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Friday, September 26, 2014

Bucharest's Stunning Orthodox Churches & "Cozy" Hostel

In Brasov, Steven and I were trying to choose between taking a train or the bus on to Bucharest.They both left from the same station which was unusual so, at the last moment, we got on the bus since taking them had been working out so well all trip. This time, though, our luck ran out in the sense that what should have been a 3 hour ride to the capital and to a central bus station there turned out to be a 4 hour journey through mountainous switchbacks until we were dumped out in the street in the middle of nowhere in Bucharest

So weird seeing radio station signs in English coming in on the bus to Bucharest.
Adam: We obviously thought of you seeing this car. Never knew there was a car brand named Adam before, did you?
Nina, I kept thinking how apt your expression, BFE, was in this situation! Steven asked a nearby taxi driver how much it’d cost to take us to our hostel and when we were told 40 lei, we said thanks but no thanks, as our tickets had only been 44 lei each from Brasov! He kindly told us how to get on foot to the nearest metro station about a half mile away. All we could say was thank God it wasn’t raining and we hadn’t come into town in the dead of night. Steven also said we should have taken the train which would have gotten us in earlier AND at the train station but where’s the adventure in that, I ask!

By the time we finally got to the Cozyness Downtown Hostel, had checked in with the lovely Lorena, it was 3ish before we set out to see as much as we could because we knew the next day was supposed to be awful weather wise. After being cooped up for so long in the bus (yup, my fault!), it was great to walk a fairly long way to the old town area called Lipscani and wander there for a bit.

First stopped in at the Old Princely Court Museum, (actually just ruins) and then the adjacent church of the same name. The area around the court thrived from the 16th to the 19th centuries as a merchant quarter for artisans and traders. The church, the oldest one in Bucharest, was built in the mid 1550’s. They both became the princely residence of Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula, in the same period.

Vlad Tepes's statue outside the Church

The Lipscani area is the heart of the city’s historic core and the centerpiece of current efforts to transform Bucharest into a livable urban center and tourist attraction. During much of the 20th C., and until as recently as a few years ago, the area had become a slum, a poor excuse for public housing for impoverished Roma or gypsies. These days the Lonely Planet Travel Guide describes it as ‘arguably the liveliest, hippest, bawdiest and loudest quarter in the entire country."

The biggest ice cream cone I've ever seen!
How odd seeing the English sign; turns out that many, many signs in Bucharest are in English. The pedestrian Lipscani neighborhood was chockerblock full of restaurants and bars, so much so that on several of the streets that only 2 people could walk side by side because of the restaurants lining both sides of the street

Romanian Bank Museum was also located in the Lipscani area. I've never heard of another country having a national bank museum. The sculpture below was part of the Museum above. Before leaving Denver, we ordered about $50 worth of each country's currency so we'd have some as soon as crossed over to a new country. For whatever reason though, Romanian money was not available in US or in other countries beforehand.

Walked a couple of minutes over to the tiny and lovely Orthodox Stavropelous Church, which dates from 1724, and is just a block away from some of Bucharest’s craziest Old Town carousing. It’s a church that made a lasting impression with its stately courtyard filled with tombstones and an ornate wooden interior that shelters a collection of 18th C. icons as well as fresco fragments recovered from churches demolished during the Communist regime. What an honor and a blessing to visit the church.

You’d have thought we just MIGHT have seen enough churches by now, but nope, the day wasn’t over yet! Popped in at the Birth of the Virgin Mary Church, aka the Goldsmiths' Church, for bit to admire it as we passed by.

This was the first church we've been in that we felt like we'd been transported back to Russia in the sense that the women were all wearing head coverings. Luckily I'd remembered to bring my scarf I'd been given by a woman working in an Orthodox church in Siberia last year. It was heartening that, just as had been the case in Poland, there were a lot of young people coming in for a few moments, saying prayers, making multipe signs of the cross in the Orthodox fashion, and touching the icons before leaving. I remember Gabriel, our Brasov tour guide, always making the sign of the cross whenever we passed a church on our day trip.
We trundled off to University Square, one of many squares in Bucharest. It was a lot smaller than almost all the others that are positively mammoth thoroughfares and have streets coming out in about 8 different directions like spokes on a wheel. Think of any movie you may have seen filmed in any major Eastern European city and Bucharest was just like it. It was so peculiar to come across what surely must be the largest egg right in the middle of the open area across from Bucharest University! I walked 'through' the egg and was just as muddled as before.

Saw a lot of huge buildings like this all over the city.This one was in University Square.

Part of the university
         Wish I had taken the time to learn about the current state of politics in Romania. I'm ashamed to admit after spending some time in the country that I have no clue as to which is the ruling party, who the president is, etc.

 Sculptures in front of the National Theater.

Memorial to the starting date of the Romanian Revolution in Bucharest which led to the executions of President Ceausecu and his wife who was second in command.

The beautiful Three Hieroglyphs Coltea Church we happened on while walking back to our hostel.

 St Gheorghe Nou Orthodox Church below, positively our last church of the day! What beautiful paintings or icons.

Since we had had a late start coming from Brasov, we called it a day here and headed back to our home away from home for the next few days, the Cozyness Downtown HostelBoth Steven and I were more than a tad ‘surprised’ that our room could really have been called a deluxe double because it was VERY cozy. We had a lovely chat with Marius, the owner, who had spent a couple of years in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand where we spent some time last fall. He explained the hostel booking sites allow for limited room descriptions which explained how our room came to be listed as a double deluxe!

Our room was very quiet every night, due in part I'm sure, to the foam insulation on our side of the door! The room was SO tiny that the door couldn't be opened any more than this b/c it hit the bunk bed pole!

The incredibly narrow stairs my wonderful Sherpa carried our bags up - I don't know how he managed.
The hostel's communal area above and below.

Lorena, one of the lovely receptionists who’s been working at the hostel for almost a year, speaks pretty fluent English that she learned as a child watching cartoons much to her mother’s dismay who wanted her instead to be outside playing with friends and getting lots of fresh air! She said she  speaks Spanish, Italian, understands German and is learning Japanese from watching animation! She is the just the sweetest soul on earth and her charming colleague, Mihaela, was a great help to us reserving tickets for us to see Parliament.
The delightful Lorena above and Mihaela below.