Run your next love letter in Bucharest

Photo by Iacob Postavaru

My husband and I moved to Bucharest a few years ago; we had gotten the marathon running bug in Amsterdam and we continued training after the move, doing most of our practice runs through the city. That is how we saw and got to know the true Bucharest. We were so taken with it that we decided to write a “GPS love letter” to this city. Here’s what we did:

We ran our weekly long runs (24 to 33 kilometer-long), each in the shape of a letter (as recorded by Runkeeper, my running app). Here’s an example for Letter G:

Letter “G” on the streets of Bucharest

It added another goal to our marathon training, but more importantly, it forced us to go through places we’d never seen before. I think I now know my city more intimately than most of its inhabitants do. Bucharest is the ideal canvas for your next “GPS art” project, and here’s why:

  1. It’s safe. We ran everywhere, from industrial areas to lakes and forests right outside of the city. One cold April morning we ran in Ferentari, a poorer neighbourhood with many Roma inhabitants, and one of them took pity on my frozen ears and gave me a hat as a gift. On a sunny day in June we discovered “Vacaresti”, a sort of conandoylian “Lost World” in the middle of the city, a vast pit in the bed of a former lake, now claimed by wildlife . We never felt the tiniest bit unsafe, wherever we went.
Vacaresti Nature Reserve

2. It’s got all shapes of streets, from straight to winding. Not the New York grid that would make any curve in a letter a challenge, nor the Boston twists that will force you to turn to an arabic or thai alphabet.

3. It’s beautiful, in a ragged, authentic way. No, you cannot ignore the communist-time architectural legacy. But the city center has kept its Paris-like architecture, and in the neighbourhoods, behind the high rises, you often find quiet streets lined with little vine-shaded gardens. Here and there you’ll find remnants of a once bustling bridge, or of a factory from before World War II. For instance, cross on the abandoned flyover above the railway at the Obor train station, itself an architectural beauty that has seen much busier days. Or try a “tour of Mitteleuropa parks”, the charming Cismigiu, Gradina Icoanei, Parcul Ioanid and Parcul Carol.

Abandoned flyover Gara Obor. Photo by Iacob Postavaru.
Obor Train Station. Photo by Iacob Postavaru.
Parcul Carol. Photo by Mihai Petre.
Parcul Cismigiu

4. It won’t leave a dent in your pocket. Take a welcome 5-minute break mid-run and buy a hot pretzel (“covrig”) from one of the many street shops: it will set you back a whopping 1 leu (23 eurocents). Even better, run through the country-like streets of the Chitila neighbourhood in June, and, even if you forgot your money at home, you will not go wanting: the streets are lined with sour cherry trees, the very fruit that is famed among runners for its anti-inflammatory properties.


5. You might literally (pun intended) run into celebrities (or at least in their footsteps): Jackie Chan ran the “Colour Run” here, and, in “War Dogs”, Miles Teller runs past my favourite ruin in Bucharest (while claiming he’s in Albania!).

Jackie Chan (almost) incognito at the Bucharest color run. Photo by Radu Cristian.
I and Mike Teller running past the same ruin, but apparently in different countries! Photo by Iacob Postavaru.

Here is our love letter to Bucharest:

“I love running in Bucharest”: 500 km ran in the streets of Bucharest

I have uploaded all the “letter runs” into Runkeeper: you can log in and choose to follow the exact same route (look up running routes in Bucharest between 11 to 18 miles and you will find “N of Bucharest”, “G of Bucharest”, and so on). But you don’t have to: why not write your own poem, with your own alphabet, in running all over Bucharest, as every street in the city is awaiting to be discovered.

Emilia Bunea is a CEO-turned leadership scholar. Her research was published by and was nominated for an Academy of Management award.