Bucharest: A Diamond in the Rough. Part 2

You can read part 1 of my travels in Bucharest here. The day after Phil and I visited Cismigiu Park, we headed over to the Parliamentary Palace, truly a site to behold. The Palace is one of the largest government buildings in the world, with 1,100 rooms and 3,930,000 sq ft; only the Pentagon is larger. The building was the brain child of former Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.

To make room for the palace, much of old-town Bucharest was destroyed. Ground breaking for the project was in 1984 and for nearly six years thousands of laborers worked twenty-four hours a day on the construction. Ceaușescu was known for his grandiose projects with no concern for budget. He literally starved his people so he could realize his dream of the perfect palace which created anit-Ceaușescu sentiment in much of the country. Ceaușescu died before construction was complete; shot by his people on Christmas day 1989 during an armed revolution.

During our hour long tour we went up several staircases, saw two theaters, a beautiful ballroom, galleries, meeting rooms, and long hallways and that was only 5% of the building. The coolest area we saw was the grand balcony overlooking Unity Boulavard. Ceaușescu had envisioned giving speeches from this balcony. The first person to ever address the public from this balcony in Bucharest was Micheal Jackson in 1992 when he famously said, “Hello Budapest! I’m so glad to be here”!

The next morning, we had reservations to tour Ceaușescu’s former residence at 11am. And what a residence it is, in the swanky part of town. In fact, it is right next door to the Kuwaiti embassy. After touring the home, we walked past several embassies in the area including the Spanish, French, and Swiss to name a few.

Ceaușescu’s former home, also known as Primaverii Palace (Spring Palace), was the primary residence of the dictator and his family from 1965-1989. Each of his three children had an apartment within the home in addition to the apartment of Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena, and Elena’s own, private apartment. Apparently the couple slept in their shared apartment together at night but Elena needed her own space during the day. I get it.

The home is large and luxurious but in comparison with the opulence of the Palace of Parliament, feels quite homey and intimate. While Ceaușescu hosted world leaders in the Louis XV day study (copy of a room of the Palace of Versailles), the family did not have overnight guests. Ceaușescu was known to be paranoid about assassination attempts (turns out he wasn’t off base), particularly being poisoned (this lead him to outfit the Palace of Parliament with a unique ventilation system using air from the outdoors instead of traditional duct work) so did not invite others outside of the family to stay at the home.

The Ceaușescu’s added on to the home in the 70’s, adding a dressing room, atrium, and large indoor pool. It was groovy to see the style of the home transition from the 60’s to 70’s. The pool area was really something with psychedelic mosaics surrounding it.

The atrium had lovely mosaics as well prominently featuring peacocks, as Peacocks were the dictator’s favorite bird. In fact he brought four back to his home following a visit to Japan in the 1970’s. Decedents of these four peacocks roam the grounds of the dictator’s former home to this day. Phil and I were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the new peacock chicks on the property who are apparently quite elusive.

After leaving Primaverii Palace, Phil and I headed to Zexe Braserie, a restaurant our train companion, George, had recommended. The food was tasty and their dessert case featured at least twenty different delicious looking cakes. I had a croissant sandwich of goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds and Phil a pork loin sandwich with pesto. We shared sides of fries and spinach in some kind of creamy, slightly cheesy sauce that was the start of the show. We, of course, had to try one of their cakes. Mine was dark chocolate with pistachio cream and Phil had a vanilla and mango layered cake.

 After lunch we walked through the neighborhood and came upon the Zambaccian Art Museum, which was housed in the former residence of its namesake. A private collection made up of many famous Romanian artists along with Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, and Renoir. I love modern art so the collection was right in my wheelhouse.

While taking in the beautiful paintings and the building itself, I saw a painting of a place that looked very familiar. I thought to myself, “We’ve been there”. It wasn’t Venice or Paris or a huge, widely recognizable city. I leaned in to read the title and sure enough it was Chioggia (by artist Gheorghe Pestrascu). Phil and I made a few hours visit to Chioggia on our drive to Venice when we visited Italy in 2019.

Chioggia

I also enjoyed seeing three different paintings of artist, Stefan Luchian; one a self portrait, one by artist Traian Cornescu, and the other by artist, Camil Ressu.

The next stop on our walk was the National Museum of Maps and Old Books. What a cool little museum!It contained maps from the 16th century through the present day. We saw an old map of Spain so I, of course, had to take a photo (and zoom up on Asturias).

The next day we made our way to the Museum of Art Collections, a huge museum of private collections that were donated to the museum.  It was organized by the collections donated, and there were laminated sheets, in English and Romanian, about the donors, and their relationships with the artists, if any. There was so much to see; paintings, furniture, sculptures, and swords. You can see more from the museum in Phil’s post here.

Our very favorite exhibit was by the Japanese artist Shizuko Onda. Using multicolored plexiglass and other items, she creates artistic pieces that look different from every perspective. They were truly amazing.

After visiting the museum, we made our way back to the rental, taking in more of the cool architecture that Bucharest has to offer. I really enjoyed our time in Bucharest and highly recommend visiting.

Next stop: Bulgaria!

Published by yogibarrington

American expat living in Gijon, Asturias, Spain

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