If Bucharest were located anywhere in the world but Europe, I am sure planeloads of people would travel all the way there to see it and find reasons to describe it as interesting, grand and maybe beautiful.
Many would no doubt delight in its hectares of parklands and lakes and architecture that is an eclectic mix of styles, madness and concrete.
But Bucharest belongs these days in Europe. As a poor new member of an elite club in a continent brimming with magnificent historic cities, it is seldom given the respect and praise it deserves.
In fact, Romanians have grown used to their capital city being from time to time mistaken for a famous Hungarian city further up the Danube and overlooked by tourists eagerly rushing to Transylvania to see Dracula and his doubtful castle.
Most tourists spend hardly any time in Bucharest fearing that the city is destitute, dangerous or too drab a place to linger.
Quite remarkable for a people with a not so distant memory of deprivation, schizophrenia and collective trauma, Romanians especially the citizens of Bucharest are an honest, hardy and heartwarming lot with a noticeable fondness for large canines.
Bucharest’s love affair with animals especially dogs may be linked to the city’s legendary founding by a shepherd named Bucur. The city’s streets had a reputation for its stray dogs that made rare front news for biting their victim occasionally to death. Even so, all the dogs I saw there were happy hounds either tugging on a leash or busy retrieving a stick in the park.
Bucharest ( population 2 million ) is the biggest city in the formerly communist part of Europe, an area roughly between Berlin and Istanbul, known at one time as the Eastern Bloc.
In greatness size matters but what makes Bucharest a great European metropolis is its raw spirit and authentic atmosphere.
It is self-deprecating but hopeful. It is a real place where people have faces, food tastes like it should and young people eloquently share their views with total strangers in flawless English. It is a city that doesn’t see the need to put on any make up for visitors.
For this reason Bucharest is less a city to sightsee than one to fall seriously in love with and to return to even during its cold snowy winters.
All images copyright Kerk Boon Leng October 2014