Little Paris Meets New Berlin
The upside of running from the Schengen visa overlords is that we kind of had to travel to all kinds of places we would otherwise not have considered. One of them was Bucharest, the capital Romania, a beautiful country in the shadow of vampire myths and communist dictatorship. My indifference to Bucharest quickly morphed into intrigue as we exited the airport and drove past…the Arc de Triomphe??? No seriously. A major case of déjà vu as we entered the traffic circle and zipped around it.
Turns out, Bucharest had a building spree in between the two world wars and outfitted their city in Parisian style administrative buildings, apartment blocks, libraries, hospitals, you name it. This and the elite’s penchant to greet each other in French earned Bucharest the nickname of ‘Little Paris’.
Much of this architectural splendour was destroyed under the rule of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who had 8km² of the city centre razed to make way for communist-style architectural replacements. (Even though Ceaușescu personal taste in decorating was super extravagant – check out his house)
What remains today is a pastiche of architectural styles – from neoclassical, to soviet; from medieval Romanian, to retro medieval Romanian, from Parisian art-nouveau to contemporary; all with a filter of the cool grit and grunge that Berlin is famous for – to which Bucharest owes its second nickname: ‘the New Berlin.’
It’s an apt way to think of Bucharest: Little Paris meets new Berlin. But, while it has some of the architectural charm of Paris and much of the schmutz and cultural cool of Berlin, it is also distinctly unique in spirit.
What I loved most about visiting Bucharest was roaming the streets with my camera and taking in this decadent, crumbling, staunch, vibrant, gritty, and charming cityscape – occasionally popping into a bookstore along the way (there are many…Bucharest is totally a book lover’s city).
Where To Stay
Piața Romană (the Roman Square) is the perfect location for a Bucharest city break. We stayed in a cool little Airbnb with an unbeatable view right on the circle. From there it’s a 15-minute stroll to the quaint old town with its cobble stone streets and charming Parisian alleyways. It’s also the perfect location for city walks in and around this eclectic city centre, with lots of artisan coffee shops, street-side pastry stalls and restaurants around.
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