Moving on…from the arguably benevolent Tito to unarguably malevolent Ceaușescu. My first stop in Romania was Timişoara, birthplace of the 1989 revolution that toppled the Ceaușescu regime. It was glorious.
Not that it lacked the depressing recent history I’ve been traveling through these past weeks. I learned a lot in the Museum of the Revolution, housed in a (deliberately?) run-down building outside the city core.
Apparently this was not Ceaușescu’s favorite city and the feeling was mutual. Timişoara citizens, located geographically westward and psychologically identifying with an Austro-Hungarian past, never bought much of what Ceaușescu was selling. It got more pronounced as other countries came out from behind the iron curtain. State controlled radio and television kept most Romanians in the dark about changes in Eastern Europe but people on the western edge could get signals from the west and knew that there was a new sick man of Europe and that his name this time around was Comrade, not Sultan.
A Hungarian priest, threatened with exile from the city for speaking against the regime, was defended by the citizens in greater and greater numbers. Protests spread from one city to another and eventually became too big for the army to put down.
Not that they didn’t try.
But as much as I learned about the depressing years of communism (Ceaușescu was particularly, and unusually for a communist, brutal when it came to preventing women from accessing abortion) and the difficult years since the revolution, my spirit could not be too dampened because everywhere I visited in Romania was just so goddamned beautiful.
Timişoara Is sometimes called Little Vienna because of its it baroque and Secessionist (Viennese art nouveau) buildings. But that tinge of post-communist grunge I felt wasn’t quite there in Ljubljana? Timişoara has it in spades, along with plenty of street art (I later learned they host a street art festival) which only enhances its atmosphere.
I didn’t even see the city at its best. Or I saw it half at its best–Piața Victoriei was all decked out for a flower festival; half at its worst–Piața Unirii was at the tail end of a sewer replacement project and hardly ready for its close up.
I know that there’s a lot more to Timişoara that’s not all architectural wonderland because in the movie playing at the Museum of the Revolution they explained that workers from the shoe factory joined with workers from the beer factory joined with…and I was like ‘where are all these factories? The center is adorable, compact and factory free!’
Although surprise, I did identify and visit the beer factory.
After two days I moved on and made Braşov my home base for exploring Transylvania.
It was easy to day trip from there to Sighişoara, birthplace of history’s greatest pornstache and most imaginative executioner.
Then I had to make a tough choice about either keeping with the Vlad the Impaler theme and heading to the place they promote as Dracula’s Castle or going to the town of Sinaia to check out Romania’s answer to Neuschwanstein, the residence of the former king. It sounds like calling Bran castle “Dracula’s” is straight up chicanery practiced on gullible tourists so I went for the latter. Good call I think.
Romania was pricier than Bosnia or Serbia, but nonetheless quite a bargain by Western Europe standards. It struck me as one of those places more people would visit if they knew how much adorableness was to be found and weren’t scared of vampires and/or communists. And bears!
Much of the preserved beauty of old town Prague or art nouveau Budapest can be found in Romania for a fraction of the price. Not, alas, the thermal baths or stunning opera houses, but plenty to keep you busy. If you are into hiking, the woods and mountains are incredible. Of course it’s also a little rougher around the edges in terms of transportation and tourist services and flawless English speakers, but it’s come a long way since communist times so don’t be scared to visit. My six day visit was a very welcome respite after Belgrade but not nearly enough time to explore all Romania has to offer.
Note for travelers looking to go to Timişoara: given that Timişoara is such a logical entry point for anyone arriving in Romania by land from Serbia, information on how to get from Belgrade to Timişoara is unreasonably difficult to come by.
There is no bus from Belgrade to Timişoara, at least according to the Serbian woman I talked to who made the same journey.If you look up train options on the popular websites you might come up empty. Fortunately this person wrote a blog post to explain the process. Since I found that so helpful, I figured the least I could do was link to it.
My experience was pretty much as described, although I will add that the Belgrade Danube (Beograd-Dunav) station is so unassuming and tiny that you might miss it so here’s a picture.
I bought my ticket a day in advance and at this station, but I don’t know that either of those things are required. Happy traveling!