Bucharest, Romania – Travel Review
By Richard Jones
As we move from bar to bar in Bucharest’s Old Town, we pass a building and courtyard guarded by a bust of a man’s head.
We are in the Romanian capital to celebrate our friend Marcus’s stag weekend. We stop and stare for a short while and discuss what we know about the 15th-century residence, Curtea Veche, and the man the bust depicts, Vlad Tepes. Vlad the Impaler is the most famous personality from Romanian history. He is also the man who inspired one of literature’s best-known characters – Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He was the ruler of Walachia at various times from 1456-62, and his preferred method of disposal for the unhappy gentry was by impaling them on wooden stakes that basically went in at one end, and out the other.
It may seem a strange starting point from which to boost a city’s tourism. A bloodthirsty ruler with a penchant for impaling anyone who crossed him. But a few years ago his former residence, the aforementioned Curtea Veche, was at the centre of efforts to restore the historic centre of Bucharest. The Romanian capital has a very interesting past indeed. With alternating periods of development and decline throughout the ages.
“Low cost flights”
In recent years, following the fall of the repressive Nicolae Ceausescu regime in 1989, the city has been experiencing something of an economic and cultural boom. And following in the footsteps of other historic Eastern European cities like Prague, Bratislava and Krakow, Bucharest is becoming increasingly popular with stag and hen parties. Parties from the UK are looking to take advantage of low-cost flights from the likes of W!zz Air, cheap alcohol (a pint of beer is usually under 10 Romanian Lei – £1.50) and vibrant nightlife.
Marcus, unlike Dracula, who had three brides in the 1897 novel, has chosen his wife-to-be – the lovely Ros. And with their wedding day booked it is now up to us, his pals, to throw a party to remember. And, of course, take in a bit of culture at the same time. Having toured many of Eastern Europe’s capital cities during other stag dos, the best man, Joe, chose Bucharest as our summer destination.
“Dense network of cobble streets”
For many years it seems all that was lacking in the picturesque city known as ‘Little Paris’ was a central nightlife strip. An area where you find bars and restaurants crammed with people making the most of their time in the area and creating a party atmosphere. But now that the Old Town (or Lipscani) is revived and full with bars, cafes and restaurants, that problem is solved. There is something for everyone here within this dense network of cobble streets. From trendy bars to Irish pubs; lounge clubs to nightclubs. And despite the area’s connections to Vlad the Impaler and his gruesome exploits, tourists have no need to worry about wandering the streets late at night. It is an incredibly safe and crowded area all the way through to sunrise.
The best time to explore the city’s maze of dusty boulevards is during the day. The perfect base from which to embark on a cultural tour is the Radisson Blu Bucharest. After speaking to the locals it becomes clear that this is considered the best hotel in the city. When you step outside of the glass-front plaza, the sight of luxury casinos next door and a Gucci shop across the street tells you all you need to about how far the city has come since Ceausescu’s brutal regime. The Radisson is on Calea Victoriei, the city’s showpiece street in the inter-war years, which, after half a century of decline, has now has that status again.
“Focal point for the revolution”
Piata Revolutiei, or Revolution Square, is lined with historical buildings including the former royal palace, now the National Museum of Art of Romania. It houses pieces by Poussin, Matisse and Picasso. The square was a focal point of the 1989 revolution. Facing the royal palace is the former communist headquarters. Here is where Ceausescu fled the crowds in a helicopter only to be caught and executed on Christmas Day. In the middle is a monument to victims of the revolution, Memorial of Rebirth. Some locals harshly refer to it as a ‘potato on a stick’.
Like most great cities, Bucharest is moving forward and looking to the future. But without ever forgetting about its dark days under Ceausescu’s rule. And of course, the legendary legacy of Vlad III, the medieval prince with a thirst for blood. When we return home after a weekend of excess in Bucharest, some of the guys in our group probably wish Vlad was on hand to put them out of their misery. The cheap alcohol and food may be kind on the pocket, but certainly takes its toll on your body.
Nevertheless, unlike Vlad’s unfortunate victims, we all thankfully live to tell the tale.
Wizz Air, which offers over 50 routes from seven UK airports, flies from Doncaster to Bucharest on Mondays and Fridays with return fares starting from £59. www.wizzair.com
The five-star Radisson Blu Hotel Bucharest offers bed and breakfast in the Romanian capital starting from £64 per room per night. www.radissonblu.com