Trust me, and wasn’t surprised
Disappointed to find that much of central Paris now serves up the same street-level visual refrain as most moncler coats American cities — Gap, Zara, Starbucks, Subway — friends visiting from Boston yearned for an urban adventure. Where could they go for a long weekend that hadn’t yet been subjected to the centrifuge of globalization? “Bucharest,” I replied, and they laughed out loud. “Bucharest!? Is there anything to see there? And what about the hotels and the food?”
“Trust me,” I told them, and wasn’t surprised when they returned three days later uerwhsad1 raving about the delicious strangeness of Europe’s sixth largest city (if you don’t count Istanbul and leave out Russia), which is a three-hour flight from most western European capitals. Vying for the title with Belgrade and Sofia, Bucharest is one of the last major European cities that hasn’t been pasteurized by gentrification or lost its soul to mass tourism. It’s an odd but lively mutt of a city — one that’s clearly seen better days but where something is also suddenly stirring. The locals love to have a good time, and the Romanian economy is chugging along pretty nicely.
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To be sure, it wasn’t a place I fell madly in love with when I first went in the early 1990s. Wanting an alternative moncler coats to the international menu at the Athenee Palace Hilton, I asked the concierge to suggest a restaurant where I could try real Romanian food, whatever that might be. “No, you don’t go out,” he said flatly. “Not safe.” That got my gander up. I’d lived in seriously lousy parts of Boston, New York City and London. So why not go out? “Mad dogs, mad people. You stay here. Please, don’t go,” he pleaded. Well, of course I did, but I got only a few blocks before having a terrifying run-in with a wild-eyed dog and then being surrounded by a flock of pan-handlers with wandering hands.
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But that was then, when the city, at once funky and then surprisingly elegant, was just beginning to recover from the demented reign of moncler coats Nicolae Ceausescu. He razed dozens of churches and synagogues, gutted some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and built a grand boulevard on a base of radioactive mine tailings that leads to his completely bonkers Casa Poporului, or “House of the People,” the common parlance for a building that was then officially known as Casa Republicii. The second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon, it looks like it was inspired by the rejected plans for a Las Vegas casino by a second-string architect. Known today as the Palace of Parliament, it also houses Romania’s unexpectedly interesting National Museum of Contemporary Art.
My Boston pals accurately described the building, which took five years to build and wreaked havoc on Romania’s fragile finances, as “freaking weird,” and it’s true that the wacko splendor of the place, with its acres of Transylvanian marble, intriguingly hideous chandeliers, grand staircases and football-field-sized rooms, offers one of the most mind boggling lessons in the madness of Eastern Bloc communism to be found anywhere behind what was once the Iron Curtain.
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The heavy hand of Ceausescu’s madcap urbanism notwithstanding, other parts of the city still live up to moncler coats its pre-World War II moniker, Little Paris of the East. During the prosperous years from 1881 to 1920, Paris was indeed the inspiration for many of the city’s major monuments and public works, including the Arcul de Triumf and the Odeon Theater. Today, the liveliest part of the city is the Lipscani district, or Old Town, right in the heart of the city.