Monday, May 14, 2012

Spring Riding

Four hours of almost continuous riding can tire you out on a nice spring day.  Sunday presented me with the opportunity to get back out on the town discovering.  First off, I was finally in town for an entire weekend and secondly the weather turned out for me.  What more was there to discover?  After looking at the Bucharest map I noticed that even after living here for several months there are still large sections of the city that I have yet to wander around.  Sunday’s main goal was to see what Lacul Morii is all about.

Getting out the door took a while as there were things to do around the house.  Regardless, the continuously changing sky of the morning began calling from the first wake up call at 6 am continuing until it was shedding its light equally on each street.  It was then when the bike and I took our first steps of the day down the stairs of the block and out the door.  After making a couple of quick notes in my journal we were off to the sun overhead rather than behind us like I would have preferred. 

Part one of the ride took me through parts of town both familiar and unfamiliar.  Following the mighty Dambovita River from Piata Unirii I passed some of the nice downtown architecture and main boulevards.  Pedestrians and fishermen accompanied me along the route.  I temporarily veered off course when I saw the College of Foreign Language, Engineering and a few other things.  It looked almost like a park but one whose grounds keepers had taken a 5 year vacation.  People were running through the green, tree-lined lane which opened up to a large courtyard where students were resting and reading on benches surrounded by graffiti painted campus buildings and signs falling off their posts.  After making it back to the main route I continued up the river in search of the lake.  Before finding the lake I was caught in a dead end at one point and on the other side of the tracks at another point.  These hold ups added some time to the trip but not a single bit of frustration.  It was one of those Sunday drives in which getting lost and finding your way is not only permitted but welcomed.  After riding slowly through a packed park and up a dike I arrived at the lake, Lacul Morii, with its winds nearly blowing me over. 

Lacul Morii looks large on a map and looks large in real life but it only takes about an hour to ride around slowly on a bike.  There is a small island just off the coast of the lake with a bridge leading to it.  The island features a gazebo, a non-functioning fountain, an over-grown landscape and several picnickers.  Just beyond the north edge of the lake there is a landfill while the western edge includes a residential area, a small wooden church and many fishermen.  The western edge is the only part in which the road tracing the perimeter of the lake is broken and I was forced to ride into the residential area twice before completing my tour of the lake. 

From Lacul Morii the traffic, honking, asphalt, traffic lights, shops and crowdedness led me astray on my course to arrive at Herestrau park.  After ending up in Victoria square I could get back on track with hopes that eventually the largest park in Bucharest would act as a refuge from the overwhelming city elements closing in on me.  So it turned out, entering the large park was more like entering a mall on black Friday. 

The lanes were loaded with people walking, couples walking, and groups of people walking.  They were walking alone, walking their dogs, or walking their toddlers.  Meanwhile there were bikes weaving in and out of the people in what appeared to be a somewhat dangerous fashion even though miraculously I did not see any accidents.  It is Bucharest’s largest park with decently wide walkways but with the traffic it received on one of the first Sundays of spring you would hardly notice.  The main walkways feature a bright green lane lined in yellow with a white bicycle painted in the middle every 10 meters or so.  The bright green color of the bike lanes in Herestrau set it apart from bike lanes in other parts of the city.  Being that the park houses 2 bike-sharing programs and the popularity of riding in the park has been rising over the years, the realization and respect for the bike lanes are all the more important for the safety of all park users.  With the walking traffic that I saw in the park on Sunday the bike lanes might as well not be there.  They were not respected and they couldn’t have been respected with so many people in the park. 

As I was riding along I heard someone yell out “Maggie”.  Immediately, knowing who it must have been I stopped, turned around, and saw the country director of Peace Corps Romania.  Right, we both live in the same city but I was still quite surprised that with all of the people out that day I ran into someone that I knew.  After slowly creeping along having to get off and walk my bike in some parts I stopped and sat down in the grass next to the lake.  Despite their being so many people around you can stop, sit down in the grass, and when you see the view of the lake on a nice day it is actually quite easy to forget about the crowds of people passing along the asphalt walkway behind you.  For a short moment I admired a boat passing by and in the background an impressive example of communist architecture, in free press square.
My time was winding down and for various reasons I had start heading back to my place.  A 30-45 minute ride across the center of town awaited me.  I imaged the small streets that I would soon be riding on, Ioanei, Tamnei, Austriei, Carol 1, Dacia, Mihai Eminescu, ect.  After living here for just 8 months I know certain parts of the city like the back of my hand.  During that ride back I reflected on the newly discovered parts of the city and realized that my last few months in Bucharest are looking to be full of similar bike rides over previously unknown streets. 

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