It felt odd to enter the polished streets of Bucharest with its sprawling boulevards and Arch of Triumph. It is a strange mix of western architecture and communist style buildings.
The Palace of the Parliament is the world’s largest civilian building, as well as the most heavy one. With construction initiated in 1984, Ceausescu intended it both as a private residence and housing of several national institutions such as the Parliament and Supreme Court.
Unfortunately over 20 churches and a lot of the historical part of the city was destroyed to make space for the building. The destruction was so immense that the word “Ceaushima” was coined, sarcastically linking Ceausescu to the bombing of Hiroshima.
The building was almost finished at the time of his execution in 1989, but only the exterior design as much of the interior still consists of large empty spaces. Today the building is used by the National Museum of Contemporary Art among others.
But the city has seen its fair share of despots. A bit to the east is Curtea Veche, the ruins of what once was the residence of Wallachian rulers for two centuries until 1660. Vlad Tepes (also known as Dracula) enlarged the original fortress and surrounded it with stone walls in 1458.
Anthony Bourdain tried to visit these ruins five years ago, but some sort of official asked for a bribe so the team left in disgust. They didn’t even get to film the Vlad statue in front of the ruins.
As I explore the stone walls and spacious rooms inside the ruins, I think back on Ceausescu’s palace. Curtea Veche may not be as spectacular as the pompous Palace of the Parliament, but I will choose the ruins any day.