Photo Essay: Bucharest, Romania

Calea Victoriei, one of the main streets in Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest was my gateway into Romania and I was eager to see this city that has always -for some strange reason- been an object of my curiosity.  The capital of Romania has been called the “Paris of the east” due to French architecture influence  – but perhaps also because the pre-communist elite had the airs?  I am not really sure but it definitelyhas  architecture reminiscent of the French capital.  In any case, Bucharest is a relative newcomer as a capital city having been picked as capital of Romania only in 1862.  It is a city of over 1.6 million inhabitants – and it feels that way:  a city with the weight of any capital city, with all the attributes of a European city, yet not quite a megalopolis or an international center.

There are too many photos to share so I will place them here in a gallery at the end so you can see some of what caught my eye in terms of architecture, monuments (especially to the 1989 revolution), streets, etc.  Just click on the images to enlarge them!  But first some thoughts on the city…

Architectural potpourri

It is very interesting to see this architecture in Bucharest because it usually is mixed in with very different styles. It almost feels that either construction in the city skipped a few periods or styles as some parts have very different styled buildings next to each other.  Maybe that is what some communism legacy does and what a deliberate demolition of old portions of a city will do (Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator, razed parts of the city for his grandiose building, now the Parliament).  I don’t know as I am not an expert either in architecture or Romania!   This cacophony of styles gives it an interesting air…  And/or perhaps, I needed to see more of the city than I got to?

Old Town Bucharest

Old Town Bucharest is charming like the older part of a any city and, at night, is very lively and a great place to go to have dinner, watching folks go by, and then stay for drinks and more people watching.  We enjoyed a night out on a nice summer evening the night before our return home – good food, good wine, and lots of good laughs.

Not far from Old Town you encounter the grandiose communist buildings sponsored by Ceausescu – a madman of sorts yet independent enough to say no to the USSR whenever he felt like it.  (How DID he get away with it??!!)  In any case as I mentioned earlier, much of the older city was destroyed by him to pave way for these new buildings.  It is sad to think that, until the early 1980s, the old district was much larger and probably containing some gems that are now lost.

Sights around Bucharest

Bucharest has a canal going through it (the Dâmboviţa river that goes through town was channelized in the late 1800s to prevent the flooding that the city suffered periodically) and nice parks, especially near the Romanian Arc de Triomphe.  In that area you will tend to see foreign embassies and it seems a nice place to be if you live in Bucharest.  The most grandiose building of the communist period already has an entire post to itself here so I will not add those pictures to the gallery here.  Just know that around it are similar though slightly smaller buildings also built as part of Ceausescu’s grand plan.  One of those was built to house guests of Mr. Ceausescu and now serves as a magnificent J.W. Marriott!

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Bucharest as the focus of my trip was elsewhere.  However, I did get to see some of the key places around town, such as the former royal palace, a few churches, the monument to the revolution (eerie), and the balcony where Ceausescu stood in his final days trying to give a speech but, in a crucial moment in history, the crowd turned on him and the whole thing unraveled for Nicky  (I remember watching that in the US in the news the day it happened!).  I will end the post with the gallery of sights around Bucharest – enjoy!

(Click on the thumbnail to see the entire photo!)

Photo Essay of the Center of Moldova’s Capital: Chisinau

Having added Moldova to my Romania trip itinerary , Chisinau (pronounced KISH-now), its capital, had to be central to the visit as it is the main town in this country of approximately 3.6 million people (Chisinau itself has around 750,000 inhabitants).

Chisinau road sign, Moldova

Welcome to Chisinau

Street scene near central Chisinau, Moldova

Street scene near central Chisinau (and darkening skies!)

Street scene in Chisinau, Moldova

Bus stop scene in Chisinau

The city, which was founded in the 1430s, has a complex history since it was at the crossroads of various empires.  It is said that it had the largest proportion of Jewish population in Europe in 1900 at 43% of the city’s population.  The city was nearly destroyed in 1940 when the Soviets took over and the city was hit by an earthquake, and, later by Nazi attacks and occupation.  I saw old structures but not many that pre-date this period (to my untrained eye).  The Jewish population, as in other places, was wiped out to a good extent during the Nazi occupation.

Booth in Chisinau, Moldova

Perhaps one of the older structures around??!!

Some of the older architecture in Chisinau, Moldova

Example of older architecture in Chisinau, Moldova

City Hall, finished in 1901 but re-built after WW II due to the damage it sustained, is one of the best architectural pieces in town, built in Italian Gothic style.

City Hall of Moldova's capital city, Chisinau

Chisinau City Hall

Of course, a lot of buildings I saw are post-WW II.  Many of the big style government buildings, apartment bloc buildings, and hotels were built in that post-war period, with the implications to architecture that that entails…

Apartment blocs in Chisinau. Moldova

Apartment blocs, many in different states of repair

Parliament Building was damaged during demonstrations in 2009 and is under repair.  It used to house the Central Committee of the Communist Party during Soviet times.

Parliament Building in Chisinau, Moldova

Parliament Building

The now-abandoned National Hotel in Chisinau, Moldova

The now-abandoned National Hotel

Hotel Chisinau (open) in Moldova

Hotel Chisinau (open)

Telecom company building in Chisinau, Moldova

Office building

Presidential Palace in Chisinau, Moldova

Presidential Palace

Underground tunnel in Chisinau, Moldova

Underground tunnel for pedestrians – great artwork

Ministry of Agriculture in Chisinau, Moldova

Ministry of Agriculture

I enjoy looking at the architecture in a city to get a mental image of the place and how it evolved.  Clearly, history has been wiped out a good bit by war, earthquakes, and the Soviet regime.  But I also like to see what people do.  Unfortunately,  a countryside-heavy itinerary kept me mostly out of Chisinau.  Also, I didn’t find any cafés in the central part of the city as I walked around so it was harder to sit back and watch life go by (well, I could have sat on a sidewalk but not the same!). Still, I saw life go by in its own way.

Old lady crossing Stefan cel Mare Boulevard in Chisinau, Moldova

Old lady crossing Stefan cel Mare Boulevard

Man crossing street in Chisinau, Moldova

Man crossing street

I did visit the main park in the city center, named after the national hero Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), which definitely seems to be popular with locals with its trees, lawn areas, fountains and the Alley of the Classics (with sculptures of literature and political greats for Moldovans).

Stefan cel Mare Central Park in Chisinau, Moldova

Stefan cel Mare Central Park

Ever-present Stefan cel Mare near the same-named park in Chisinau, Moldova

Ever-present Stefan cel Mare near the same-named park

My guide asked me asked me when we met “why Moldova?”.  I answered because “it’s there and I wanted to see what it was like.”   Yet, I fully realize that to really get to know a country and its people, it takes a lot more than a short visit and the sightseeing.  I was fortunate to have a great guide, Dumitru, (whom I’d recommend for anyone traveling there!) for 3 days who shared a lot with me about Moldova and Moldovans, about the times before and after the fall of the USSR, about the country’s current challenges, about the business environment, and about the hidden treasures this small country has to offer for those willing to take the extra steps to get to see it.