27.12.2008 - 29.12.2008 -3 °C
I did not want to get the sort of news I’d had in Athens about full trains, so had organized my ticket to Bucharest back in Sofia. Well, sort of. I had about six different staff in the Rila ticket agency helping me, but they could not sell me a ticket from Veliko Tûrnovo to Bucharest. Yes, there is a train that connects both places “but it is a Turkish train, we do not handle it”. They told me I’d have to catch a local train to a major junction town where the train from Sofia to Bucharest went through.
That kind of made sense, but when I got to Veliko Tûrnovo I learned that that was not the full story. The Turkish train did indeed go through, but when it got to the nearby big station, the Sofia train became attached to it. My helpful person in the hostel was able to arrange for me to get on this train coming from Turkey in VT. I hopped into a carriage and, curiously enough, it was the very carriage I had been booked into all along. Either that or the train people simply did not care; I had the carriage almost to myself, entirely so from the Romanian border. Very Bulgarian, apparently. Here’s the Danube as we cross it.
I took quite a few photos from the train but they were not very successful:
Bucharest is another place with a bad rep, like Sofia. Again, I lapped it up and would have happily stayed much longer. Where else can you wake up in your hostel and see this
parked across the road? Admittedly, it was part of the military museum
but still pretty cool.
Going in search of dinner my first night there, I found a very nice mid-range bar/restaurant called the Harbour and amused myself by trying to work out what the people around me were there for and what they were saying. Apart from one pair of Americans, they were all obviously locals. In the area around me, I decided that there was a fairly new couple to my right, a young fellow (maybe a student) treating his dad to dinner, another family group and then this intriguing group of four off to my left, two women and two men, in their thirties but (I decided) not couples, possibly academics. Maybe they were just talking about the latest sports scores, who was breaking up/sneaking around with/cheating on whom, what was happening on the Romanian answer to Shortland Street but their conversation had a nice mixture of vivacity and gravity. My interest must have been detected; when I left, the women waved.
Perhaps that’s what had me off guard, but I was intercepted a bit later on the street by a woman, with questions I have often been asked in other countries (particularly India): “where you from?”; “how long you been travelling?”; “you married?”, “you travel alone?”; “you like coffee?”; “maybe we find coffee shop, yes?”. In India, these questions always came from men, and always involved a scam, but I hadn’t come across anything like this here, so wasn’t thinking. Basically, she robbed me, picked my pocket and fled! Luckily I got to keep the wallet and everything but the cash in it, but I’d been silly and not taken the Euros out once I left Greece and they were no good to me. So, a bit of a sting.
All the reports I had read about Bucharest was that it was a wreck, that the old buildings had been taken down and replaced with crap. I have to say there was still a satisfying number of old buildings around, and even the new buildings were far better than Athens. This sort of thing
seemed fairly common and around the former Palace were some truly wonderful buildings, such as the Roman Atheneum (a concert hall),
the nearby University
To be sure, this
is odd but then there is the Palace itself, so large I could not get it in a shot:
It has been turned into an Art Gallery, one of the best I have ever been in. I started with the collection of Greek portable icons – religious images painted onto wood maybe an inch thick, dating back to the 1400’s and still incredibly bright and fresh, which for me was their most significant feature. Then there was a sequence of religious paintings from a little later on, mid 17th century, by a fellow called Theodoros Poulakis which again impressed by with their vibrant colours. Of course, in another section of the gallery, they had loads of religious work by Romanians but by the time I got to them, I was a little jaded. I did like that they had quite a few altars still intact, from the 16th century, so I could see a lot of these icons in their original usage, as parts of the altar. One 17th Bucharest church altarpiece, largely made of gold, had about 50 seperate icons. There was also a collection of frescoes i.e. things put on the outside of churches. Apparently this was not normal here until they came under attack by the Ottomans, who sought to supress Christianity - I kind of like that by putting up some frescoes, they were giving the Ottomans the finger, after a fashion.
Another huge part of the collection was tracing the relationship between the French and the Romanians - the French (Napoleon III in particular) were very helpful in getting Romania back on its feet in 1859 (and thus giving the French a nice foothold in Eastern Europe). So we had Romanian artists honouring French subjects, French artists portraying Romania and then Romanians who went to France and painted there. The English descriptions seemed to peter out at points, but luckily I could still read the French accounts of the paintings, but sometimes they'd be missing and I'd have to read Romanian; I found that I could! One artist stood out for me, a fellow called Theodor Aman. They had a lot of his work, the first I noticed was a huge painting, I think 20 metres wide and 8 high, of one of the battles of the Crimean War. Oddly enough, there was a sign talking about early war photography and the claim that the first came from this war (in the 1850's) but there are no actual photographs.
Up on the top floor, they had an exhibition of Romanian modern art, with lots and lots of work by Theodor Aman, most of them of social scenes, scenes of Romanian life. In the last section, they went all modernist and cubist. I did find one piece that had me go back for another look or two, by Victor Brauner, called "Passivité courtoise"