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Bucharest, Paris of the East

Bulgaria proudly boasts five neighbours meaning an excursion over the border is easily undertaken ... the neighbour that lies just across the river Danube, is of course, Romania. It’s capital, Bucharest, has undergone various changes since being nominated as the main city in 1862, but has now easily established itself as the Romanian headquarters for mass media, culture, arts and architecture. Many people with holiday homes in Bulgaria are choosing to fly into Bucharest, taking advantage of the low cost flights now available. There are two airports in Bucharest; the Henri Coandu International Airport (or Otopeni Airport as it is still largely known) and the Aurel Vlaicu International Airport. Both Bucharest airports have easy bus and metro links to the centre of the city. If you are travelling from Bulgaria you have several options.

You could fly from Sofia to Henri Coandu for around 220 euros, but the cheapest and most obvious scenic route is to go by bus, train or car. Many of the major towns and cities in Bulgaria will have links to Bucharest by bus or train, most of which go via Rousse, which will drop you at the ferry crossing. Watch out for overcharging taxi drivers once you get to the other side! You should agree on a price to the centre before you get in, or the safer bet is an alternative means of public transport. Bucharest is an hour and a half’s drive from Rousse.

It’s easy to get around Bucharest, as the transport system is the third largest in Europe. There is the Bucharest Metro system, which has an estimated 63 km network with 45 stations, and also a surface transport system consisting of buses, trams, light rail and trolley buses. Good rail and road links connect the city to other nearby towns and areas on the outskirts.

The capital, which is located in the south-east of the country, has been nicknamed ‘Little Paris’ or ‘Paris of the East’, subsequent to the city’s graceful architecture and wealthier inhabitants. There are various monuments and cultural points to observe, as well as recreational centres such as the Mall of Romania, so ideally you should stay longer than a weekend to make the most of it.

The Arcul de Triumf pays testament to these Parisian comparisons, namely due to this particular monument having been modelled on Paris’ own Arc de Triomphe. The ‘Triumphant Arch’ was built in 1935 to replace the haphazard wooden version constructed after Romania’s declaration of independence in 1878.

The city’s architecture is highly diverse due to the mixture of influences over the years. Not only can medieval buildings be found, but also neoclassical and intricate Art Noveau constructions. There are various ‘modern’ decades of buildings, including those from the 30’s and 40’s, however after the 1970’s the older historical buildings began to fall into disorder, and many beautiful constructions were knocked down to build up communist, concrete blocks. Recently, however, restorations are going on around the centre to reclaim the beautiful originality. In contrast to this, there are also innovative new builds that were funded from the economic boom in Romania as a result of the end of communism. Trendy looking office buildings and shopping centres made from glass and steel are demonstration of the more recent urban revitalization.

The colossal 'Bucharest mall' is one such conversion, and can be found near the Dudesti and Vacaresti districts. There are 140 shops, including sportswear, electronics, pharmaceutical and cosmetic stores, also numerous restaurants and cafés spread over four storeys and a 50,000 sq.m area. In addition, there is a 'Hollywood Multiplex' with ten screens, a huge supermarket, an amusement arcade and a bowling alley.

Ceausescu’s Palace of the People or Palace of the Parliament was commissioned by the Romanian dictator in 1983, and stands as the largest building in the whole of Europe, second largest in the world only to the Pentagon. The avenue leading up to the palace is reminiscent of the Champs Elysee. There is an interesting 45-minute tour available in English, which explains Ceausescu’s obsession and drive to outdo other world leaders.

Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena were regarded unfavourably after their reign of corruption and repression, and were arrested and executed in December 1989. Their bodies lie in separate graves in Ghencea Civil Cemetery. Nicolae is buried in row 135 with a black steel cross bearing his name. The Communist Party erected a red marble cross in 2001 bearing the inscription, “A tear on your tomb from Romanian people.” Elena lies in H25 in a grave marked by a black metal cross. Her name is daubed on in white paint. They were buried separately because it was said that in life they committed too many evil acts together.

The Memorial of Rebirth pillar marks the end of Ceausescu’s reign and the overthrow of the communist regime. It is a monument, which instils a great sense of sadness with plaques listing the names of the martyrs, mostly students, who stood in the way of incoming tanks, plus those that were shot down or otherwise killed during the riots and protests. The pillar, which was unveiled in 2005, has come under fire from both critics, residents and government officials due to its design, which supposedly lacks relevance to what it is supposed to symbolise. It has been previously described as an ‘olive on a toothpick’, but nonetheless, does serve as a poignant reminder and is well worth visiting.

The Cismigiu Gardens are another popular tourist attraction in the city, as the public park forms the oldest park in the area, and at 17 hectares, the largest. The main entrance is in front of the City Hall on Elisabeta Boulevard, and another main entrance can be found at the Stirbei Voda Boulevard, near the Cretulescu Palace. The gardens surround a huge artificial lake and also house various monuments and sculptures, fountains and bridges, and a plethora or plant and tree species.

So, if you wish to take tour of the city once all too familiar with the legendary Dracula, try and set aside several days to take it all in. There are plenty of small boutique hotels as well as all of the leading chains. Most importantly, don’t forget to pack a camera to capture this eclectic mix of staggered architectural styles, thriving industry and commerce, with typical eastern-European culture and traditions all thrown in.