Discovering Eastern Europe–Bargains In Bucharest
“I’m spending a month wandering through southeastern Europe with my Scandinavian friend Ivan and my Texan friend Vinnie,” writes Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst.
“When I was small, this part of the world was closed to us, behind the Iron Curtain. All that changed in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. The region started on a new path. I’m here now, interested to see how things are coming along.
“From my view through the window of the day train from Bulgaria to Romania, the answer seemed to be: not very well. The Bulgarian countryside offered abandoned factories, houses, office buildings, and food processing plants. We saw few cars on the road, few cars parked in the villages. Everywhere was desolation and ghost towns.
“Then, all of a sudden, the countryside changed. As the train turned east through the Danube valley, we saw lush green soybean farms. Our train later crossed the Danube on a hundred-year-old railroad bridge. I’ve seen the Danube before, farther north in Vienna and Budapest. Strauss praised the Blue Danube in his waltz. But down here in Romania the Danube I witnessed this week was shimmering silver, rather than blue, reflecting spring’s bright sun.
“In late afternoon, we arrived in Bucharest, Romania. Modern Bucharest reflects the vision of strong man Nicolae Ceausescu, who ruled from 1965 until his government was overthrown in a December 1989 revolution. On Christmas Day, Ceausescu and his wife were sentenced to death by a military court and executed.
“During his many years in power, Ceausescu tore down the old and replaced much of it with beautiful new buildings. He built an over-the-top palace for himself that has become Bucharest’s main tourist attraction. Ironically, the other main attraction is the old town, the only part of Bucharest that escaped Ceausescu’s bulldozers. Those now in charge have started restoration.
“Old town today offers walking streets, sidewalk cafes, churches, pre-war government buildings (that’s pre-World War II), museums, and restaurants. We visited Bucharest over Easter weekend when many things were closed. No problem for us. Ivan, Vinnie, and I spent a couple of lazy afternoons wandering around old town. We sat in sidewalk cafes, observed the street scene, and enjoyed each other’s company.
“Today’s Bucharest seems to be finding its way. We saw few kids, for example. That seems to show a lack of confidence. Still, Bucharest shares Europe’s urban history, culture, medieval past, and fondness for the arts, architecture, and education. You get around on trams and trolleys rather than by car, searching for the elusive parking space. Stockholm and Munich, Kiev and Moscow are just a short hop on a plane. If you like European cities, Bucharest should go on your to-see list.
“We saw huge signs in and near old town advertising apartments for sale. Many were on older buildings with attractive facades from the 1920s. If you’re a pioneer, buying one of these for investment might be worth your while.
“Romania has joined the European Union but not the euro. Because it has its own currency instead of the euro, Romania is cheaper than Western Europe. Euro countries tend to be expensive; they have to pay the price. Greece, Portugal, and others who adopted the euro are stuck with an overvalued currency. They need bailouts. They may default. To avoid the problem, Romania will likely keep its own currency for a while longer. If it ever does join the euro, prices should pop, at least in the short run.
“Ivan, Vinnie, and I left Bucharest a couple of days ago, we’re now in Odessa, just over the river to the east. More later…”