Brașov to Bucharest is less than 3 hours by train. Bucharest became the state capital of Romania in 1862, and today it is the largest city in the country. I arrived on a quiet Sunday as most businesses were closed. As soon as I get out of the taxi to my hostel, I noticed cables were dangling at poles erected on the street. This scenario reminded me so much of the French Quarter in Hanoi. It was just ironic that Bucharest is known as the 'Little Paris' in Eastern Europe.
Bucharest eclectic architecture is a mix of old and new - medieval, neoclassical, art nouveau with modern skyscrapers. Many buildings are old (but well preserved) in the historic district area, while new ones with reflecting glass windows complete the landscape around the city. If you want to experience the charm of Bucharest, Calea Victoriei (Victory Road) would be the best place to begin. It was built as a main road in 1692 when Constantin Brancoveanu wanted a road to link to his palace at Mogosoaia with the Old Court. Some of the most beautiful buildings are found here: the National Savings Bank, the Telephone Palace, the Cretulescu Church, and the Romanian Antheneum.
Bucharest has an extensive public transportation system. It consists of the Bucharest Metro, buses, trams, trolleys, and light rail. Cost starts at 4.0 lei for two trips. Unlike the narrow subway platforms in New York City, the platforms in Bucharest Metro are wide. Like the stations in Kiev, the stations in Bucharest are clean, and trash free. The train cars have policemen on duty.
The downtown is at Piata Unirii (Union Square). The fountains give a cooling misty effect on hot summer days around the area. However, they looked pretty awkward, with major roads intersecting one another on one of the busiest streets in the city. It was caught up with Ceausescu's plan for urbanization, and unfortunately, lots of historical buildings and monuments were virtually wiped out to make way for what was to become the second largest building in the world, the Parliament Palace (Palatul Parlamentului). Today, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Bucharest. It opened to the public in 1990, and it has the biggest rooms, the biggest chandelier, and the biggest and longest conference room you've ever seen.
A free walking tour begins at Piata Unirii, near the fountains where the clock is. You have to look for a person wearing an orange shirt. A two-hour tour which takes tourists to Calea Victoriei to see Stavropoleos Church, the Old Court Church, and the Old Court. There's Manuc's Inn (Hanul lui Manuc) which was built around 1808. It used to be an inn, and later was used as a prison. After being abandoned for a number of years, today it is reopening as a hotel-restaurant and wine cellar. It is one of Bucharest's historical buildings. Another point of interests is the Villacrose and Macca passages. These two pedestrian alleys are roofed with tainted glasses, and wrought iron. They are lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants in a 'U' shape. The sun gives a natural light to the alley when it hits the tinted rooftop.
The tour ends by the Revolution Square. This is the site of a series of riots in December 1989. The Romanian Revolution overthrown the Communist government, and marked the end of Ceauşescu's regime. The Athénée Palace Hotel, the University of Bucharest Library and the Memorial Rebirth are all located here. Andrei Pana is one of the guides working for guide-bucharest. He showed passion in his work, and he loved his job although the guide(s) has to rely on tips as the main source of income.
That night, I joined the group for ice-cream at McDonald. I got a little lost on my way back to my hostel, and I had to be wary as Bucharest is known for its stray dogs roaming the streets at night.
The day before I left for the airport, I went to Caru' cu Bere for lunch. It is one of the oldest beer house in Bucharest. An impressive building in its own right, the Caru' cu Bere reminds us why Bucharest is known as 'little Paris'. The mural paintings, the stained glasses, and the carved cross-beams are all distinctive elements of an art nouveau building. Famous for its original homemade beer, it serves an excellent selection of Romanian cuisines.
The train runs to the airport from the main train station. It cost 8.00 lei (less than $3), and the last train out is before 9 pm. The train stops in the middle of nowhere in a housing area, and you have to drag your belongings to a waiting van nearby. It makes one wonder what happens if there is a group of twenty people on the train the same night?
There are definitely a lot more Ukraine and Romania have to offer to the tourism industry. They have been under the radar for quite awhile, and in recent years, governments of both countries have been aggressively promoting these countries as top tourists' destinations. The World Tourism Organization has already placed Ukraine in the top 25 most visited countries in world.
Ukraine and Romania are without doubt the places to go again and again.