In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 13 of that journey (Romania & Bulgaria).
July 9th, 2010
I visited the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest the capital of Romania – apparently the 2nd biggest building in the world after the Pentagon – according to the Guinness book of World Records the palace is the world’s largest civilian administrative building, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest building. The palace measures 270 m by 240 m, 86 m high, and 92 m under ground. It has 1,100 rooms, 2 underground parking garages and is 12 stories tall, with four additional underground levels! This classic episode of Top Gear gives you a great idea of the massive size of the palace!
The palace was designed and nearly completed by the communist Ceausescu regime between 1983 and 1989 as the seat of political and administrative power (please see my previous blog for more info on Ceausescu). If the revolution had not occurred it would have been completely finished in 1990, but even today it is still not fully completed.
On the tour of the Palace, my group was taken through massive marble rooms and hallways, up huge marble staircases, huge curtains that weigh 500kg hang over windows, giant chandeliers – very excessive (estimates of the materials used include one million cubic meters of marble; 3,500 tonnes of crystal – 480 chandeliers, 1,409 ceiling lights and mirrors were manufactured; 700,000 tonnes of steel & bronze for monumental doors, windows and chandeliers; 900,000 m³ of wood; and 200,000 m² of carpets)! 200 architects and 20,000 other people worked day and night on the project. 19 churches and 30,000 residences were destroyed to build this place! Cost $10 billion! The statistics are astounding and this really is a classic case of a Communist dictator gone power mad for sure!
Due to it’s massive size the Romanian government cannot fully afford to fund the daily operation of the palace. This is why they charge for tours, hire out function rooms, do not have all light globes fitted (see the photos above) and turn off all lights after you leave a room on the tour if it is a room that is not in regular use (which is a lot of rooms)!
I also had a look at the area now known as Revolution Square in Bucharest. This area is dominated by the former communist party Central Committee Building (Communist Party HQ) where Ceausescu and his wife fled from the revolutionary crowds in a helicopter from the roof in 1989.
On the way there I saw a young woman hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing in Bucharest – she went flying up in the air but somehow managed to walk away! The guy driving got out and started to hug her!?!?! She was furious and hurt, then this old woman came up and started abusing him and another driver. The woman had a hurt elbow and back. Then the driver just jumped in his car and left! I am going to be very careful on these streets! Amazingly she was relatively ok and was able to leave unaided!
Bucharest is certainly the most rundown of European cities I have been too – a mix of old grey decaying communist era apartment buildings (seems to be the majority of buildings – many in the centre of town still have bullet holes in the walls!), stately old buildings and homes from pre-communist times (although some are in pretty bad shape), new buildings and homes, communist party buildings including those that were not finished (a massive planned science and technology building is just an empty shell). Having said that it is an interesting place to visit…luckily I haven’t seen too many of the famed wild dogs of Bucharest on the streets!
The train ride to Bulgaria was realitively uneventful, until the last border town – Romanian border guards came on, took all our passports off the train whilst others searched the toilets and the like. 30 minutes later we were given the all clear. Bulgarian customs police came on in a place called Ruse, just over the border and took about 5 minutes to clear all passengers getting off the train. Its funny, but Bulgarians nod for no and shake their head for yes..very confusing when I was trying to work out if I needed to reserve a seat to go onto Varna on the Black Sea coast….the ticket lady couldn’t speak english and just kept nodding her head! I ended up just getting on the train!
Anyway I am now in Varna on the Black Sea coast….its raining and wet! Cyrillic writing can be very confusing – a trick I learnt in Russia in 2007 is to learn how to spell town names and then write that down. It makes things a lot easier i.e. Varna = BAPHA!
The weather hasn’t improved but I managed to spend 12 hours out and about looking around the town with a fellow traveller from Canada. We checked out a history museum with an amazing collection of ancient artefacts, jewelry etc from the Thracians, Romans etc. We also went to the ruins of a massive Roman thermal bath complex, spent the rest of the day walking through parks, even waded into the water of the Black Sea during a brief moment of sun!
We saw a bizarre statue commemorating the fight against fascism – massive with two huge men on top and various images around its base – some were obvious ie. sabotage to a train track, others were somewhat interpretive – one appeared to be one man pleasuring another in a prison cell…..um err….those whacky communists!