Destination Information - Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest, the "Paris of the East", has for too long been overshadowed by rivals Prague and Budapest.
That Bucharest has taken so long to become a fixture on the European tour trail is largely down to the actions of one man, the erstwhile president Nicolae Ceausescu. The despotic leader was only deposed in 1989 and in that time he managed to do massive harm both to Romania's international status and his noble capital. Luckily he was halted before he could do irreparable damage and although the relics of his brand of communism bear testament to a dark time in the country's history, they remain literally crumbling symbols, of the collapse of the old way of life, and a new dawn in Romania.
The result is that the first time visitor to Bucharest is greeted with a hodge-podge of architecture. Traditional Wallachian buildings still survive, while the heart of the city combines fabulous Byzantine and renaissance architecture interspersed with massive Communist edifices. It is a striking picture of contrasts. Visit the ostentatious Palace of the Parliament to get the full impact of the scale of Communist ambition, the second largest administrative building in the world it is remarkably ugly and functional, and at the same time amazingly alluring. The half-built concrete blocks that were to "modernize" Bucharest surround it.
But if building isn't moving on in this part of Bucharest, in every other aspect the city is progressing. Post-1989 the city has been in boom, and although inflation and poverty are national problems it doesn't seem to be halting the capital's irrepressible drive to take its place among Europe's elite. Bars, restaurants and international stores have proliferated in the last decade, and in parts of the city it's hard to believe that barely ten years ago this was the heart of a Communist country.
The Romanians too are enjoying their new freedom, and you'll find few people in Europe as effusively vibrant as the Bucuresti. All this plus the lowest prices of any capital in Europe, you'll wonder why you haven't visited already.