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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bucharest on 9/23: Massive Heads & Half Buried Houses

Weather forecast called for much cooler temperatures and rain for the entire day but we bravely, or stupidly perhaps, decided to visit mostly outdoor sights starting with a walk through Herastrau Park, a somewhat down on its luck city park in northern Bucharest, located by a lake of the same name. 

Photos of Herastrau Park
The entrance to the park - what an absolutely bizarre place to put the 6' high by perhaps 18' long sign/ad for IKEA; there was nothing else there but this, no address, directions, etc. I wonder what the company paid the city to have it put up there and why they did.
The sign, indicating entrance to Charles de Gaulle Sq., was almost totally hidden in the bushes!
 The Charles de Gaulle statue. I remember so well when the French president visited Canada during the height of the Quebec Liberation movement and voiced support for Quebec’s independence from the rest of the country. What a furor he caused in Canadian and French diplomatic circles for many years when he famously (or infamously)  said Vive le Quebec Libre!

Better watch where you sit in Herastrau Park!

Tolstoy's bust side by side with that of the famous French writer Victor Hugo.
Steven was happy to see these peacocks after missing out on them back in a park in ...Berlin, I THINK it was!
No explanation as to what these huge head statues were doing in this part of the park. The promised rain started when we were just here and was our unwelcome 'friend' for the entire day.

Then onto the National Village Museum, one of Europe’s oldest open-air museums and the 2nd largest after Stockholm’s, located on the shores of the park lake. The museum has a terrific collection of several dozen homesteads, churches, mills and windmills relocated from rural Romania by royal decree in 1936. When we arrived, we were the only visitors and none of the buildings were open for viewing. 

That changed after a while but the buildings’ guides were there only to enforce the no photo policy and to make sure one didn’t attempt to peek in beyond the rope barrier, certainly not to show or demonstrate what was in each of their respective buildings. 
None of the buildings were lit so we were flabbergasted how one of the guides was able to see what she was knitting in the gloom inthe building above. She must have knitted by the feel of it as she had no light, even from the window on that miserable day to guide her fingers. Suellen and Kay: I don't think any of us could have pulled off that feat.!

Interesting to see how different the fences were from the various eras and regions of Romania.
The conical house-hut was the cooking structure in a mid 19th C. home from the NW part of Romania.
Old time ferris wheel
Built at the end of the 19th C; the roof is made of rye straw.

Interesting fences above and below

Not surprisingly, this 19th C. house, brought to the museum in 1941, is called the Half Buried House. Half buried houses were not housing for poor people as their construction required an almost double amount of wood than that used for the construcion of a house above ground. They were built for climatic, economic and political reasons and were used into the 20th C.

After leaving the museum, we sloshed through what sure seemed like ankle deep puddles for perhaps a mile down Soseaua Kiseleff, a lovely wide boulevard even in the rain. The major landmark in this neck of the woods is the Arcul de Triumf, whose 27m arch was built in 1935 to commemorate the reunification of Romania in 1918. Unfortunately there was extensive remodeling of the Arch taking place so we couldn’t see it even if we were stupid enough to have risked life and limb to get anywhere close to it because of the heavy traffic. The Arch was just another indication of Romania's love affair with all things French. 

It had been pouring cats and dogs for a long time by then so it was great to pop into the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, awarded the European Museum of the Year Prize in 1996, and try and warm up and dry off for a bit before having to face the elements again. The museum only charged 15 lei, about $5 for both of us so very cheap. The kicker was though there was a 40 lei charge to take photos which we refused to do. I, like other visitors we saw, had to surreptiously hide behind pillars and hopefully out of the eyesight of the all female guards who were watching vigilantly for transgressors in between chatting on their cell phones or with other guards. Yes, I was caught but received nothing more than a stern “No photos” which I followed until a few rooms later. 

Regarded as one of the best museums in Bucharest, it has a large collection of traditional peasant costumes, superb icons painted on both wood and glass, artwork and partially restored houses and churches. 

                                                              Icons on glass
Power of the Cross: There are few stone crosses in Romanian graveyards as there’s a belief that on Doomsday the risen will have to carry their crosses and a stone cross would be too heavy.
Tree of Crosses: The custom is that, 40 days after someone’s funeral when services are held for his eternal memory, a cross is made for him (and her, I wonder?) and hung in a tree. In some areas, 2 crosses are made for the dead man, one for the cemetery and the other to be hung on the home’s fence. Sorry for the hideous color but it was the best I could manage.
Rather out of place was the jarring communism exhibition downstairs which focused on the Ceausecu-era program of land collectivization which almost completely destroyed the traditional way of life.
Funny thing about the museum: They had timed lights in the toilet stalls so you’d better not dawdle while doing your business! I’ve heard of timed showers when camping but never timed lights in the toilets before. 

We then decided to call it a day after this and head on back to the warmth of the hostel.