We arrived in Orastie by bus after finding our way to the bus station in Timisoara the circuitous route, meaning we got lost. Luckily we just managed to get a seat and the bus was air conditioned. Unluckily, I didn't have any travel sickness pills, so by the time we got there some four and a half hours after a long climb through the mountains via the bendy route, I was feeling green.
At first sight, Orastie did not have much to recommend it. We were deposited on the main road that skirts the town and as chance would have it, our hostel was on the same road. It didn't look much and I muttered things to Koos about it being a one horse sort of town. The hostel was certainly justly so-named, but after waiting for the owner to turn up and unlock, we found it was at least very clean. The weather was very hot, so we had a bit of a rest and decided to go out in the early evening. We'd had a good lunch and food was not really needed as I was still feeling a bit woozy, so we walked down to the river.
It was peaceful and quiet despite the two or three gypsy encampments we saw in the nearby scrub land. On our walk we were adopted by a dog who had been accompanying a family of gypsies ahead of us. The little mutt was a sweetheart, but I don't know if it was feral or belonged to the gypsies as it just seemed to like being with people. It was tagged, which apparently means it had been neutered and vaccinated. This was the first of many dogs we saw roaming around in Orastie, and it broke my heart. Hence the sadness.
The next pleasant surprise was the town itself. It was getting dark, but we wanted to see what Orastie was like, so we kept going and dipped down towards what we thought was the centre. The streets and houses became increasingly charming and every corner revealed a new and beautiful surprise. Firstly were the lit up 'twin towers' of two churches side by side within the town's ancient city walls. These looked wonderful against the darkening sky. Then after a few more corners and quaint streets, we came upon the central square with a huge domed orthodox church, again all lit up. Why we couldn’t see a sign of this from anywhere else, I don't know, but it was so unexpected, it was quite magical. The square itself was lively and lined with cafés. People were strolling the streets, sitting on steps or drinking at the bars. The atmosphere was of southern vibrancy but also quite peaceful. We found one place still serving coffee and joined the locals who were ready and very willing to chat to strangers from a foreign country. The friendliness was warm and genuine.
The following morning we took another walk around the town and were still not disappointed by its charm. A few buildings looked a little less romantic than they had done in the dark, but altogether, Orastie became the unexpected gem of the trip for me. As I’ve said the only sadness was the number of homeless dogs. Most of these did not look too skinny or unwell, but a few were and it was heart-wrenching to see them hunting for scraps of food.
We left Orastie at lunch time, catching the same bus that had deposited us the day before. We'd waited some time with our bags at the same café we'd had coffee at the day before, so we were happy to be on our way. Our last stop of the trip was at Alba Iulia.
Curiously, some of my favorite photos were taken at Alba, but I was generally disappointed in the town, vaunted as one of the 'must sees' in the area. It has a very fine set of fortifications that surround some impressive old state, university and religious buildings, but it was all restored beyond repair. The character and history felt lost and it was a bit soulless. Outside the fortifications, the town is bland and featureless, but we were lucky to be staying at a hostel on top of a hill outside the city and it had stunning views. Here are a couple of the photos I took there.
We only stayed the one night and then it was back to Cluj. At the bus station, we met another charming Romanian girl who was planning to hitch out of town as there were no bus to where she wanted to go. I asked her if this was safe, and she assured me that it was, confirming what we'd been told earlier that Romania is very safe for unaccompanied women these days.
Our bus eventually arrived and a couple of hours later we were back in Cluj Napoca where we spent a very pleasant evening and night before flying back to Holland. All told, it was a fabulous trip, and one that will remain with me for a long time. Romania won a piece of my heart. If it just weren't for all the homeless dogs, the poverty of the elderly and the situation of the Roma, it would have been perfect. Hopefully, this will improve in time, but I fear it will be too late for many.