Bucharest: City of contrasts

Coming with the bus from the airport, you see wide streets, big roundabouts and beautiful parks, but when you get off the bus, the crazy peak-hour traffic hits you in the face, especially with drivers who like to hoot at each other.

It did not look or sound much different the next morning at about 10:00.

Apparently many Romanians prefer to use their own cars, instead of public transport.

We made a map mistake and got off at the wrong bus stop, so we had to walk a very long way with our suitcases. But it was in the beautiful Victoriei Street with all its smart shops.

Victoriei Street

Victoriei Street

Along the way we saw restored as well as dilapidated ornate old buildings, drab socialist style buildings from the communist era, but also new modern buildings, all standing side by side. In between there were many churches, some small, some big.

One of the churches that survived the Communist era with a drab building from that time next to it

One of the churches that survived the Communist era with a drab building from that time next to it

The churches surprised us. Apparently, Romanians could still go to church right through its 40 years of communism. Today, more than 85% say they are Orthodox Christians.

Quite a few of the tourist attractions relate to the communist era, such as the “Palace of the Parliament” and Revolution Square.

The Palace of Parliament which is registered in the Guiness Book of Records as the second largest administrative building after the Pentagon

The Palace of Parliament which is registered in the Guiness Book of Records as the second largest administrative building after the Pentagon

Tour guide Vlad Ciotoran showing us Revolution Square and the building from which Communist dictator Ceausescu made his last speech before the fall of his regime in 1989

Tour guide Vlad Ciotoran showing us Revolution Square and the building from which Communist dictator Ceausescu made his last speech before the fall of his regime in 1989

We loved the Peasant Museum, especially the weekend arts and craft market, where lots of locals go to buy.

Many products on sale were part of Orthodox Easter celebrations, such as as painted eggs and little baskets for the eggs. Romanians seem to be very proud of their traditions and culture.

Traditional Romanian arts and crafts at the Pheasant Museum's Sunday market

Traditional Romanian arts and crafts at the Pheasant Museum’s Sunday market

We were fortunate to receive two such Easter eggs from our friends, Alin and Mihaela Nemtisor, as gifts. Mihaela also gave Carien a traditional bracelet with beadwork. It was interesting to realise that it’s not only in Southern Africa where there is traditional beadwork.

Painted eggs, a proud tradition of the Romanians

Painted eggs, a proud tradition of the Romanians

Thanks to tourist guide Vlad Ciotoran, whom we met on Facebook, we took a short walking tour to look at some of the most important buildings. Vlad showed us some hidden treasures, such as a small monastery with buildings built right around it in the communist era.

Another friendly person who went out of her way to help us, was Alexandra Stoica, whose company is the Bialetti agent for Romania. One of the main purposes of our trip was for Helenus to buy one of these Italian coffee makers in a funky colour not available in South Africa. We walked out with three!

Alexandra waited patiently while we decided, and when we greeted, she gave us her business card and said if we needed anything on our trip, we could contact her.

A week later, we bumped into her in the old town of Bucharest called Lipscani. It felt like meeting an old friend.

Lipscani with it's narrow streets lines with restaurants and coffee shops

Lipscani with it’s narrow streets lined with restaurants and coffee shops

Lipscani with it's narrow streets lined with restaurants and coffee shops

Lipscani with it’s narrow streets lined with restaurants and coffee shops

Again she was so helpful. We wanted to eat at a famous historical restaurant which Alin and Mihaela took us to a week ago, but it was closed due to Easter, so Alexandra showed us another traditional restaurant, which we would have never found on our own. Of course we had to eat “mici” again, the skinless sausage Alin and Mihaela introduced us to.

Our experience of Bucharest was positive overall. Yes, there are beggars, as there are in many cities in the world, and yes, we saw a few dogs that could have been strays – the city reportedly had thousands of stray dogs till a few years ago.

But we did not feel unsafe – many people seem to think it is a very dangerous city. Maybe as South Africans we know to always watch our things. We were scammed though, on a train trip to Transylvania. It it did not cost us too much, but that is a story for another time.

Cismigiu Parc close to the city centre

Cismigiu Parc close to the city centre

In Bucharest it was easy to find our way on the metro, but the bus service had us waiting longer. This made it a bit difficult to visit all the recommended places.

Many people were friendly and helpful.

We experienced it as a city with an interesting mix of history, buildings, parks and 24 hour activity in its old town Lipscani. And of course we found a couple of good wine bars.

Article and photos by Carien Fourie Kruger and Helenus Kruger.

© Helenus Kruger Photography