I'd like to start this post off by saying the taste of sweet Romanian bread, polenta, and very fatty cured meats will forever remain in my memory.
Bucharest was never a place I ever imagined visiting, but for whatever reason, when we were looking for a place to end our European trip, we kept getting signs to go. The first was a note about a pilgrimage to Romania in our church bulletin and in that same week, I happened to sit next to a woman at a fundraiser who had recently been to the Balkans and raved about Romania. And then, we talked to a Romanian woman at church who described the country so beautifully and vividly, we just knew we needed to book our flights and do it.
Bucharest was once called 'Little Paris' and it did actually look like it....imagine a mix of Brutalist architecture plus Parisan facades ruled by 20+ years of Communism and never kept up. Every website I came across basically said the same info/things to visit for tourists and it made me wonder if it was even safe to travel there. It felt like a hidden gem that I was determined to uncover.
The city has embraced graffiti as a true art form, which I think is really cool. I read on a bunch of other blogs that it was a very hipster town, and that it was. Of course the bonus of a large hipster population is great coffee, art and FOOD.
Our favorite restaurant, Lacrimi Si Sfinti, was incredible. So much polenta, cabbage and meat! The design of the space was really homey, woodsy, folky feeling with lots of wood and kitschy elements. We loved how eclectic it was!
We stayed in The Epoque Hotel, and it was amazing! The rooms were spacious, it was walking distance to everything we wanted to see, mainly the Old Town, and the hotel restaurant was incredible. I felt safe in a city I wasn't sure I'd feel safe in. Honestly, I felt safe the entire time, even at night, so if you are considering visiting this city but unsure if it's a good place for Americans to go, don't be scared. Nobody in the city was extra friendly to us (except the hotel staff, of course) but I don't think they are an extra friendly people... And, considering what they went through with a communist dictator just 30 years ago, I understand why they aren't.
Similar to Athens, the highlight of our visit there was visiting the churches. We have Romanians at our church in Louisville and I knew quite a bit about Romanian culture, particularly the folk art, dress and food. And come to find out, while I was in church that Sunday, I knew more of the Romanian language than I ever thought before simply because I've heard the same phrases recited in our church my whole life.
Since it was Orthodox Palm Sunday, we decided to visit the Patriarchal Cathedral, which was truly an experience I won't forget. Rather than use palms as a symbol of the day, they cut greenery (we think from their yards?) since palms don't grow in their climate and carried it around ALL day with them - we saw people still walking around with them at the end of the day! I loved that they chose to use something local for their symbolism rather than import palms.
Ok though, really, the REAL highlight of the trip was a mistake visit to a local flea market on the outskirts of town. We found some article online telling visitors to go check out this particular spot for unique Romanian finds for which we envisioned as rows and rows of little tents with vintage items we'd need to get another suitcase for. Once we got in our Uber and headed to a very unfamiliar area, we knew we were in for something different. It ended up being a flea market at a race track/tire store with rows and rows of booths selling knock off Calvin Klein underwear, car parts, and rip off Kylie Lipkits.
In the middle of the market, I noticed there was a family cooking fish, mussels and polenta on cast iron stoves. I envisioned myself on a show with Anthony Bourdain, about to devour Bucharesti street food. The man standing in front of us offered to translate for us since he spoke English, and then promptly asked what in the world we were doing there in Bucharest, this flea market in particular, which made us laugh because we didn't really know what to say - we were just two American girls fooled by some random blog post on Romanian antique shopping.
Next time I visit this country, I intend to skip the city and only visit the countryside. Had we had more time, we would have loved to have seen some castles and village life. I'm fully intrigued by the Balkan countries now and cannot wait to explore more!