1. BUCHAREST (Bucuresti).
We landed in the capital after 3hrs. flying over from Tel Aviv, Israel, on El Al airlines.
Our son met us there, i.e. our daughter, my husband and me and we checked into the REMBRANDT , a recommended (on Tripadvisor.com) 3* hotel in the centre of the old part of the city where the restaurants and night-life,- such as it is,- is happening. A narrow little multi-storey building, belied the fact that the upstairs rooms were huge and all in all it was a very pleasant and comfortable, clean and inexpensive, popular hotel.
The cty's streets are in awful disrepair and extreme caution needs to be taken while walking around. However, a huge reconstruction seems to be taking place now that Romania has been accepted into the European Union and even more caution needs to be practiced going around the many building sites!
Ceacescu's folly of a grand palace is the main attraction in this city, although some of the grand old architecture in Parisian style is still to be seen and is being restored in many cases. We visited the enormous palace and the old Royal Palace which is dwarfed by the new one. The old palace is now a Museum, hosting many temporary and permanent exhibitions. There are many restaurants of various standards in the city, but being used to the Romanian kitchen, we mostly went for the traditional grilled meats, pickles and mamaliga (polenta) which used to be the staple diet of the population. Service though leaves much to be desired,- I suspect because most better waiters and restaurant staff prefer to work abroad and send the money back home! (Cruise liners around the Mediterranean have all East European staff.)
We made SUCEAVA our headquarters in the North, some 60km. from my native town of Botosani (bo-to-shan)in the Moldovan region of Romania,- not to be confused with the nearby now independent country of Moldova/Moldavia on the Russian border.
Everyone was very excited for me, driving towards Botosani, which I had left when I was 10years old. What would I remember or recognise? I was warned that this historic old market town of some 200,000 inhabitants had virtually been razed to the ground and rebuilt by Ceacescu's regime. But I was told that a small part of the old main street, the Calea Nationale, was left in its original state with the charming old buildings still there. I couldn't remember the street where we lived without some sort of map to work from, but none seemd to exist, no matter which book store or library we entered to ask about it.
The kids kept asking me:" mum, do you remember this? Do you recognise any of it?"
But all I could think that in my mind's eye. everything was quite big with tall buildings, which now seemd so small,- one storeyed, with small iron balconies in front. A monument to WW1 victims in a grassy central spot, triggered recognition, but apart from that, little was recognizable to my eyes.
Suddenly, Sebastian, our guide/driver saw a small plaque above our heads on a building where we were standing and it said.: "the Jewish community centre".
I was really excited to find out who was there and if anyone would remember my father and our family who were prominent in the Jewish community in those days.
I only mantioned my father's name to an elderly gentleman who appeared and immediately ushered us in. He stopped and looked at me and asked me,- the "Furniture maker?" (mobilier, in Romanian). I gasped,- yes,- do you remmeber him? Of course, he would have been a child like me in those days, but he knew the name and who he was and told the guide,- "of course I knew of him,- he was the largest here!"!
After a short visit with a few others there, another man offered to take us around and show us what remains of the former up to 40,000 strong community, now reduced to some 80old souls! One, out of some 70 synagogues, is still in existence, a beautiful one, recently restored with overseas funds,- but set among high-rise apartment buildings! Then he took me to my old Elementary School, where I suddenly remembered running up the steps to school! I tried to get my bearings to remember where we lived, but it was too difficult since there were mostly big ugly apartment blocks around.
We had a traditional lunch in the new centre of town,- quite modern and 'trendy' now.
Then I tried to find my grandparents' graves at the Jewish Cemetery still in existence at the end of town. The curator brought his books with him, alerted by the community leader probably,and we tried to look for names which might refer to my father's parents,- but it was too difficult to identify them exactly as there were too few identifying names or other markers. Plus the old part was totally overgrown and we wouldn't have been able to get to the individual grave-sites.
We departed from Botosani,- again, more in sadness than anything else, but glad to leave that almost forgotten part of my life behind! It was however most interesting and moving for our children to see it.
ROMANIA AS A TOURIST DESTINATION.
THE PAINTED MONASTERIES OF BUCOVINA are world renowned and UNESCO World Heritage recognised. The beautiful outside frescoes of the Orthodox Christian Monasteries from the 14th and 15th century have withstood the vicitudes of weather and time and their colours are still vividly preserved. Tourists flock to view them. Most are still in use today.
TRANSYLAVANIA AND THE CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS.
We travelled across the big Gorge, which was beautiful and very picturesque as we made our way by car with our driver from Suceava to Cluj. From Cluj in Transylvania we flew out to Budapest, Hungary.
Our Romanian trip was organised bu e-mail through GIGI TOURISM,of Suceava. (Sebastian Triacu, Principal).