The Friend From Abroad

Clockwise from top left: People's House, wood church in Romanian Peasant Museum yard, Opera House, Stavropoleos Church, Athenaeum, Caru cu bere pub.
Every time I have to recommend some sightseeing in our town to the friend/ acquaintance/ work colleague coming from abroad, I first breathe deeply and for one moment my mind goes blank. In this state of Zen meditation (which I can hardly ever reach willingly), several questions slowly arise. Which are those unique places in our town in which its soul can be strongly felt? Which are those things that can be seen only here and nowhere else, be it a country from the Balkans or Eastern Europe? As abruptly as the mental blank has installed, a disorganized series of images flow in front of my eyes and I immediately submit them to the test of the two above mentioned criteria. What follows is short list of the key spots of our capital, drawn up so as to cover a more diverse range of interests, from cultural ones to relaxation and fun. The House of the People You can never fail if you choose it. Everybody wants to see it, no matter their political, cultural and artistic orientation. The visit is very easy to make: there are organized tours every day, they have a guide who offers all the details and information about the construction of the building (the largest in the world after the Pentagon). In nine out of ten cases, the friend from abroad will be impressed/overwhelmed by the dimensions of the colossus and by the information received from the guides. Be careful! There are also rare cases, such as my friend Lucho, a Chilean journalist and a left-wing intellectual, on whom the monstrosity of the building and the unhidden pride of the guides, who forget about the pains its realization brought about, had a negative effect. He decided to leave a quarter of an hour after the tour had begun, which was an impossible thing to do, due to safety measures (upon exit, the guide has to accompany the same number of visitors). As a result, he “was kidnapped”, to quote him, for two hours and a half in the House of the People, in which he felt that Ceauşescu was still present! The Museum of the Romanian PeasantIt is a must. In a nutshell, it contains everything about us, better than we could put it in words. Unlike many museums of the world, every room becomes a living space, in which you breathe in the atmosphere of a part of the Romanian village: school, church, house… Once you have stepped in, time dilates and you are projected in a unique experience. In 1996, the museum was nominated The European Museum of the Year (the EMYA prize-European Museum of the Year Award), granted by the European Museum Forum. In the evening you can come back, this time to the Peasant’s Club, where Bucharest’s bohemians gather. A concert of classical music at the Romanian Athenaeum or an opera/ ballet show at the National OperaThese are alternatives for one of the evenings, even if your friend is not a declared fan of the genre. The quality of the concerts is above average, and the price of the tickets is accessible (about 8 Euros). Both buildings are, at the same time, monuments of urban architecture. Byzantine BucharestStavropoleos church is another key point of the visit, one of the few monuments representative for Brancovan style. It is one of the best restored monuments of the city, and the interior and exterior frescos from 1742 preserve the vitality of their initial colors. The refectory and the library of the monastery, which are two miniature museums that shelter objects of cult and religious books, look over to the interior yard, with its arches built by the architect Ion Mincu in a neo-Romanian style. Restaurants with a special atmosphereCaru cu bere (The Beer Cart) is a spot that one should not miss. Although the food is not excellent, the building as such, and sometimes the folk songs and dances program (which can be a two-edged sword) are the main assets of this venue. We do not recommend the famous restaurant Jaristea – a noisy and kitschy version of inter-war Bucharest. Finally, for those who simply want to breathe in the atmosphere specific to the city, we recommend a walk on the twisted streets, towered by houses with interwar architecture, from Gradina Icoanei. If you tire, you can stop any time at one of the numerous restaurants sheltered in the spacious villas of the neighborhood.

Time Out, April 18-24, 2008
Translated by Fabiola Popa

by Anca Ioniţă