While you’re out walking, stop in a museum, of which Bucharest has quite a few. The National Museum of Romanian History (Calea Victoriei 12. Tel: +40-21-315-8207. www.mnir.ro) has a huge collection, from ceramics, column fragments, and sarcophagi to stone archways, statuary, jewelry, and coins. The Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Şoseaua Kiseleff 3. Tel: +40-21-317-9661. www.muzeultaranuluiroman.ro) is a fascinating collection, at press time it’s under renovation, but with several temporary exhibits of art open. For pure quirkiness, try the Romanian Kitsch Museum (Strada Covaci 6. Tel: +40-737-469 208. www.kitschmuseum.ro), where you’ll find some of the most gloriously tacky creations on the face of the earth (Last Supper carpet, anyone?).
My favorite: the National Village Museum (Şoseaua Kiseleff 28-30. Tel: +40-21-317-9103. www.muzeul-satului.ro/en), an alfresco museum where pathways wind past over 100 historic Romanian buildings, from a 1773 church from northern Oltenia to a 19th-century “half-buried house.” It’s a history lesson and outdoor getaway all in one, set on the edge of Herastrau Park (Strada Kiseleff. www.herastrauparc.ro), which brings me to another of Bucharest’s great pleasures: the parks. Herăstrău, built around Lake Herăstrău, is the largest in the city, spanning almost 300 acres, with a Japanese garden, statues picturing everyone from Shakespeare to Beethoven, lovely paths surrounding the lake, and a large cage full of peacocks (what Bucharest park would be complete without them?). At a stand selling popcorn and cotton candy, I actually find freshly squeezed orange juice, which I sip lakeside as children cavort around me and lovers stroll down shady walkways.
In Cismigiu Park (Boulevard Regina Elisabeta), we watch people row down the lake, get a glimpse into our futures at a fortune telling machine and amble past gingko trees to the sweet La Negresa statue. We head up “the mountain,” at the foot of which is a cave-like structure that used to hold a bear, eat scoops of blueberry, hazelnut, and tiramisu ice cream, and, of course, admire the peacocks. I could spend an entire day in this beautiful spot, but Alex has more parks in store for me. Near the Parliament Palace, we find IOR Park (Strada Liviu Rebreanu), another beautiful urban oasis with a lake holding swan-shaped boats for rent. There’s a gorgeous rose garden arrayed around a circular fountain, and paths through the trees where young lovers and families with dogs sets out for their evening stroll. A short walk through the park brings us to Lake Park, a shopping mall with one amazing feature: out in the courtyard is the “Iron Man,” a mesh sculpture of a reclining man, a muscular wonder, subtly lit, and worth a detour (even if you don’t have Alex, you’ll find it). Another favorite: Tineretului Park (Blvd. Tineretului), a kids’ park (“tineretului” means youth) that’s super-fun. A dragon greets you at the entrance. Bronze children pore over books. Shrieks emanate from scarifying rides, and colorful characters pose on benches and pedestals. It’s vibrant and alive with enjoyment. The best part, though, lies beyond the sculptures and the rides. At the park’s edge, we sit on a verdant hillside with an amazing view over Tineretului Lake, trees, and the city beyond. Sometimes you just have to sit on a green-clad hill, take a deep breath, and look out at this city, so wild, beautiful, infuriating, lovable, and fun.
It should be clear by now that visiting Bucharest means doing some walking, and luckily for those who need a pick-me-up, Bucharest has a thriving coffee scene. My favorite is Origo (Strada Lipscani 9. Tel: +40-757-086-689. www.origocoffee.ro), set on one of the main streets of the historic center and everything a hip little café should be. When I order my double espresso, my server asks whether I’d like Burundi or Ethiopia (“Ethiopia is more acidic, Burundi has more of a taste of chocolate”). I sit at a wooden table, sipping a great brew (I chose the chocolate-y Burundi, by the way) and watch the world go by. Another favorite is Beans and Dots (Strada Ion Brezoianu 23-25. Tel: +40-775-522-730. www.facebook.com/beansanddots), set back from the street in a little courtyard. I love the industrial chic look, but for me the prime spots are outside, overlooking the courtyard. You can also have a peaceful alfresco coffee at Artichoke (Calea Victoriei 45. Tel: +40-771-707-869. www.artichoke.coffee), along a little passageway off the major street Calea Victoriei (where Novotel is located) near the “potato” sculpture. Look through overhanging trees to the city streets, while you enjoy
coffee or such creations as “white trash cola.”
Heading north from Novotel, I find Camera Din Fata (Mendeleev 22. Tel: +40-21-311-1512. www.cameradinfata.ro), a beautiful little place with shelves holding jars of coffee and tea on one side, antique coffee equipment and vintage portraits in tiny frames on the other. Next to a brass Turkish coffee maker, I order a double espresso from the variety of coffee and tea drinks (including such infusions as Fruity Guava and Exotic Whisper). Service is gracious and sweet, and the feeling is cozy and somewhat nostalgic. Nearby is Orygyns Specialty Coffee (Strada Jules Michelet 12. Tel: +40-21-313-0094. www.facebook.com/pg/orygynscoffee), a cleanlined, modern, friendly little place, where I choose between Brazil and Costa Rica for my espresso. It’s served on a little slate rectangle along with the best seeded whole grain croissant in history.