City Streets and Văcărești Nature Park - Bucharest, Romania
While I generally prefer trail running, running around a city can also make for a great ultrarunning destination. I planned my run to Bucharest, Romania mainly because of the cheap flights from Berlin on Ryanair and not because I knew anything about the city. However, as I researched the city, I found many areas I wanted to visit so plotted a marathon course enabling me to tour many interesting sites. In my run I passed by the Palace of Parliament, Romanian Athenaeum, and the Bucharest Old Town but also found a surprise at the Văcărești Nature Park.
Nicolae Ceaușescu led Romania during most of its time under Communist rule. He established totalitarian rule after 1968 and sought to establish Romania as a world leader. As part of his rule, he embarked on a few major projects, most notably the building of the Palace of Parliament, now one of the largest administrative buildings in the world. Besides the building, he also created the Boulevard Unirii, similar to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, but on a larger scale. This building itself was a great destination to run around during my first day in Bucharest where I put together a marathon length run, mainly on city streets, but also including a forest park near the Bucharest Zoo on the north side of the city.
At the tail end of the run I came across an interesting area on the southern edge of the city. From the side I approached the area there was a tall fence that made it look to be off limits, but I could see a trail on the other side of the fence. The trail ran along the rim of what looked like an embankment you’d see on a damn. The embankment is concrete lined and led down to the bottom where there was a wide open area filled with trees and tall grasses. It wasn’t clear that one could descend into it. I found a break in the fence, crossed over and jogged along the trail. After about a mile I came across a group of people standing at the top of a stairway. I started to talking a woman in the group and turned out she was on a tour with a group from the Netherlands. She explained that the area at the bottom was filled with trails and was now a nature area. She highly recommended going down, but the day was getting long so I decided I’d come back tomorrow for a longer run.
That night I researched what I’d found, and it turned out that Ceaușescu had the idea for a large majestic lake within the city limits. They built the embankments around an already marshy area and then attempted to flood it by diverting the water from a nearby river. When they filled the lake, the walls leaked and flooded out an area on the north side, so abandoned their attempt to create the lake. Soon after with the fall of Ceaușescu the area became abandoned. Over the course of the next 30 years nature slowly reclaimed the area, and it is now home to over 100 species of animals. The trails snake through trees, high grasses and many lakes. While moving through the grass I even scared a peasant that flew off. Thankfully, while originally considered for development, the area was turned into a protected park in 2014.
I stayed in a hotel in the city center. The night after my long run the hotel was empty and found myself the only one eating dinner on Saturday on their lovely terrace. The owner came and sat with me, and we talked about his life in Romania and the experiences he had during the revolution in 1989. He experienced the violence first hand and was thankful for the improvements in life after the fall of communist rule. He also shared with me their homemade drink, Vișinată. It’s made from cherries, lots of sugar and vodka that is left to sit for 100 days. It made for a nice after dinner drink on a beautiful evening.
Bucharest is a highly urban area with sidewalks and walking paths along just about every road I saw. These pathways enable you to put together a long run, but a densely urban one. Despite that, there are several parks and then the urban oasis to balance it out and find quiet. There are many areas outside Bucharest in the Romania countryside that look to be excellent for trail running I will definitely return to see. Given the low-cost flights from Berlin, sometimes less than 25 EUR, it’s a great ultrarunning destination if you are visiting Europe or just looking for a quick weekend getaway.