I am spending a few days in Bucharest for work and I am amazed by it. Even to someone familiar with many Eastern European cities, the capital of Romania stands out. It's not just the culture and the language (Romanian is a Romance language in a predominantly Slavonic region, and it sounds approximately like Italian with a Russian accent), but the very look of the city.
Never before have I seen such a head-spinning mix of old and new, big and small, restored and dilapidating - and yes, I've been to East Berlin and many formerly Soviet areas. Here is a gorgeous pre-War villa with wrap-around wrought iron balconies (notice the bicycle path, too).
And here is the view directly across the street.
Construction and renovation projects are everywhere, and it is clear that the city cares about preserving its unique historical buildings.
Unusually shaped gables and towers; intricate art nouveau details.
Imposing facades stand "shoulder to shoulder" with tiny houses more characteristic of the countryside.
Wrought iron latticework is everywhere.
But what about bicycles? Well, a few of the streets in the center do have bike paths. And I was pleased to see that the bicycle symbol in Bucharest comes with a full chaincase. But I do not see many actual bicycles on the streets, let alone any with a chaincase or other classic features.
The lack of cyclists is rather a mystery, because there are clearly some attempts at infrastructure and bike-friendliness going on - like these adorable bicycle racks at a local park.
And this bikeshare station, which appears to be sponsored by a mobile phone provider.
And this advert for a concert. Yet, hardly any any actual cyclists.
One reason for the lack of cycling could be the traffic patterns and the layout. Many streets in the center are wide, multiple-lane boulevards that go on forever and are gridlocked with cars. They do not look very inviting for cyclists. But I have no idea to what extent this is really the cause.
Another thing I am wondering about here, is the abundance of the telephone(?) wires. There are literally wads of wiring hanging off the poles. My colleagues who are traveling with me are all wondering about that.
Here is another view of the wires. Any ideas?
It is too bad that the cycling situation in Bucharest is so dire, because otherwise I like it here very much. It seems that a great deal of resources are being allocated towards keeping the city clean, improving urban infrastructure and transportation, renovating historical buildings, and supporting the arts. There are several sprawling parks here - all beautiful and meticulously well-kept. I have not used the subway yet, but the buses are shiny and new. Little convinience stores and kiosks sell water and ice cream on every corner. People are friendly and polite - no pushing on the streets, pleasant facial expressions, holding doors for each other. If you don't speak Romanian it should not be a problem, as a surprising number of people speaks very fluent English.
Being in Bucharest makes me wish I knew some locals and could get to know the place better; maybe even figure out the cycling mystery. I hope to have another occasion to come here in future.