I visit countries the way we visit towns on a typical U.S. road trip or the way we investigate the neighborhoods of our own cities. I am walking and then walking some more with many stops to ask directions and much poring over my map. (No, I do not want to use the GPS of my Droid…I want to puzzle out the best way forward all on my own!)
It was a perfect get-acquainted day. The 7pm train to Chisinau was not running so I rebooked my Trianon Hotel room for another night and roamed and napped all day. I LOVE Bucharest. Grand old buildings, many still a little shabby from the bad years, and the interesting Old World is interspersed with the dank dictator-gray ugliness of soviet-inspired architecture. On this benevolently-sunny early fall day though it all looks historic and gracious.
In the cool of the morning…slowly through Cismigiu Gardens. A mom out early with the baby, people cutting through on their way to work but not so hurriedly, old guy reads on a bench. It offers that green connection that can make almost any day go a little better.
Although I could not book my train ticket, the way there took me to a most beautiful old church (for which I now cannot find the name) and gave me a look at what is Bucharest’s most famous and infamous landmark, the Palace of Parliament.
In the mid 1990s, Romania’s very own craftily crazy dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, had a substantial chunk of central Bucharest bulldozed to build a monument to … himself, of course. He wanted it to be the biggest building in the world but, according to Lonely Planet, it is only the second biggest. The Pentagon, built to honor our very own dictatorship of the military-industrial complex, is the biggest!
Expensive milkshake and coffee in the leafy loveliness of the Gardens and back for a read and a nap. THEN my five-hour stroll up and down Calea Victoriei, the grand avenue of Bucharest. Hard to find restaurants oddly enough. Along the walk the choice was luxury hotel dining or McDonald’s. Finally found the French Bakery for a sweet little meal of quiche heavy with bacon, salad light with oil and vinegar, orange juice sweet with red wine.
An ever-so-pleasant sanctuary for the tired walker with a friendly talkative young man who gave me a real voice to hear—it seems all the words and history that accompany me come from books because I’m almost anti-social when actually on the road. I hear voices form history, from memoir, travel writers, all talking about the blood and guts and fear and deprivation of Balkan history. But here is an ordinary Romanian guy trying to figure out how his life relates to all that.
We talk of Dracula and éclairs and history reconsidered on this September evening and my legs ache as I walk back but I’m happy.
No rest for the wicked…or obsessed.
Now for the bus to Chisinau.