I am going to finally write my last Bucharest post – a bittersweet moment. My new Romanian friends encouraged me to check out the Palace that Ceaușescu built as a temple to his self-proclaimed emperor status. As he showed little regard for the citizens he was bossing around, it is likely not surprising that there is nowhere to sit but lots of time to stand around waiting to actually get on a tour. When I was there, there were various maintenance issues so only the standard tour was available. No chance to check out the bunkers.
It required standing around for about an hour – or giving up and sitting on the floor. It seemed a big commitment but I had already learned how to use the metro and walked across a large park to get there so I thought I might as well see something before I repeated the process. I would highly encourage you to do the same.
You will never see anything else like it. If you are lucky, you will also have an excellent guide who speaks English very well and has a sly sense of humour. Now that Romania is no longer a police state, poking fun at the past seems to be a bit of a hobby. You can’t blame them. Ceaușescu makes Donald Trump look like a humble pussy.
It’s mind-boggling how dictators convince themselves that they are not auditioning for evil wizard roles in the next Harry Potter movie and that the public loves them – even if they can only get that level of adoration via fear and violence.
Perhaps they are mentally ill. That would definitely explain the Presidential Palace in Bucharest… It is the second largest administrative building in the world. Only the Pentagon is bigger! The Palace was part of a more ambitious Project Bucharest to apparently create a replica of the North Korean capital. One can certainly imagine Ceaușescu as a Kim-Il-Sung fan-boy. Someone who rejected Mao and Khrushchev as being too progressive and idolized Stalin was certainly a role model… poor Romania!
Is there something viperous about women whose names start with “E”??? No doubt Nicolae had plenty of issues of his own and very little education but hooking up with Elena added an “Eva Peron” element to his maniacal quest for power and adoration. Apparently she modelled herself on the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty.
If you check out the Palace, you can learn more about the terrible twosome.
And the Palace itself (since the revolution dubbed the “People’s Palace”) is a physical manifestation of megalomania. Huge tracts of land were razed, 40,000 people were relocated and soldiers were forced to work on the construction to reduce costs. It cost billions to build and a ridiculous amount to maintain.
It’s the Sagrada Familia of administrative buildings. Work began in 1984 and is not yet totally complete. When the government fell in 1989, it was unclear how to proceed. The building is a nutty mess built by an idiot but it would have cost more to get rid of it so they have just tried to work with it but the government only uses about 30% of the building. You can rent a room if you’d like 😉
The building has eight underground levels and apparently can survive a nuclear war. It is 2% larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza – megalomaniacs think alike 🙂
Almost all the materials used for the building came from Romania. Selling those natural resources to trading partners no doubt would have been a more sensible strategy for the citizenry. It does mean that it is fascinating to see as a tourist. Chandeliers, carpets, mirrors, wooden ornamentation – everything is totally over the top. Some carpets are so large machines had to be brought into the room to weave the carpet on-site. The palace includes 220,000 square metres of carpet, 3,500 tons of crystal and one million cubic metres of marble. The carpet in the main Union Hall weighs 1.5 tons. It’s like being in someone’s crazy fairy tale palace.
Like something stuck in the past, the building is a mess of ancient architecture styles with little regard for function. You will get a lot of exercise on the tour as mostly you have to take grandiose staircases to get around. Apparently the government has established some services within the building as it takes a long time to get to any shops outside – or even to a meeting in another part of the building.
As a reward for all the stairs, you get to go out on the famous balcony for an overview of a large swath of Bucharest. And you will hear the Michael Jackson story – do NOT stand on the balcony and declare “I LOVE BUDAPEST”. Hey, international geography is not an American strength.
After you’ve checked out the monstrosity, head to the Old Town. Some parts of it are crumbling but there are still lots of magnificent buildings from Bucharest’s fin-de-siècle heyday. If you need refreshment after all that walking, find the Emilia Cremerie. Possibly some of the best ice cream in Europe. Romanian culture is closer to Italy than to Slovakia, which is probably why they also make excellent wine. There is a local grape called Tomani that I really enjoyed. I learned about it at Abel’s Wine Bar, which boasts lovely service and a gigantic wine list.
The Romanians really deserve your love – and tourist dollars – after the hand they have been dealt by life. Somehow they have managed to be hopeful instead of bitter – with a wicked sense of humour about their past. Go and meet them 🙂