I know… it’s taken forever to write this. Almost as long as it took me to get to Romania! :-) The country had long been on my radar, especially after watching the 1989 Revolution unfold on tv. Images of the Ceauşescus’ execution were shockingly graphic in those pre-internet days. I may have been only 19, but I wanted to know more & knew that I’d be in Romania one day.
The opportunity came by complete chance, as many good things do. In 2006, Andreea & Cris contacted me to guide them around Buenos Aires. They lived in San Francisco & worked for Google but were both born & educated in Romania… incredible people who love to travel. We kept in touch, they eventually returned to live in Bucureşti (Bucharest) to raise their first child, I followed Andreea’s wonderful photoblog & treasured their invitation to see the city first hand.
Finally in 2012 I found the perfect moment to go. Darío needed to be in Ruse, Bulgaria to attend a conference & the nearest airport was in Bucureşti. Fate! I went a few days early to explore the city & to visit Andreea & Cris.
So much of what I read online about Bucureşti painted a grim picture: Communist-era decay, little in the way of architectural preservation, people chased by stray dogs & a general sense gloom & doom. Surely that couldn’t be true… I’d seen Andreea’s photos & talked with her a lot about the city. After one week there, I can honestly say that Bucureşti must be one of the most underrated capital cities in Europe. No doubt, there’s much that could be improved. But my overall impression was that of a city with lots of Beaux-Arts influence, followed by a hearty embrace of Modernist design (a personal fave) & quite a few decades of decline. Sound familiar? It should because Bucureşti turned out to be amazingly similar to Buenos Aires.
Andreea & little Leia showed me around the central part of the city on the first day, & I hopped in the car whenever Cris had an errand to run. But for the most part I took the subway. And walked. And walked some more. Even though there were lots of French-inspired buildings that looked a little worse for wear, no one can deny what a glorious city Bucureşti must have been at the beginning of the 20th century. Just like Buenos Aires.
The surviving Modernism in the city truly amazed me. Individual houses were in much better shape than larger office or apartment buildings, but wow. Impressive stuff. One of the most invaluable skills a traveler can possess is knowing how to look past grime & neglect or through some questionable urban planning. Much of that can be resolved. I remember how so few people understood why I fell in love with a run-down & ramshackle Lisbon in 1998. After a decade of investment, many now consider it to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Following Lisbon’s example, Bucureşti could certainly recapture some of its former glamour.
Abundant parks make an easy getaway for everyone. You can even pay your respects to Michael Jackson at Parkul Herăstrău:
The Communist period was less than kind to the city & nothing proves that more than the Casa Poporului built by Ceauşescu. What a monster. Even though I wasn’t dying to visit, I was curious about the interior. The guided tour left a lot to be desired & the admission fee was ridiculous, but feeling like an ant inside such a massive building was fascinating:
You know me… I can’t go somewhere without visiting the main cemetery. Bellu did not disappoint. Although photography is prohibited, I managed to sneak quite a few photos:
One of the best parts of the trip was just hanging out with Andreea, Cris & Leia. They showed me classic Romanian movies, helped me with language questions & fed me such good food. Cris’s mom lives a few blocks away, & she cooked so much that I felt like part of the family. I think Ursula put on a few pounds:
I can’t thank them enough for such a fantastic introduction to Romania. I need to return to visit the Black Sea, wander through Transylvania & maybe walk through some of the gorgeous mountain ranges. Hopefully another six years won’t pass before my next visit, & this post inspires others to explore Bucureşti!
Favorite museums: Muzeul de Artă Storck with beautiful Art Deco statues & sketches of their trip to Portugal + the Romanian Peasant Museum with dozens of traditional costumes & Communist era art/propaganda.
Favorite architecture walks: Bulevardul Dacia with a lot of Modernism + houses around Parkul Carol
Extra: For anyone interested, over 50 of the best trip photos have been uploaded to Flickr.