Bucharest: The old Paris of the East
Bucharest - a city with a heavy past. She was once Vlad the Impaler's summer residence, and is steeped in turbulent history, invasions, World War bombings, and of course, the original Vampire's darker heritage. In the 1930s, Bucharest claimed her glory years, and was also known as the 'Paris of the East'. The late 60s to 80s was instead shadowed by Nicolae Ceausescus dark years of dictatorship.
But enough of yesterday - in Bucharest, its all about looking forward, and now.
Recently, Bucharest has been gaining a reputation as a heady new European city in the making. Her pending entry into the European Union for 2007 is testament to the fact. Emerging from darker communist days and a tyrannical ruler, Bucharest is slowly regaining her glory status. The vibrant cityscape offers culture in bucket-loads, and her quirky character will have you itching to discover more. She hasnt been described as crazy-beautiful for no reason!
After all, while Bucharest is looking forward, these rough edges, throwbacks from a turbulent history, are what really make her unique. On her streets youll find remnants of a Communist era alongside grand Belle poque buildings on wide, tree lined boulevards, and run down areas jostling for space next to the worlds biggest public office (and monument to megalomaniac ex-dictator).

Bucharest is full of architectural gems, from neoclassical, Byzantine and art nouveau to beaux arts and the unsurprising communist blocks. Youll find grand examples on the Calea Victoriei, Bucharests main artery, a wide, tree-lined boulevard. On Lipscari St, the old garment district, youll find examples of architecture spanning over 6 centuries. Dig further into her past and visit old Dracula at the Curtea Veche, and old fortress of Vlad the Impalers built in 1459.

But theres nothing like the megalomaniac glory of Ceausescu and his grand Palace of Parliament, now standing practically empty. This is Bucharests main attraction, and oddly fascinating if you stop to think about the sacrifices the people made for lavish marble and crystal rooms.

What to see
On the Calea Victorei, youll find some of Bucharests grand buildings and her own Arcul de Triumf (just like the one in Paris!). Lipscari is where youll find the quirky, if run down, areas of town. For something a bit more traditional, venture out to the Open Air Village Museum on the shores of Lake Herastrau, for a glimpse into Romanias rustic past.

And of course, you cant miss the 12-storey Palace of Parliament, Bucharests biggest attraction. This is the world second largest office building, and is filled with marble edifices, crystal chandeliers and a reception hall designed with an open roof. For helicopter landings (of course).

What to eat
Romanian fare is hearty and you wont be disappointed with the offerings in Bucharest. From corn porridge to cabbage rolls, giant pretzels (covrigi) and sheep-milk cheeses, youll find something to impress. If not, in the true form of a forward-looking city, theres also a wide selection of international cuisine on offer.

Where to party
Just like the rest of Bucharest, the offering is eclectic for night time ramblings. Classic music tends to reign supreme, but there is also a growing club scene. Bucharest is after all, home to Romanias largest recording labels. Try Club MAXX, a giant dance club known for hi-energy house and soaped-up go-go dancers.

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