thereby my travel expenses would be covered, so I decided I might as well check out the capital for myself.
I was more pleasantly surprised than I have ever been upon visiting anywhere in my entire life. Which is entirely because I had such low expectations that it seemed like a gloriously wonderful place in comparison. To be fair, I understand that most of the negativity is of the variety of a) getting robbed on the train b) getting swindled by cab drivers and/or c) never seeing anything other than the train station, which would make even Mickey Mouse sad. So if you a) don't get robbed on the train b) don't get swindled by cab drivers and c) look around all of the city, it turns out you might have a drastically different opinion. As I did. I am again thankful that I look vaguely Romania (dark hair and dark eyes) so I don't immediately have problems, and I speak enough Romanian so that it's clear that I can't be easily tricked. Which works in my favor a LOT in this country, particularly the former.
So as it turns out, I really liked Bucharest. It was still totally Romania with all of its Romania-ness (as described elsewhere, occasionally, on this blog), but yet indescribably more Western and modernized. Like our hostel had air conditioning in the room. (!!!) And they have a Starbucks somewhere in the city (clearly the best indicator of Westernness). No I didn't go. They even have a Metro. Like an underground subway metro. The people look less tired and run-down by life, and it's clearly not as poor as Iasi. In fact, some places I walked around very well could have been the business district of any major Western city, for all the shiny buildings and equally shiny people. Oh, and it's WAY more expensive than Iasi. It was shocking, really. I mean, I expect that Budapest or Amsterdam will be more expensive than here, because, well, I do. But to go to another city in Romania and have it be drastically more expensive, gee, a bit less prepared for that.
Anyhow, Bucharest has loads to do and see, and so my friend and I spent a whole day touring around the city. It also happened that my teammate Dave was there at the same time picking up Eli and Hollie (new teammates wahoo!) at the airport and dealing with customs for the boxes they shipped. AND another student friend from Iasi was there working on getting a visa to travel. So, it kind of vaguely felt like I lived there, what with phoning them up and making plans, taking the subway, and eating out. Good stuff. In the end I'm thankful I went because now I can tell people that it IS in fact a city worth seeing (though perhaps with someone who knows what they're doing or speaks romania), rather than defaulting to what I had heard from many others. Here are a few pictures of some of the many sites we saw on our whirlwind day of touring:
The Parliament building. This was built by Ceausescu, the crazy communist dude of days past, and I think he intended to live in it, but in any event, it's the parliament building now. So get this, it's the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. How crazy is that? I don't think this picture conveys how big it is, but man, it's huge. Just for perspective- it is the length of THREE FOOTBALL FIELDS and width of 2.5 football fields. It has 1,100 rooms, and is 12 stories tall, with 4 more levels underground. Wow it's insane. Particularly when you compare it to how poor pretty much everyone else in the country was when Ceausescu decided to build this monstrosity. Ok I'm done now
Bucharest's Arc de Triomphe
My dinner one night- couldn't resist getting traditional sarmale (minced beef and/or pork wrapped in cabbage) and mamaliga
Statue at Revolution Square, surrounded by a wall that has on it the names of all the people who died in the revolution of 1989. For perspective of its height, you can just barely see me at the based
One of the many beautiful displays of flowers in the massive (and I mean massive) park in the city