Monday 17 September 2007


Our schedule was presented to us after breakfast. We were to attach provided labels to our overnight luggage for onward transportation to the Athenee Palace Hilton Hotel and, following lunch on the train, would arrive at Bucharest Nord station at 2.07 pm (they must have been to an Alan Pease semina). Then a "drive by" visit to past The People's Palace, the Metropolitan Church and then an exclusive visit to Ceausescu's private residence, usually not open to the public.

First, lunch on the train:-
Scrambled eggs and caviar: Bark mushrooms and chives (no caviar for me) Broiled lobster with white truffle butter, buttered string beans and bacon, potato pancake (steak for me) Caramalized apple tarlet and vanilla whipped cream Colombian coffee.

Our lunch companions were a retired Lloyds Underwriter and his wife. They were charming and we all commented on the lushness of the Romanian countryside and the fact that if they ever got their commercial act together they had good resources, including oil fields!
Istanbul bad us farewell with drums and dancers, Bucharest welcomed us at 0207 pm with police. Our guide said to have the Orient Express in town is newsworthy (literarily it was on TV that night). Police had cordoned off the station and we were escorted to our coaches through a corridor of armed police. Heavy man!

During our "city drive around" our guide told us of the night that Ceausescu fled town. In December 1989 following a series of riots he attempted to appease the people by giving a speech in which he offered a derisory increase in wages. The people were not impressed and he ordered the soldiers to open fire on the protesters.

When our guide heard of the shootings she decided that this was the last straw and went to join the protestors (first having changed her underwear in case she was shot - as you do). 162 people were killed in University Square that night. Most were peaceful students. She said that, as in Prague, they were putting flowers into the guns of the soldiers. Fearing for their lives Ceauşescu and his wife fled by helicopter to seek sanctuary in a military compound in the Countryside. Three days later they were tried by a new interim government and shot!

I was so impressed with her bravery and I told her it had been living proof to the world that good can triumph over evil. I feel quite tearful.

That evening we had gala dinner in the Art Museum's magnificent Mirror Room, which hosts the event twice a year for the Orient Express. After a cocktail reception we were led into dinner where the seating was random. When they started to serve the first course, fish, my plate was one of the first to be bought out. No fish! Wow, attention to detail, how did they do that? There was a full evening of entertainment from Romania musicians and an opera singer. My companion said at this stage that her husband would have suggested he meet her back at the hotel. I had been thinking exactly the same; my husband would have been looking for an "exit strategy" the minute he walked in the place. It was very, very highbrow and, if I was to criticise, the music was too loud and we couldn't hear ourselves talk.

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