Timisoara, Romania

Trip Start Aug 03, 2006
Trip End Aug 23, 2006

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Whew! Romania has reminded me why I signed up for this adventure: it is not the easiest
country to get around. And all the other travelers I meet marvel at the fact that I have
undertaken it on my own. But believe it or not, that's exactly what I was looking for: something to remind me that my American sensibilities are not to be taken for granted. And, boy, did I get it. After various delays, my train crossed into Romania around 3:00 PM as my familiar friend P-Dog came into view: the gas station Rachel, her dad, and I saw throughout Turkey last spring whose logo was a large P with an animal head on it. After much debate over whether the caricature was a dog or a panther, we determined was it canine and named the facility P-Dog (however, the logo in Romania is slightly different and acutally much more like a panther.)

After pulling into Timisoara around 4:00, I thought it would be best to figure out my next move before I left the train station. So, I went to the information desk to ask about trains to Sibiu. "Do you speak English?" I asked. I had been advised that English was a good way to start, with German as a close second. Nevertheless, the resounding answer was: NO. "Deutsch?" She shook her head. "Magyar?" Emphaticly, NO!

This was not going to be so easy after all, I thought.

Giving up, I left the train station and figured my hotel could help me out. Fortunately, there are ATMs everywhere, so at least that saved me the stress of having to worry about money. I made my way to my hotel, the Cina Banatul, a 3 minus 1 star (one star had been very obviously crossed out with permanent marker) concrete monstrocity all too reminiscent of the communist days. While the clerk at the desk spoke some English, he had no clue about train schedules, but pointed me in the direction of the downtown office of the national railway. After dropping my bags, I headed over there and walked up to the first open desk I saw. "Do you speak English? Deutsch? Magyar?" I asked. NO!

At this point I realized that very few people I was going to deal with in Romania speak anything aside from Romanian. And I also realized that they are not going to try, or care, or bother referring me to their friend sitting next to them who does indeed speak a foreign language. Neither was that friend going to speak up on her own and let me know she can help.

And then something clicked. Why am I not speaking Spanish to these people? Romanian is a romance language, they should get it, right?

So I launched into my own made up language I call Spantalian, which is basically Spanish words pronounced with the Italian melody, with some Italian thrown in. Heck, I don't even really know if what I was saying were real words in any language, but they sounded latin. I figured if I gesticulated enough, they would get me, right? Unbelievably, IT WORKED! Within minutes I had a ticket for the evening train to Sibiu the next day.

Romanian is indeed a very interesting language. The melody is very similar to sing-songy
Italian, but the pronunciation sounds very slavic to me. They have adopted words from other languages, eg, yes = da; thank you = merci; bye = ciao. So that part is easy enough. And fortunately, it is very easy to decipher in written form, so I have taken to carrying pen and paper with me and asking people to write things down when I'm in a real pinch. So far, that has gotten me by.

But I'm wondering where the Hungarians are? I know I will find more as I venture further into the country, but I guess I expected to see more of a Magyar presence, even in Timisoara. I have heard some locals speaking Hungarian, and I see signs of Hungarian
settlement, like the Hungarian National Theater or Hungarian Reformed Church, where Laszlo Tokes (whom I actually met once in the Bay Area) vehemently spoke out against the Ceaucescu regime, igniting the 1989 revolution in Romania.

Timisoara (Temesvar in Hungarian), an easy 6-hour train ride from Budapest, has served as a good introduction to the country. It has beautiful squares decorated with amazingly ornate buildings; it is apparent that at one time this was a great city. I spent the evening wandering around, enjoying a beer and a meat extravaganza on Piata Victoriei. (Meat seems to be the going thing here, which is certainly fine by me.) The plazas are dotted with outdoor biergardens that create a wonderful summer ambience in this great weather.

I see a lot of shared history here, and an interesting mix of Hungarian, Romanian, and Serb influences. Piata Libertatii was the site where Dozsa Gyorgy (Gheorghe Doja in Romanian), leader of the 1514 peasant revolt, was tortured and killed. It is said that upon his execution, his followers were forced to eat parts of his body as an appetizer before their own executions. (Maybe not surprising for a country so big on meat.) Interestingly, there is also a statue under Castle Hill in Budapest commemorating this same leader.

I had a very pleasant evening in Timisoara, and while service definitely does not come with a smile here, the prices more than make up for it, especially if you stick to the local stuff. EG, a .33 L Corona costs over $5 but the .5 L Timisoareana beer is only $1.25 and actually quite good.

Hopefully, I will get more accustomed to the realities of travel here; I've already had to adjust my travel plan to a much less aggressive schedule, but that's fine. The whole point of this vacation is to get in touch with my roots, learn about the past, survive on little, and slow things down. So far, Romania has given me exactly that.
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