Having just got on top of everything yesterday was the first opportunity to divert from the well trodden Hotel – Venue – Arts Cafe – Hotel path.

In glorious sunshine a team of us took the 131 bus from Piata Romana to the Village Museum which, set in Herastrau Park, is home to dozens of buildings lifted from all regions of the country. They have been rebuilt with care and dressed with furniture and extraordinarily beautiful fabrics. Initially it felt like walking around a film set or, with the doors and windows all being so low and small, a large scale model village. Yet, once up close when peering through the windows or admiring the ingenuity of construction of beautiful craftsmanship it became an evocative and quite wonderful experience.

In stark contrast to the Village Museum, today took the brief and rather cursory official ‘tour’ of the People’s Palace. Given that this is the world’s second largest building and has over 1,000 rooms 15 lei and half an hour shows you just a couple of stair cases a couple of – admittedly very large – corridors and a conference room. However it was worth seeing. This peek inside allows to you extrapolate as to what the rest must be like. It is a highly controversial building; being the ambition of a dictator, built extraordinarily quickly, at extraordinary expense, through considerable sacrifice on the part of very many people. As conceptually the place is repugnant and externally it is both ugly and intimidating I was fully expecting to feel hostile to it when inside. Instead, I came away feeling that to write this building off is to undervalue the efforts of those who made it and the sacrifice of those who made it possible. It will take a feeling to get my feeling lined up about this one.

More straightforward was the national art gallery, which has an amazing collection of Romanian Religious art made all the more powerful for the fact that, with the exception of the invigilators, seed to have the entire place to myself. I loved the icons but the items that consistently stunned me were tapestries like this one. Except, like theatre, they only really work when you’re there with them. Trust me, ‘live’ they’re incredible pieces, threads conncting you back in time to extraordinary artists.

The real treat has been the hours of walking on my own through the parks and streets of Bucharest. The leaves turning colour, an enormous concrete slide, the paint peeling tower block, the sunken football ground, the lakes and embassies, wooden scaffolding, lazing stray dogs, workmen cooking sausages with a blow torch, keeling women touching the hem of the priest’s robes, dug up streets and wooden plank walkways, everywhere women sweeping leaves, shaking the old man’s hand, a drained lido, the trampoline attendant in his box, the deco UN building, decayed grandeur and endless sculptures of gaunt men with beards.


2 thoughts on “Tourism

  1. Hey James, Thank you for having me on Stan’s trip to Bucharest. I wholeheartedly enjoyed it (except perhaps the tiny bin man outfit).
    Can’t agree with you about the unloveable and unlovely People’s Palace I’m afraid. All the charm of a provincial town hall, simply bigger, as far as I could see. It stands for nothing but the hubris of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The small selection of Ceausescu’s favourite contemporary art on display served to underline the dictators poor taste.
    The highlight for me (other than Thursday night standing ovation, naturally) was the Peasant Museum
    I went with low expectations expecting something either very dry or rather folksy and after the Village Museum feared I was a bit “peasanted out”. What I found were fabulous home made icons, a skeletal windmill, stunning installations and other marvellous tinder for the imagination. This impression was increased by the lack of many English labels. What labels I could understand had a lyrical quality and said things like; “You may touch the pews, everything else is behind glass or cared for by people who love it, for things which are touched in secret die. Don’t go!” And explaining the decision to display peasant outfits on statues: “without a body clothes are just so many dead folds.”

    In the wake of Obama’s victory we spoke of Wattstax and so I would like to take this opportunity to point you to this piece I wrote for my own blog

    Best wishes


  2. Thanks for your evocative description of Bucharest James. It really takes me there. Having spent large amounts of the summer stomping on my own through various Baltic cities I would agree that its the best way to experience a new place.


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