Around Bucharest on a tram

The route of Bucharest's No. 1 tram
The route of Bucharest's No. 1 tram. Click for a bigger map

That’s right, it’s Tram Week at Bucharest Life.

If you want to see the real Bucharest, sod the tourist bus and get yourself on the No. 1 tram. (Our regular reader, Mrs Trellis of North Wales, may well remember that we have done something similarly daft in the past: our trip on the No. 32 tram).

Bucharest-Tram-1-on-Basarab-Bridge

Boarding at Piata Vitan, we sat on board for an hour and a half as it trundled its way – at about 20kph – around the city. Though we had initially intended to make copius amounts of notes about the many sights we saw along the way, the truth is there were surprisingly few.

Not that that should put anyone with 90 minutes to spare off doing the trip: as a sociological exercise and as a way of seeing the real people of Bucharest living real lives, it is well worth doing. Public transport is a great leveller the world over.

The first landmark – if it can be called that – is the Bucuresti Mall, noteworthy as it was the first shopping centre to open in Bucharest, in the summer of 1999. We remember the opening day (we were working for a local newspaper and had been invited), the highlight of which was interviewing a pensioner who asked ‘How much does it cost to get in?’

Anyway, the No. 1 tram fills up quickly as it shuffles along Mihai Bravu, and by the time it reaches Piata Obor is full to bursting point.

Obor – perhaps the most famous of Bucharest’s markets – is not altogether as rough and ready as it was until quite recently, but remains a place that oozes with life. Packed with chancers, thieves and speculators, half the city appears to buy its produce here at the weekend, and judging by the smell in the tram after they all pile on, there is usually a good offer on onions.

Obor Market, Bucharest
Piata Obor

Heading west along Bulevardul Iancu de Hunedoara, the next landmark of any note is probably the police headquarters, home to perhaps Bucharest’s finest crenellations (look out for them on the top of the building). Next door is Dinamo Stadium, still owned by the Ministry of the Interior, and still home to Dinamo Bucharest, one of the city’s big three football teams.

The stadium is crap, its entrance a real mess despite the presence of one of the most bizarre statues you will ever find at a football ground. The statue is of four-time Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist, Ivan Patzaichin, made to look like some kind of proto-neanderthal man, complete with undercrackers on display.

Is that a canoe in your pocket?

From here the tram heads for Piata Victoriei, diving underneath the square at the Victoria Depot, from where the annual parade of vintage trams departs from each September. Except that this year they did not hold it. The tram then heads through the Pasajul Victoriei.

Surfacing on the other side of the square, on Bulevardul Titulescu, the tram passes the legendary Dubliner – the first real pub to open in Bucharest – before heading for the city’s new pride and joy, which it is keen to show off at every opportunity: The Basarab Bridge (Podul Basarab).

Impressive from afar (especially when passing under it on a train, at night) Podul Basarab is even more impressive close up. Shiny and new it is a wonder of the modern age. Whether or not it will help the flow of traffic we have no idea. Perhaps somebody who actually lives in the area could tell us.

Pasaj/Pod Basarab

We should add that the bridge is almost certainly the holder of at least one world record, probably the much sought after ‘Tallest bridge called Basarab within one kilometre of a railway station‘ record, or something like that.

Anyway, take a look at this site to see the bridge in various stages of construction.

Once over the bridge it all gets a little industrial for a while, although it is worth noting that from here on in Casa Poporului is an almost permanent presence in the distance.

Soon there is also yet another mall to admire, the AFI Palace – worthy of mention for being the home of Bucharest’s only IMAX cinema – where the tram turns left and heads back towards the city centre.

The big junction a short way from here is Piata Danny Huwe, named for a Belgian journalist and photographer killed druing the Romanian Revolution.

Abandoned train tracks on Strada Progresul – along which the tram travels for a good couple of kilometres – betray the fact that the street used to be at the centre of one of the busiest industrial estates in the city. Now, alas, there’s little industry left. There is – you’ve guessed it – another shopping mall, however, the Liberty Centre, the saving grace of which is its year-round (if small) skating rink.

After a couple of sharp turns you will arrive at Eroii Revolutiei, home to the wonderful Bellu Cemetery, an essential sight for any visitor to Bucharest.

From here the tram makes its way along Calea Serban Voda, passing both the somewhat forgotten Parcul Carol and Parcul Tineretului – home to the best children’s playrounds in Bucharest – on the way.

A little further on there is another former industrial site of note at Timpuri Noi. The huge space on your right, once the home of the Timpuri Noi engine factory (founded in 1874 and which once employed thousands people) has been cleared ahead of construction of (we hear) an IKEA warehouse. Opposite used be to another huge factory, Crin, which made textiles. It was demolished a couple of years ago.

All that's left of Timpuri Noi. Click for source and more photos

You can see a couple of photos of Timpuri Noi in its heyday here.

The last point of interest before the tram arrives back at where it started is the huge empty space opposite the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, to your left if you are still on the tram, between Bulevarduls Marasesti and Unirii. On this site was meant to be built a new National Opera House (according to one source) or a new Casa Pionierilor (Young Pioneer Palace) according to another. Some foundations are visible, but work stopped abruptly in 1989.

Bucharest Unirii Marasesti
You have to love the way someone has optimistically added 'Esplanade City Centre' to Google Maps
  • @Sgele

    Those trips you are taking through town are brilliant! Love reading about them! I’ve been living in Bucharest for two years now and still I haven’t seen everything πŸ™‚

    Great work Craig!

  • Ayce

    1. Basarab does actually hold a European record: widest cable-stayed bridge in Europe.

    2. I don’t know if IKEA is building a warehouse there, but the area is targeted mostly for highrise/skyscraper development.

    3. According to my insider data, Esplanada (the many skyscrapers and convention center project on that barren plot) will probably start next year, as most of the paperwork and legal issues are being solved now. I’d say finally!

    4. I wonder what tram will go to OlteniΘ›ei over the Splaiul Unirii Bridge once works are completed (maybe they’ll reintroduce the 34 with a short route?).

    5. I love these random trips you do!

  • jjoyce

    Is their pedestrian access on the new bridge? Any access to the top of those towers?

    • Phil

      Not as far as I could see at the weekend, have to drive or take a tram over or walk round to Gara de Nord or next bridge to get over the train tracks.

      • I passed by at the weekend too, and it does look as though they are building a tram station bang in the middle of it though, which will be accessed from the street below (Calea Grivitei).

    • Mr Rearguard

      Is their pedestrian access on the new bridge?

      Don’t make me laugh, you live in Bucharest remember? Pedestrian access? Listen to it will ya?

  • jjoyce

    Great post! Definitely going to hop on the #1 next time I’m in town.

  • Paco

    Makes me think of the famous Gica Petrescu song: Duma acasa mai tramvai! πŸ™‚

    • Parmalat

      πŸ™‚

  • todd

    ….thanks for the Timpuri Noi photo – we lived one block from there in a flat for about 3 years. It was where we sent everyone who was looking for our apartment. We say “meet us in front of Timpuri Noi.”

  • Parmalat

    Craig, I think this may be your next article πŸ˜€

    http://www.evz.ro/detalii/stiri/terra-park-este-un-parc-de-distractii-din-capitala-de-pe-bulevardul-timisoara-949753.html

    I wonder how did we miss it though…

    • Mr Rearguard

      Looks like Micky Jackson’s Neverland…

  • Parmalat

    Tramvaiul 1 used to pass by Piata Sudului. When I play 6/49 lottery I choose the 6 trams that used to pass by Piata Sudului when I was a kid: 1, 9, 11, 17, 34, 46.

    AFI Palace is one of the few places in Bucharest where you can get Kurtos Kalacs. And they’re not that good as the ones made at Piata Unirii, but still they’re Kurtos Kalacs πŸ™‚

    You know, for a dessert as tasty as Kurtos Kalacs, they pretty hard to find…

    • Diddle

      Could you tell me where exactly I can find Kurtos Kalacs at Piata Unirii? I want my husband to try this delicious cake and next week will be in Bucurest so I want to find the “Kurtos Kalacs place” πŸ™‚

      • Outside H&M at Unirea

        • Parmalat

          You took the words from my mouth πŸ˜€

  • Mr Rearguard

    How much were you paid for writing “Legendary Dubliner”?

    • Ha ha!

      It is legendary in the sense that it was the first and that in 1996/7 there was almost nowhere else to go.

      • Mr Rearguard

        True, but I get the impression that you still love that place to bits and won’t allow a bad word written against it on any of your websites?

        • Not at all. I go there once a year, at most.

          • Mr Rearguard

            That often eh!