Hard to describe the energy the few days spent in Bucharest gave me! Just when I thought spring was my favourite time of the year to visit, the gorgeous October sun and the golden leaves cracking under my feet proved differently. Not only did I choose a different season, I also decided – not without hesitation – to stay in a rented apartment. This made me feel like on a real holiday, rather than back to my hometown. The inviting weather allowed for long, unrushed walks when I would gaze at old houses along leafy streets, trying to capture their beauty on camera. Back to the apartment, I would relax with a glass of wine and some music, writing down the avalanche of impressions only Bucharest can provoke. Hopefully, you will get a feeling of it through this post.
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October 23rd, Bucharest
I had to shed a tear when seeing Romanian land through the plane’s window for the first time, soon before landing in Bucharest a couple of days ago. It became a certainty that I was coming back home.
My sister waited for me at Piața Romană. By the time I got off the bus my head was already full of random fragments of Romanian lives – all overheard from people incessantly talking on the phone during the ride from the airport to the city centre. Some girl was meeting a friend to go home and make French fries together. Some man was advising the person at the other end of the line to eat grapes because grapes were good. I listened with a smile on my face, reassured by the easiness and authenticity of relationships between my fellow countrymen.
I checked in to my Airbnb apartment quite hastily, for fear restaurants might close before I had the chance to grab something to eat. It must have been shortly after 7 pm when, seated on high, wooden bar stools at the communal table at Salon, in a decor both elegant and industrial, my sister and I were enjoying a glass of rosé and a variety of international “tapas”, from aubergine salad and hummus to fries and bruschetti with cheese and tomatoes. I could see that most tables around us were booked starting 8.30 pm. Such an indulgence for a Thursday evening! Around us, a most stylish clientele and waiters with beards and tattoos. I felt like some sort of a rebel in my jeans, t-shirt, and flat boots. Most importantly, I felt happy to be back to Bucharest and reunited with my sister.
The following morning found me making coffee in the kitchen of my adoptive home. I drank it while taking a closer look around. The apartment is located in a new building in the old side of town, not far from Piața Romană. Walking from one room to the other, from one corner to the next, I am captivated by the abundance of details: old photographs of family and favourite artists – hard to tell where fiction ends and reality starts – lamps of various shapes and sizes casting a warm light across the walls, china coffee cups and crystal wine glasses, plants, books, candles, incense. Everything you need to feel spoilt, everything in sight. It’s a highly feminine home, much like the ones I’ve seen in Paris, where I feel like a fish in the water, but can easily imagine my boyfriend deeming it as too hipsterish and impractical.
I had a lunch appointment with Diana planned for later in the day, but before that, I wanted to take a walk in the area and discover it, because strangely enough, I had never set foot in this part of town before. The street names sounded like a melody in my head: Autumn Street, Hope Street, Harmony Street, Future Street, Light Street. What my eyes were seeing was even better: old villas of generous size, with as many architectural variations as the succession of foreign influences Bucharest had been subjected to throughout history – Ottoman, Byzantine, Baroque – but also Romanian Renaissance houses, in the so-called Brâncovenesc style.
The light had a tint of yellow and sun rays pierced through the golden crowns of trees like lasers. I could hear the leaves cracking under my feet, yet my eyes were stuck above, at the walls and gates covered in reddish-brown ivy. Unlike the busy avenues Bucharest is well known and blamed for, these streets seem from another era. And so they are, indeed. It’s an era I can only imagine, and yet I feel that it belongs to me, the same way Bucharest does.
I almost got lost when I realised it was time to head over to Universității to meet my friend. My phone failed, but one can always rely on the generosity and expertise of Bucharest people. First I asked a young lady, she told me to cross the street. On the other side of the street I asked an elderly woman, she told me to walk ahead, then turn left. I found the bus stop I was looking for.
The bus itself was a fair representation of the city’s human layers. There were students, pensioners, middle-aged people, each with different subjects of interest, different tone of voice, and different command of the language. My favourite were the two teenagers at my back, talking about school, tests, teachers, and their parents’ houses. Young people in Bucharest do talk a lot about school.
I had lunch with Diana at Dianei 4. We sat outside, on the terrace, which can more appropriately be called a garden, for the building that today accommodates a café is this gorgeous villa reminding of the city’s glorious days. We had eggs and coffee, leaves falling over our heads. At a table nearby, some students drank cola and smoked cigarettes while browsing handwritten notebooks. I told Diana how much in love I was with the city. She needed no explanations. She knew it all too well from her own experience, one that brought her back to Bucharest after several years spent in Amsterdam.
I said goodbye to Diana, but was not ready to leave yet. Instead, I went for a walk around Piața Universității, where students chatted in front of the University building and pigeons gathered around the fountain hoping for some breadcrumbs. I could not have enough of the beautiful light reflecting into the water and all around.
I must have lost the meaning of time. The evening found me on the streets still, closer to Piața Romană. I had planned to meet my sister and Laura for drinks and maybe dinner in the garden at Shift, but I arrived in the area much earlier, to allow enough time for exploration. Just like in the morning, I was in awe by everything I was seeing. Different streets, same magical feeling.
My sister, who is trying to convince me to stay in Amsterdam because “once you’ve lived in Bucharest long enough, you grow tired of the cool places and then what?” has just bought her own apartment in the city. The place is currently under construction, but we went to see it anyway, on Saturday morning.
She then wanted to take me to Deschis Gastrobar, a hip place nearby, to have a bite on their rooftop terrace. We arrived shortly after opening time, but were told they would be closed for another 30 minutes. We did not wait. Instead, we went to Simbio pe roți (Simbio on Wheels), a food truck placed in front of the same building, facing Dâmbovița river. Seated on beer garden benches, we enjoyed a warm brie and quince chutney sandwich and coffee. The weather was summerish, yet I could not see anyone else wearing a t-shirt but me. Every now and then, some artsy girl would drop by our table to tell us that designer X’s presentation has just started inside, at the Entrepreneurs Café, and we were invited to join. Obviously, we were not interested. All we wanted to do was eat and talk. The idea of having all those bars, cafés, and creative outlets in what used to be a former cotton factory was nevertheless inspired, a breath of fresh air for the city.
Bucharest is surely changing. I just hope there will still be enough places that will stick to the aesthetic reminding of Byzantium or Paris – a natural match for Bucharest – rather than they all adhere to the Scandinavian minimalism or the industrial design.
After lunch, armed with a bouquet of white chrysanthemums, we visited my friend Laura at her apartment on Chile street, in a beautiful area known by the name of Dorobanți. I crashed on a pouffe with a glass of rosé in my hand and I swear I could have spent the rest of the day like that if it weren’t for the streets named after world capitals – a trademark of Dorobanți – calling me out for photos. I took Laura and my sister with me. We missed the sunset light – too much wine, I suppose – but the atmosphere was nevertheless amazing. “I hope the people living in these houses realise just how lucky they are,” I said, taking photo after photo. Gorgeous villas, leafy streets, some residents walking their dogs. Other than that, silence and beauty.
On Sunday I met my father for lunch, then had drinks with my sister – all in the Old Town / Unirii area. It’s the first time I find Unirii – my neighbourhood – unattractive. Yes, it is central, well connected, streets are wide, most buildings are new, and the Old Town is just around the corner, with a plethora of places for food and drinks, shops, and more recently, tourists. Convenience and comfort, however, cannot make up for the charm and quintessential Bucharest flavour one could find in the network of organically developed streets, such as those around Piața Romană or Piața Universității. If I ever move back to Bucharest, that’s where I contemplate living.
In the meantime, we stopped at Cărturești Carusel – the only place in the Old Town I thought it was worth a visit – to stock on books written in or translated into Romanian. It has become a tradition for me to return to Amsterdam with a bag full of such books, not only to keep me warm when I miss Romania, but also to stay in touch with my mother language. I do hope they will all fit in the trolley when I pack.
We called it a day with an Italian dinner at one of the sidewalk restaurants behind the Romanian Athenaeum – perhaps the chicest side of town – not before making a small detour to get a glimpse of Calea Victoriei as well.I spent my last day in Bucharest following my sister around the city. It’s Monday and she took the day off from work. The first stop was at an art supply shop, across the street from the University of Art, where she bought some canvases. We then went to the University of Law, from where she picked up her student permit. After graduating in Greek and in Fine Arts, my sister decided it was about time to study some Law. Following her through the corridors of the university felt like walking back in time. We stopped for coffee at Origo, my favourite coffee place in town, and finished the day at my mother’s, indulging in the delicious food she prepared.