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!