This morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over Bucharest. . . .
. . . before kicking back at the Intercontinental Hotel’s Health Club, Pool, Sauna, and Spa on its 22nd floor:
The sun survived for only for a few minutes before a terrible fog took over. The views from here:
After an hour in the sky, we checked out at 2pm and headed south past a Romanian protest by the University:
Getting our digs in on our third and final night at Antique Hostel, we then started off our day in Old Town with the 2-hour Free Walking Tour.
It congregates everyday at 10am and 3pm (6pm in the summers) by Unrii Square under the clock.
Our first stop on the free walking tour was Biserica Sfantul Antoine, an Orthodox Church built in 1559 and Bucharest’s oldest. According to our tour guide, every Tuesday single women have been gathering here by the dozens to pray for love, subsequently leading to a lot of single men and tourists coming here specifically to ask them out.
This church lies right by the ruins of Palatul Voivodal, Vlad the Impaler’s former Palace when he ruled here for 8 years.
Then we walked east to Biserica Stavropoleos, a peaceful monastery built in the early 18th century that boasts beautiful decorative Greek-inspired sculptures, Ottoman-inspired archways, and Byzantine frescoes.
On the west side of Old town along Calea Victorei, is the gorgeous building of CEC Bank and one of the few remnants of Bucharest’s heyday as Little Paris. It’s a sorrowful reminder of how Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had demolished nearly all of a beautiful French-inspired city to turn it into a Soviet-style urban sprawl.
The best way to recall any idea of Little Paris is to walk along Calea Victorei south to north. Don’t miss the odd statue of Emperor Trajan carrying the wolf that fed Romulus and Remus, aka the most ridiculed statue in Romania:
Around the corner is the National Bank of Romania, famous for being one of the first countries in the world to print its currency in plastic (second to Australia) . . . but only after the ministry mistook a suggestion at a world financial summit of “using plastic” (as to mean credit cards) to mean plastic cash. Oh well, it worked out.
Along the north of old town is University of Bucharest, where over 100,000 Romanians in 1989 finally revolted to depose Nicolae Ceausescu. This incident quickly led to the infamous kangaroo court that immediately convicted and executed Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena by a trigger-happy firing squad.
After the free walking tour ended here, we headed up more north.
The first stop was the Romanian Athenaeum, a frescoed neoclassical concert hall built in 1888 that’s home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra.
Heading back from here towards Old Town, a few steps south is Revolution Square/Piața Revoluției, and its much-vandalized Memorial of Rebirth (strikingly keeping to the impalement theme, not sure if on purpose) dedicated to the 1,500 demonstrators who lost their lives in the 1989 upheaval of Nicolae Ceausescu.
A few steps further south is Kretzulescu Church, an Orthodox church built in Brâncovenesc style from the 1720s:
As the sun began to set, we headed down south of old town to visit one of the world’s largest administrative buildings in the world (second only to the Pentagon), the Palace of Parliament, which was built by Nicolae Ceausescu when he returned from North Korea and wanted his own symbol of socialist might.
Cutting across from Parliament and heading back up northeast, we stumbled upon a bunch of police officers standing around Strada Patriarhiei. So we slipped by them (they didn’t even bother to stop us) and walked up a steep cobblestoned car path to reach in my opinion, the most atmospheric part of Bucharest’s old town, the Catedrala Patriarhală Sfinții Împărați Constantin și Elena (aka the Patriarchal Cathedral complex):
After walking around the back to face north/old town, we then discovered why there were police officers in the first place: a massive massive queue of worshippers had lined up from the bottom of the hill at Unrii Square to get inside and pay their respects on Sunday mass.
But us? Whoops! Now you know there’s a semi-legal backdoor entrance from Strada Patriarhiei!
Afterwards it was a return to Old Town and its raucous bumpin’ nightlife all 7 nights of the week.
We dined at one of Bucharest’s most well known restaurants, Caru’ cu Bere.
Featuring extraordinary architecture inside, this place has been serving food and its homemade beer since 1879.
Romania’s most popular street food centers around the Mici, caseless ground beef sausages meat mixed with spices, garlic, and beef broth, and usually served with mustard, fries, bread, and/or a cold beer.
The other dish I ordered was a delectable veal shin:
After dinner, we hailed a 30 minute Uber ride for 50 lei to take us wayyyy up north to Therme Bucareti, which just had opened 11 months ago on January 14th, 2016.
It is the largest thermal spa complex in all of Europe covering 30,000 sq km and features 3 sections:
1) The Palm – The massive ground floor heated pool and its surrounding smaller themed pools (featuring a salt bath, a lithium bath, and a magnesium bath), a rainforest-themed steamed sauna, automated hydromassage beds (10 lei for 10 minutes, 12 lei for 15 minutes), a cafeteria/café, and my favorite: the constantly heated 90ºF pools and jacuzzis that lead to the cold outdoors (like the Blue Lagoon)
2) Elysium – The upstairs sauna complex consisting of 6 different saunas at 6 different temperatures (The Himalayan at 65ºC boasts diffusing salts on the walls, the Hollywood at 70ºC that plays a movie with 7.1 surround sound, the Alhambra at 75ºC which has an Fat East/Arabic theme, the Amazon at 80ºC boasts panoramic views overlooking The Palm, the Provence at 85ºC features essential oil diffusion, and Bavaria which is simply hot hot hot at 90ºC aka 194ºF), a massage studio, outdoor terrace and bar, a fine dining restaurant, a selenium pool with pool bar, and a cold waterfall themed public shower.
3) Galaxy – The only one we didn’t go to, Galaxy is a comprehensive indoor water park that’s more family oriented.
This is THE thing to do here (at least as a middle to upper class local Romanian), as prices of 50-80 lei ($10-$20 USD) will get you in this garden of Eden all day. Tickets are discounted if you only want to go to 1 or 2 of the 3, if you have a student ID, or if you go in the early morning.
Even the locker rooms are superbly designed:
You can bring your phone in, but be careful not to lose it when you get in the pools!
We stayed here until closing at 1am, before heading back into Bucharest old town on a taxi (40 lei) to catch our morning flights back home.
Not a bad way to spend another weekend abroad on a budget!
– At time of posting in Bucharest, Romania, it was 51.8 °F – Humidity: 93% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast