I'm back after a wonderful week spent on the road in Romania. It was tiring but well worth it. The three of us (me and two French guys, lucky me), left From Prague on Friday around 2pm and we reached the Romanian border town of Oradea at 1am, local time. We got back last Sunday so in total we spent 9 days and a half on the road. The trip to Romania was quite Ok, except for a bit of a traffic jam in Hungary and the fact that the highways are not well indicated and I have a feeling there was a slightly shorter way to get to Oradea. The two drivers took turns behind the wheel and I did the navigating part, including the sandwiches and so time flew by.
When we arrived in Oradea, the hotel manager was already waiting for us. This was the only booking I made in advance because the trip was only roughly defined: I had in mind the general points of what I wanted to do and see and back ups to my plans so that the guys could also have a say in this schedule. The room was clean but the downside was the noisy street. We were still very much awake from the trip so we had some beers before going to sleep at 3am. In the morning we had brunch in the room: smoked Italian ham and salad and headed out to visit Oradea.
The usual gateway into Romania is Arad, at least for me, because the roads are better and the highway now passes Szeged and goes almost all the way to the boarder. But we had already been to Arad before so we wanted to see something new. And not to mention Oradea is closer to Cluj, you'll see why soon :) . Oradea is a charming town with many baroque and Secession style buildings and even, as the hotel manager told me, a pedestrian street. So keep this in mind for when you will visit Romania.
We started our visit on the pedestrian Republicii street. The weather was not very friendly, raining and unusually cold for this time of the year. The pedestrian street is a very nice touch, resembles a bit what we had already sen in Brasov, bars, restaurants and shops on both sides and bar tables in the middle. It would have been pleasant if it weren't for the rain. Here you have some views of the street, it was not very crowded yet, maybe because of the rain, but we soon found a lot of foreign tourists and some lively places.
Oradea seemed to me to be emblematic of a trend in Romania: many thinks have been done to improve the quality of life but there are still many things to be done and the vision of the future is lacking. Behind the shabby facades you could see that the boarder town was once glorious. Indeed some buildings have already been restored to their former beauty, some are undergoing reconstruction work while others are still waiting. But Oradea is on the good path, maybe it's the western influence since many people here work in Hungary.
Since it was raining quite a lot, we hoped into the first bar we saw: The "retro lactobar bistro" as advertised by the cow outside. I will talk about it in another post, the place certainly had personality and it was great fun, together with the pubs and discos around our hotel, I think the night life here must be at least worth a try. This proves that the airplane magazine that lead me to even consider Oradea as a stop over, was right: there is life outside Bucharest.
When we finished our coffee it was raining less and we managed to find enough courage to go outside. and wandered around the beautiful Ferdinand square. We passed the State Theater, one of the best theaters in Romania, according to my artistically inclined friends. Periodically there are theater festivals and the tickets are cheap compared to the quality of the artistic performance.
Some more buildings in the area are nicely restored or under restoration. In a few year, when they'll finish the restoration work, the city will be splendid, as I'm sure it was during the Hapsburg.
Actually, Oradea was meant to resemble Vienna, so many buildings here are in the same style as the ones in the capital of the Empire and were been built by Austrian architects.
The map I had had for free from the hotel pointed me towards the other side of the Crisul Repede river, where the center of the town lies as well as the citadel of Varadinum.
Over the bridge, the Town Hall is looking along the river. Along the Crisul Repede river there are many green spaces, parks and other recreational spaces
As I said before, the proximity to the West is beneficial to the town which has good links to the rest of Europe: the highway in Hungary goes to Debrecen, not very far from Oradea, there is an airport here and the airports of Cluj and Budapest are not very far either. It took us 10 hours to come here from Prague, by car.
The main square with a Statue of Michale the Brave, the first to unite the Romanian provinces. I found it interesting to see a statue of him here, he is more of a symbol for the Southern part of Romania.
With better weather, it's a nice place to sit down and watch the passers by but this was an atypical summer as you can see from the menacing clouds in the background. This is where we saw our first wedding of the day: with all the rain, there will be at least 5 lucky and rich couples.
The Black Eagle Palace, shopping gallery in the Art Nouveau style, named after a stained glass ceiling depicting a Black Eagle. Close by is the Church with the Moon, where one can find an interesting astronomical clock which follows the phases of the moon. Interesting fact: the first Meridian was considered to pass by Oradea, long before it was established in Greenwich.
According to Wikipedia, there are over 100 sites of religious service and many of them are in and around the square: Roman Catholic, Franciscan, Orthodox, Evangelical, Jewish, Baptists, all are represented and sometimes in close vicinity as you can see below.
The citizens of Oradea are 70% Romanian and roughly 28% Hungarian (some Roma and others make up the rest) for a population of over 200 000 people, a large town by Romanian standards. Don't be surprised to hear Hungarian spoken a lot here, as in other cities in Transylvania.
Oradea is not without it's importance in the history of Europe, having suffered hoards of invaders from the Mongols to the Ottomans. The ruins of the citadel testify to it's troubled past.
The bastion fortress is being restored, much in the same way as the one in Alba Iulia has already been restored. When we were there the site was under heavy reconstruction but still some wedding parties were taking pictures in the park.
This is were we ended our walk around Oradea, we got back to the hotel to have a tea before heading towards our next destination, Cluj. There are more things to see and do in Oradea such as the Muzeum of the region or "Tara Crisului", a baroque Palace with 365 windows. Just 5km South of Oradea is the spa town of Baile Felix with a beautiful waterlily reservation (again, the hotel manager proved to be a great source of information). If you want to make a detour, there is also the glacier cave of Scarisoara in nearby Alba County. But we had to be in Cluj by nightfall and you'll understand why soon.