Walking through the Old City in Bucharest in a pouring rain looking for a restaurant among the winding streets, it was hard to remember that I came here for a vacation. But I did.
For the third year in a row, I was invited to speak at IT Camp in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. When speaking in Europe, I always make an effort to take a little extra time and see something new; so I arrived Monday evening, although the conference did not start until Thursday.After my ticket to Cluj was booked, I looked around for a place to visit for 2 days and I settled on Bucharest. This was my third trip to Romania, but the first time I set foot in its capital city or the region of Wallachia.
As with all overseas trips, this one began with a flight - or rather with 3 flights. I counted 23 hours between the time I left my apartment to the time I arrived - exhausted - at the Bucharest hotel. Despite the long travel time, it was not a bad trip.
It was late Monday night when I arrived in Bucharest, but the JW Marriott upgraded my room and gave me access to the members' lounge, so I relaxed a bit before bed and slept through my alarm the following morning. It was noon by the time, I ventured out on the streets.
I stopped for about an hour at the Microsoft office in Bucharest and met Radu Stefan - a local Technical Evangelist with whom I had been corresponding. He recommended the City Tour Bus, which takes one past many of the city's cultural and historic landmarks, providing recorded narration as it passes each landmark.
A recommendation from Twitter encouraged me to eat at Caru cu Bere in the Old Town section of Bucharest. The waiter recommended the "House Beer", which was so good I drank 2 (a rare thing for me). I didn't realize until after the waiter brought it, that I had ordered dinner "for 2". It was a good thing I skipped lunch.
Caru cu Bere is located in the Old City - a pedestrian area with cobblestone streets and many old building. I spent a lot of time walking through this section of town - in part because of a desire to explore and in part because it was difficult to find the restaurant. A steady rain fell on me while I walked, attempting unsuccessfully to dampen my spirits.
On Wednesday, I hired a tour guide and driver for the day, who took me around Bucharest. The city has a rich, multicultural history. In the early part of the 20th century, after Romania gained independence, Bucharest was known as the Paris of the East for its beautiful architecture and rich cultural attractions. But the Communists who gained control following World War II had little interest in the Bucharest of the past. Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu destroyed hundreds of blocks of historic neighborhood to create the enormous and lavish Parliament Building. Ceaușescu was deposed and executed before this building (the second largest administrative building in the world) was completed.
Highlights of my guided tour were:
-A walk through part of the Parliament Building
-The Village Museum - an outdoor area consisting of old homes from many parts of Romania
-The Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral on Dealul Mitropoliei
Wednesday evening, I boarded a plane for Cluj-Napoca for the IT Camp. I only spent 2 days in Bucharest, but I saw a lot of the city and I learned a lot of its history. It was definitely a worthwhile excursion. No amount of rain could dampen that.