It’s Sunday evening in Herastrau, one of the biggest parks in Bucharest. All the population of Bucharest seems to be here and it’s quite a challenge to cycle through running kids, old couples and groups of friends walking in a row that covers the whole length of the path. Chatter noise, latino music blasting from restaurants, screeching bike tires, roller skates, popcorn smell, boat engines, flies. I found a place under a weeping willow in a distant side of the park where I can hear the water splashing against the concrete embankment. But I am prey to mosquitoes and ants.
These past weeks I felt the need for a holiday. I love living in a big city, the agitation, the artsy events, the architecture, the people, but sometimes I crave for nature, not the tamed vegetation that you find in parks, but for that sense of wilderness, that trees are going to grow wherever they wish, the grass is knee high, the people walk slowly but purposefully and the air caries the fragrance of the season’s flowers.
So yesterday I went searching for a place like that. And after two hours of train ride, passing supermarkets, oil refineries, villages and fields of poppies, I got to such a place called Slanic Prahova.
Slanic is famous for its salt mine, which is one of the most bizzare places I’ve visited. We went underground in a minibus on a winding salt road. When we got to about 200 m underground, the minibus stopped in front of a big wooden gate where a security guard told us to get in. Inside, the place looks like a huge palace, with really high ceiling and perfectly cut walls which seemed made of marble. The temperature was probably 20 degrees below what it was on the surface. Lights were hanging from the ceiling and continuous echoes were mixed into a strange song, as if people were trying to speak underwater. People come here for the air which is good for the lungs and there were loads of kind playing. It was amazing to think that this place was sculpted across tens of years and I imagined a whole palace of salt exploding into billions of grains which ended up in people’s food and bath tubs.
The strangest part was waiting to get out. We couldn’t get out whenever we wanted and we had to wait for a minibus which didn’t have a certain schedule — they would come when enough tourists would gather to visit the mine. There we were, tens of people waiting for one minibus and it was ridiculous how long we had to wait, all frozen, for a bus we didn’t know when it was going to come, 200m underground. I took out my pool towel and wrapped myself and managed to survive for what felt like forever until the minibus came and I pushed my way between tough looking dads, worried mothers bracing their babies and teachers pushing their young students. Everybody was competing to get a seat on the minibus.
The best part of my day was swimming in the salty lake outside. The air was hot and dipping in the water felt like such a treat. Around the lake there were tens of blooming acacia trees, people lazying on a deck or jumping in the water. Somewhere in the grass, a big group of friends were having a picnic.
Coming back to Bucharest, I had to change trains and the ticket inspector from the first one spoke into his walkie talkie and found out that a train going to Bucharest had been delayed and there was a chance that we could catch it. The inspector told the driver to go faster so we can catch the Bucharest train at the next stop, before it was leaving the station. The two became excited about this new mission, to get me onto that train, and we were like a little team united by a common goal. We stopped in the station and I rushed. In about 10 seconds I had made it from one train to the other. The first thing after find a free seat was to open the window and wave at my comrades. They waved back and we were all smilling. Our secret mission had been accomplished and nobody else knew what was going on. I got home one hour earlier than I had expected.
Photo taken by the author of a ladybird preparing for take off