Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bucharest, Romania – October 7, 2012

Bucharest, Romania – October 7, 2012

The day was long – a three and one-half hour drive from the port in Constanta to the capital city of Bucharest, and another three and one-half hour drive back to the port after the visit.  However, the visit to Bucharest was worth the long drives.  The first stop was at the national cathedral.  In Romania, the church is Romanian Orthodox.  The churches are different from Catholic cathedrals, which are often huge, beautiful structures with cavernous naves filled with rows of pews.  In contrast, Orthodox churches are tiny structures with no seats, and they are filled completely with lavish decorations, much of which is covered with gold leaf.  Services often last three hours, and worshipers stand or kneel during services.  Our visit was on a Sunday, and the Sunday service was in progress.  Long before we arrived at the church, we heard the singing of the sermon by the priests.  When we arrived at the church, we saw that the priests alternated singing parts of the service, and their voices were incredible.  The entire service is sung.  The small church was packed, with worshipers kneeling or standing so close to each other that they were touching.  Every inch of the church was packed.  I felt very moved by the experience of the visit to the church.

A marathon was being run in Bucharest the day of our visit, and the bus had great difficulty moving around, as many of the most important central streets were closed.  We next visited the Parliament building, winding our way through the streets until finally stopping in front of the JW Marriott Hotel, half a mile in back of the Parliament building.  We walked around the building and then took a tour through the building with a tour guide who worked at the building (like the tour guides who work at the U.S. Capitol building).  The building is large, but it does not seem much larger than the U.S. Capitol, and it is not overly ornate, certainly no more ornate than the U.S. Capitol.  Yet, it is widely criticized for being too big and too ornate.  I thought it was a pretty ordinary government building; however, I was very pleased to visit it.

The tour next went to lunch at a tourist place where five bus loads of 50 passengers each were seated at round tables and given lunch of salad and chicken with potatoes, then a strange sweet cheese dessert that was very tough to cut and eat.  I did not eat much of the dessert. 

After lunch the tour went to an outdoor museum in which antique farmhouses from all around the country had been carefully moved and restored.  These old farmhouses were quite interesting, and the setting was very pretty, with the houses placed around a lake. 

The bus then took a drive around Bucharest, with the guide telling us about the different areas and some of the old mansions in Bucharest.  During the communist era, all property was seized; however, after the fall of communism in 1990, property is being returned to rightful owners if they can be found.  Thus, some of the mansions had been renovated, while others sat in disrepair while owners were still being located.

The bus also drove through “Revolution Square” where more than 1000 students were killed the day that Ciaocescu fell.  We were shown the place where he and his wife gave their last speeches, trying to convince the crowd to let them remain in power, and then flying away on a helicopter, only to be captured and returned to Bucharest to stand trial and be executed on December 25, 1990. 

Our guide, Ana-Cristina, was a high school English teacher who was a tour guide on weekends.  She had grown up under communism, and she spent a lot of time on the bus talking about life under the communist regime, and life since then.  Life was very, very hard under the communists, and even harder since then.  Under the communists, everyone had a (low-paying) job, and everyone had a small apartment.  Now, everyone must compete for a job, and unemployment is very high.  And even tiny apartments are now so expensive that many people have no place to live.  She called the gray apartment buildings “communist apartment buildings”, and they were everywhere, rising 10-15 stories high.  The apartments were given to residents when communism fell, but few new apartments had been built since then, so many young adults had to continue to live in tiny apartments with parents, even after they got married.  Almost no renovations had been done to the buildings because the residents had no money to renovate them.  Romania is struggling economically, and people are struggling with life after communism.

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