Welcome to Bucharest, Romania
Greetings from Bucharest, Romania! If you follow me on Instagram or Snapchat (username: theblondera) than you probably are pretty aware by now that I have been in this Eastern European capital since the middle of last week. While I did actually stop for lunch in Brasov a few years ago, I don’t count that as actually visiting, and so this trip marks my 44th country! Because Tristan is studying abroad in Athens, we chose Bucharest as our meeting point to celebrate our second anniversary. Last year we headed to Palm Springs for a weekend in the sweltering desert, so this snowy Balkan city was certainly a contrasting choice.
In fact, our first morning here we both commented on how we have never seen each other dress in such warm winter weather gear. Both of us were kitted out in recent purchases, as we normally seem to choose destinations that provide us with an extra dose of Vitamin C.
We started off our morning with breakfast at Gram Bistro, a really vibrant and friendly restaurant that serves delicious breakfasts, homemade drinks, and Romanian craft products. Over steaming cups of tea and cappuccinos, we caught up on the past few weeks. Even though iPhones make it so easy to communicate, it still isn’t the same as sitting across from each other and having a real conversation. The three and a half weeks since we last saw each other had gone really quickly because we both have been doing so much; but, there is no doubt that this simple breakfast with him was the happiest I have been since the last time we were together.
After our omelettes were eaten and our stories retold, we headed out to start our exploration of the city. Our first stop was the Museum of the Romanian Peasant; however, upon arrival we found out that it is currently closed for renovation. Slightly disappointed, we hopped into an Uber to go and see the Palace of the Parliament. Upon arriving there, we were told that it was also closed due to the current protests that are happening in Bucharest.
Built at the special request of brutal and repressive dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, leader of Romania’s Communist Party from 1965 to 1989, the colossal Palace of the Parliament is the world’s second largest administrative building after the U.S. Pentagon. Inspired by Pyongyang (North Korea’s capital), it was part of Ceaușescu’s attempt to redesign Bucharest by constructing a series of impressive buildings meant to prove to the world how wealthy and powerful the Socialist Republic of Romania was.
That of course wasn’t the case. In an effort to pay off Romania’s massive foreign debt, Ceaușescu ordered the export of much of the country’s agricultural and industrial production. This resulted in extreme shortages of food, fuel, energy, medicines, and other basic necessities for the Romanian people. Most days, people were unable to find food in the supermarkets and only had 1-2 hours of electricity.
Started in 1984 (and still incomplete), it took 20,000 workers to get the Palace of the Parliament to its current state, with 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 350-ft.-long lobby and eight underground levels, including an enormous nuclear bunker. Built, furnished, and decorated exclusively with materials sourced and made in Romania, the building is a staunch reminder of what the Romanian people went through during these turbulent years.
After that second disappointment, we turned our sights to the Old Town. Romanian legend has it that the City of Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, whose name literally meant “joy”. His flute playing reportedly dazzled the people and his hearty wine from nearby vineyards endeared him to the local traders, who gave his name to the place.
At the beginning of the 1400s, merchants and craftsmen from Romania, Austria, Greece, and Armenia, established their stores in the area that is now the Old Town of Bucharest (Centrul Vechi). Shortly after, the area started being referred to as Lipscani, a result of the many German traders from Lipsca or Leiptzig who set up shop here. The mix of nationalities and cultures is reflected in the mishmash of architectural styles, from baroque to neoclassical to art nouveau.
In addition to many of the historic sites of Bucharest, today the area is also home to art galleries, antique shops, coffeehouses, restaurants and nightclubs (which we experienced the following evening). While walking through the cobblestone streets, one can almost hear the original shopkeepers outside their stores, beckoning passersby to come in and marvel at their merchandise.
The bronze sculpture pictured below depicts a naked Emperor Trajan — the Roman leader who expanded the empire into the lands of modern-day Romania — holding the she-wolf from the founding myth of Rome. Located on the steps of the National Museum of Romanian History, the statue was terribly received by the Romanian people when it was first unveiled in 2012. And, I think the locals have a point. Why does the she-wolf get to wear a scarf, if the Emperor (clearly uncomfortable in his nakedness) is not even able to find a pair of underwear?!
On this day I bundled up in a vintage velvet turtleneck and my new camo jeans from Primark which have the loveliest floral embroidery. While traveling around these colder countries, my winter essentials include these UGG boots which have been keeping my feet warm and cozy, my North Face jacket that feels like a cocoon I never want to emerge from, and this wonderful BCBG hat (with the biggest pom-pom ever!) that was a Christmas gift from my lovely sister.
I am actually (surprisingly) having a rather good time styling looks for colder climates.
Wandering throughout the old town, we next arrived at Stavropoleos Monastery. Built in 1724 by the Greek monk Ioanikie Stratonikeas, Stavropoleos is an Eastern Orthodox monastery for nuns. Featuring a combination of Romanian and Byzantine architecture, the Monastery has a beautiful façade and a delicately carved columned entrance. Surrounded by a peaceful garden, it is an architectural jewel, with beautiful frescoes and wood-painted icons.
Finding a monastery like this in the middle of a city is a rather rare occurrence, especially when you consider the drastic changes that the rest of the city underwent as a result of the Communist regime.
Further wanderings brought us to Carusel Carturesti, an incredible store that sells books, chocolates, tea, music, and various other bougie delights. The baroque pillars are meant to remind visitors of the grandeur era of Bucharest, while the minimalist design of swirling staircases create the impression of a moving carousel. We spent about an hour in the store, Tristan reading books on architecture, and myself drooling over fancy notebooks and fashion histories. We were good though! Only exiting with a small bar of artisan dark chocolate.
By the time we left the beautiful store, darkness had fallen and it was time to pick up a couple of bottles of wine, some snacks for the next day’s trip, and get ourselves primped for dinner.
As I mentioned earlier, our weekend in Bucharest was to celebrate our anniversary. I had done a little bit of research online about where we could have our anniversary dinner; but, because of my other travels, I hadn’t really found anywhere. Tristan read about El Torito, a Mexican joint, and instantly started declaring how much he had been missing the cuisine. We eat a lot of Mexican in Los Angeles, so I am always hesitant to have it when we aren’t either in LA or in Mexico. However, somehow his desperate pleas convinced me to go and give it a try.
Well, it was fantastic. As evidenced by my massive smile throughout the entire evening.
The ambiance was incredible, the food absolutely delicious (the guacamole wasn’t up to California standard, but I will let that slide!), and we ended up having so much fun. With live music, colourful decor, and margaritas as strong as Mexico, we both really believed that we were somewhere warm and tropical — despite the fact we were both in black turtlenecks.
For our date night, I switched into another new pair of jeans from Primark, this time a high-waisted pair of metallic skinnies. I accessorized my black turtleneck with the new jewelry Tristan gifted me from Greece for our anniversary. They are supposed to be two wrap-around bracelets, but I decided to be a rebel and wear them as chokers! Jury is out on whether they will ever make it to my wrist.
It was the loveliest start to what would be a fantastic weekend for the books!
Outfit 1: Vintage velvet turtleneck / Primark camo jeans / North Face jacket /
BCBG beanie / J. Crew wool socks / UGG boots
Outfit 2: H&M turtleneck / Primark jeans & boots / Michael Kors bag (last seen here & here)
Photos by Jenny Heyside and Tristan Marsh