I’ve been to Bucharest three times.
The first two occasions were to visit my friend Cristina, who’s one of the best people I’ve ever met on my travels. We crossed paths during surf camp in Algarve and enjoyed a dramatic sunset together. I was attracted to the way she laughed – loudly and carelessly and with so much joy!
Since then we’ve reunited twice in her home city, Bucharest; both times when it was cold and snowing. Winter in Romania sounds dreadful but because Cristina was such a wonderful host, I loved it anyway. Plus she served me a colorful breakfast in bed and took me snowboarding.
In May this year I was blessed with the opportunity to visit again as part of the Experience Bucharest programme. I saw Bucharest in a new light (or rather, more light..), reconnected with old friends, and made some new ones. Bucharest is more fun in the sun!
Here’s what I did and what I loved:
THE VARIETY OF BUILDING SHAPES
Some buildings looked grand and decorated whilst others looked worn and unloved yet appealing. There were many beautiful historical structures that stood proud in the city. Others looked so ugly but in an intriguing way – it was funny to imagine how they were permitted to exist in the first place.
There was just so much variety. Kinda like visiting a charity shop, where you have to sift through junk to find the good stuff but then sometimes stumble upon a rubbish item that “actually, this looks good in a weird way..”
COTROCENI ARCHITECTURAL TREASURE HUNT
A small group of us participated in what they called an architectural treasure hunt. We were split into three teams before being given a list of items to look for and questions which answers could be found by taking an observant walk around the quiet neighbourhood of Cotroceni. This required a lot of patience.
I’d never heard of Cotroceni prior to this and I wondered why Cristina withheld this little gem from me. So as to be polite, I wondered in my head.
Cotroceni is apparently where wealthy people have large houses and their streets are lined with leafy green trees. Cristina and I had a great time wandering around while Mihai, her boyfriend, did almost all of the treasure hunting – which involved spotting a boat-shaped house and that didn’t really look like a boat.
^Cristina with Mihai
Overall, I really enjoyed this activity, although I wish I remembered more names of the various architectural styles that were present. One of them was definitely a ‘Haunted House’ style.
More info about the tour – which is mostly self-guided – here!
BEAUTIFUL DECAY TOUR
^Top left: I am apparently staring at penis graffiti
This was a walking tour that took you to Bucharest’s historical and industrial landmarks, focusing on the abandoned and ‘decayed’.
The highlight for me (and everyone else, I think!) was a very large, multi-level building that used to be a palace. There seemed to be a lot of pre-loved palaces around the city.
This particular used-to-be palace looked like a dump from the outside. I mean it looked like any big old building. Entry was through a small door off the sidewalk that was guarded by an old man, leading into a dark corridor that was occupied by some suspicious smells.
The tour was described as ‘for the adventurous’ so I walked along making sure not to look at all fazed.
Luckily, the corridor was short.
It was BEAUTIFUL inside. Rich in textures and sounds and shades of grey and brown. There was also a lack of any more suspicious smells.
The floor was crunchy and wonderful. It was like walking on giant pieces of cereal except that it was shards of broken glass and other construction debris that would not taste good with milk.
The stairway going up (to the four or so levels we visited) had no handrails and I think there was even a hole in the ground at some point. This really made me feel like I was brave and adventurous.
I loved this tour a lot.
For more info: Beautiful Decay Tour
One thing that surprised me about Bucharest this time around was how GREEN it was!
I always imagined that it was a pretty dull city in terms of the colour spectrum, considering its Communist past. Communism seems like a monochromatic situation, right? I also saw a lot of snow and concrete during my previous two visits under the blanket of winter, so I guess my perception was skewed.
Anyway. Cismigiu Park.. it’s a beautifully leafy park not so much unlike Regents Park in London, except it has a vending machine for fresh orange juice so it’s slightly better.
Here are some other green spaces I loved..
Bucharest seems to have a big Secret Garden theme going on at the moment, and Gradina Eden (Eden Garden) seems to be one of the best known.
And possibly biggest.
It’s slightly wild and untamed yet full of wooden chairs and tables set out in a very organised way. There is probably enough space to seat 1000 people but that’s just my estimate and I am not very good at estimating. But there were A LOT of tables and chairs. Amongst a jungle of greenery.
It has a super relaxed atmosphere. I wondered why there weren’t any beds or bed-shaped things installed because it seemed to be the perfect place to take a nap.
Gradina Eden can be accessed by walking towards the behind of the centrally located and neoclassical Stirbei Palace, which looks like a another member of the city’s Abandoned Palaces Club. Apparently cool parties are held in the basement sometimes.
The people in Bucharest must be constantly faced with the dilemma of ‘which old palace should I have a party in tonight?’.
Sometimes old buildings are turned into cool burger joints. MODELiER is such an example.
I had such a fun time hanging out with Cristina and other friends who I had met with her on my previous trip (at a high-school reunion in a dodgy underground bar that served pork crackling that somehow still tasted good despite being exposed to the clouds of cigarette smoke floating around inside).
The burgers at MODELiER were good (they had hot sauce) and the cocktails even better.
Past the house there is outdoor seating and a terrace, a swing, and.. an in-house DJ! The music was the kind that made you feel cool and want to stay longer so you can continue to feel cool. I wanted to eat and dance at the same time. This is possible with good multi-tasking skills and a bib.
So this old building was turned into a brunch spot, Dianei 4, that also serves speciality coffee and craft beer.
The space is in keeping with the Secret Garden theme and the interior of the house had been turned into a bar. The walls were full of character and texture, which I loved.
It’s too bad that the food was mostly dismal. My egg yolks were overcooked. I think all the eggs on the table were overcooked.
Daryl and Mindy of 2FoodTrippers tried to have eggs in several places around Bucharest and the conclusion was that they should look for runny eggs elsewhere.
My avocado slices were crunchy and could have been an interesting addition to the crunchiness of an abandoned palace floor.
I did love the space though and perhaps I’d prefer enjoying a drink or two there without food.
^From top: Street dance party in the old town / Parcul Herăstrău / Fake DJ / DESCHIS Gastrobar
The amazing team at Experience Bucharest put on a party every night – which is no easy feat considering the number of people involved in the programme – but some nights I escaped so I could spend more time with Cristina etc and be taken to more local spots with good house music.. or music I’d enjoy more.
I am that person who hates anything pop, R&B, hip hop, and rap. Hip hop has got to be the worst. Anything that’s in any Top 40 chart or that has a high production accompanying music video = No. Meaning I cannot go to most popular clubs.
Baraka Bar & Lounge @ Herăstrău Park
Herăstrău Park is a giant park in the north of Bucharest where… bones of the woolly mammoth have been found in the area before! It has a long history dating back to Paleolithic times.
The park now is open 24 hours. This means you are free to take a leisurely stroll at 3am if you wish.
A few bars/clubs have opened up inside the park, including Baraka, which lets you dance until 4am on a Saturday night. I didn’t stay that late but I had fun!
This was MY FAVOURITE new discovery in Bucharest.
I don’t have any photos of the rooftop of the industrial-looking building, where we danced, under a giant moon and fairy lights. I loved the music!
Too bad the party ended early due to some noise complaints. We moved inside the building where I pretended to be a DJ (pics above) and did not order any drinks from the bar that was not open.
We hoped the party on the roof would restart, but it didn’t. I wasn’t too bummed because I’d been feeling pretty worn out and was looking forward to getting back to my VERY LARGE hotel room..
I LOVED THIS HOTEL, including the font they used for their name.
The location is perfect – right next to Cismigiu Park and only a few minutes on foot to the Old Town. This hotel was a huge part of why my time in Bucharest was so enjoyable.
When I checked in late at night, the receptionist told me with a funny look that if I had any problems with the room to let him know and he could switch me to another one.
I went up the lift thinking that maybe I’d been given a crappy room with a view of a stairwell or something.
I opened the door without any high expectations and was greeted with a huge suite. I had my own living room and kitchen, a spacious bathroom, and two front-facing balconies.
That sneaky little receptionist! But it was a good trick.
At the end of every long day I would fantasise about returning to my room to do nothing.
Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta 38
OTHER FUN THINGS
I don’t have many photos of all the people I met and danced with but I take that as a good sign that we were too preoccupied with other things. Like living in real life and talking to each other.
I conclude this post with the two best things about Bucharest:
Papanași, a traditional Romanian dessert which is pretty much big donut things topped with soft cheese and sour jam.
I LOVE BUCHAREST
Now that I’ve seen how alive Bucharest can be in fairer weather, it is one of my favourite city-break destinations in Europe.
So many new spaces – new bars, cafes, shops, restaurants – have opened up in just two to three years. The people, especially the younger generation, are beginning to feel more passionate and proud of their city, and it shows. I feel it! I feel new energy that’s more confident and vibrant and that makes me want to stay and play.
I especially felt this new buzz in the team at Experience Bucharest (largely made up of volunteers, too), who showed off the city like it was a shiny new toy even though it was something that they’d known all (or most of) their lives.
Cristina herself tells me that she is now more excited about living in Bucharest, whereas when I’d met her there the first time, she was mostly resigned to it.
I love Bucharest!
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*This post has been supported by Experience Bucharest