Though not known for certain, Vlad the Impaler’s hometown has its origins in the Romanian word for joy, Bucur, and that is indeed what I felt within moments of my arrival. If something could be decorated or strung with lights, the joyful people of Bucharest were on it! The city may be the, “Paris of the East,” but easily rivals New York City for its display of Christmas lights. And so began my whirlwind 48 hours in Romania’s capital.
My first order of business was to meet Tony for dinner (he had arrived three days prior for work) at one of Bucharest’s oldest and prettiest restaurants, a richly decorated art nouveau Romanian brasserie. Reservations had thankfully been secured, and we were given a table on the second level, offering a spectacular bird’s eye view of the periodic entertainment.
Romania’s cuisine offered a few surprises on the typical Central/Eastern European meat-and-potatoes theme, and influences from the neighbors were in every meal. On this evening we began with a Mangalitza (Hungarian hairy pig) and cheese board and paired it with a Romanian Sauvignon Blanc. I chose the Sarmale as my entree, and the dish was not the beef and rice-stuffed cabbage leaves (Gołąbki) of my childhood but a more savory stuffed dish with seasoned pork, caramelized onions and rice and served with creamy polenta. Tony selected a roast duck dish that was a little bit a la confit and a little bit Eastern Europe, and entirely mouthwatering.
Our walk back to the hotel took us past a singing and dancing Santa (one of several) and the National Bank, all aglow. People and holiday spirit filled the streets.
Since the 1990’s Bucharest has taken a strong interest in historical preservation, and restored buildings must keep at least the exterior facade true to its period. This is Cârturești Carusel, a so-much-more-than-a-bookstore tucked into a restored mansion in the old city. Stunning, both inside and out. The store was abuzz with activity as late as 2130 when we dropped in. Imagine such excitement in Vienna!
This former private mansion is now a boutique hotel, with each of the 19 rooms decorated individually. Ours was the, “Vintage” room with velvet upholstery and mirrored glass of the early 20th century.
Good night, Bucharest. Until tomorrow.