After a quick stop in Salzburg, the rest of our family left to go back home, leaving just Blair, Lauren, and I for another week before Blair too was set to head back home. As they flew west across the Atlantic, the three of us hopped on a train going the opposite direction toward Romania. Romania is unique in that it has three distinct regions, which each used to be their own principalities, each having distinct architecture, language, and traditions. Bucharest is both the capital of the Wallachia (southern) region and the capital of the entire country, along with being its largest city.
On a whim, we took another visit to a spa, this time at Therme Spa on the outskirts of town. Therme was unlike any place I had ever been to, less like a spa and more like a half adult water park, half spa, all in one giant building. There are three themed areas at Therme, including an area filled with slides for all ages, from massive two person tube sized slides to smaller slides for individuals, all intertwined. Another area included luscious tropical gardens filled with palm trees situated around an adults only pool filled with swim up bars. The last themed area was titled Elysium and is where the real relaxation takes place with six differently themed saunas ranging from a Moroccan sauna with incense infused coals to a Himalayan Salt sauna where the walls were covered in pink Himalayan Salt, all at different temperatures. Here there were also infra-red beds and a mineral pool with another swim up bar. Therme was a really unique experience for me and a whole lot of fun, especially as we went in the middle of winter. The best part for me was going late at night meaning the average age of those around me was more than 20 which is a lot higher than I can say at any pool or water park I have ever been to.
We took another walking tour the next day which proved to be one of the more informational ones we have taken on the trip. The tour began with an overview of the massive Parliament Palace, which was formerly known as the Peoples’ Palace and is the second largest administrative building in the world behind the Pentagon and interestingly enough, the heaviest building in the world. It was commissioned by former communist dictator and most hated man in Romanian history, Nicolae Ceauşescu, a name that would pop up repeatedly on our tour of the city.
Nicolae Ceauşescu was head of the communist regime in Bucharest and was considered the most repressive and abusive in Europe at the time. His secret police was responsible for the mass surveillance and severe human rights abuses within the country. This secret police and his control of the press served to make conditions in the country among the harshest, most brutal, and most restrictive in the world. He was eventually overthrown and killed without a true trial alongside his wife on Christmas Day, 1989. Despite the country no longer being Communist, corruption is still a very real issue and many Romanians, rather than working to change things, prefer to live abroad and send money back to their families. Despite these current issues and the city’s brutal and often violent past, I found the people to be some of the nicest people we have met on our travels. Even after being liberated from Communism, the city did not have enough money to repair many buildings near the city center, leading to a greatly weakened infrastructure, which, though is on the upswing now due to Romania’s place in the European Union, is still visible in some parts of the city to this day.
Though on the rise, there are many buildings within the city that the families of former owners pre-Communism no longer want anything to do with and that the government can’t afford to renovate on its own, leaving them to decay. Because of this, in no city we have ever visited has the effects of communism on the city been so evident. In one city block one can find a crumbling building adjacent to a 300 year old church, a modern office building, and a Communist-era apartment block, all directly across the street from some truly elegant French-inspired Art Nouveau buildings which lead to some people calling the city’s old town the “Little Paris of the East.”
On our enlightening free walking tour we learned all of his information and much more. We visited the church of the saint of lost things, St. Anthony, who should probably be my personal patron saint. Later, we walked past the former palace of Vlad the Impaler who is seen as a bit of a cult hero in Romania despite his reputed brutality as he was able to keep the country from falling into the hands of the Ottoman Empire (many Romanians believe history has been especially harsh on him). Later, we visited the Zlătari Church which contains the relics i.e. the remains of St. Cyprian the Mage, the patron saint of necromancers, witches, and sorcerers who lived in the 3rd century CE.
While in Bucharest, we made sure to try the delicious cuisine of Romania which mirrors and therefore benefits from the cuisine of surrounding countries, especially Austria and Hungary. Throughout our visit we tried fried caşcaval (a type of cheese), mici (rolled meat), sarmale (ground pork and rice which is wrapped and cooked in cabbage leaves), mămăligă (polenta) and finally papanași which is an enormous fried doughnut, stuffed with a soft white cheese and topped with sour cream and a fruit jam. Each and every one of these delicious meals were absolutely amazing in their own way and truly enhanced my experience and love for Romania.
As I mentioned earlier, despite its heartbreaking history, the people of Bucharest are truly some of the nicest people we have ever met, always interested in our travels, happy that we decided to visit their country, and above all just happy to be living in a free society, regardless of some of the issues that are still being worked out by their government. Although we were warned that it may be dangerous, statistics show it is actually one of the safer European capitals and we never once felt in danger. I am so happy that we “took a chance” in coming to visit this amazing city and I would gladly go back in a heartbeat. This is one of those places that make me truly happy to escape everyday life to see new places and try new experiences.
The day of our departure the weather changed from warm and dry to cold and wet which reminded me rather unfondly of the bipolar Ohio weather. Along with the weather, our train ride north through the rather ugly landscape of Romania changed drastically to the snow-capped trees and mountains of Transylvania. Two hours later, we arrived in the beautiful medieval city of Brașov.