Last week I was in Bucharest, Romania.
It sounds all exotic. Dracula! Dictatorship! Problematic EU accession! But really, it’s just a normal city. Restaurants, traffic, outlet stores, teenagers in trackpants drinking cider at bus stops.
I basically sat in cafes all week, watching it go by out the window.
The only actual like Thing I did was visit the Parliamentary Palace.
Which is apparently the second biggest building in the world, after the Pentagon. It’s basically the size of Rhode Island, and just as superfluous.
Ceausescu started building it in 1983. The idea was to have the whole Romanian Communist Party working in one place. He also built big residences next door so everyone could live in one place too. If this sounds like a good idea to you, you have never had a job.
Ceausescu was overthrown (and executed on national TV!) on Christmas Day 1989. The building wasn’t finished yet, so the new government had to decide what to do with it.
Most of it is grand corridors and rock-hard ballrooms. Great for a wedding or corporate conference, but not so great for the 98 percent of your life that is not those things.
By the time the new, democratic government took over, the country had already fed billions of euros, millions of man-hours, to this beast. Our tour guide told us these are the world’s heaviest curtains. And we told him that is the world’s least interesting fact.
The new government couldn’t just walk away from something 80 percent finished. So they basically said ‘haters to the left’ and kept building.
Now only about 70 percent of it is used, and it costs millions of euros every year to maintain. They’re constantly criticized for the cost, the waste, the sheer pointlessness of it all.
The rest of my time in Bucharest I spent repeatedly realizing how happy I am not to be a politician.
You work your whole life to get into the halls of power, then when you finally do, you find they’re full of unruly foster kids.
Messes you didn’t make, but have to clean up.
Suddenly a cafe window seemed like a pretty good place to be.