Bucharest – Little Paris of the East
“Hello Budapest! I mean Bucharest…!”
There is a legend that tells Michael Jackson shouted out loud to the crowd these same words quoted above, from the balcony of the Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest), the world’s second largest administrative building. Even though I had never heard about this story, I made my homework back in the beginning of 2016, when I considered moving to Romania’s capital city.
It was late November and we had just arrived from our trip to Italy. We were aware that our annual leave wasn’t over yet, even though we had just a few days left. We ended up picking up Bucharest as our last destination for 2016, or as many people call it, “Little Paris”.
We purchased our bus tickets in Sofia’s Central Bus Station through Etap Group for the amount of 82 лв (around 41 Eur), round trip, per person. The departure from Sofia happened at 3:30 p.m on the 15th of December and we crossed the border between Bulgaria and Romania at around 9:20 p.m. It was 10:30 p.m when we made it to Filaret Bus Station, where my good friend Alex was expecting us. He drove us to his place where we were very well received with food, drinks, a bed and a black cat!
Not only Alex and his girlfriend were our hosts, they ended up being our tour guides as well. We woke up as early as possible the next day and we drove to Văcărești Nature Park. A concrete dam surrounding Lake Văcărești was built by the former president and dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu who was willing to build a reservoir. All the houses that were located in this area were bought and demolished by the state back in the eighties. Thirty years later this site is home to dozens of species of birds, snakes, foxes, swans et cetera, living in a stable ecosystem.
Our next stop was Carol Park (Parcul Carol in Romanian), previously named Liberty Park until the year of 1991. In the south part of the Park you will find the Mausoleum, built in honor of revolutionary socialist militants. Guarded by soldiers is also the eternal flame, right in front of the monument. There is also a bridge, from where you can see the Palace of the Parliament, which leads you to the north part of the Park, where is located Dimitrie Leonida Technical Museum, the world’s first technical interactive museum, named after the engineer who founded it back in the year of 1909.
A 10 Lei ticket (Approx. 2.20€) gives you access to both exhibitions of this interesting museum, and will take you back in time to the first half of the 20th century. A rich exhibition of antique model cars, engines, bicycles, scale trains and much more. Through the link below you’ll find yourself in a 360 º virtual tour of the museum.
Parking somewhere close to the Palace of the Parliament can be a very difficult task, but it didn’t stop us from visiting the world’s second largest administrative building. After facing the traffic in Bulevardul Unirii we managed to find a place to park. As soon as we got closer to this building we started to understand how majestic it really is.
We entered the building through the main entrance and we purchased our visits. For 55 Lei per person (Approx. 12 Eur) we were given access to the complete tour, which includes the panoramic tour, the terrace and the underground of the building. An additional charge of 30 Lei (7 Eur) is required for shooting photos or videos. For more information regarding tour programs and rates, refer yourself to the link below.
I don’t even know how to start describing our tour. I believe I should have brought a notepad with me so that I could get it all on paper. We were introduced to the history of this building by this really nice tour guide who guided us for almost two hours inside Nicolae Ceaușescu’s greatest creation. Not only this is the world’s second largest administrative building, with a floor area of 365.000 m2 , it is also the world’s heaviest building weighing in around 4,098,500,000 kg (Crazy number right? Over 4 billion Kg!). In the beginning of the 80s, the Romanian dictator demolished Uranuz-Izvoir, the neighborhood that used to stand where the palace was later constructed. Forty thousand people who were living in this area had to be relocated to a different area of Bucharest. The project was lead by Anca Petrescu, a 28-year-old woman, and the construction began in 1984, with the help of around 700 architects and between 20 and 100 thousand workers, working three shifts per day.
Formerly named “House of the Republic”, with 12 floors and at least 8 underground floors, the building has over 1100 rooms, even though most of them were never finished. Some of the most important rooms are the Unirii Hall, where you can find a carpet weighing a ton and a half, the Alexandru Ioan Cuza hall, which has a capacity of between 800-1200 seats, the Human Rights Hall, with a conference system of 60 microphones, the Reception’s saloon where both parties would meet and the C. A. Rosetti Hall where lies Romania’s largest and heaviest chandelier weighing in around 5 tonnes.
All materials used for the construction of Palatul Parlamentului were of Romanian origin, except for the doors of Nicolae Bălcescu Hall, which were a gift from Mobutu Sese Seko, the former dictator and president of Zaire. 3500 Tonnes of crystal, approximately a million cubic meters of Transylvanian marble, 900.000 m3 of different types of wood, 200.000 m2 of woolen carpets and 700.000 tonnes of steel and bronze were used in the construction.
From the terrace, the view was a lot different. No more chandeliers, carpets, gold, statues, paintings or staircases. Just an incredible view over the boulevards leading to Piața Constituției and the Bucharest Christmas Market which I would later visit.
The underground of the building was the last part of our tour. Nicolae Ceaușescu had built tunnels beneath the Palace, connecting it to the airport and other parts of the city. However, the underground tour didn’t last very long. In fact, it just gave us access to two or three rooms where we could see some black and white photos from the construction of the Parliament thirty years ago.
Despite the fact that I thought the underground tour was very poor, I was happy for having had the opportunity of visiting the rest of the building. Even though that after a long tour we were told that we had just seen 5% of the entire building, it seemed like we had seen a lot.
We shot a few more photos of the outside and then our friends took us to La Plăcinte, a restaurant that serves both traditional Romanian and Moldavian dishes. I strongly suggest the Moldavian layer pie with cherries for dessert, it was delicious!
Then we headed for a stroll along Bucharest’s most famous avenue, Calea Victoriei. The sun had set and the Christmas lights were now on, illuminating the streets. It was easy to understand why this city had just been ranked third amongst the Top sparkling European cities at Christmas time, decorated with over 3 million lightbulbs spread all over.
It was very cold and windy outside, but yet, nothing stopped us from walking north all the way to the arch. The Arch of Triumph (Arcul de Triumf in Romanian), built in 1936, stands right in the center of a large roundabout on the south of Parcul Herăstrău. Illuminated at night with the Romanian flag on top, it has an entrance with internal stairs for views.
Before heading back home to pack our bags and leave to Azuga, a small resort town in the mountains, we had to pay a little visit to the Christmas Bazar which took place at Piața Constituției.
Despite the cold, the atmosphere was great. All the lights, the sound and the people. A stage with live performances for everyone, and dozens of stalls selling Christmas products, gastronomy, art, et cetera. Just like always we bought some souvenirs, and then we headed back home to get ready for a new adventure in the land of Count Dracula!
– An enormous thank you to Alex and Eliza for having been the all-time best hosts!
– All the photos shot inside the Palace of the Parliament were shot by my girlfriend Rita. Thank you for the amazing work and for letting me use them.
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