Travel in Romania: Sightseeing and Self-Defense in Bucharest

Sightseeing in Bucharest

Transportation 

To get to Bucharest from Brașov I rode the train, which cost 7 USD and took 2.5 hours. And of course, just my luck, something quite bizarre happened during my ride as well.

Train ride or gypsy garage sale?

As I was sitting in my train car, a woman walked by with a messenger bag. Without saying a word, she began unloading all sorts of trinkets on the chair next to me. She put down a bizarre mix of Disney toys, makeup and used wallets- all fixed with a small price tag. Then, after setting up this mobile garage sale, the woman walked away.🤔🤔🤔20161101_145612So then, of course, as I sat there next to it all, people walked by and started to give me strange looks. They must have thought I was selling those things! Hah!😂😂😂

Anyway, after about 20 minutes, the woman came back and realized no items had been exchanged for money, so she put the things back in her bag and left. Never a dull moment when travelling. That’s for sure!

Accommodation 

While in Bucharest, I stayed at Little Bucharest Old Town Hostel. The rooms were cozy and the bathrooms were clean; however, the selling point of this hostel by far, is its central location, with phenomenal views of the old city center.IMG_20161102_130138
Attractions

I met a cool traveler in Brașov, who ended up staying at my hostel in Bucharest as well. He’s a firefighter back in Colorado, who came to Europe to walk El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage from southern France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. One of the first things we did in this city to get our bearings was take a free walking tour.

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Starbucks selfie

Our guide, Livia, was a captivating public speaker. She commanded our group of 30+ people, and even handed out chocolates to people that answered trivia questions correctly. 🙂

DSC_6246
Livia standing in front of Vlad the Impaler’s monument

She told us a lot about Romania’s former Communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, who ruled from 1967 to 1989. He was highly influenced by extremist leaders in North Korea and China, and decided to implement similar policies in Romania as well.

He also wanted Romania to appear more powerful, so he began to construct himself a massive residence, and office of administration. This building, The Palace of the Parliament, is currently the second largest government building in the world, next to the Pentagon, and the world’s most expensive administrative building, valued at over 3 billion dollars. IMG_0538Oddly enough, the only one to stand on its balcony, other than Ceaușescu, was the king of pop, Michael Jackson.

People were so thrilled to hear such an icon would be coming to Bucharest, Romania. They proudly gathered by the thousands in the square, hanging banners and cheering him on. Unfortunately, the first thing MJ uttered to the Romanian people was, “Thank you, Budapest.” 😮

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“We love you, Michael” Courtesy of Google images

Later, after spending so much borrowed money from the West, Ceaușescu decided to repay all 13 billion dollars worth of debt at the people’s expense. Survival for the country became difficult when he ordered that all food, heat, gas and water be rationed to a minimum.

Furthermore, while many Eastern European countries saw an end to Communism in 1989, Romania was not so lucky. Sure, Ceaușescu was overthrown and executed that year; however, for the next 25 years, all subsequent leaders of Romania had former ties to Communism. 😮

Corruption was rampant, the economy was in turmoil, and the people continued to revolt. It wasn’t until 2014, that the country gained its first Prime Minister with no Communist affiliations.

It’s for this reason, Livia noted, that anyone visiting Romania even five years ago, saw the country in a different light. She felt that if things continued in such a positive direction, Romania had a bright future ahead. 🙂

Anyway, after the tour, I started to do a bit of exploring on my own. 🙂

The architecture in Bucharest is so elegant and sophisticated, it has been nicknamed, “Little Paris.” DSC_6287One of the most gorgeous strolls can be found along Calea Victoriei, a wide avenue full of grand monuments, palaces, and theaters.DSC_6289DSC_6282DSC_6280DSC_6286DSC_6295All I can say is, this street has the fanciest Pizza Hut I’ve ever seen. 😉PicMonkey CollageAnyway, I also really enjoyed the city’s many public parks, like Parcul Tineretului and Parcul Cismigiu, with many wide tree-lined paths, and large ponds.DSC_6255DSC_6253DSC_6258Nearby the park is the beautiful Bellu Cemetery, the resting place for many famous poets, singers, and writers.DSC_6270DSC_6261 DSC_6267The city also has numerous Orthodox churches, like the Biserica Sfântul AntonieDSC_6243I like the painted curtain to conceal any restoration work being done. 🙂
DSC_6306I also attended a partial service at the stunning Stavropoleos ChurchIMG_0541IMG_0527The church was small, so I had to stand outside, but they had speakers at the entryway, so it was still easy to hear. The Stavropoleos Byzantine Choir has performed all over the country and abroad. To get into the holiday spirit, I found a clip from their Christmas Carol performance on YouTube for you to enjoy. So beautiful!

On the flip-side of its grandeur, it’s a city filled with such contrast. There is an apparent gap between rich and poor, and a clash between modern and traditional.

For example, they have gigantic mega-malls, selling Zara and Bershka, while outside the mall, on the street corner, there’s a woman in a woven skirt and babushka, selling fresh flowers and wooden spoons. Likewise, there’s an old and abandoned warehouse on the same block as a Sephora.DSC_6293Lastly, outside trendy high-hop clubs pounding the latest beats, you’ll find an old man on his violin, or a young boy playing his accordion.DSC_6275That being said, despite the poverty, I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. The Romanians always appeared very friendly and helpful.

Food

Aspiring Cheeseheads?

Romanian food focuses heavily on pork, as well as, dishes made with deep fried cheese. In fact, one their signature desserts, Papanași, is a fried dough filled with soft cheese, jam, and cream.

hanul
courtesy of Google images

While in Bucharest, I had lunch at Hanul lui Manuc, a historic Romanian restaurant that was once a meeting point for merchants back in the 1800s.

hanul
courtesy of Google images

When I went, they were working on replacing the wooden roof, hammering on tiles without safety a harness. 😮DSC_6244The menu had a variety of Romanian dishes, like cabbage rolls with bacon, and pork sausage with polenta. DSC_6301Since I’ve had a bit of a cold since coming here, I decided on tripe soup, served with chili and fresh cream, alongside a basket of rolls. I enjoy the Mexican variation, menudo, but since I was sick, I couldn’t assess the flavor of this soup very well.soupHonestly though, I came here for the atmosphere alone, plus I received a 10% discount on a city card given to me during my walking tour. The card has discounts to many museums and restaurants in Bucharest, valid for three days after taking the tour. 🙂DSC_6299To add to the historic atmosphere, I visited during an archery event, where groups of Romanians came dressed in traditional costume, to showcase their mastery of bow and arrow.DSC_6300DSC_6302

Self-Defense in Bucharest

Through the website meetup.com, I found out about a Krav Maga self-defense class in Bucharest.IMG_0548

What is Krav Maga Self-Defense?

Krav Maga is a form of self-defense, which uses quick and aggressive tactics, as a way to neutralize any threat. It is mainly used by Israeli Defense Forces, but originally it was developed in Eastern Europe, as a way to protect Jews from fascist groups. It’s also useful in real-world situations, since the goal is not to fight the opponent, but rather learn how to leave the situation safely. For example, if someone were to approach you and grab your wrist, Krav Maga does not teach you how to punch them, but merely how to escape their grasp.
IMG_0549We did also learn some no-nonsense punching techniques, which target weak points, including a hammer punch to the jawbone and the temple. Walking out of there, I felt like a human lethal weapon.😂😂😂
30678534022_534bba115d_oOK, maybe not just yet, but I did learn a few tips, which is a good start. Furthermore, an Israeli self-defense class is also an excellent segue into my next adventure. 😉

Stay tuned to hear all about. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Travel in Romania: Sightseeing and Self-Defense in Bucharest

  1. Wow, it was a little more complicated than that, politically. It’s one thing to have been nominal members of the Communist party, like about 3 million Romanians, and another to be in the all but official successor party of the Communist Party which has ruled the country for “only” about 60% of the time in the last 27 years (fewer if you count the presidents’ affiliations)
    The lady in the train is mute and deaf. There are others alike around the country that are involved in this kind of trade, but I don’t know any other details. Probably the other passengers were giving you those looks because you didn’t signal to her from the beginning that you weren’t interested.
    Nice to see that you’ve visited my hometown, Sibiu. My dad used to work at the village museum and was in charge with the selection and some of the logistics of moving the traditional houses from their original villages to the museum. I’ve just about started reading your blog, only four posts so far. Nice 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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