Monday, July 4, 2011

Full of History!

Monument in honor of those who died in revolution
Sorry about the length of this post. Believe me, I edited a lot out already but I just had to include what I did because it is just a perfect example of what a strange and interesting place I am right now. Enjoy your history on this 4th of July weekend!

It’s 4th of July weekend in the post communist country of Romania, and to celebrate my independence I spent the past couple of days learning about what life was like during the control of Communist Dictator Ceausescu (pronounced chow ches koo according to me). In the true Communist spirit I’ve taken to wearing only brown, black, and navy. There is no color here, and it feels strange to wear any sort of color so you don’t project a sense of happiness. The plan for Sunday was to sleep in, have brunch at the Van Gogh Cafe, and take a cultural walk down the main street of the city called Victory Blvd. This was renamed when Romanians earned their independence from the Turks from the victory of battle. This happened between 1877 and 1878.  After a nice leisurely brunch (all meals are this way because the service is not good here), mom and I walked north on Calea Victoriei to our first stop of the Romanian National Art Museum. The first floor was a collection of Romanian Medieval art. In all of the museums and public buildings you have to pay a fee to take pictures.  It is always at least 3 times more than the entrance fee, so that’s why I don’t have pictures in any of the palaces and museums. The exhibit was pretty uneventful. The best description would be to say that it was a good representation of Byzantine art, icons, and furniture from the 1400’s (during Vlad’s time). After walking through many rooms and reading lots of information, it all started to look the same. The handwritten cyrillic bibles with gilded covers were pretty impressive though. The next floor was the modern art collection. I use this term very loosely though because all of the paintings were from the late 1800’s. There was nothing even remotely modern in this collection. A majority of the paintings were portraits of the boyars or aristocracy and it only took up two small rooms. 
After the museum, we wandered to Revolution Square where a huge part of Romanian history took place just a few short years ago. A little background for all of you history the early 1980’s a man named Ceausescu took control as dictator. He had visited many other places in the world and decided that he wanted to destroy any remnants of Romania’s royal history so he demolished most of the city and turned some of the key buildings into museums or libraries. It was his dream to create a communist city tailored to his liking including the building that is now the parliament administration building (more on that later). Inspired by Paris, he designed an extremely wide street with fountains as far as the eye can see. To this day the city is an active or in some cases not so active construction zone. Nothing got in the way of making Ceausescu’s vision. This caused houses to be destroyed and many dogs to lose their homes because their humans couldn’t take care of them anymore. 

Now, the city has a big problem with stray dogs wandering around. People nicknamed this time Ceaus-shima as a combination of the dictator and the hiroshima bomb because everything happened so fast as if a bomb went off. Back to Revolution Square. This was the spot where in December of 1989 Ceausescu came to the balcony of the building of the Communist headquarters (the palace was still being built) to make a standard speech but he was met with a revolt. On the first day 50,000 met in the plaza, but the next day the number doubled. Riots broke out and many people died. The dictator and his family ran to the roof to escape by helicopter, and the politicians waiting in the wings sprung into action. Shortly after leaving the city, however, the pilot decided that he didn’t want to help anymore and left the family off in the middle of a field which caused them to have to hitchhike. Shortly after, they were recognized and arrested. Both Ceausescu and his wife were charged with many crimes, found guilty, and were executed by firing squad on Christmas day 1989. While that was the official end of of Communist Romania, it is still alive and well on the streets of Bucharest. We learned much of this story while standing in the middle of the square talking to a man passing by. He was excited to talk to Americans and share his knowledge of American authors Emerson and Poe. He explained that those are the things that kept him free during that time in his history. He spoke of billions of dollars stolen from the people and corruption that abounds to this day. He maintained a smile while he spoke though and shared that even though he lives in a horrible place with no freedom (his opinion not mine) his mind remained free because “you can never chain the mind.” This occurred while standing in front of the monument to commemorate the people who died during that December 1989. 

5 Star Bathroom
After all that information it was time for a break, so we headed to the 5 star hotel formerly the Hotel Bucharest for a coffee. Sadly, they don’t even have any information about what to do in this city, so we are still on our own with our shabby map. 

It was getting close to 6:00 p.m. which was the time that our walking tour was due to start, so we headed to the opposite side of the city to meet in front of a clock and the giant fountain. There were about twelve people on the tour from all parts of the world. Our tour guide was surprisingly informative considering our prior experiences, and we walked all over the city to some sites we had already seen and others that were new. We ended the tour in front of the Romanian Atheneum which is arguably one of the most beautiful sites in the city where all of the classical music concerts are performed. To end, we each got a rock with a Romanian stamp glued to it because in Romanian tradition you should take a rock from each place you visit.  Overall a very busy and information filled day. 
Romanian Atheneum