Saturday, December 17, 2011

Down by the Riverside

"Gonna lay down my burden/Down by the riverside/Down by the riverside/Down by the riverside......
I ain't goin' study war no more".

I was humming the melody of the above famous black gospel as I approached the Dambovita River which crosses the heart of Bucharest city (it goes from north-west to south-east along a distance of 22 Km). I stopped the humming when I reached the spot. How on earth does one get down by the river? it's all cement around here.

Dambovita river at Unirii Square

The legend has it that the city of Bucuresti (Bucharest) was named after the shepherd Bucur that lived on the banks of the river . Dambovita was the name of his fiancee, the daughter of a poor forest man, who had rejected the marriage proposal of a prince because of her love and loyalty for the shepherd . How very romantic!

The river, however, didn't seem romantic to me. Perhaps the cloudy day was to blame for that: the sky and water looked grey and gloomy. I contemplated it from the bridge (The river has sixteen[16!]) bridges). It flows through a cement canal built to prevent flooding. All the river's natural turns have been canalized throughout the years.

There's no navigation on the river, no boat tours. Despite pollution, the locals jump into its cool water during the hot days of summer; many of them even practice fishing. Last month, by the way, a catfish of 40 Kg and 1.5 m long, was captured in the Dambovita by some amateur fishermen. It was quite a sensation.

Trash in the water

There are guided walking tours covering the part of the river that crosses the center of Bucharest. The tour starts in the city center at Unirii Square and ends at the Opera Square. It lasts about 2 hours and 30 minutes. The tourists are shown buildings which either face the river or are close to the river, buildings that have played and still play an important role in the locals' life such as: Manuc's Inn, The Palace of Justice, House of the People (the Parliament), The Opera House, and many other landmarks.

The Palace of Justice

The above palace has six statues near the entrance, allegoricaly symbolizing:
Law, Truth, Strength, Justice, Righteousness, Prudence.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Victory Avenue

Victory Avenue (Calea Victoriei) is perhaps the most representative street of Bucharest; it's one of the city's oldest , longest (about 3 Km) and most interesting streets; it runs between two major squares: Victoria Square in the north and close to Unirii Square in the south.

The northern part of the street has beautiful houses and palaces, the southern part is more comercial and includes shops, banks, hotels, restaurants, cafes. So, it is recommended that you start your stroll in the northern part, and when you reach the southern part you're ready to relax and treat yourself to a good meal or a coffee and cake at one of the restaurants/ cafes in the area. You deserve it.

A walk along Calea Victoriei is a good lesson both in architecture and history.

The buildings here are a mixture of neocclassical style architecture and communist era structures. Many buildings bear the following little sign which reads:' Historical Monument' (Monument Istoric) offering details in three languages: romanian, english, french.

sign on outer wall : Historical Monument

Here are a few buildings and monuments of interest:

Cantacuzino Palace which houses the George Enescu Museum of music. George Enescu was Romania's greatest composer and he was married to a widow from the Cantacuzino family. The museum is dedicated to his life and music. It displays documents and objects belonging to him, among them his first violin he got at the age of four(4).

'George Enescu' Museum in Cantacuzino Palace

The CEC Palace whose building was completed in 1900, serves as headquarters of the national savings bank. This impressive palace is not open to customers.
The daily banking activity takes place in an adjacent building.

CEC Palace

CEC Bank

Military National Club (Cercul Militar National) - This palace was built in 1912 on the spot of former Sarindar monastery. It has reception halls, a library, conference rooms, performance hall, a book shop, a restaurant. Most of the building is reserved for the social and cultural needs of the army people. In front of the palace there's a fountain .

Military Club

Odeon Theatre
- one of the best and most elegant theatres in Bucharest. It is located in a tiny square between Majestic Hotel building and an appartement building.

In front of the theater there's a water fountain and a statue of the turkish figure of Kemal Ataturk.

Odeon Theatre

The Monument of the Rebirth - in Revolution Square ( In the same square there's also the rebuilt equestrian statue of King Carol 1 - see top picture). It's a white marble triangle which commemorates the victims of the 1989 revolution and it symbolizes freedom rising up through a dark cloud. It was here in Revolution Square , on the balcony above the entrance to the former Central Commitee that dictator Ceausescu held his last speech.

Monument of the Rebirth

This memorial is controversial to this day. The citizens of Bucharest are not happy with its design and refer to it as the " olive on a toothpick", "potato on a stick", "meatball on a spike", etc..
It would appear that the revolution that killed Ceausescu, also "killed" the designer of the monument.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Obor Market and its 'Mici'

Almost every open-air market in Bucharest has a stand selling 'mici' (pronounced 'mitch', and meaning 'small ones') . The 'mici' (also called mititey), are minced meat rolls grilled on hot coals and served on a piece of cardboard with sweet mustard and bread. A cold drink (beer, usually) accompanying this delicious romanian dish, makes one feel in heaven.

I had some mici at the Obor market; their taste and smell was terrific.

mici grilling on hot coals

people waiting to get their portion of mici

Obor market is Bucharest's largest market . It has been renovated, and reopened last year as a combination of indoor/outdoor stalls and a 2-storey commercial complex ( ground floor - fruit &vegetables; first floor-food products:meat, fish, dairy; second floor - stores with household goods).

2-storey modern building

Nearby, there's a small park, a Metro station, a square with a fountain , a shopping mall, and a ...McDonald's.
Quite a bustling area.

sign at the entrance of the adjacent Obor park

path in the park lined with trees and benches

Obor metro station

Interesting to note : I could kill anyone who smokes near me, yet I did nothing to distance myself from the heavy smoke coming from the grill and reaching the people - those standing in line to buy the mici, and those already seated at the tables around. On the contrary, I happily joined the other mici fans.

Go figure out human nature!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Village Museum

Wow, what a place! So peaceful, colorful and interesting! On a clear, beautiful day one could spend some very happy hours here; there's a lot to see, learn.. and capture with the camera.

The Village Museum ('Muzeul Satului') of Bucharest, is an open-air museum with some over 300 small peasant households from all over Romania. It borders the superb Park Herestrau with its lovely Lake Herestrau located in the northern, elegant part of the city.

park and lake Herestrau

entrance to the museum

The place is organized like a real village with original houses and shaded paths . The houses (wooden /mud/thatched roof houses ) have various patterns of fences, gates, benches and windows mostly made of quality wood. Some of the houses were open to visitors and one could see furniture,rugs and traditional decorative items dating back to 18th and 19th centuries.

Like in any other village one will find here churches, windmills, water-wells, barns, sheds . I also came upon a boat , an inn, and some domestic animals(the cats and hens are adorable).

Maramuresh church

water well


This Village Museum is a Must -see when in Bucharest. The place is a delight to the senses and it it is for everybody: child and adult. It introduces the visitor to Romania's rural life and architecture in a fascinating way.

my ' inserted' head on folkdancer's body

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I've just returned from a visit to Bucharest, the capital city of Romania, and wish to share some of its sites and pictures with you. I'll start with a far- from glamorous spot - the good, old train station 'Gara de Nord' (a replica of Paris' Gare Du Nord).

Gara de Nord (Northern Railway Station ) is Bucharest's main railway station and the largest in Romania. It was built in 1872 (!), and it serves both domestic and international lines.

The station is connected to the city by several bus/ trolley lines and a Metro station; it is also connected to the airport by express bus 780 and by train.

main entrance to the station

Adjacent to the station building - a small plaza dominated by a statue in memory of railway heroes; across the main entrance, there's a tiny park where gypsies find refuge among their rags.

heroes' monument dominating the station plaza

green little park, gypsies and rags

Within the building, there are offices (police office, left luggage office, public relations office, ticket offices), ATMs, information desk, fast -food eateries (Mc Donald's, KFC, and others), mini-markets, booths selling newspapers/phone cards/tobacco.

long hall with offices

hall with eateries, selling booths, cafes

The station has 14 tracks and 8 platforms; some 200 trains per day leave / arrive here.

train platform area

'Gara de Nord' has a rather bad reputation which I think is exaggerated. The station is clean and appears to be quite safe. Like in any crowded place, one has to beware of pickpockets and dubious people. As simple as that. The same applies to its immediate surroundings.The taxi drivers are a bit of a problem, but if you ignore them they let go of you.

I couldn't resist the high rate offered by a money change office outside the station, and... it went ok. I got my money and nothing bad happened to me. Thank God.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


On a very hot day, if you happen to be in a city which can offer you a view of some snow covered mountain (like Granada, with its Sierra Nevada mountains) or a city offering you a view of the sea (like Tel Aviv with its Mediterranean sea) , then chances are you'll psychologically and even physically feel a little better, cooler.

The other day I had some business to attend to on Geula street in Tel Aviv. It was hot and humid, but as I entered the street and saw the sea at the other end of it I felt as if the sea breeze was reaching and caressing me. It was all I needed at that moment.


This street is placed between two very long, parallel streets: a central, commercial, busy street (Allenby street) and the beach street with its big hotels (Hayarkon street) that runs parallel to the sea. It has a mixture of old, new, and renovated buildings , some shops, and two four-star hotels :Abratel and Savoy.

old building at Allenby-Geula corner

Geula street ('Geula' meaning Redemption) has a story which revolves around a former small hotel named Savoy, located at a very short distance from the beach. In 1975 a group of terrorists came by sea, at night, and took control of the hotel, its guests and staff. A counter-terrorism unit was sent to the place. The terrorists were killed and one taken prisoner, but there were also eleven victims in the action: seven guests, the porter of the hotel, and three soldiers, one of them a highly ranked officer .

In 2008, a brand new four-star hotel was built on the place of the old one. Its front bears a plaque which tells the above story mentioning the names of the victims.

Savoy new four-star hotel

entrance to Savoy hotel

commemorative plaque

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Regards from Safed

Safed (Tzfat - in hebrew) is a small but special town located in the mountains, in northern Israel. It is a place where the spiritual meets the physical. It takes about four hours from my home to get there by bus , but the trip is very rewarding.

The town is blessed with mountain good air, picturesque landscape, and a highly spiritual and mystical atmosphere. It has historic sites like the Citadel at the top of the city with ruins dating back to the Crusaders and Mamluks, an artists' colony of stone houses in which artists live and work, art exhibitions , a variety of hotels and guest houses to accomodate the domestic and foreign tourists , shopping areas, healthy living centers.

shopping street

The "Artists' Quarter" in the old town is a major attraction of Safed. The cobbled narrow lanes, the stone houses with their artistic doors and windows, and the various art galleries - are very inviting to its visitors.

cobbled alley in the Artists' Quarter

ceramic work of art on the outer wall of a house

artistic door

tourists in the galleries' area

Safed is considered one of the four holy cities of Israel together with Jeruusalem, Hebron and Bnei-Brak. It has lots of synagogues, holy sites, religious institutions , and ,of course, a significant religious population.

The city is famous for the graves of 'tzadikim' (righteous holy people) whose spirits are believed to protect the city (It's Safe in Safed, as one would say).

This time I visited only the cemetery where my favorite tzadik ,rabbi Abraham Fish, and his wife rest in peace.
It is before the High Holidays when we ask for a good New Year. Praying by the tzadik's grave is always a great privilege, especially at this time of the year.

religios pupils heading to the graves

On the way out of Safed down to the main road, I took two pictures that I think are very beautiful and I hope , dear readers, you'll like them too: one includes a distant patch of blue which is the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kineret) seen from above , and the other shows the sun setting behind the mountains.

Sea of Galilee in the background


See you again next year, dear Tzfat!