A Day in Bucharest – Sensory Overload
It is six o’clock in the morning of Thursday 26th September, and a crazy itching in my hand has driven me out of bed. Iggy has spent the last two nights beside the lovely Parcul Tineretului in Bucharest ( 44.404360, 26.109427) and the cooler weather of the last two days has been heaven for the local mosquitoes.
One such beastie has been buzzing us in our sleep – if sleep you can call it with a mosquito humming by your ear lobe every five minutes. Diving in for quick nibbles whenever the mosquito repellant wears off in the night. Pacifist that I am, if I could get my hands on the tiny menace, I would take a sure and shameful pleasure in squashing it. Dead.
The mosquito is not the only thing to drive me from my bed however. Thing two is my constant dreaming about the Travel Malarkey blog. With a massive twelve days of our current tour not yet written up on the website it is haunting me every night. As, without fail, I toss and turn for hours in the heat, sticky, uncomfortable, needing sleep but finding none. And then, as the extra coolness of pre dawn finally lets me rest, I write the blog over, and over again in my dreams.
And so, this morning, temporarily at least, I have given up on catching up. I will fill in the missing days here and there as we go. They are mostly written and just need the photos to be added, and the work of putting it all together on the website to be done. For now I must return to writing about where we are now, here, today. Or I shall go mad from these dreams of not knowing where I am or what happened next.
With the whole day in front of us there was no need to rush, and we made a leisurely start, not setting off from Iggy until around eleven. It was an overcast day for a pleasant change, and the twenty degrees of cool were a blessed relief from the weeks of hot weather. I was doubly glad to swap my shorts for jeans, as we had run out of Smidge and our other bottles of repellant didn’t do as good a job of keeping the mosquitoes at bay. The less skin on show the better.
As we walked through the park and into town we noticed groups of women pulling weeds, raking leaves, cutting back roses. We turned a corner and came across a quad and trailer. The driver and worker standing in the back of the trailer were both male. Pointing and watching, as the women gathered the leaves and lifted them onto the trailer. Another corner and another man leant against a wheelie bin with a rake, talking on his phone, as his female colleague swept up the leaves from the street and shovelled them into the bin.
The men seemed, almost, to be add ons, serving no real purpose in the scene. They didn’t look like supervisors, and yet they didn’t join in with the work of the women. There was an oddness about the whole scene, as though we were watching offenders, undertaking court ordered community work. Or a group of local volunteers, cleaning up the city. Or a government scheme perhaps, to provide economic opportunities for women.
But it was hard to fathom the presence of the men in the scene. Part of it, and yet, apart from it at the same time. Whatever the way of it we would likely never know, and leaving the women to their work we carried on our way. Little piles of cut roses lay at intervals along the flower beds. Seemingly left by the lady gardeners for people to take if they wished as they passed. Little splashes of free beauty to brighten someone’s day.
The city was less busy now than it had been the night before, and I liked it better in the daytime. The detailing on the buildings, the contrasts between old and new, utilitarian and grandiose, were much more striking in the light. It was surprising just how much of it had been lost in the semi-darkness of city night.
It is true that the dancing fountains outside the Old Town did not have the same romance and allure without their night time clothing of changing coloured lights. But on the other hand the daylight enhanced the vastness of the square in which they sit. Striking home the notion that Bucharest is a big city, in a way that had not come across quite so much in the dark.
With over two million inhabitants it is a pretty big city – the tenth biggest in Europe according to wikipedia. And as such we were never going to get to see it all, or know it well, in just two days. With Marley in tow the museums and stores were out of our reach, and we decided just to wander in the city centre, and see what we would stumble upon on our way.
We’d already visited the Old Town the night before, so leaving it behind we dilly-dallied our way towards the massive sweeping buildings of the Palace of the Parliament. The long tree lined approach road to this iconic, important building said a lot about Bucharest. Casual grocery stores pinned to the bottom of once grand apartment buildings. Cracked pavements, with weeds growing freely between the stones. Murmuring pleas for alms from the homeless on the benches beneath the trees.
It is, perhaps better to just paint Bucharest with words than to go into the day’s walk through it’s streets in too much detail. But it is not the easiest of cities to describe…
Bucharest is busy, but it’s citizens are not overly rushed. Apart from the traffic, which is fast, crazy, each vehicle moving full tilt forwards until forced to stop. Trucks, trams, bicycles, cars, electric scooters – all seeking to occupy the same spot at the same time. But with a surprising lack of blaring horns, shouting voices, and gesticulating drivers to go with the mayhem of the intersections. And they do allow pedestrians to cross at the crossings. Though some of them only barely, and they often park on the crossings and pavements, making it difficult to be seen.
Bucharest is relaxed, but not laid back. There is no air of stress and people are friendly when spoken to, and quick to laugh. But it’s not warm, it’s not inviting, it doesn’t instantly make you want to hang at a cafe and watch the world saunter by. But that would be a difficult vibe to achieve with all that crazy traffic.
Bucharest is long lines of utilitarian, socialist republic era blocks of flats. Towering hotels and office blocks. Gold topped domes of Orthodox church. Lovely, safe gardens and parks. Modern art sculptures, umbrella covered side streets, graffiti, graffiti, graffiti. Everything and anything, all tumbled on top of each other, all trying to occupy the same space – just like the traffic.
It is a city that is crumbling and building at the same time. Where prices are higher than they have any right to be for a place with weeds on the pavement in front of it’s most important buildings. But where most people look like they’re getting by.
It’s a city of smells. Hot food, sewage, thick acrid human urine, and the constant, overpowering, stench of fly spray. Thick in the air at cafes and alleyways, to stem the ever present Bucharest mosquitoes. Walking the streets here is as much a journey of the nose as of the eyes.
Our plan to be back home in time to get some work done before bed time evaporated as we walked those streets. We barely covered half of the main city centre area, but we spent nine hours doing it. And as we walked I liked the city more and more. But not as a monument gazing, tick off a list kind of city. It’s not a place I would say to the casual tourist “Oh you must go to Bucharest.”
But I could see it being a place to live for a while, if you had a reason for being there. And if you like big, busy cities, or want to experience life in one. There are plenty of cafes, and it is different enough to a Westerner to be a learning curve worth having. It is a place a person could be lost and lonely. And a place a person could have many friends and a life of trendy eateries and interesting galleries.
And for the traveller, wanting only to wander, to see, to know for themselves. For them I would say go to Bucharest. Because Bucharest is real. From the rag dressed homeless man, barking at Marley, in front of a beautiful sculpture of broken things. To the cracked pavements, the teeming traffic, the throat closing fly spray and the girls for sale in the Old Town.
I don’t know if I would ever go back without a reason. But I’m not sorry I went. Not one, tiny, bit.