I had to go on a week-long study trip in Romania in 2015. It was part of the international exchange programs between my French university and a Romanian one. Romania is starting to invest more in developing its industrial and manufacturing industries as it opens itself up internationally. Romania has long been overlooked as a tourist destination. However, over the last 3 years, the country is becoming a popular travel destination as the country develops itself as an industry leader and brand.
My week in Bucharest was a busy one. We spent two days sightseeing around parts of Romania by bus which was great, as it was also my first time visiting Eastern Europe. We were also caught in a heatwave that July. It moved from France and practically followed us to Romania.
I tried to see as much of the city, but we were on a tight 5-day schedule. The Romanian school were also very gracious in offering us tours of their beautiful countryside in Transylvania and Brasov, two stunning historical towns in the mountains. You can read my post on our trip to Dracula’s Castle in the Romania section of the blog.
Bucharest was established as the capital city in the 19th century and was the first home of the famous Prince Vladimir III (or Vlad the Impaler). In fact, his original castle lies in the capital.
Since the establishment of the city, it is has been through many changes. During communism, the city expanded and the government tried to implement a more modernised approach to it’s design. The 3 main eras of it’s development over the centuries is very present in the city as you see the architectural styles before communism, during communism and present day.
Bucharest the city
Bucharest is actually divided into two sections: The Old city and the New city. The old city holds all the classical charm with cobbled stoned streets which now has a burgeoning nightlife mixed with new business offices and buildings. This part of the city gives it that real old meets new atmosphere that makes it your typical European city.
Areas away from the Old city centre contain a lot of classical architecture but is also mixed with various other architectural designs from the late 1980s to even more contemporary designs. The areas are a mix of big houses, apartments and offices merged together. As a result, there wasn’t really any defining style or harmony in the various designs being so juxtaposed among one another.
For example, you’ll find a elaborate classical building opposite an unpainted government apartment buildings, which might be next to a traditional Eastern European style church and down the road you will find newly constructed skyscraper.
Dining and drinking
Food in Romania was rather good. We dined at various restaurants in the evening and the Old City has a rather vibrant nightlife offering a variety of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants all in walking distance.
We were also invited to a more upscale bar/club on our final night by the school. This was …a unique experience, it’s definitely a must for those up for fun!
One of the key points of my trip to Romania with my school was to learn more about Romania’s current manufacturing industries as it opens itself up to the free economy. Romania’s economy is starting to build itself up after the fall of communism. Romania is working hard to build itself as a new brand and reputation as an international country to invest and visit today.
We got to visit a car manufacturer or assembly plant, online business and a fashion apparel manufacturer in Bucharest. We got to see the development of current Romanian fashion brands and one of its factories that creates the actual goods.
As their manufacturing and industry grows, Romania still experiences some setbacks such as electricity black outs or cuts which can affect a manufacturing plant or factory. These are issues that are still in the process of being improved and sorted by the government to ensure the growth of this new economy is steady.
The Palace of the Parliament
Our class also got to visit the New City where the famous Parliament House or Palace of Parliament is located. This Parliament House was built on an enormous scale and was the vision of the previous communist party that ruled Romania between the 1970s and 1990s. The vision for new parliament was set out by the Romanian Communist Party General Secretary, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Planning started in 1978 but construction only began in 1984. The materials used are all from Romanian origin and the style is a mix of neo-classical, Baroque and various other popular European architectural styles from between the 1500-1800. After the Romanian revolution in 1989, it was called the People’s House.
The idea of a large parliament house was to replicate the vision of North Korea’s Pyongyang from the 70s. Today, it houses over 1000 rooms of which only 400 are in actual use.
It is also the largest administrative building in the world and technically it’s still not complete. It was supposed to have been completed in 2 years since construction began in 1984, however political and economical instability made this impossible. Many of the labour used on this building was done through forced labour by soldiers which helped minimise costs.
This building is HUGE. Every room and hallway is elaborate and decorative down to every detail. It houses a theatre, numerous conference rooms and event halls. It also houses an anti-atomic bunker plus the concrete walls are so thick not even radiation can penetrate it.
The Palace Parliament does actually look like a Palace and I thought that perhaps it was the home of a Romanian Royal Family who eventually left it to have it turned into a government building. This is usually the case with most previously sovereign-owned buildings in Western Europe, however the Palace Parliament was actually designed to look like this.
I struggled a bit to understand why they would build a Palace that looked old only to house a modern government for administrative use.
It’s said the the building is so large and heavy that it sinks 6mm every year.
It was a busy week, we were caught in an intense heatwave and the fatigue was overwhelming. We ended the trip off by having dinner at an amazing outdoor restaurant and resort area by the river.
From my one week I can say Romanians are big on hospitality and were pleasant to engage with as tourists. A special thanks to our hosts who made a huge effort to make sure we had a good time.
Bucharest seems like a fun city for both locals and travellers. Romania is def worth putting on your travel bucket list.