I arrived in Bucharest this afternoon knowing only the number of a bus route to the center of town, the time of my return flight later in the week, and two phrases in Romanian. I had picked up “mulțumesc” and “nu vorbesc românește” just in case. Whenever I travel, locals often ask me for directions, so I like to have a polite (and clear) way to indicate that I can’t provide them with much information of use. I’m still not sure why that happens so often.
On the bus ride from the airport into the city center, the first thing that struck me was the pervasive Communist-era architectural style. Dating here from the middle half of the century, most of the buildings were imposing concrete residential structures, the first two meters of every exterior wall tagged with graffiti.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Bucharest is the way that areas of light and shade develop in the evenings. In the open roadway and plaza areas, the evening light turns everything warm and golden; between the tall buildings, the light turns a diffuse, grim gray.
At night, as the warmth of daytime fades away, old sodium-vapor lamps start to ignite, interspersed with occasional daylight-color LED retrofits and neon signage. The clashing artificial lights bring out a strange ambience, seemingly defiant of explanation, which stands out more strongly in my mind than the broken tiles at the plaza fountain or the insertion of the gigantic Palace of the Parliament in between all of the densely-packed residences.
The many restaurants and cafés stay open late into the night, with outdoor seating in alleyways filled with city-dwellers ordering their dinners and drinks under string lights hung from awnings, celebrating the end of yet another day.
Only impressions for now, unfortunately — lots to do before the morning! I’ll be off to the middle of the country to check out Brașov and the rest of Transylvania early tomorrow. It’s going to be a neat week for sure!
You can see more photographs from my Romanian excursion here.