Our First Day/Night in Bucharest
Our Viking Eastern Europe tour began in Bucharest, Romania. After an extremely loooong flight of 15 hours from San Diego, with the least airplane leg room, I have ever experienced, we finally arrived in Bucharest! No real problems, but I hope it is the last time I ever fly KLM. We were met at the airport by Viking Tour representatives. We had to wait for the next flight of incoming Viking Tour passengers before we could leave. The representatives were very welcoming and friendly. We finally got into the van and headed toward the city which was about 30 minutes away. We arrived at the Sheraton Hotel and were checked in by other Viking Tour agents. Our room was all right but very small and no view. By that time it was around 6:30 and so we decided to go up to the 18th floor to see what we could see before the sun went down. We found the Sheraton Club with some nice views of the city. We asked to be let in just to take photos and they were very accommodating. The featured photo is a golden view of the lovely city of Bucharest just as the sun was going down.
It was about time to check out the Sheraton restaurants and make a decision about where we wanted to eat. There were two choices – Benihana or Avalon, a pricey contemporary restaurant. In order to eat in one of the hotel restaurants, you had to make a reservation at the front desk. They only had the Avalon menu which was expensive had several options but then we decided to see what Benihana had to offer. We found both restaurants side by side and looked in Benihana’s and saw quite a few people at separate tables waiting for their dinner – no waitresses or waiters were in the vicinity. As a result, we thought we might just go to the bar and order a drink and some food. We finally found the bar and the waitress came right over. I had a cosmopolitan and Shawn had a Cuba libre, then we ordered fried calamari. It took quite a while to get our order. In the meantime, I had two drinks while waiting which was not a great idea. I was lucky, I made it to our room.
Our inner clocks were all confused! I woke at 3 am and don’t think I went back to sleep. We had to get our luggage out next to our door by 7:30 am. So we managed to get up by 6 am! We set out our luggage with the Viking Tour tags and went to breakfast. It was a huge room and I imagined most of the people were going on the Viking Tour. There was a good variety of breakfast foods and both of us enjoyed our meal.
The buses were waiting outside the hotel and we took a big brown bus and found some good seats in the back which were right next to the back exit door. We had lots of room and could make a fast exit. We discovered on our trip to Iceland that it was best to get out quickly because most excursions have a strict time schedule. I liked our guide as she was very friendly and personable. All the luggage was picked up and taken directly to the boat. Our boat had changed because the original one got stuck in low waters but since the new one was a sister ship, everything was exactly the same. It was 9:30 am and we were ready to go. We were lucky because we did not have a full bus load of people and it would be easier and faster to get around with a smaller group.
Sights of Bucharest and the Old Town
We started out on our first excursion to see Bucharest and the Old Town. Romania’s capital has an impressive collection of unique architecture and grand monuments. The city was founded in the 14th century and became the capital in 1859. With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Romania became a democracy and has since undergone growth in its economy and infrastructure. As we traveled through the city, we saw the Arch of Triumph, French-style boulevards, the Palace of Parliment (Communist dictator – Ceausescu’s most infamous creation), historical and state buildings as well as a multitude of many interesting churches. Much needed restorations are taking place all over the city thanks to the influx of EU funds as a result of Romania’s joining the European Union in 2007. Meandering through the city finally brought us to Bucharest’s Old Town known as Centru Vechi by the locals.
The Old Town, also called Lipscani after its main street, is all that’s left of pre-WorldWar 11 Bucharest. This area is historic because it is where Bucharest was founded. It became Bucharest’s merchant center and remained as such until the end of World War 11. When the communist authorities took over many of the business and house owners were arrested and their property confiscated and left to decay. The entire area was then neglected for decades, with many of the empty buildings being occupied by the Gypsies. Today’s Old Town is filled with clubs, cafes, bars, and hotels. It has become the city’s party place and on any given night the restaurants and bars are teeming with the energetic citizens of modern-day Bucharest.
At the Princely Court ruins, we learned more detailed information about Vlad, the Impaler, who was the ruling prince in the 1400s. Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, “Dracula”, was based on the life of Prince Vlad.
We continued our walk to Manuc’s Inn, the oldest operating hotel building in Bucharest. Until recently, it was shut down for restoration and refurbishment. It was built in 1808 and originally owned a wealthy Armenian. By the middle of the 19th century, it became Bucharest’s most important commercial complex. The original complex has been subjected to many restorations but its essential structure remains intact. It was the site of the talks for the treaty of Bucharest, which put an end to the Russo-Turkish war in 1812. The building was nationalized in 1949.
Signs and Buildings Along the Way
Old Town is filled with many cafes, shops, and buildings. I took photos of quite a few interesting signs and buildings along the way.
I have seen a lot of Romanians smoking and most of the smokers seem to be young people. Romania has one of the highest smoking rates which is close to 35%. Wine and beer is very inexpensive and Romania has the reputation of being a cheap holiday destination.
Stavropoleos Monastery and Church
Our last main stop in Old Town was the Stavropoleos Monastery and Church. The monastery was dissolved during the last century. It is now an Eastern Orthodox monastery for nuns. The patrons of the church are the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The name of the monastery means “The City of the Cross”. The church was built in 1724. All that remains of the original monastery is the church and a building that houses a library and collection of 18-century icons. The choir of the church sings Byzantine music.
Caru’cu Bere – A Classic Historic Monument.
By the end of the excursion, it was getting very hot outside. The temperatures so far had been in the 90s and the next few days were forecasted to be very, very hot – about 104 degrees. Our guide led us to a famous beer hall called “Caru’ cu Bere” – Bucharest’s oldest beer house. It was free time so Shawn and I decided to go to a souvenir shop that was nearby. There were a lot of interesting crafts. I bought a few things and so did Shawn. I was glad I resisted on a couple of items because I found them in Bulgaria for less than half the price. We returned to Caru’cu Bere house to have some cold drinks. It was hard to get waited on but I finally got their attention. We had our drinks and then went to the bus which was waiting for us across the street.
When I was on the bus, I discovered my camera batteries needed charging and I had forgotten to put my charged batteries in my bag. Although it was very upsetting, I still had my iPhone.
The next part of the excursion took us to the Village Museum and I will continue that part of the story tomorrow. It has been very difficult to work on my blog because the internet connection is via satellite and seems to go in and out. I have had to redo my blog at least twice because of the poor reception. Our room is the very last one on the middle deck and we are quite a distance from the internet source. Tomorrow there will not be any excursions, as we will be traveling all day. Hopefully, I will be able to catch up.