The city of beautiful unexpected asymmetry

Alexander Peyre, a Swedish diplomat living in Bucharest
Alexander Peyre, a Swedish diplomat living in Bucharest

This spring I read an article about the life of expats, focusing on a Swedish diplomat life’s in Bucharest. Instantly I felt a connection with Alexander Peyre, as we have similar views on the city, and I reached out to him on Facebook. We met personally only a few months later, over a cup of ice coffee in Herastrau Park, and we exchanged lots of ideas about Bucharest’s identity and charm.

First memories about Bucharest

Alexander’s first visit to Bucharest dates back to 2004, when he came as a tourist. He remembers the number of old Dacias on the streets, and the premiere of the then brand new Dacia Logan. Almost a decade later, Alexander Peyre returned to Bucharest as a diplomat at the Swedish Embassy in Romania. He now loves to discover off-the-beaten-path city’s quarters, acting just like a local.

Alexander prefers to explore Bucharest by bike, but also uses it for work. He considers that Bucharest has changed to the better when it comes to the everyday use of bikes. He remembers surprised faces when arriving and using the bike while wearing a suit. “Some were surprised, and even stopped to take pictures of me. In just two years, its more common seeing people using their bikes for work, and nobody stops to stare at them”, says Alexander with a smile on his face.

To be honest, I stared a little bit when he told me about one of his most recent urban adventures on a bike. Alexander had the courage to explore the Old Town on a bike on a Saturday, an experience I wouldn’t even think of for one second, let alone try. “It took me more than an hour to complete the tour”.

From Obor Market to Eden Garden

I was curious to know where Alexander loves to go out, or what his recommendations would be for those visiting the city for the first time, so I asked him to unveil some of his favourite places in Bucharest.

“I love Obor Market, and I often take foreign visitors or even locals to discover this super nice market. The most modern cities in the world set up local markets, even in the heart of Manhattan you see local farmers selling their products, here you have it by nature”, says Alexander.

On the other hand, the Swedish diplomat is a great fan of the old cinemas of Bucharest. I have to confess that my last experience with an old state Romanian cinema is ancient history :). “I like to go to the old state cinemas, a painful but beautiful experience. Many of the cinemas are fantastic, but neglected buildings. It’s quite an adventure to sit in winter in a cinema without heating”, admits Alexander.

He’s also a tireless urban explorer, who loves to stroll along the small streets close to Unirii Boulevard and Alba Iulia Square, some of which are blessed survivors of Nicolae Ceausescu’s demolition spree. “I really love Anton Pann, Maximilian Popper, Vulturilor streets… Least, but not last I love to go out to Eden Garden, one of the most fantastic outdoor caffes in Europe, now in peril”, discloses Alexander.

Bucharest, in five words

I asked Alexander how he would describe Bucharest in just five words. “The beauty of unexpected asymmetry… I don’t know if that even exists… I love the contrasts of the city, the fact that I go on a street, and I don’t know what I’ll find”, says the Swedish diplomat.

Alexander also pointed out some daily aspects regarding the city that he would like to change for the better. The extended use of the cars in the central area of Bucharest, as well as the local authorities’ negligence when it comes to preserve the old architectural heritage of the city, are some of the biggest problems that Bucharest has to deal with.

“It’s sad to see that old beautiful houses are neglected, and it’s not getting better since I came here two years ago. Everybody speaks about how Ceausescu destroyed Uranus, but real estate developers continue destroying it. Not even the parks are protected. In all countries, there are speculators who want to destroy the old and build new, but then you have the good guys saying stop. You have the “counter-forces” protecting the old heritage… Here, you won’t see those forces so developed. You get the impression that you can practically build whatever you want, wherever you want. The current development in many European cities has been to banish cars from central areas, introducing toll systems or high parking fees. In Bucharest, you see lots and lots of cars, and people parking everywhere without getting a fine…”, concludes Alexander Peyre.

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