A three-hour walking tour of the communist history of Bucharest was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Admittedly, I was pretty ignorant of Romanian history before visiting it’s capital city but I was completely enthralled throughout our tour.
We visited some spectacular sights but our guide also wasn’t afraid to show us some of the rougher parts of Bucharest, underscoring how much communism affects the country almost 30 years after its fall. I can’t recommend our tour guide, Marius, enough and you can check out his blog
Our tour began at the Romanian Patriarchial Cathedral. Everyone seemed to be busy cleaning and setting up for a Palm Sunday service the following day.
Bucharest architecture is quite the mix of medieval structures, historic buildings that look like they belong in upscale Parisian neighborhoods, traditional communist-style apartment buildings, and much more. This building was one of the largest apartments in the city and you can see where the construction abruptly stopped when communism fell.
Here’s yet another building that was never completed. It was meant to house the National Council for Science and Technology where Elena, Nicolae Ceausescu’s wife, would approve or deny research projects. The communist party didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity to boast about Elena’s Ph.D in Chemistry (the Illinois Academy of Science even gave her an honorary membership), but it turns out she just barely completed elementary school.
There are countless overgrown lots like this one and from a distance, they look fairly ordinary. Yet upon closer inspection, you can spot remnants of bulldozed houses that made way for oversized communist-style apartment buildings. Apparently, these actions sum up to the single most destructive period during a time of peace.
Part of our tour included sampling a few food items that were popular during communist times. Ceausescu was determined to pay back all of Romania’s national debt, which meant exporting the majority of the country’s goods. While he was ultimately successful, it resulted in extreme food shortages throughout the country. These puffs were pretty gross – think Cheetos without any flavor.