Bucharest Impressions

4 Jul

After a relaxing two days in the Romanian mountains, I headed back to Bucharest to couchsurf at the house of Madalina and her friends. The original plan was to join them at the Black Sea, but things had changed, since the weather forecast had predicted rain and more rain. I didn’t mind because it gave me the opportunity to check out Bucharest, which I wouldn’t have had time to do otherwise. With a couple of hours to kill, I walked around the center, noticing that the subways were dark, the eastern block buildings appropriately bland, and cars unsympathetic to pedestrians. No surprises there. However, as I reached Piaţa Universitătii near Madalina’s neighborhood, I began to notice a lot of Parisian-style architecture and an amazing Byzantine New St. George’s church.

“You may think it’s strange,” Madalina had written in her message to me, “but I live in the very center of town, the loudest and nosiest part.”

She wasn’t kidding. Smardan street, smack in the historical center, is incredibly happening. It reminded me of Istiklal street in Istanbul, where young people lounged on trendy wicker chairs, sipping cocktails, as they did here, before my very eyes. Plus, it was mid-afternoon on a Friday and already open air clubs were pumping house music. Right in the middle of said Romanian street was Madalina’s apartment, which she shared with her boyfriend Lucian and three other friends. Her teenage sister was also visiting for the weekend, so it was to be cramped in a “the more the merrier” kind of way. They lived on the third floor of a building that was most definitely under construction.

“They are putting a bar here in two weeks” Madalina explained, glancing at the unfinished walls and bags of cement piled in the entry way.

“Every day here something is different. We used to have gypsies downstairs but they’ve been forced to leave. And anyways, this building is going to the ground at the first earthquake” she said with an explosive hand gesture. Apparently earthquakes strike Bucharest every 20-30 years, and the city was now overdue. The last had occurred in 1970-something.

As we entered the apartment, I was greeted by the other roommates—Dana, an architecture student and Alice, a nearly native English speaking graphic designer. Lucian, Madalina’s boyfriend, arrived and started pulling containers out of several plastic bags. Many had ice-cream labels, but as he opened them up and instructed us to help ourselves, I saw that they were full of traditional Romanian food, a gift from his mom’s restaurant back in their home town. I couldn’t believe my luck. After seeing so many fast-food advertisements, I was starting to give up on the prospect of finding anything non-westernized. I tried Romanian egg salad, ciorba, which is a bitter chicken-noodle soup, breaded and deep friend dill infused meatballs called Pârjoale.

I liked these people already, and not just because they had fed this weary traveler, but because they seemed like friends I would have at home. That night we went out; I grabbed a drink with Madalina and her sister in a nice little Roman Colosseum-styled alcove called ‘Valley of the Kings.’

Madalina was cool as hell and we got along very nicely. She is an interesting person who does ‘interesting things,’ as she descrived herself. Who needs labels, we discussed. A recent grad from journalism school, and she told me about her current endeavor: writing a story about a gypsy boy who became famous while acting in a German movie.

We met up with the rest of the gang and had a lively evening in some bars near Smardan street. We went to one very Belin-esque locale, called something Mechanic, which was incredibly hip and crowded. As Madalina explained to me, this area had recently exploded in popularity—when they had moved in two years ago, there were a couple of bars and a bike shop, but now this is the busiest part of the city when it comes to nightlife. Indeed, it seemed that even plans for street construction couldn’t keep up with this touristic boom, since entire strips of road were completely torn out, leaving an under-construction gorge of rocks and gravel where bars had set up outdoor seating. It was funny to see everyone dressed in their weekend best, lounging in the rubble. The rest of the night was excellent, and the company was even better.

Under construction!

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