By Giles Eldridge
What to say about museums in Bucharest? Some are actually rather good, others are, let’s say, medium good. The point is that, historically, Romania has never been a country of looters and tomb raiders filling purpose built repositories with stolen goods and foreign treasure, neither does it appear to have been a country of obsessive collectors and hoarders. Thus the very idea of the large museum seems not to have been developed as much as other European places.
If you think about it too much the notion of a museum is a bit strange but really we should just give in and admit that it’s good to simply look at things, no matter what they are. The smaller museum may lack the grandeur and awe of the monster collections of the world but they make up for in charm and atmosphere.
The first small gem is the Railway Museum. There are just 3 rooms but they are packed full of models and railway paraphernalia. I suppose if you are a train fanatic you’re going to get even more out of this place than the merely curious but nonetheless it is a tremendous display of train associated things – I particularly liked the telegram machine with a keyboard that resembles a small piano more than a typewriter and of course the highlight, the diorama, i.e. a giant train set. Apparently put together by volunteers and train obsessives spending they weekends producing the largest train set in South East Europe. You don’t get to play with it; that is left to the serious man with the computer console but you do get to look on in wonder at the Lilliputian locomotives. What I like about this place is the alternative entrance from the far platform at Gara de Nord station; you can spot it easily with the cute steam engine outside.
It means that if you have some time on your hands, waiting for your train, then you can just drop in for peek, it’s only 4 lei.
Now, you can take the CFR museum in your stride compared to the Aviation Museum, which is something else. Be prepared for filmic time travel with this display of Communist era aviation flotsam and jetsam. It is just a 10 minute walk from the clean chaos of the Promenada Mall at the top end of Calea Floreasca. The first part pf the collection is outside and it is mostly helicopters, some civilian light aircraft and lots of MiGs; the ubiquitous Russian jet fighter. There are many examples of this particular fighting machine from the 1940’s onwards. As a pacifist I’m never going to appreciate their function however one can’t help but admire the design and look of a MiG with the jet engine housed within the fuselage they have the quirky appearance of a Basking shark.
During my visit and in the heat of the day the attendant was taking a snooze and why not, what am I going to do, steal an aeroplane? The ambiance is like a film set and the whole thing is made more strange with the relatively recent addition of a Maramureș style wooden church set among the rusting remnants of other military hardware.
Inside the museum building it’s a little different as you are plunged into near total darkness – is the intention to produce an installation of an abandoned airfield at night? I think that this might actually be the case but it’s not clear. At any event your eyes get used to it and there are some good displays amongst some difficult to see items. There is a beautiful reconstruction of Traian Vuia’s flying contraption the Vuia 1 from 1906. After this some models of other pioneers of flight, then some light aircraft and various associated items like a jet pack and personal helicopter backpack. A short walk through an endearing wartime street scene leads to another hangar for more MiG action etc. Again the knowledgeable aeronautic head is going to appreciate the finer details of the engineering and rarity whilst the more poetic soul is always going to love the Tarkovsky atmosphere of this place.
Muzeul Căilor Ferate Române
Romanian Railway Museum
Calea Griviței 193
Weds. to Sun. 10am-4pm
4 Lei entrance and13 Lei for photography.
Muzeul National Al Aviatiei Române
National Aviation Museum
Strada Fabrica de Glucoza 2-4
Tues. to Fri. 9am-4pm
Sat. Sun. 10am-5pm
20 Lei entrance and10 Lei for photography