Bike Gangs in Bucharest

4 Jul

The next day was a whopper!  I was awoken by a repeated slamming on the linoleum floor.

“What on earth could it be?” I asked myself as I drifted in and out of sleep. Naturally, it was the pet turtle that I had been introduced to the day before.

“It’s a California kind” Dana had told me, “so she speaks very good English!”

Now, at some ungodly hour, it was repeatedly attempting to climb back into its water-filled tank, smacking its shelled belly on the floor with every failed attempt. Lucian put him back inside, but I soon woke again to the sound of bass booming from the bar directly below. It was 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

“Welcome to the Balkans” Madalina said as she rubbed her tired eyes.

Madalina was an awesome host. We are kindred spirit, and immediately felt at ease with one another. She suggested we ride bikes to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, located in Bucharest’s most famous communist building, the Palace of Parliament, or the ‘House of the People’ as my hosts called it. At the request of the former Romanian dictator, Ceauşescu, an entire neighborhood and the hill it sat upon had been bulldozed to make way for this building.  Speaking in terms of surface area, it’s the 2nd largest building in the world, only Washington’s Pentagon tops it.  Madalina said it’s an embarrassment to most Romanians since it’s such a gaudy and unpleasant reminder of the city’s impoverished years under communist rule.

Ready to ride

The Contemporary Art museum was excellent. We even met the visual artist in residency, Mirilena Preda Sȃnc! She is considered to be the first Romanian artist to focus on feminism and woman’s rights in Romania. I interviewed her, so stay tuned for that. It was definitely the highlight for me.

After all of that excitement, we met up with Lucian and embarked on THE BUCHAREST BIKE TOUR!

This was an improvised tour that kept getting more and more epic as friends of Luciano and Madalina continued to join until we rode seven strong. Bike riding is definitely not a very popular mode of transportation in Bucharest, so this felt like quite a unique experience.

I was happy to have a break from the systematic German way of cycling as we just tore our way through crowded streets and parks. The police were NOT about to give us a ticket for riding on the sidewalk. We saw some amazing architecture in ritzy neighborhoods, the best of the few buildings that happened to be spared from the communist revamping. Many of these edifices had seemingly Ottoman influences (Romania was under Turkish rule for 400 years, after all) but Alice explained that what I had seen was also typical of the Neo-Romanian style. Whatever it was, I liked it.

Colorful graffiti

We ended our grand tour with a loop around the Herăstrău lake, and then chanced upon a public performance of the Romanian National Ballet near the National Museum of Art.

I’m so thankful for having the opportunity to see the city in this way. I think it’s a tricky city to appreciate as a wandering tourist, you really need to have someone local to point you in the right direction.

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