Friday, August 07, 2015

Romania part 2: Timisoara, romance in Romanian form

Continued from previous post:

Waking late the following morning, we left our lovely air-conditioned Pension Yellow (a hostelry to be recommended), and ventured into a still, silent Timisoara by tram. Hardly anyone was about, which puzzled us. It was a very hot day, but hardly siesta time. Along the towpath of the Bega canal, we studied our surroundings. Beautiful, elegant, shabby chic buildings predominated. Decay rubbing shoulders with finery. I absolutely loved it. I captured a colourful family leaving their house - colourful as in the fabrics of their clothes. At first I thought they were muslim until I saw the rich, chaotically vibrant colours of their full skirts and the simple headscarves on the older women instead of veils; none on the teenage girls' heads. Roma perhaps? They looked too beautiful to me.

The situation of the Roma is not one I want to discuss here, but this article  from 2003 sheds some light on their position in Romania. It is not a happy one. Needless to say, we encountered many of them, some of whom were begging, but those that weren't seemed proud and dignified as in this family in my photo.

One of the things that charmed me in both Cluj Napoca and Timisoara was the coffee machines to be found everywhere. Nearly every small shop has one, and they can even be found on the streets. I have to say I found this immensely civilized, especially as hotel and hostel rooms don't provide kettles the way they mostly do in England and South Africa. My ability to wake up in the mornings is in direct proportion to the amount of coffee I can consume, so these machines were my life-safer. And it's astonishing that they aren't vandalized at all - something for which Koos was deeply grateful as he had to live with me until I'd had my required quota. Not an enviable task.

Each morning of our stay in Timisoara, we headed for the corner-shop-with-the-coffee-machine at the end of the street. It was run by a Serbian man (the borders with Serbia and Hungary are not far) who greeted us with a friendly smile. He learnt soon enough that firstly, we wanted coffee, secondly a hand of bananas (our breakfast) and thirdly a couple of the hugest tomatoes I've ever seen (mid morning snacks). This didn't require anything challenging in communication, but as it happens, Romanian is sort of doable in small chunks. Many of its content words are latin based, so if you know any French, Spanish or Italian, (or Latin of course), there is much you can figure out. The problem is the links that form the chain of a sentence. Totally incomprehensible to the newcomer.

Shabby chic and elegance
Actually, apart from the unarguable elegance of this lovely city, two of the most memorable moments of our stay were classic examples of miscommunciation. Walking into a canal side café, Koos saw two women eating what looked like sausage and chips. 'That's what I'd like', he said to the waiter, 'what those two women are having'. The waiter promptly brought him a pint of beer. We hadn't even noticed what the women were drinking. 'Thank you, but I'd really like what they are eating too,' he said, accepting the beer without comment. 'Do you want it with cheese or garlic?' The waiter asked. 'Oh, er, cheese, please.' A plate of chips then arrived with grated cheese over them. I started giggling 'Yes, but could I have the sausage too? Like those women had?' Koos said with considered patience. Again the question 'cheese or garlic?' Odd, but okay, garlic this time. The waiter brought a bowl of garlic sauce. Clearly the 'age' on the sauce didn't get through.

Decay rubbing shoulders with finery

The lovely Bega Canal

Gorgeous architecture

Later, Koos tried again at a kiosk. 'Could I have some chips, please?' He asked slowly, carefully. 'No, we don't sell chips, we only sell real food,' said the woman. After some experiments with the permutations of what chips might be in Romanian, he eventually got some ready-made (even to the box they were contained in) microwaved french fries. I laughed all the way into the city. What with his ageless sauce and non-food chips, it was surprising we managed to get any food at all. Come to think of it, food wasn't high on the list of memorable items. The tomatoes were amazing though!

A fine city given over to a café society

On a more serious note, I was happy I didn't see any stray dogs in either Cluj or Timisoara (something that Romania is known for), but not so happy about  the number of clearly impoverished old people. This was terribly sad, and I wondered what kind of safety net there is in Romania for old people who have no family to care for them.

Seen too often; impoverished elderly people scratching
a living on the streets

Although we went into a tourist information office where the woman on duty went to great trouble to give us a map and directions to museums, we didn't do any of the tourist sites except the magnificent orthodox churches. We like churches (Koos loves to take photos of fine church interiors) and they were blissfully cool. In Romania, the churches and cathedrals are breathtaking: so rich, so ornate, they are truly places of wonder. The people are visibly religious too. We were especially charmed when a skateboarding youth, complete with baseball cap on backwards made a sign of the cross as he passed in front of the cathedral, and many other individuals strolling with friends or family did the same.

The beautiful orthodox cathedral in Timisoara

The helpful woman in the tourist office also told us the reason the city was so quiet. It was just too hot to be out. We could understand that. With temperatures over 40 degrees in the sun, it was rather taxing. Nevertheless, at night, the city came alive. From around 8pm onwards, families thronged the lovely squares. We spent some very happy time sitting on the steps of the Opera House, just people watching. A couple of small children were playing near us, and they were such a delight to see. This was at around 10:30pm when everyone seemed to be out with their children and pets.

What fun it is to be a small boy

And a small girl

We also took some time to follow the city's tram routes. Timisoara is not very big in terms of square kilometers. It comes to an end quite sharply and the trams reach the extent of the city's limits. On one tram ride, we got off right at the edge of the built up areas when Koos spotted an impressive silo. We alighted at the ideal moment, it seemed, as we found ourselves next to the canal again, but this time with a more industrial purpose. In many respects, this was our best Timisoara experience, possibly hard for some to understand, but this is where Koos and I meet wholeheartedly. It had fabulous industrial buildings, charming side streets full of local character, and above all, the peace of a parallel watery world; something I think we both needed at this point.

Along the Bega Canal on the outskirts. 

Timisoara water tower

Plums for the picking on the canal side

Silos - industrial cathedrals

The most charming side street off the canal. I want to live here!

So that was Timisoara. It would be impossible to include everything about our stay in this blog, but I hope it gives some impressions of what a lovely, exotic and special city it is. We did what we enjoyed, a canal boat trip being an essential, and just absorbed as much as we could.
The rather debonair skipper on the boat trip

What we love: the parallel world of the water

After three days, we moved on, and that means one more post. This will be about Orastie, a surprising jewel and Alba Iulia, a disappointment with benefits, but that's for next time. I think this is quite enough for now, though, and I apologise for keeping you on my page for so long. Thank you for your patience in reading this far! Have a wonderful weekend everyone. xx


  1. A very interesting blog Val. I think you must have had a great holiday and taken in a variety of perspectives on life in Romania. I found it interesting that the old and new buildings stand side by side and marvellously blend in with each other, whereas over here modern buildings stand out like a sore thumb!

    1. It's a fascinating country, Mel. Full of contrasts. On the one had, warm, friendly people and gorgeous towns and scenery. On the other, poverty, neglect and decay. Both wonderful and sad at the same time. I'll be going back, though! And you're right about the blend. Much of it works very well, but what you do still have are huge tower blocks of flats built during the soviet and former regimes. Places to stack people. Not always so nice, so I didn't take many photos of those. A bit one-sided of me, I know :)

  2. Lovely descriptions, Val! You take me there and I am in complete understanding of your being drawn to a more fascinating side of the city. When Gene and I travel, we search out similar spots. Excellent photos, however, I equally (if not more) love your words!
    Maybe Koos would have had better luck requesting french fries ...

    1. Haha, Dale, I think you may be right about the French Fries, but we did learn a new word that day. The Romanian word for fries is 'cartofi', not unlike the German Kartoffel, which is potato. And yes, the pirate….

  3. And the girly pirate is exquisite!

    1. ….was real eye candy :) He was very nice too!

  4. I love reading about your travels, you make me feel that I am tagging along with you. The pictures are fab xxx

    1. Thank you, Fran! I'm really glad you enjoy these posts. I know they're a bit long, but I use them as a sort of record keeper in case I want to write about these things later. So sorry I didn't see this comment until today. I need to keep more of an eye on the moderation thing, but I apply it after a week to prevent spammers.

  5. What an interesting place to visit. I always find it slightly annoying at the richness of the churches in many countries when the people who worship there are so impoverished.


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