10 July 2012

Two tours = twice the fun (Part1)

I took two distinctive tours while in Bucharest - one on foot, the other a biking tour. Both were amazing. Rather than post about each one separately, I am going to combine info here for one post.

What's in a name? The Romanian spelling of Bucharest is Bucuresti, it is pronounced: Bukuraesht. It is not uncommon for cities to end with the esti ending, which basically means city. However, the Buku part is up for debate. Sme say it relates to a word that means great joy. If that is the case, the it would translate to 'city of great joy', which according to my tour guide Alex is a statement that couldn't be further from the truth today. The other (and perhaps more accepted) origin is about a shepherd name Buku, who found this area, between two rivers and simply decided to stop and stay. Either way, the first historical mention of Bucharest was in 1459, when Vlad Teles (aka Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula) was in power, thus. No matter the origin of the name, there is no debating that Vlad is considered the father of Bucharest.

But let's jump ahead to the most prominent building in town, built by the man some journalists called "The Modern Day Dracula", Nicolae Ceausescu, the leader of the communist party in Romania, who was overthrown in 1989. The building I refer to is the Parliament building. The building is sometimes referred to as the 'iceberg' because it stands 82 m above ground and 96m below ground. 92% of the building was built between 1982 and 1989. When the communist government was overthrown, the new government wanted to demolish it, but it was determined that would be more expensive than finishing it. The remaining 8% was finished in 1998. Some interesting facts about the building:
* it was built by men conscripted into military service
* it is the world's heaviest building
* it is rumored that Ceausescu had secret underground passages built from that building to other parts of the city
* less than 1/4 of the building is in use today
* cars (regular normal cars) are used to travel within the lower levels of the building

The parliament building has a huge balcony that Ceausescu intended to be used for giving speeches. He never got a chance to do so. In fact, the first person speak from the Balcony was Michael Jackson. He called out "Good Evening Budapest!" whoops.... But the people of Bucharest forgave him, and today there is even a memorial to him in Herastrau Park

Now when it came to building the Parliament building, there was not a huge patch of open land just waiting to be built upon. Rather, neighborhoods were torn down and people cast out. It was also at this time that Bucharest began to have a Stray cat / dog problem. Not only did Ceausescu want to build this massive building, but he wanted this to be the most important square in Romania, which meant hiding the river (underground) and forcing churches and markets to move. The churches were given 3 mos to move or be demolished. Most of them only had to move a distance of 270m or less.

The buildings around parliament also had to maintain a certain standard of uniformity .

Take a look at the photo above. Notice that right above the green section the sun appears to be shining through brightly? Well there is an easy answer to why that is the case. You see there are no apartments in that section of building. Ceausescu simply had a facade with balconies and windows built so that it would be uniform!

Since we are so mired in the communist history, let's move across town to Revolution Square. This is where the revolution began that led to the downfall of communism in Romania.

This hybrid building was the headquarters of the secret police.

This monument in the square has a lot of symbolism - it shows how Romania has passed through the chaos (of Communism) to a brighter future. The path to the monument is a cross made of circles of wood from young trees. The young trees signify the young lives lost. The stake is Romania, the "potato" is Communism. About three months ago, someone with good aim managed to get the red paint on the monument, looking like blood.

Near Revolution square is a Hilton Hotel (it wasn't always a Hilton) American spies would stay at this hotel to spy on Russia. Russian spies stayed to spy on the Americans. Allegedly when the Hilton chain bought and made over the hotel they found miles of wire, microphones and other bugging devices throughout the hotel. According to my tour guide Stephan, his Uncle once saw a flower in a vase moving suspiciously when he was there having a conversation. You can decide whether or not you believe that - Stephan was not so sure about it.

To be continued........

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Location:Bucharest, Romania

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