This was my first time to Romania; I was very excited but at the same time nervous as I knew I did not have much time there. I wanted to do so much, however, I had to work so there was a limit on what I could do.
20th December 2023 – Bucharest
I arrived late at night. The night’s sleep was not the best but I forced myself out of bed early so I would have enough time to see a little of a city that was completely new to me. I was staying on the outskirts of Bucharest; I was due to leave around 1pm so time was of the essence. I decided to stay close to the hotel.
A quick glimpse at Google maps and it told me there was a park with a large lake right across the road. I thought there would be no better way to get a feel for the city than a lovely stroll through the park.
I headed out and the first observation made is that the traffic signals take an awful long time to change! I was waiting to cross the road, the little green man to appear, and it took a while. Not knowing the traffic, I didn’t want to make a dash across a six-lane road, even when it looked like the way was clear.
I did make it safely into the park. The lake was covered with a thin layer of ice, thick enough for a flock of seagulls to stand on, but I am guessing that was the limit. I came across many large structures in the park, from the Hard Rock Café to a concert venue. I also found the Muzeul National al Satului “Dimitrie Gusti”, an ethnographic museum devoted to Romanian village life. It was fascinating, from peasant farms and houses to a rustic, wooden windmill.
With it being winter the park was very quiet, and all the kiosks and cafes were closed. At one point I came across an area that had rope bridges, tree houses and high wires tied between the trees. It looked a lot of fun.
I was unaware that Bucharest is known as Little Paris. This soon became apparent as I walked past the Arcul de Triumf, I don’t think I need to translate that do I? To make certain, here is a photo!
Bucharest is a relatively flat city, few high rises and those that can be found seem to be no more that 10 stories high. I had a delightful time, a serene time walking around the small part I saw. A mix of old state-built housing to modern glass fronted buildings. The city gave me an open invite to come back, an invite that was genuine and honest.
21st December 2023 – Budapest
Again, I arrived in Budapest at midnight, straight to bed as I wanted to be up early to make the most of another new city to me.
All I wanted to do while here was to take in as much of the atmosphere of the city that it had to offer. It was a little cold but not life threatening, mainly though it was dry. I began the day by walking along the east bank of the river Danube, it flows, solidly and gracefully through Budapest. I learnt that the city is made up of three cities, Obuda, Buda and Pest, officially merged in 1873 to create Budapest.
As I walked, I encountered a striking monument, The Shoes, to honour the Jews who were massacred by fascist Hungarian militia during the Second World War.
They were ordered to take off their shoes, as they were valuable and could be sold after, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. Wow, my heart sank, and my soul yearned for better times.
A little further along and I came to the Parliament building, opened in 1902, it is stunning. Later that day I walked up to the Castle District and got an amazing view of this beautiful building.
Now people talk a lot about the Christmas Markets in Budapest, so I headed off next to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Third largest Church in Budapest and a World Heritage site, you can see why when you are there. The bells ring out every hour, listen in to our podcast and you will hear them, two bell towers with six bells altogether.
In front of the Basilica is a Christmas Market, wonderful, full or Christmas knickknacks, food, drink, clothing, ornaments.
I decided to have a massive sausage sandwich and to try a local cake, Chimney Cake. A sweet yeast dough that is rolled into a long rope and baked around a cylinder. They are coated in melted butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It was fluffy in texture and tasted like sweet milky bread, I loved it!
Budapest is stunning, if you have not been, please add it to your list. The buildings are all well looked after, the streets are wide and clean. In Pest, the east of the river, there is a network of trams, running down the middle of the streets. Adding so much character and noise to the environment, I was in awe at how well designed this city is.
I later walked across the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, opened in 1849, to Buda. Now west of the river I was in the Castle District. The National Gallery is here, imposing itself on the city as well as various stunning churches (St Matthais standing out), fortified walls, steps criss crossing the hill, old houses and new apartments.
Bucharest gave me an open invitation to come back whenever I want, Budapest demanded I return and I return soon.
Rest or Pest? Both amazing, but this time round the Pest won!