From Buzau to Bucharest on bikes was a day and a half of dull cycling – we have, of course, recently been completely spoilt with amazing scenery. Nothing much to see in terms of landscape except for a few unbelievably patriotic villages where the chairs and benches at the side of the road, the fences and even the household dustbins were in the colours of the Romanian flag. All rather bizarre!
And in the journey of us lifecyclers the day was not without its dramas. Basically our journey to Snagov on the Friday, which would take us to within 40km of Bucharest was a tale of three bridges. The first bridge was closed off completely for roadworks (there was, in fact, no bridge!), so it meant a detour that added 30km to our journey, on what would already be a big day in terms of kilometres. This detour meant having to cross another small bridge and from the GPS we couldn’t figure out if it was crossable – so we had to take the chance to cycle 15km there to find that out. Thankfully it was – so we were another step closer to our end destination. The final hurdle was getting across the A3 motorway, which was the final bridge on the trail and thankfully we had no issues there so it was a straight road into Snagov having completed our biggest day yet – 135km. Even though it was all on flat roads we were pretty shattered when we got to our end destination just west of Snagov. We were feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves so figured a celebratory meal was in order – plus we had our 2-year wedding anniversary to celebrate. And as has been the case throughout Romania, we had some fabulous food and a great night.
Next morning we had to dash along a busy road for about 30 minutes early in our journey, but apart from that the cycling was generally uneventful. Made it to Bucharest at lunchtime on Saturday, unknowingly cycling in through Victory Square which was the location of the recent protests about government corruption (and just about every protest since communist times). Once checked in, showered and snoozed it was time to meet our local “host” Cristina who had kindly agreed to help us experience the city. Meeting destination was a roof top bar in the centre of town, and although it was a bit chilly and windy it was a fantastic meeting point with great views of the city.
You know those people that within minutes of meeting you feel like you are old friends?? Cristina was one of those poeple! Apart from the fact that Nigel and I were so excited to be in the company of a new person, it was just an endless 3-way conversation about life, the world and the universe…we didn’t even get to hear her recommendations for what to do and see in Bucharest, so we had to meet for brunch on Sunday to do that…followed by a visit to an eclair shop! Yes folks a shop dedicated to eclairs…I need say no more except that it’s difficult to have just one!
Cristina has lived in London, has travelled a lot, is interested in people and is very generous with her time, so we had a fantastic time with her. We also had a farewell dinner with her on our last night in the city at a great fish restaurant in her local area…and were the last people to leave the restaurant, with the security guard locking up after we left!! We hope we can return the favour in some way another time because she has definitely made our visit Bucharest very special. And thank you to her sister Diana for hooking us up! (Note our wind burnt faces – forgot the sun cream on one of the days into Bucharest!).
Bucharest as a city is very interesting and very different to any of the other major cities we have visited on our trip so far. It’s not the prettiest, despite being dubbed “Little Paris” because of its architecture, a lot of which was unfortunately destroyed in the 70s and 80s under the Nicolae Ceausescu regime….and from what we learned on our walking tour seems to have been the most brutal of communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain. Among the beautiful buildings there are fair amount of concrete blocks and the most graffiti we have seen to date, but it is the history that is so recent that makes it seem different. One of the most intersting/comical facts that we learned was that they managed to move entire churches when Ceausescu was demolishing all the old buildings and replacing them with concrete apartment blocks. Apparently when people resisted the demolition of churches Ceausescu said that as long as he couldn’t see the churches they could stay….so literally one brilliant engineer devised a way to put entire buildings on rails and rolling them to new locations hidden behind or between the high rise buildings – and only with about 20 labourers involved and often with people inside! In doing so he managed to save 13 churches – why have I never heard about something so brilliant before? Brilliant article for anyone interested…
One other rather sad fact about this time is that 40,000 people were evicted from the old buildings with just one day’s notice before they were demolished.
Saying all that, the city has a nice feel to it and there is a nice buzz around it – although Sunday mornings are completely dead. Oddly it has a busy main road going through one of the main parks with fountains in the middle, which is really pretty, and the pedestrianised old town reminded us of Temple Bar in Dublin, especially with all the Guinness signs!
It also has the second biggest government adminisstion building in the world after the Pentagon, which is ginormous and impossible to capture in a photo as it goes as far back as it is wide – as well as a huge underground bit. Another of Ceausescu’s vanity projects!
Finally I couldn’t write abrout Bucharest without mentioning the driving and parking. It must be a nightmare to drive here because of how badly the cars are parked just about EVERYWHERE…making it difficult to even walk around as they are parked on the footpaths and just about anywhere there is a space. Nightmare! A typical scene is shown in the picture below – that’s the pavement that the cars are parked on, sort of!
That aside Bucharest is a great city – well worth a visit in so many ways, and we will definitely be back!