Monday, 1st September 2008 – Bucharest, Day 5
By Western European standards Romania is still a very poor country, having been close to bankruptcy when the revolution of 1989 occurred. It’s still desperately poor – though apparently the city authorities had cleared out the beggars and gypsies prior to the arrival of the international racing circus. It wouldn’t do for us to see that, after all. Actually, we did see some – there was a guy living on a bench opposite the Patriarchal Palace and we certainly also saw several gypsy families. Rather than wasting effort on displacing people who have almost nothing to start with, it might be better if they did something about the packs of feral dogs that roam around the streets, menacing people if they think they can get away with it.
It wasn’t that far from our minds even when we went out for a last drink at the Tango before heading for the airport:
However, political choices aside the city was once very beautiful (the Paris of the East) with lots of fin de siècle buildings which are now in various states of disrepair (or not) depending on who owns them and what they are trying to do with them. The fact that some of the building work that was underway last May still seems to be no further forward 15 months later suggests that there is still a limit to the funds available to renovate and improve the city. There’s also the fact that the historic Lipscani and Curtea Veche areas are still in desperate need of some serious money being pumped in if the medieval and earlier bits are not going to crumble to nothing. If the city could only find some way to fund the work, they could join the likes of Prague, Berlin and Barcelona in the “weekend break” stakes with both a thriving nightlife and some wonderful historic sights. In fact Bucharest would make a terrific destination. It’s got a long way to go yet though. The state of some buildings is very sad. For example:
Of course then there are examples like the hotel, which has been sympathetically restored on the outside even if the inside is functionally modern: And then there are plots of land where the owner has clearly given up and demolished what was there to opt for something starkly modern and completely out of keeping with the rest of the buildings, whether they are crumbling or not.
It does, however, make you wonder what it might once have looked like, especially before Nicolae Ceauşescu demolished 1/6th – or 1/8th or 1/10th depending on how you measure it – of the city to build the Presidential Palace and the Brutalist Dictator style of buildings that now line the fountain threaded boulevard and the Piata Uniri.
However, now that some EU money has been pumped in and the fountains have been restored and cleaned, they really are stunning, with their mosaic bases shining through sun-dappled water, and little details like the topiary dolphins that flank the main central fountain.
And after that it was back to the airport, where we spent quite a while chatting with Salman in the business lounge before we all collapsed exhausted on the plane, getting home around 19.00 with a suitcase full of sweaty dead clothes and thousands of photos on the laptop.