Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Romania Part 3

It's been a while since I wrote the last part of my Romanian travel blog, but I want to finish it before I move on to Moldova and Transnistria where I've just been. The main reason is that for me, our next stop after Timisoara, was probably the one that will remain in my memory the longest as it was both a wonderful surprise and a place of sadness too.

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.

Our next stop was a supermarket to buy refreshments and then at a café for some coffee. While we sat on the terrace, we noticed a wedding party arriving rather noisily in the streets below. Our pretty waitress practised her English by telling us they'd come to fetch the bride, or rather the groom had and he was followed by all the guests. There was much music with a band playing, so we went down to watch. When the bride came out and got in the allotted car, a woman walked through the crowd of guests offering small pieces of cake. She also offered them to onlookers and we were included. I thought how lovely it was to embrace everyone around in the celebration in this way. Then she and the rest of the wedding party sped off amidst much hooting and cheering - I suppose to the church and reception.

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.

21 comments:

  1. I’ve been waiting for this final of Romania.
    Patiently you know twiddling my fingers,
    then anxiously chewing my nails.
    Even spent time cutting the grass.
    Finally I went on a fast, gave up biscuits,
    chocolate too, time went by the poor
    reader became thinner and now my
    sufferings are over you’ve posted at last!

    An excellent read Val I feel as if I have been there for your travel accounts are so alive. One question where to next ?

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  2. Ah Mel, you've made my day. Thank you very much. I'm so glad you've enjoyed it and I hope your finger nails have grown back, and that you eat extra biscuits to make up for it :) My next post will be about going to Chisinau in Moldova!

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  3. By all accounts not a promising beginning for the Orastie section of your trip, but it is wonderful that it turned out such a positive surprise.

    I like the expression "restored beyond repair"... In some ancient sites in Greece where they've undertaken restorations it's been controversial, due to the questionable historical authenticity of the work.I wonder what the case is in Alba Iulia?

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  4. Good point, Maria. I wouldn't really like to say as we continue to restore very old houses if we want to live in them, don't we? But then if you are trying to present the remains of what was actually there before the thing concerned became a ruin, then no restoration should be done, but where do you draw the line between maintenanace and rernewal?

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  5. Hi Val - you've had such an interesting few trips recently ... I shall return to read them all properly ... wonderful travels, before the countries become too westernised.

    Take care - cheers Hilary

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    1. So true, Hilary. While I understand their desire for a better life within the EU, I fear much of their unique culture will be dissipated.

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  6. I have never heard any accounts of travel in Romania, and this is all so interesting Val. Orastie turned out to be quite charming, even including you in a wedding celebration. Your pictures of the churches at night are lovely, and I can imagine how special it was to come upon them unexpectedly. Thank you for sharing your trip :)

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    1. Thank you Patricia. I've loved these trips to Romania and Moldova!

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  7. As part of my Cert TESOL I had to learn Romanian, I hadn't realised it was Latin based and was such a pretty language. From your pictures and narrative it is obviously a lovely country too, very interesting. I can't remember much of the language but I would now love to visit. I am surprised that you didn't end up adopting a dog and taking one home. I think your rawness has probably made you even more vulnerable to their plight :( xxx}

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    1. You are probably right there Fran. The strays made me want to collect them all up and bring them home! Koos wouldn't let me though...sigh...and yes, Romanian is quite doable to read! Understanding what they say when they are speaking fast is another matter, but we had some good interaction with them :)

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  8. Beautiful pics, as always. Martyn has visited Romania a couple of times with one of the foreign students we used to host. So much poverty, but such hospitality!

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    1. So true, Carole. They are just the warmest and kindest people, but the poverty was hard to cooe with.

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  9. I loved the part where you suddenly came across the church - I felt your surprise! I take my hat off to anyone who can do four and a half hours in a bus on a bumpy road. I think I would have got off at some intermediate stop and chanced it! Don't you find it a problem, living on a boat, if you suffer from travel sickness? Of course, I know that you probably don't encounter terribly towering waves :)

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    1. Jenny, yes, just sometimes. If the wind blows and we start rolling, then I do feel sick, but mostly, the barge is very stable, being flat bottomed and all :)

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  10. Oh Val I feel your pain about the dogs it's hard to watch. I love the adventure you went on it must have been great fun and Romania does sound an interesting place to visit.

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    1. I loved it, Anne. The dogs and the old people - that was too sad. I cried more than once!

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  11. Beautiful photos and a passionate account of what seems to be an enchanting country.

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    1. It is, Jo, it is. You should realise that old dream and go there! xx

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  12. Thank you for taking me on a visit to Orastie & Alba, Val - some lovely photos too.
    I would feel the same as you about the poverty and the stray dogs. It is interesting that often those with so little are usually the people who are the warmest & friendliest to strangers.

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    1. Yes, Jane, they are. I felt quite humbled at times. Thank you so much for commenting!

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  13. You are a brilliant writer. I enjoy reading everything you write. And great pictures! Thanks!

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