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Bucharest

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, used to be called ‘the Paris of the East’ between the World Wars. The communists destroyed much of that beautiful city and replaced old, elegant architecture with lifeless and ugly apartment buildings. With Romanians returning from abroad with money, there’s a lot of construction going on now, new residential neighbourhoods are sprouting up and the city’s limits are expanding fast.

Bucharest has a great social life with plenty of clubs, bars and restaurants, in contrast to the sleepy feel of the rest of the country. Bucharest is the only place to find work for many Romanians and represents the greatest freedom they’re likely to find in the country.

The Romanians of Bucharest are considered arrogant by the country folk though who reckon they speak too fast, are always in a hurry and lack the traditional graces. But then you should hear what people in Bucharest think of the rest of the backwards country.

A taste of the old days of the Paris of the East, can be enjoyed in Old Bucharest with the Casa Poporului (People House), Manuc’s Inn and the Old Princiary Court, Magheru Bulevard, and the Village Museum. The two main parks are Cismigiu and Herastrau, great for strolling, having a relaxing afternoon and people watching.

Casa Poporului, now the Palace of Parliament is the largest building in Europe. It was born out of the grandeur-obsessed communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. One fifth of the historic Bucharest was demolished to make place for this monstrosity.

Systematization was one of Ceausescu’s obsessions: making an urban, atheist Romania. The dictator’s zeal saw the destruction of entire villages and churches. Whilst some historic monuments and old buildings were saved through the cunning of the locals, the face of modern Romania is much the poorer for Ceaucescu’s madness.

Cuna Luminita