Bucharest, Romania

One of the coolest things about being in Romania is that I’m always a millionaire here. 1,000,000 lei is about $35, so every time I go to an ATM I get a couple million out. They’re chopping off 4 zeroes sometime this summer, so I’m getting some of the last big bills. Another cool thing about money here is that one of the primary banks is Transylvania Banka.

Bucharest didn’t really impress me very much. It seemed like a huge, confusing, dirty city, notably poorer than Bulgaria. The public transportation is extensive, but not very helpful. There are lots of con men and people trying to scam you, especially at the train station. There are supposed to be some nice parts, but I didn’t get to any of those. I was only in the city maybe half a day, and that was enough. It’s pretty much what I expect a huge, cold, communist city to look like with tons of apartment blocks, and big boring streets. This part of Romania is flat plains too, so no interesting landscape.

The only mental images I really have of Romania come from video footage of the 1989 revolution, and I guess from this movie about Nadia Comaneci that my sister used to watch all the time. In one of my film classes we watched this documentary called Videogrammes From a Revolution, which was pretty cool. If you can find it, check it out, though I think it’s a bit obscure. Some of the footage of Ceausescu’s last speech while the revolution started in the square below him, the takeover of the TV stations, and Ceausescu’s execution (on live TV, on Christmas) are pretty memorable. So I visited the Revolution Square, where all of that happened. Saw the balcony where Ceausescu gave his speech. It’s now the Romanian senate building. There are memorials of the revolution all over. All over Romania, actually, there are big crosses with “December 1989″ on them.

I went on a tour of the Palace of Parliament, which was originally intended to be Ceausescu’s main government building. It’s absolutely enormous. Gimungous even. And that’s not just my usual superlative style — it’s the second largest building in the world in square footage, after the Pentagon. And the thrid largest building in the world by volume, after the building at Cape Canaveral where they build the space shuttles, and one of the Mexican pyramids. So it’s pretty ridiculously large. Really a monument to Ceausescu’s crazy ego. He had 700 architects and 20,000 people working on it for 5 years, basically as slaves, until 1989 when progress halted for a bit. After that they had to actually start paying people to build it, so it’s still only 90% complete. All the rooms are huge, and have huge facts about them, like “these curtains are 20 meters tall, weigh 2 tons each, and took a small town a year to embroider with gold thread.” There’s one room where there’s 2 places for huge paintings across from each other on either side of the room. One was for a painting of Ceausescu obviously, but he couldnt figure out who else to make a painting of, so he requested that they put a mirror in the other spot, so he could always look at himself. He was that kind of guy. Pretty good idea, actually. When I have my own dictator palace, that’s what I’m gonna do. That and grow a cool dictator moustache.

But really, the only thing cool about the place is its hugeness. It actually feels pretty cold and uninteresting. Monumental, but boring. Part of that is probably because there are lots of empty places for paintings and other decorations to go, so it feels a bit empty. But still. It’s done in a neoclassical style that you’ve seen done better in a million other palaces and buildings. It’s copying beautiful architecture and just making it bigger without introducing any original ideas, or really justifying the extra size in any way. I guess that’s what you get when you keep 700 architects working as slaves.

Astute readers will note that my going to Romania represents a turn northward, away from Turkey. So for all of you who have asked me if I’m going to Istambul, no, I’m not going to make it to Istambul. I thought I might originally, and I’d love to go there. Everyone I meet says it’s amazing. But I think if I was going to go to Turkey I’d want to be there for a couple weeks. There’s so much there, and I dont have the time for it. I figure I need to start heading north if I’m going to meet my eventual goal of making it to Estonia and the rest of the Baltics by the end of this trip. And now that I’m in Romania, like so many armies before me, only Poland stands in my way. And, um, hungary and the slovak republic, and/or ukraine and belarus. But I’m only going to visit Poland, I think. So no Istambul. And no Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, and no Greece, all of which I’m just going to have to come back for some day.

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