An image many of us hold about Europe: people traveling about the city by bicycle. Typically, this is a person in the Netherlands, even politicians ride to work there. In Eastern Europe let’s introduce another side of this story. Yes, people ride bikes. Except it is more like NYC than the Netherlands. Cars speed right past within inches and at a number of locations there is no sidewalk or bike lane.
Where there are bike lanes, designated paths and obvious ways to get around (which is about half the time) it is phenomenal. About a week ago I bought a bike from a local guy here in Bucharest. His name is Florin. I met up with him near his home in Sector 3. The ride back home took me on a five-mile route providing a nice tour of the city.
It started in Old Town. An area the gives the look of what we envision for Europe. Old architecture with detailed design and cobble stone streets. While riding I had the thought come to mind that this is what I want. That cool European essence from classic buildings.
After leaving Old Town I had an abrupt change of scenery. The Soviet-era architecture here is such a sharp contrast to the classic European style that it almost gave me whiplash. At this point, I had a realization, the Soviet imagery mixed with European is a great way to describe Bucharest.
The city has two, if not multiple, stories behind each unique element. In this case I am only speaking of architecture. This topic could easily include more than Soviet and old Europe, but I’ll stick to that. When in a traffic circle a person can see a Soviet-era bloc apartment building, turn 45 degrees left, and see a beautiful French-style building. This is due to heavy French influence at one point in the past.
As I rode north leaving the traffic circles with eyesores and beauty next to each other I came upon acres of green-space. Parks in Bucharest are a highlight. The rest of my ride was full of large trees, green grass, wide bike lanes and a cool Eastern Europe evening.
Bucharest is a complicated city. At the same time as having picturesque French architecture and wonderful parks it also has its Soviet past. This creates a country and culture not quite sure what it is at this time. Is it more a beautiful western European city or is it a post-Soviet gray eyesore? At this moment it is somewhere in the middle. My thought is that as time passes between the present and that Soviet past Bucharest will work its way back to beautiful.
[a few more photos]