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Day Six: Bucharest to Prague

Posted on March 25th, 2010

Dave!My flight out of Bucharest wasn't until 3:00, so I decided to hire a driver into town and visit the National Museum of Art of Romania. They are famous for their medieval art, which is great, but I've seen so much medieval art that it's all kind of blending together for me. What I was really interested in was their modern art wing, because I'm not very familiar with many Romanian painters in the genre. I wasn't expecting much, but it would give me something to do until my flight.

The traffic in central Bucharest was brutal, largely because of a teacher's strike going on. At first I was worried that I had made a mistake...

Teacher's Strike in Bucharest

Until I made it to the museum and was completely blown away by the amazing works housed within.

I have been to a lot of art museums all over the world, and I can honestly say that the National Museum of Art of Romania instantly became one of my favorites. Not just because it's a nice museum (which it is) but because I absolutely love the collection of artists they've assembled. It's just one breathtaking work of art after another...

National Museum of Art of Romania

I am not joking when I say that this museum is worth a trip to Bucharest all by itself. It's just that impressive. Highest possible recommendation...

National Museum of Art of Romania

My flight into Prague was delayed a bit, which meant I landed at the height of rush hour. The route my driver had to take into town to try and avoid the worst of the traffic was a mind-boggling array of twists and turns that looked like a pretzel on my iPhone GPS map. By the time I arrived and caught a tram into Old Town, the sun had just set.

Not that I'm complaining, because you get some great photos at that time of day...

Prague at Night

Prague at Night

Prague at Night

I have been trying to arrange a stop in Prague for the better part of two decades, because people are constantly telling me what an beautiful city it is. Having seen photos, I knew they weren't lying, but it's taken to an entirely new level when you're here in person. The city is simply beyond beautiful. It's so beautiful that if I were a local, I'd wear a T-shirt that said "YES, WE KNOW OUR CITY IS FUCKING BEAUTIFUL... WE LIVE HERE!" because I'm sure they get tourists telling them how beautiful the place is all day long.

I can't wait to go to sleep so I can wake up and explore Prague in the daylight.

But of course I had to visit the Hard Rock Cafe Prague first...

Hard Rock Cafe Prague at Night

Like just about everything else in this city, it was beautiful.

   

Day Four: Bucharest

Posted on March 23rd, 2010

Dave!Today I attempted to make up for my lack of tourism yesterday by hiring a guide to show me a bit of Bucharest. Usually I don't like guided tours, but I wanted very much to have a historical context for the places I'd be seeing. It was also helpful to have somebody be able to negotiate entry to the various places, as many of the buildings are owned by the State and require special arrangements or considerations to visit them. Having a private tour guide and driver for one person is not overly-expensive considering the value you get in return.

The weather wasn't all that great today, but I didn't mind so much. Bucharest has sights that are remarkable rain or shine.

I was dropped off in front of the Romanian Savings Bank Palace, a beautiful building with French architectural elements that I would have dearly loved to see inside. You just know that the atrium under that natural-light cap is glorious...

Romanian Savings Bank Palace

From there it was a short walk to the Stavropoleos Monastery, home of a beautiful little church that had so many interesting details that I could have easily wasted half my day exploring them...

Stavropoleos Church

Stavropoleos Church Window

Stavropoleos Church Door

Stavropoleos Church Interior

Wonderful little churches are scattered everywhere around Bucharest, some having been influenced by neighboring countries. Like this Russian church I saw as we headed back to our drop-off point...

Russian Church

Along the way we took brief shelter from the rain by walking through the Macca-Vilacrosse Passage, a very cool covered arcade walkway that spans two small streets. The yellow glass is a brilliant idea, because it gives off a warm glow that looks like the sun shining, even on overcast rainy days...

Macca-Villacrosse Passage in Bucharest

After a short car-ride, we arrived at the Metropolitan Church, which holds the relics of Demeter Basarabov, the patron saint of Bucharest. I didn't want the noise of my camera to disrupt the prayer service inside, so I can't show you the magnificient interior, but even the outside is pretty amazing. There's a cool fresco on the outside which depicts heaven on one side and hell on the other. In-between the two is the church entrance, which is an interesting symbology to present to parishioners...

Metropolitan Church, Bucharest

Metropolitan Church Entrance

Metropolitan Church Fresco Hell

Metropolitan Church Cross Courtyard

Next up was a bastion of excessiveness that would put Lord Dimwit Flathead shame... Nicolae Ceauşescu's massive Palace of the Parliament. Second only to The Pentagon in size for administration buildings around the world, there's no way to adequately describe just how big this place is. Standing all the way back to the street from across the guest parking lot, I still needed to stitch together a panorama in order to fit it all in a photo, despite the fact that I'm using a wide-angle lens...

Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

It's huge. Impossibly, massively, remarkably, huge. Thanks to some clever negotiations by my guide, I was able to get in on an English-speaking tour which would allow me to see 5% of the 1,100 rooms that make up the palace. I pretty much spent the entire time with my jaw on the floor as the tour wandered from one decadently appointed gigantic room to another...

Inside Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

Inside Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

Inside Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

Inside Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

Inside Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

And lest you think that the room designs are in any way superficial, they're not. Each element is impeccably rendered down to the smallest detail. Everywhere you look, there's astounding displays of craftsmanship that just boggles the mind. Here's a close-up of the ceiling for that last photo. I'm confident that if I were to get even closer, even more tiny details would emerge...

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest Design Detail

After collecting my wits, we proceeded to the Cotroceni Palace Museum, which happens to be the official residence of the President of Romania. Not surprisingly, absolutely no photography of any kind was permitted anywhere on the palace grounds. This is a real shame, because there are incredible sights to behold within.

Seven hours into the tour, we ended up at Revolution Square, which is home to one of the most interesting buildings I've ever seen, the Romanian Athenaeum. As a place built to celebrate the arts and sciences, it's truly a magnificent structure... not so much on the outside (though it is beautiful), but on the inside, which is just amazing. Of course, they don't allow photos in there either (that seems to be a reoccurring theme here in Bucharest) but it's definitely worth a visit...

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest

Which brings us to Revolution Square itself, where the Romanian Uprising finally brought the Nicolae Ceauşescu communist regime to an end. To the more recent generations of Western World, this sounds like an event which happened long ago. But in reality, it was just twenty years past. And there I was, standing in the spot where it all ended... and began anew... and where many people lost their lives as tanks crushed them and gunfire tore through them as they fought for their freedom. I remember very well reading and watching the events in Bucharest unfold with the rest of the world, and it was a bit surreal to be looking across at the balcony of the Central Committee Building where Ceauşescu gave his final ill-fated public address...

Central Committee Building in Bucharest

At the center of it all, a monument was built in remembrance of those who lost their lives...

Bucharest Romanian Uprising Monument

And thus ended my very small excursion into Bucharest. Of course I wish that I had a couple more days to explore the city, but I fit in as much as I could in the limited time available. As with any time you're lucky enough to travel, something is better than nothing at all!

And if you're looking to arrange your own tour of Bucharest or the surrounding area, I give my highest possible recommendation to RoCultours/CTI. As an academic touring company, you get an in-depth exploration of the things you see rather than just sitting on a bus as somebody points things out to you. This makes a world of difference when compared to the usual organized tour, and also allows for customization that would otherwise be impossible (I provided a list of things that were important to me, and they somehow found a way to make it all happen... like magic!). RoCultours/CTI came highly recommended to me, and I'm happy to pass along this "find" to anybody who ends up here looking for information on Bucharest.

   

Day Four: Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest

Posted on March 22nd, 2010

Dave!This morning The DutchBitch dropped me off at Schiphol so I could continue onward with the my vacation. That I ended up flying off to Bucharest so I could work is honestly not her fault, but that's basically what I did. This being a Monday, it was pretty much unavoidable. But I made up for it by having an early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest, so all was not lost.

The local Hard Rock is located north of downtown proper in Herastrau Park. As Spring has arrived, the park is just starting to green up, and a fair number of people were taking advantage of the sunshine to wander around the lakeside. After making my way past a small amusement park, I arrived in front of one of the most boring Hard Rock Cafes I've ever seen. I can't say for certain, but it looks as though it might have once been a US embassy. Strip away the wooden arches at the entrance, and it's pretty much just a giant cement brick. It really needs a giant guitar on top or something...

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Exterior
The car in the entryway is a nice touch.

The perimeter of the deck has a concrete wall around it like a penitentiary. All that's missing is electrified razor-wire at the top...

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Exterior
YOU CANNOT ESCAPE FROM HARD ROCK CAFE!

To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Until I went inside...

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Interior
Those are clear drum kits with lights in them in the ceiling above the bar, and are really cool-looking in person.

Turns out it's a beautiful property done up in classic "Hard Rock Style" with plenty of memorabilia plastered over every available surface... just as God intended a Hard Rock to be. The interior of the property is positively massive, and is able to hold 300 people (the deck outside can hold an additional 150)...

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Interior
The hidden lighting in the ceiling is just beautiful.

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Interior
Memorabilia everywhere... now THIS is a Hard Rock!

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Interior
Facing the deck-side of the building.

So while it may be boring on the outside, it's 100% Hard Rock on the inside... which is where it counts, I guess. They even have a stage for live music...

Hard Rock Cafe Bucharest Interior Stage
Disco ball included.

My dinner, as expected, was very good. Getting a waiter was a little slow, but I arrived before the actual dinner shift when they were getting everything set up, so that was perfectly understandable. Service was fine after that, and the staff was really nice and friendly, which made my visit all the better.

So... if you happen to be in Bucharest, it's worth taking a quick trip north to Herastrau and a very impressive Hard Rock Cafe.

   
And, in non-Hard Rock news, Betty White continues her domination of all media by making a brilliant appearance on Ellen today...

Just when I think it's impossible for me to love Betty White even more that I do, she goes and proves me wrong. I can't wait for SNL in May!

   
And now I suppose I should get some work done so I can see a bit of the city tomorrow.

   

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