4 Ocak 2016 Pazartesi

The Castles and Colours; Bucharest
I have no idea about how many ‘The Paris of the East’ there are in the world. However it is obvious that Bucharest has made a lot of efforts to deserve this name. Would you like to have a look at what the Communist leader, Ceausescu did to create such similarity and even to make Bucharest more charming comparing with Paris? First of all, he built a much bigger palace standing on a high point of the city which is bigger than Champs-Elysees. Actually he wanted to have a palace very similar to Champs-Elysees. Now, once you go up to the huge balcony of the palace you can watch the endless boulevard lying beneath your wings. Despite the protests of the people living in the area he demolished seven
neighbourhoods of the city so that he could create this straight boulevard with no curves. At the end he had a redesigned city of Bucharest. It is most likely that he felt so proud of his work when he watched the city from the balcony and felt that the city looked like an endless sea. This palace, which is the second biggest building after Pentagon, serves as the parliament of Romania. It is such a huge palace with 1100 rooms that I had to spend half day to see only 5% of it. When you enter the large saloons with high ceilings that were created with the marble, wood, silk and glass that were brought from the various parts of the country and the world you get shocked with the level of the desire of human beings to show
power and magnificence. These saloons and big balconies have hosted so many important persons such as the first peace meeting between Yassar Arafat-Shimon Perez, Michael Jackson and a number of other world leaders. The words; “Hello Budapest” that spread out of M. Jackson’s mouth in the balcony during his speech to his fans watching him in front of the palace are still used as a funny joke among the people of the world. Actually, Bucharest is usually mixed with Budapest. Bewildered and fascinated with the size of the palace I sat down on the elegant and cold marble steps and stared at the far ceilings of the palace. Then I started to think. Why do some human beings prefer to build such huge buildings? Is it an instinct of feeling big or overcoming the reality of death and become
eternal? No answer. In this case, the citizens of the city were coping with poverty while the palace was being erected. Ceausescu was not satisfied with the giant appearance of the palace he also wanted the magnificent fountains to be built along the both sides of boulevard and placed the copy of Arc de Triumph of Paris in the square of a big intersection. Seeing the palace and the city after his enormous touch, Ceausescu must have said himself; “Bucharest is much more beautiful than Paris now.” However, is magnificence enough to be beautiful? The admiration of Bucharest towards Paris is not something new. Bucharest used to be called “the Paris of the East” between the two world wars because of her shining lifestyle and being keen on fashion and night life. By the way, I must note that
Ceausescu was killed before the palace was built completely and before he was moved in it.
Ceausescu is not the only person one can remember when the topic is Romania. This is a country with 20 million of population. The queen of the ice, Nadia Comaneci is the national heroine and proud of the country. However, I prefer to keep on talking about Ceausescu as he had great effect on the destiny of the country. He was born in a poor family in the rural area and became a shoe maker when he moved to Bucharest. Although he was a dictator and shot down with his wife after the revolution in 1989 he had a big finger print on every inch of the city.
There are more buildings of the city that I can share with you. The National Bank, the Opera Building, the Art Museum and a number of other
gorgeous museums mostly built with Baroque style prove that the architecture is the biggest value of the identity of Bucharest. I entered the highly secured National Museum with precious samples of marble and studied the interesting evaluation of the money from the very past to present. By the way, today Romania uses plastic banknotes but not paper. They are like toys but still beautiful. While visiting the museums I witnessed that most of the statues of the important characters standing are the ones who were highly respected heroes that fought against the Ottomans. Romania became independent after big troubles with the Ottomans in 1866.
Having built masterpieces of architecture to represent power, luxury and beauty Bucharest is struggling with today’s rude style of architecture. Yet, Bucharest can still resist to this new style and survive as a pretty city.   

Rural Life Museum
People of Bucharest are not only interested in the urban architecture they have built the National
Village Museum to underline the importance of the rural architecture and its culture. The story of the museum is interesting. 10 scientists travelled across the country to study the rural area houses. After the big search and discovery sample houses were built in Bucharest along the beautiful river between the years 1925-1935. They are not model houses but real ones which you can go inside and live in. This is the most amazing village house museum I have ever seen. It is like travelling across Romania and seeing the houses
with the life in them. You can learn about the houses and their characteristics from the sign boards and the old but passionate guide who also knows Turkish language. He told me the fact that 5% of the words in Romanian language were Turkish. I kept listening to him. He pointed at the house
which was half built in the land and covered with dry grass so that it could be hid from the Mongolian, Tatar and Ottoman warriors.
The tour of museums never ends in Bucharest. If you visit the historical building which is used as the National Village Life Museum on the Victoria Street you can see the whole materials related to the traditional life of Romania.  The clothes, kitchen supplies, cattle breeding materials, houses, windmills, statues and various tools wait to be rediscovered. Once you spend enough time in this museum you can easily visualise the culture of Romania on your mind. Bucharest really deserves the name of ‘the city of museums’. It is a city that has succeeded displaying all aspects of the culture in museums. The entrance fee to most of the museums is almost free.
Night Life…
It would be just like ‘a dinner with no dessert’ if you left the city without exploring its night life. The
night life is so live and cheap in the old town of Bucharest. The colourful life go on at the modern or traditional pubs, cafes, night clubs, massage saloons and restaurants. You need to notice the extra ordinary design of the places and try different styles each time you go out at nights. I must warn you about the taxi fares especially in this night life zone. Every tourist is destined to be cheated at least once by the taxi drivers in Bucharest. However, the taxi fares are so low that the pain of being ripped off doesn’t hurt
much. It is recommended to set the price with the driver or ask the hotel workers to call you a taxi just in case.

During my stay in Bucharest, I learnt that the proportion of private school is very high. Also, the
access equality to education is as low as it is in Turkey. The more the parents make donations to schools the more facilities the schools have. Kids start to learn English, Art and Music at the nursery school. They learn second language at the 6th grade. English is widely spoken on the streets of Bucharest. I was surprised to see that English is so popular although Russian language was the dominant one during the Communist era until 1989. I believe that people of Bucharest find it easy to learn English because they live in a tourist attraction capital, travelling has become very common for them, the recent EU membership, the openness to the world and using technology, cinema and the Internet. Teachers teach 18 hours a week and get 250 Euro more or less. The low salary forces teachers do extra
teaching or other jobs. Learning that the minimum wage is around 200 Euro I find it hard to explain how people could survive with this wage. After some investigation, I was informed that most families still lived in the houses that were given to them by the government during the Communist system so they do not pay rent today. Also, Romanian government sells the natural gas and oil cheap to its citizens as they are the produced in the country.  Finally, the poor families receive social support from the government or the municipality.
The schools are governed by the municipality. The teachers have to take an exam and then they are appointed to schools according to the marks they get. The maternity leave is 14 months.
The Political System
While speaking with the intellectual tourist guide he tried to prove that there is a democratic system
in Romania by giving this information; “There are 19 officially recognised ethnic groups in Romania. The Hungarians, Germans, Jews, Turks and Gypsies are the biggest communities. The political system allows all the ethnic groups to send their representatives into the parliament. Surprisingly, all ethnic groups have learnt to work and stand together despite their differences. Governments ignoring the rights of the minorities can be forced to resign with the joint actions of the minority members of the parliament. It has happened twice in the history of Romania”. By the way, there is a coalition of the socialists and the liberals. Although the Socialists have more chairs in the parliament the prime minister of the government is liberal. This is a good example of showing the democracy level of the country.
The Country of the Castles, Churches and Mountains…
If you wish to experience the ancient history of Romania you need to travel to Brasov region. After driving around two hours you start to watch the hidden old villages, the palaces, castles, city walls and the well-preserved rural
life as if you were travelling in a tale. When I noticed the Bran Castle (Castle of Dracula) standing on the top of the hill it reminded me of the castle of the bad guy-Gargamel-of the cartoon movie; the

Smurfs. It was half hidden in the fog and lightened by the full moon.
By the way, I learnt that the story of the book of Dracula took place at this castle and the book named after this castle. Not surprisingly, Dracula castle was built to protect the city when it was on the border of two countries. Dracula (Vlad Tepes) is known as the tyrant but the hero emperor of his time by the Romanians. He is still appreciated by the people since he was able to set the order in his lands after a long time of disorder. He also brought peace and richness and the state became very powerful. According to what the guide said I would like to tell you two examples of his cruelty. One of them is that when he was preparing to fight against the Ottomans he was informed that the Ottoman army was approaching in a big number. He decided that he would lose the war if he fought. Then he decided to kill
thousands of his soldiers and put them on the sticks across a large area. Seeing the fields of killed soldiers, the Ottomans got frightened with what they witnessed and they turned back. Second example was that Dracula used to visit the cities disguised and place a golden cup in the town square at night. If he didn’t find the cup the following day he governor of the city would be in a big trouble. If the cup disappeared that meant that burglary was a common thing in the city, the governor could not stop it and set the order. At the castle you can see the armchair of torture, war weapons and the private room of the queen who would live there for some time.
The churches of Bucharest look charming. While you are wondering across the city, the old churches appear among the tall new buildings all of a sudden. They usually have Armenian or Byzantine style of architecture. Once you enter inside the churches you set off a voyage in the history. What I realised that the most east feature of Romania is its churches. Not only because of the style were they built with but also the women praying inside. Like the Muslim or Jewish women in the
Middle East the Romanian women also cover their heads and body, touch and kiss the walls while praying. The incense filled in the church is the other thing that you can find inside the sacred places of other religions in the East. Faith is still strong in Romania and it can be felt everywhere in the society.
Maybe it is enough to talk about the history and the architecture of the city. When I went out of the castle I felt that it was the time of tasting the delicious traditional dishes of Romania. I went up to a restaurant made of wood where I could watch the city lying in the valley, the castle and the statues of the important people. At this restaurant, you can try the Cabbage Sarma (Wrapped)

with minced meat, the dish made with meat kept in glass jars for 6-7 months and cooked in pots. Also, the grilled duck with mashed potato and vegetables is just amazing. The dishes are served with homemade wine near the fireplace by the kind waitresses. After I had the satisfying meal I went out for a short walk. I came across the houses of the cartoon characters such as the Smurfs, Winni the poo, Red Riding Hood, etc. It was like a tale country you could travel through. Isn’t it fantastic?  
The words I have written here about Romania is just a bunch of wheat I picked from an endless field. It is almost impossible to claim that I have seen Romania since I haven’t seen the most beautiful part of the country called Transylvania. Let me end this piece of writing with a quote of Richardson; “The Romanians are hospitable, generous, good listeners, polite and adventurous”. My first impression proves me right. Would you like to continue to explore the country from the point where I have reached?

                                                                                        November 27th, 2015                                                                                                                                Mehmet Ateş, izmir-Turkey