WHEN QUEEN MARIE INVITED ME TO LUNCHEON IN THE ROUMANIAN PALACE

by Viola M. Jones
Journeys Beautiful, December 1926





Colorful, dreamy, exotic Roumania, with her colorful, exotic but far from dreamy queen! Land where nothing happens as the traveler plans—yet land where everything in the long run appears "almost too tempting to leave"



East and West of Europe meet in Roumanian art, as in this ancient city seal (left) and the modern village fountain with its stone arches (right)



Her Majesty had characteristically thrown herself into the proper pose . . . while the King gave the impression of a gentle, very lonely man



WHY GO to Roumania? Repeatedly the Hungarians had pressed this query. "You will be so uncomfortable," they unreservedly added. Why go? Jane and I always went where other tourists did not go and found the discomforts mere trifles compared with the joys of the unfamiliar. Colorful, dreamy, exotic Roumania was our goal and no amount of Hungarian disapproval could dissuade us.

And, then, we might meet the exotic Roumanian queen!

Our companion in the railroad carriage seating four, two facing two, and all shut in tightly from the other compartments by a closed door, was a high class, beautiful Hungarian lady of wealth. This was her first visit to Roumania since that hilly, prosperous portion of the country called Transylvania had been ceded to Roumania and taken from Hungary. Much of the bitterness of spirit that had been apparent in Hungary was clear to Jane and me now. With her face pressed close to the window-pane our fellow traveler tensely watched each bit of landscape bitterly: "Here is where I was born, on real Hungarian territory." Later: "Oh, see those glorious hills! There we had our country seat and spent all our summer as children. This is Hungary, my own Hungary. How can it be Roumania?" Exhausted from her emotion, she fell asleep until rudely wakened by the custom official who inspected every article that each one of us possessed and counted every bit of our money. Our Hungarian friend fared badly. She had a basket of silk gowns, laces and many hats. She explained that she was on her way to Sinaia, the hill spot where royalty and well-to-do Roumanians have their villas for summer pleasure. The custom official was very young and very punctilious in performing his duties. He insisted that she had too much and must pay. He called another official higher up. More time was wasted. Our friend paid.

Jane and I began to think that really we could look forward to a new travel experience and longed to set foot in Bucarest, our destination. Little did we think that our new experiences would begin long before that!

The next day at noon, as we were eating luncheon in the dining-car, anticipating our arrival in Bucarest at three, a terrific jolt threw every one from his seat. Food, dishes, drinks and people were one confused mass in the aisles! Fortunately no one was hurt in our car. We all rushed out. Ahead, the engine was throwing up volumes of steam from a river-bed into which it had plunged. The engine and baggage car together were down in the ravine and the bridge through which they had plunged was splintered to bits.

"Jane, how would you like to leave some baggage in that car down in the water?" said I.

"'Travel light' has never served its purpose better," answered Jane, and we seated ourselves on our small handbags and viewed the wreck and the beautiful mountainous country that we suddenly had been forced to accept as a stopping place. Not a house in sight!

"Bridges are always breaking in Roumania and wrecks are common. Nothing is ever inspected until it breaks," our Hungarian friend grumbled.

Despite the beauty of the landscape, we were growing a bit weary of sitting on our handbags when a hush passed over the waiting group. Men doffed their hats, every one jumped up from improvised seats! The uncovered heads somehow suggested a funereal end to our little accident.



Prince Nicholas—now the gay young man driving a high-powered car in America—as an artless Roumanian boy.



Ah! it was King Ferdinand and Prince Carol of Roumania with a military escort. Summering at Sinaia, a few miles away, they had motored over as soon as word reached them of the wreck. Tall and dignified, sober and concerned, the blue-uniformed king made his way in and out amongst the waiting groups, and a surgeon who accompanied him attended to the slightly injured. Then the royal party disappeared in their expensive motors.

"We made no mistake in coming to Roumania," I ventured, knowing Jane.

"Have you ever seen a better moving-picture?" she answered. A long line of laborers was coming up over the hill, each two carrying a heavy plank between them on their shoulders. On and on they came, from miles away, the long line of white planks gleaming like a shining ribbon making its way toward us. It was remarkable how quickly the planks formed a bridge over the engine. We all walked over it to an old box-car and there, huddled on the floor in the straw, bumped and rumbled for hours and supperless reached the Bucarest railroad station at two in the morning.

"Thank goodness we have reservations," said Jane, sleepily.

"Drive to the Athenée Palace Hotel," I said to the driver of a dilapidated droshka.

Through the deserted streets we sped and breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the lobby of the hotel.

To our consternation, the clerk would not give us a room by bribing or otherwise, and our telegram had had no effect. The hotel was filled, he nonchalantly said. He suggested the Continental. We drove on in the darkness and once more begged for a room. This time I slipped an American bill in the clerk's hand and a room was forthcoming.

"At least we are in Roumania," murmured Jane.

"Yes," I weakly answered.

The next morning, ready for new adventures, we walked out of our hotel and glanced up at "Grand Hotel!"

"Why, I thought we were in the Continental!" I exclaimed.

"It's better not to think in Roumania," wisely answered Jane.

"The old driver probably wanted to go to bed himself and so took matters into his own hands and deposited us where he saw fit."

No matter how we arrived, we were charmed with the color and life of the gay, pleasure-loving little capital and immediately felt a part of Little Paris. Even the shops on the lively Gallea Victoria are named after the famous stores in Paris. Lafayette Galleries was tucked away between two insignificant shop windows. And out along the Chaussée, the broad drive with overhanging trees on each side, the more fortunate Roumanians took their airing in low droshkas just as the Parisians enjoy the Bois. Sure enough, as we reached the end of the Chaussée, there was the Arc de Triomphe! How could Bucarest be Little Paris without an arch ? The royal palace is ugly with a thoroughly Parisian Mansard and dormers.



All Roumanian girls learn to embroider often in intricate designs and elaborate color harmonies. This ancient portrait panel is kept as a museum piece.



The dresses of the ladies all bore the Parisian stamp and the gay officers seemed to live to enjoy the tea shops, the bright sunshine, the general ease and lack of care. French was spoken on every side even more fluently than Roumanian. In fact, we met many Roumanians who did not know their own language. But in the heart of every Roumanian is the great pride of being descended from the Romans and the greatest mistake a stranger can make is to call them Slavic.

"Jane, look at Romulus and Remus!" I said, as we were driving through the congested quarter of the city.

There in the center of a square stood a queer old bronze statue of a wolf feeding the babies, Romulus and Remus, of Roman legend. Every Bucarest boy grows up with that statue and knows that he is Roman.

Weary at the end of the day, we drove up to the Athenée Palace Hotel, where we succeeded in persuading them to give us a room, and our emaciated old horse took on added energy as he made for the stylish entrance. Just as he made the door with a flourish, his feet gave way beneath him, and he fell flat on the cobbles.

Jane and I fled in consternation to the lobby and begged the clerk to go out and pay the driver. "The horses all fall down in Roumania," he mildly assured us.

We then walked into the large and well-appointed dining-room to see tall dripping candles standing in ordinary bottles on each table, the candles flickering and bending double in the summer heat. As the head waiter pompously ushered us to a seat he vouchsafed the information that the power-house had just burned down outside Bucarest and that there would not be an electric light for two days. As we toiled up five flights to our room we realized that for two days, too, the elevators would not be running for the same reason!

We were tempted to take a book from the well-lined shelves in the library and found that we held in our hands merely a wooden substitute!

But the next day we forgot the broken bridges, weak horses, candle light and all topsy-turvy Roumania in the joy of visiting Queen Marie at her country palace in Sinaia In a good train we climbed the mountain region. All through the country under the soft blue sky we fell under the charm of the real Roumania of mystery. We thought every peasant girl prettier than every other. Their bright brown eyes and shiny brown hair, lithe, graceful bodies and soft voices gave them personalities all their own. With red 'kerchiefs binding flowing hair, with often a roguish flower tucked under an ear, blouses embroidered in many colors and aprons woven of green and blues and reds, they were vivid pictures. Often we saw them walking under shady tree with distaffs in hand, or getting, water at the village well. Roumanian girls and women often plant the cotton seed, spin and weave their own cloth of cotton or silk and then beautify it wit] embroidery of many colors.

As we walked through the park leading to the palace where mountain streams dashed over the rocks and rustic bridges through cathedral pines added to the picturesque beauty, we suddenly came upon the king's guard in uniform sauntering along to the soft, haunting melody of the flutes.

And then—through the portal] of the medieval rustic palace with its old-world carvings—past it, doorman with long white beard and red uniform! We were cm charmed ground at last!

Jane and I had been invited to luncheon.

Graciously the lady-in-waiting informed us that the Queen had forgotten that this was Prince Nicholas's birthday, the brother of Prince Carol and that she would have to be at their home for the birthday party.

"We are still in Roumania,' Jane whispered.

But surely a queen can forget!

After a pleasant luncheon with the ladies-in-waiting, we were told that Her Majesty had returned and were ushered into a large library.

Although Queen Marie had just stepped from her car, she had characteristically thrown herself into the proper pose. We saw a beautiful fair-haired lady in peasant dress, seated in a high-backed carved armchair, bending over an old illumined volume that rested upon a couch. As we entered, however, her vicious black spaniel crouched by her side snapped and snarled and completely ruined the royal picture! Her Majesty was quite concerned with the fact that she was overcome with ennui and was troubled that her usual energy had disappeared. But she had sufficient vitality to talk cordially and informally of her great desire to visit America.

The last glimpse we had of the brown medieval palaces as we left the park was the turreted Carmen Sylva home.

And sharply outlined against the sunset sky, walking along one of the stone walls, his dog his only companion was the tall, gentle, lonely looking King Ferdinand.

Back in Bucarest the next day we explored the big city park and saw on an elevation in front of an historical museum the grave of Roumania's Unknown Soldier.

Then that evening we had the novel experience of hearing Enescu, Roumania's great violinist, who comes each year to America, play to a crowded house in the dark, with the King and Queen sitting in a red velvet-hung box in the rear, and the aisles packed with students, who are admitted free in Roumania.

Sorry, indeed, were we to leave the temperamental "Little Paris" the next morning, even though we sped to Constanza, the seaside resort on the Black Sea. With its gay people, boardwalk, fog horn, wild surf and Casino, Constanza is a veritable Atlantic City of Roumania. But in contrast to this pleasure-seeking was the grim statue of Ovid that stood in the square. Roumanians proudly said that he lived there and read one of his poems from that spot. So we carried away with us this last reminder of this little country in all things Roman and the realization that volatile Roumania is a country of contrasts, of topsy-turviness never to be understood by a matter-of-fact New Worlder—but the more lovable for all that.


Four of the five illustrations for this article furnished from Roumanian originals through the courtesy of the Roumanian Consulate of New York City