Monday, March 7, 2016

A trip to Transylvania Timișoara

A couple of weeks ago I took an excursion to Romania, one of Serbia's neighbors I'd never before visited. During a speech competition a few years back I made a friend from Romania who studies architecture in Cluj, and when I realized I would return to Eastern Europe, I promised to pay him a visit. Romania is a fairly large country - about the same size as Oregon - with mostly slow-moving trains, so while I felt that I covered a lot of ground, I actually only saw highlights of Dracula's homeland.

Typical facade of a neglected train station in rural Serbia and Romania

At each stop the station's manager would come out and wave us off - a quaint tradition

First stop: Timișoara
With roughly 300,000 inhabitants, this is one of the largest cities and a social, economic, and cultural hub of western Romania. I missed a connecting train while waiting in a queue to withdraw Romanian leu (pronounced lay) which meant I had a few extra hours to take in this cit.

Because it's not dominated by skyscrapers, I was able to see pretty clearly sites of interest just by walking up and down a few boulevards. Like the Serbs, Romanians are overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox, and a few grand churches tower over nearby buildings, so I sought those out.

Orthodox church bisected by trolley cables

A stray balloon resting on the bible in this mosaic

The full mosaic in the church's dome

Late in the evening, I arrived in Cluj, the most populous city in Romania after Bucharest and the unofficial capital of Transylvania. Cluj is located in a valley with a minor hill in the middle, which its name Belvedere reveals as a good spot for seeing the city.

Taken from Belvedere at night

An innocent swing set looking out over a dam

Belvedere by day

This bohemian city teems with students as it hosts the country's largest university and many others.

Cluj's central park

Romulus and Remus -- saw this statue in Timișoara, too; a country proud of its ties to ancient Rome as demonstrated by its name

The opera house in Cluj -- a friendly guard, the "guardian of the opera house" unlocked the door and took us inside where we glimpsed a rehearsal for La Traviata!

After a couple of days in Cluj, my friend and I headed to his hometown, Arad, by way of Alba Iulia to spend a few hours walking through a citadel built to fend off the Ottoman Turks in the Middle Ages.

There are ongoing archaeologic digs in Alba Iulia - in fact a friend from Princeton participated in for a dig in that very place for about a month not long ago - owing to its prominence during the Roman Empire. Like other Balkan countries, the land that now constitutes Romania was desirable as a prime location linking the East to the West. For roughly 170 years, Romania was part of the Roman Empire, then Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Slavs, and Magyars each seized bits and pieces briefly, after which the Ottoman Empire controlled it and then finally, before independence in 1878, it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The reddish roofs and single-storey houses can be found seemingly everywhere in the Balkans

One of a Baroque gates used to enter the citadel

Inside the citadel -- most of these buildings now house exhibits on Romanian history and culture, such as the Romanian equivalent of the Declaration of Independence

Though peasants usually lived outside of the citadel, these statues remind visitors of people who they once may have seen about town

A model citadel -- the star-like shape with pointy bastions

Roman remains -- elevated floor tiles that could be heated by an underground furnace

After visiting this historic town, we made our way to Arad, my friend's hometown.

The "administrative palace," a glorified name for a gorgeous town hall

My friend's parents greeted us with freshly made crepes -- they didn't even know they're my favorite! -- with homemade jam and warm milk from my friend's grandparent's farm. What a welcome.

Radiant, resplendent interiors -- makes me wonder whether the purpose of a church is to be a museum for saints or a hospital for sinners; I approach most Orthodox churches as museums

A clip from a ceremony honoring a recently deceased relative. Six weeks, six months, and one year after a death, the family brings food which the priest blesses and then serves to the poor. 

Another Orthodox cathedral -- these are often dark inside because they don't have many windows which leads the gilded panels to glow sumptuously

International Women's day, celebrated as Mother's Day in Romania, March 8th, is right around the corner, so ever city we visited had tables lined with crafts and goods to give to important women in our lives

Timișoara has a beautiful, expansive, and mostly well-preserved city center. I don't think I'd ever seen such a large area and so many connected streets in the middle of a city strictly for pedestrians.

Decorative tiling on an Orthodox cathedral in Timișoara

Don't know why the formatting is funky. Hope the print isn't too small in certain places.

I have one other personal excursion planned before I leave Belgrade: next week to Kosovo! After that I'll have visited all but one of Serbia's neighbors, Bulgaria. Though it's tiny, Serbia borders eight countries: Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo (or those who consider Kosovo part of Serbia would say Albania), Macedonia, Bosnia, and Croatia.

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