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Romanian trip continues with wonderful sights, cheap beer and bad jazz: Ed O'Connor

Posted 10/3/18

Romania is a strikingly beautiful country. As I had previously mentioned, we used the third largest city, Timisoara, as our base for four weeks. After our guided, formal walking tour, we explored the …

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Romanian trip continues with wonderful sights, cheap beer and bad jazz: Ed O'Connor

Timisoara Orthodox Cathedral, Timisoara
Timisoara Orthodox Cathedral, Timisoara

Romania is a strikingly beautiful country. As I had previously mentioned, we used the third largest city, Timisoara, as our base for four weeks. After our guided, formal walking tour, we explored the city on our own using free maps provided by the tourist bureau. And there was much to see.

The city has been inhabited since the Roman Empire times when it was initially used as a military outpost. In the 14th century, a huge fortress was constructed in a multifaceted star design, which allowed the defenders to attack enemies in a perpetual crossfire. Very clever. However, with the invention of heavy artillery, fortresses in general were rendered useless. A single bastion of the fortress still remains, and from it one can only imagine the size and scale of the construction.

We visited many museums: from art to churches housing religious art to history. One unique museum, Banat Village Museum, was a large outdoor museum with buildings from a bygone era (picture Old Bedford Village in Bedford County, Pennsylvania). A group of about 30 buildings showed what life was like for the peasants in the 19th century. We looked inside some of the structures and saw typical household items from the past. I remarked about the beaten earth floor. Olga told me that when she was a child their family home had an earthen floor and was heated by one large fireplace, also used for cooking.

As we were strolling about the old village we heard music, which we followed to its source. We discovered that there would be a folk-dance competition on stage at the covered outdoor theater. Groups from all over Europe and as far away as Mexico were to perform. We thoroughly enjoyed the authentic, colorful costumes, the lively folk music and the precise dancing. The program lasted an hour and a half and was an unexpected treat.

Another impressive museum was the 1989 Revolution Museum. Exhibits depicted life under the communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu (1965 to 1989), and the course of the revolution, which began in Timisoara in 1989 and led to the regime’s overthrow.

Bullet holes still can be seen on some of the buildings reminding people what happened 30 years ago. Throughout Timisoara are 12 monuments in memory of those from the city that died in the revolution.

Some interesting facts about the city: Because it has so many parks, green spaces and public gardens, it is known as “The City Of Parks.” Due to its various architecture, Timisoara is also called “Little Vienna.” It was the first European city to have its streets lighted with electricity (Nov. 12, 1884).

Automobiles have always been of great interest to me, and I enjoy seeing makes and models that I have never seen. The three most prevalent cars I saw were BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, followed by VW and the home grown Dacia. We also saw quite a few Smart cars, including the larger Smart Forfour. There were some other German makes, Italian models and French cars, but I learned the French vehicles have less than a stellar reputation.

There were very few cars by Asian or American manufacturers – Ford had the largest presence of the U.S. brands.

We saw two auto accidents. I think Olga caused one. We were walking back to our apartment from city center after booking our trip to Transylvania. Olga said, “Look at that car” and pointed at it. It was a very small make/model I had never seen before or since. The driver apparently saw her point and took his eyes off the road — and slammed into the rear end of a Mercedes. We decided to hoof it a little faster from the area.

What are the odds? While ambling through one of the large pedestrian plazas, Olga saw and met a woman that she had not seen in 26 years. They had both been in the engineering class at the Polytechnical University in Chisinau, Moldova and after university had worked together.

Because of the hot weather and the plethora of outdoor cafes, we took a copious amount of adult beverage breaks. Pints of cold beer in frosted mugs were 75 cents — less than a Coca-Cola. It was interesting to see Heineken, Carlsberg and other premium brands at a lower price than Budweiser. My two favorite brands were Ciuc and Timisoreana. The Timisoreana Brewery founded in 1718 is the oldest in Romania.

While in center city we saw that a temporary stage was being constructed in front of the Timisoara Opera Theater and hundreds of chairs were being placed in the large plaza for some type of concert. We went to our source of choice for information, the city’s tourist office, and inquired about the event. We learned that the annual two-day jazz festival would commence that evening at 8:30 p.m. We decided to come back later on and enjoy the various performances by well-known European jazz artists.

Upon our return to the venue, we settled in to await the opening act. The first group began to warm up and we waited for their performance to start, and waited and waited.

We discovered that they weren’t getting their instruments tuned — they were playing. It was as if each member tried to be the loudest and see who could play out of tune the most. There was no discernible melody. Finally, the next group took the stage. They had me begging for the first group to return. For my perspective it was downhill from there. After listening (enduring) two more bands, that was enough. With the exception of New Orleans-style jazz, I can see why I am not an aficionado of that music form.

It was still daylight at 9:30 p.m. when we walked home. The sun didn’t set until close to 10 p.m. We weren’t accustomed to it staying light so long.

Like Willie Nelson’s song “On The Road Again,” our next adventures would begin the next day on our four-day tour of Transylvania and, yes, Dracula’s Castle!

Your now tone-deaf pal … Eddy O

Ed O’Connor, a former resident of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township, is an expatriate living in Cuenca, Ecuador.