The Two Faces of Bucharest

Bucharest is a weird little city, seemingly unaware of what it’s supposed to be. Some parts of lean strongly towards the West while others look towards the East. One street may seem very forward-thinking while the next leans strongly into the past. The architecture is a mixed bag, too – you can often see Parisian glamour and Soviet functionality all in the same block.

As a visitor, I was left completely confused by all this. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Romanian capital has an odd mix of grand boulevards lined with palaces and luxury shops combined with utterly dilapidated buildings and scenes of melancholy urban decay. The people I encountered along the way were a mix as well.

Some people welcomed me with open arms, being some of the friendliest people I had ever met. Others, meanwhile, threw water at me on the street while yelling obscenities in Romanian. Most tried to cheat me out of some money. I suppose that’s the risk of traveling to poor regions. The line between poverty and being an asshole is a very thin one.

Bucharest’s old town is far from an idyllic historic quarter. Instead, it’s mostly been taken over by hoardes of backpackers looking for the cheapest possible beer. Luckily the overtly touristic neighborhood still has some pockets of calm, if you know where to look.

Bucharest’s nightlife is also mostly confined to the old town, where the narrow streets turn into a seemingly endless block party as soon as the sun goes down. Most clubs are decidedly Eastern European in style, and open until late morning.

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