I didn't know much about Bucharest or Romania in general, other than Dracula, of course, so it was really nice that everything was new. It was also the first time in a very, very long time that I went to a country where I didn't know the language, and I loved being out of my element.
Bucharest may not be the most beautiful city in Europe, but it definitely has personality and a ton of history. I went on a walking tour where I discovered a lot about the different architecture styles; French, Turkish, Communist, Roman, to name a few. People from all over came through Romania with the Silk Route and left a piece of their culture behind or settled and brought their own architecture with them. The Communist architecture is the most noticeable since it is the most recent part of Romania's history. They're gigantic buildings, very square, very stern.
The biggest of them all if the Palace of the Parliament, the second biggest administrative building in the world (the Pentagon being the biggest) and my goodness is it ever huge! Unfortunately, it was closed due to the recent protests in the city (peaceful protests against the corruption in the government), but the outside was still very impressive!
The food was absolutely incredible. Romanians love porc and serve it with everything, and they sure know how to cook it! The best part of the food though, is the traditional dessert called "Papanasi," a sort of cheese dumpling or doughnut topped with sour creme and jam. It may sound like a strange mix, but it's actually amazing! The sour creme neutralizes a bit of the jam's sugar and gives it a perfectly balances taste that you won't be able to get enough of.
A trip to Romania would be nothing without a trip to Transylvania and a visit to Dracula's castle. Transylvania is a beautiful part of the country just beyond the Carpathian mountains and the view from every angle is breathtaking. I did a day trip where we headed to Peles Castle, a castle that was built by Romania's first king, King Carol I. It's near the top of the mountain, has incredible views and the castle itself is the definition of luxury itself. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, though, but I can tell you, the details in the statues, even the staircase pillars were mesmerizing.
After Peles, we headed to the famous Bran Castle, known as Dracula's castle. This castle was in fact built as a fortress and border control at the borders of Romania and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since 1212, the first version of the castle, it has been destroyed and been rebuilt many many times. It is perched on top of the mountain to get the best view of the ancient border wall.
|Secret Tunnel in the castle|
|Ancient Border Wall|
The story of Dracula is actually an interesting one. In the 15th century, Romania had a king or ruler named Vlad the Empaler, or Vlad Tepes. He was famous for using empaling as a form of torture and execution. He had found a way to empale people so that the stake would miss the important organs and drag out death for 18-24 hours. All this, mixed with the fact that his father was often named "Dracul" which meant "the Devil" and Vlad was then "Dracula," of "the Son of the Devil," and all the other legends of Romania, an Irish author (who had never been to Romania) was inspired to write his famous novel, Dracula. Though Vlad may have never drank blood, or even lived at Bran Castle, he became famous once again for a whole different reason. Bran Castle was only chosen as his castle because it was the castle that fit the description in the book.
The things you learn, am I right?!
The tour ends in the beautiful city of Brasov, with a Hollywood-type sign above on the mountain and a beautiful central square where you can find musicians and the best restaurant of the city. On a sunny day like we had, everyone is in the square, enjoying the sunshine.
One thing that surprised me the most was how lively Bucharest was. The streets are extremely busy at all hours of the day. It may be the capital and not as big as Berlin (1 million people compared to Berlin's 4 million), but it felt busier. Also, it seemed like everyone could speak English, and very well at that! Everyone was very friendly and I never once felt suspicious or in danger. It still needs a lot of progress and work, but Bucharest is definitely an incredible city to visit. I wish I had spent a bit longer to see all the museums and all its quirks!