A Day In Bucharest
Midnight in Bucharest. It is Friday night, an end to a dreadfully long week and the beginning of a much awaited weekend. I am suddenly wide awake and decide to go for a walk in the park across from my place. Summertime in Bucharest is warm, and the city’s 38 lovely parks allow for ample outdoor activities. Herastrau, the park next to my place, is the largest park and circles a beautiful lake. A wide variety of restaurants, nightclubs and sports amenities adorn this park. I am in exploration mode and tonight, as I am strolling, I suddenly find myself amidst rush hour traffic. Smack in the middle of the park. Cars, taxis, men and women dressed with a sense of clear purpose, perfumes, scents, hopes, hustle, bustle, a live band, high energy. I edge closer to the activity and see a nightclub called “Le Gaga”. Ah ha. Like Ibiza, the action only begins after midnight. I get back home by 1.00 am, somewhat shocked that the quiet, relaxed and romantic evening park turned into an uninhibited wild and passionate seduction scene at night. Ooh la la. That is Bucharest, for you. Understated, and full of surprise.
The next morning, I step onto the balcony with my espresso, and I see that the park is full of joggers, cyclists, roller bladders, baby trams, gardeners trimming flower beds, and I yet again appreciate the 3rd face of the park. From romance in the evening to party at night to family in the morning. Love it. A park for all seasons, multiple reasons, used 7×24, “always on”. Good stuff. I see life in the restaurant at the entrance of the park called Fattoria, a place I frequent.
The waiters come in and I recognize them despite their brightly coloured clothes. Soon they will go back into their black and white uniforms. The daily fresh vegetables are being delivered; one can see and feel the preparation as the kitchen stages yet another wonderful Saturday brunch. Out on the terrace the white table cloths with bottle green canopies and bright flowers provide a perfect setting for a lazy lunch. I love this Italian restaurant; it has aroused my appetite for Pizza again, after many years of abstention. LOL
Later that day, I meet Viju and Adela for our much anticipated walk in Bucharest. They have graciously offered their time for me to experience Bucharest through their eyes. What a treat! The temperature is perfect We planned the afternoon walk and I was amazed and most touched by the amount of preparation Adela and Viju had done for what I had thought was to be a most purely casual afternoon. I am thrilled but somehow not surprised because I find people here extraordinarily kind, very thoughtful, and just genuinely helpful.
The first stop was the Canadian embassy. Of course that won my heart, home sweet home. This part of the city is full of heritage buildings and is a great reminder of the rich history of this city. Two minutes walk to the east, Gradina Icoanei Park welcomes pedestrians in a cozy, familiar atmosphere. Back in 1873 when the park was opened to the public this was considered to be a peripheral area of the old Bucharest – now the small park lies in the very heart of the city.
Walking in the garden was lovely but does not last long…we go from place of play to place of pray and reach The Anglican Church, a small piece of England right in the middle of Bucharest.
The streets in this neighborhood are named after famous artists whose passion and expression lives even today. The people of Bucharest have now come together as a community and are appealing to the city to restore this whole part of the city to its original form and reviving it as a pedestrian zone. A festival called Street Delivery took place several weeks ago when artists and people from all walks of life came together for a weekend to show their commitment. I recall walking at midnight with Daniel and we saw painters, booksellers, musicians, all out there, just for the love of the city. Passion beyond belief.
We emerged at Magheru Boulevard one of the widest boulevards of the city. Walking on the right hand side walk we find the ever surprising Carturesti, a book concept store, art gallery and tea house under the same roof. I love this space. The back entrance is like the front entrance, thoroughly charming, with paintings in the backyard wall, a small outdoor coffee shop, lovely flowers and ivy. It is an old house now converted to a multipurpose space, but has maintained its old kitchen.
We leave Carturesti behind after exploring its every corner and carefully cross Magheru Boulevard. By now we have covered a third of our route – espresso is required. Cafepedia is the perfect place to have coffee, relax and get acquainted with the interior of the XIX century building which houses the coffee shop. I loved Cafepedia, it had all the warmth and coziness of a 19th century coffee shop but equipped with the amenities (desserts, not digitize☺) of the 21st century. I sit down with Viju and Adela and they told me more stories about Bucharest and its rich history, providing with a much deeper appreciation of the city.
From Cafepedia we head for our next destination: Cismigiu Park. The journey takes us through Piata Amzei flea market, one of the oldest and most famous in the city. I am in heaven – with more variety of flowers than I had ever seen in my life. And what more, it had one of my all time favourites, sunflowers. Thousands of them….one would think Van Gogh derived his inspiration in Romania. We chat with the flower sellers, who were smiling cheerfully. Really heartwarming.
Outside again, the narrow street opens up to Victoria Boulevard which crosses the city from North to South. We pass by the National Art Museum, National Library and Palace Concert hall. All these historic buildings are found in the Revolutiei Square where Ceausescu gave his last public speech. This is my favourite square in Bucharest, boasting a mix of great history, great restaurants, a wonderful piano bar, and footsteps to almost anywhere in the city. The majestic Athenee sits there, proud of its history – a testimonial to Romanians who gave a penny each to help its restoration.
The National Music University named after the most famous Romanian composer – George Enescu, discreetly hides its large building behind century old trees – as we walk past the building there’s a violin playing inside. As I write Bucharest is hosting the international music festival George Enescu.
Just a few feet away Cismigiu Park opens its gates for visitors. Its flower gardens extend 17 hectares right in the middle of Bucuresti since 1847. It seems like Bucharest is full of parks and fits the temperament of people who love life and the outdoors.
It is now 3 hours into our walk and I have realized I am with an avid photographer, Viju. He has his camera and I am enjoying his and Adela’s impressions of the city as much as I am enjoying my own experiences. None of us will admit it but we are a bit tired, so we hop onto a bus that takes us in front of the Law University which provided its first law graduates in 1854. From here the Opera House is just around the corner in the Heroes Square. We gaze at it from a far and walk down to the Metro station and step into a train.The Opera House got us talking about singing and Adela confessed she sang as a child. Well, we heard her sing and were stunned at the beautiful voice. This is my most memorable moment of the day.
We make our way to the entrance of the old city centre, Lipscani. As we enter it through one of the side streets, we see the Students’ Church, a place where students go to pray before their exams. We go in and I am transformed, and could have sworn I was in my own congregation from my faith. The singing was remarkably similar to our traditional ginans, the chorus as appealing, the head scarves, the gestures, the rosaries, the incense, all making me feel I was in one of our mosques. This is when I am reminded just how much of a mix of East and West this city is. Like Turkey.
We settle down for our final chat at Van Gogh Café, debrief the day and decide it is not complete without a drink of Braga. So we walked around the beautiful old city in search of it…and tasted it. I will not tell you anything more, but to ask you to taste it as well and drop me a note letting me know what you think.
I had a whole new appreciation for the city and its history after living it vicariously through Adela’s and Viju’s eyes. We said goodbye as the sun was going down and the one thing I knew was that I would never forget this day. People ask me if I am happy in Bucharest. How could I not be? The people are extraordinary, and as passionate about life as I am.