One of the many benefits of living in Israel is its proximity to great travel destinations. With the Open Skies agreement that Israel made with Europe a few years ago, thousands of people are taking advantage of the incredibly cheap fares. And they are traveling – en mass!
This year we took the family to Romania. When I told people in the States that we were going to Romania they said, “Huh?” When I told Israelis that we were going to Romania, they said, “Ah! Walla! What a great place.”
We quickly realized why. On the day that we flew in, there were five flights in a three-hour time frame going from Israel to Romania. There was so much Hebrew spoken in Romania that we found that Romanians who didn’t know one word of English were able to communicate with us a little bit in Hebrew. And at many tourist sites there were translations in Romanian, English…and Hebrew.
It’s amazing how large one little country can look from the outside. I bet if you ask the average Romanian what the population of Israel is they would guess a far greater number than our 8 million citizens!
So, what did we do in Romania? We split the trip into two parts, spending two and a half days in Bucharest and a week in the mountains. Here, I’ll focus on Bucharest and save the mountain adventure for the next post.
We landed in Bucharest in the middle of the night and had a cab waiting to take us to our really nice apartment in the center of town. After going to sleep at 4am, we started our first day of touring at about 12pm. We planned to tour the city with one of the apps that we’ve used in the past, but after visiting three closed locations (that said they were open on the app) we quickly realized that most tourist sites were closed on Mondays. Whoops! We took some pictures in front of the beautiful Coral Synagogue (closed for renovations) and enjoyed going into the Great Synagogue. Then, we looked at each other and said “Now what?”
I googled “Fun things to do with kids in Bucharest” and we were off in two taxis to an awesome mall, Cotroceni, where we discovered Haagen Das (yippee, aside from Chabad, the only kosher thing in Bucharest!) and ice skating. The mall was really beautiful; the ice skating was cheap and we were in heaven.
Day two started at The Village Museum, an outdoor museum that depicts life in Romania through the ages. It had beautiful grounds and was fun to explore. While we were there, we had a fascinating encounter. When we first arrived in Romania, I made all of the kids wear baseball hats, because I’m always worried about antisemitism. I soon realized, however, how many Israelis there were everywhere and I stopped bugging the kids. While at the Village Museum, a man stopped Josh to ask him if he was Jewish. He explained that he lives 400 kilometers from Bucharest in a small village and that he appreciated how much richer life in Romania was when there were still Jews in his area. He said that he is sorry that there are no longer Jews there from whom he can learn and that the sky is one shade darker for the loss of our rich heritage. It was an unusual and thoughtful encounter.
From there we ate lunch in a park, and then walked to the Arcul de Triumf which is a gorgeous structure to admire and take pictures near.
Finally, we walked to The Spring Palace of Nicolae Ceausescu. This incredibly ornate house is interesting to see, and tells the fascinating story of the Communist dictator of Romania who lived until Communism was overthrown (and he was executed) in 1989.
Day three was all about government. We had forgotten to make reservations for a tour of Parliament and were a bit worried that we wouldn’t get in. The Parliament building is the second largest government building in the world – which we can vouch for since we got to it and couldn’t find the entrance and then walked the entire periphery of the building before finding the way in! Fortunately, we were just in time for the 9:15 tour and it was absolutely amazing. The Palace of the Parliament is a site to behold and it’s definitely the most important stop on any Bucharest tour.
From here, we walked to Cotroceni Palace, which is the official residence of the President, to get a tour. The tour guide was quite long-winded, and the Palace was pretty, but not as impressive as The Spring Palace or Parliament. If you love antiques and palaces, then I recommend this place – but if you have young children with you or you’re not in love with palaces, I would skip it. The highlight here was when we sat down in front of the President’s residence for lunch and Josh said, “There is a fifty percent chance that we get arrested for eating here,” and then almost got arrested when the police pulled up two minutes later! Apparently they don’t want you opening your tuna cans and crackers in front of the President’s house. Go figure. From here, we went back to the mall for some more skating fun!
We all felt that we got a good look at Bucharest and spent the right amount of time in the city. We were all pleasantly surprised by how walkable the entire city was and how well kept up. The boulevards are broad and impressive, there are many parks and the city is clean and accessible. We all enjoyed the stay.
Next stop – and tomorrow’s post – the mountains!