Despite knowing about my trip for some time, I still obviously left things to the last-minute, but just minor things like money, and it’s not until I’m rushing to make my way to the airport that I decide to try to procure some Romania currency, which I don’t even know the name of. Stopping at a Post Office, I find out that it’s Leu and, apparently, you can’t buy it outside of Romania. Great, so my friend and I are going to arrive in some random country in the middle of the night with no money. There’s no public transport running at that time and I doubt it would have contactless pay as you go facilities, so there better be a cash machine at the airport to get a taxi.
There isn’t one, well not one that could be found, but there are taxis, so we ask the taxi driver stop off at an ATM en route. He doesn’t speak much English, but we manage to communicate the need for a cash point and he also knows a few key phrases in English, such as “hello, how are you?”, “no need to wear a seatbelt in Romania” and “why are all English girls are single?”…
We arrive at hostel around midnight, the dilapidated concrete building with it’s curtain-less windows, looks slightly derelict, illuminated by a fading orange street light and enclosed within a tall, rusting wire fence; it’s a bit eerie, but fine. We are staying in a 6-bed dorm and after putting our carry on bags next to our single beds, we go to the communal area, where we end up speaking to a Dutch guy sitting on his own. It turned out that he was travelling from Holland to China, and in two weeks had already visited six countries, even more impressive, he was doing so on a budget of €30 per day.
Saturday, was our first actually day and the hostel provided us with a useful little map which detailed places to eat and things to do, and after reading all about some of the amazing restaurants and asking the hostel guy for recommendations for breakfast, we ignore both and end up at some nondescript café in one of the squares. My friend smokes, so naturally we sit outside and after choosing the table closest to a heater and getting comfortable snuggled under the fluffy throws, we learn that the place does not serve food. So we uproot ourselves to the more or less identical café next door and proceed to have the most uninspiring breakfast. I thought avocado and eggs on toast was a safe option, but somehow this place managed to make every element of the dish unenjoyable – the bread was bland and stale, the avocado slimy and strangely seasoned and the fried egg had an artificial consistency that lay somewhere between rubber and plastic. The weather was drizzly, grey and cold: equally uninspiring.
We decide to go for a walk around the city and out of nowhere, the Dutch guy appears and we end up spending the day with him. There’s a map of suggestions in our pockets and internet of ideas at our fingertips, but we no plan, so we walk around the centre until we stumble across an Orthodox cathedral. It’s beautiful inside and we see a little sign for a tour. After ringing a bell, some sister appears and takes us underneath the cathedral to a mini museum of religious art and books. Initially she apologies for her limited English, what feels like at least three hours later, she is still talking us through the details of most books and pictures, all seem to be the first of something in the Romanian language. We signed the guest book and manage to escape.
Liberating ourselves from the church, we walk around the park and initially take the scenic route to the communist museum, getting an authentic Romanian experience walking through the back streets of who knows where. Eventually we/my friend (I provided no navigational use whatsoever) found the museum, it’s underneath a bar and consists of about five small rooms cluttered with communist crap, a plethora of peculiar paraphernalia from massive TVs to empty glass bottles, vinyls and meat mincers, and from what we saw, communism didn’t actually seem that bad…
After the museum, we went for lunch at a local place recommended on the little map from the hostel. As there was football on the chef gave us only one type of food to choose from. We had no idea what this was, but tried different variation of – each dish was basically a massive meat pattie and odd-shaped chips, no sauce.
After our second disappointing meal of the day, we walked to a beer factory. The rain had escalated, but we unknowingly timed our random wander perfectly and managed to arrive in time for one of the two tours that the brewery do annually; and as we were the only non-Romanians, we got a special tour from one of the brewers. After learning about beer making, including that you can make it from carrots and doing shots of yeast, we are given coupons for more free beer, and stay at pub in the factory for the rest of the evening.
Sunday needed to escape Timişoara – it is just so small, desolate and deserted. No where appeared to be open or selling breakfast, just coffee. So we sell out and buy Starbucks – internationally consistent coffee and free wi-fi, it’s the safest/only option. The guy at the hostel had ensured us that we could visit a local winery on Sunday, and as there was nothing else to do in the city, having walked most of it the day before, we decide to make the trip to Recas to sample some Romanian wine.
Not the best start, we get lost getting out of Timişoara as we couldn’t find the train station. We could see the tracks, but nothing else for ages. Once we eventually reach our first destination, it’s an hour or so wait until the next train. Once we reach Recas station, there’s nothing there. We have to walk through a field of sheep to get to the main road, which is lined with a smörgåsbord of either huge gaudy new builds with shiny tiles or old dilapidated tiny shacks.
We eventually find the winery, well the retail outlet, and learn that the actual winery is closed. Out of what was probably pity, the woman gave us a few token samples. Out of what was definitely shame, we buy some wine, but as we don’t have a corkscrew, we get it in a refillable two litre plastic container. With ages until the next train and even less to do in Recas than in Timişoara, we walk to a park where we sit and drink the newly purchased wine from a half-filled plastic bottle, accompanied by an old man who is sitting alone on the next bench with his bottle of cider.
On our last day, we visit a little local market where we had the most delicious oranges and saw other less appetising foods, including an extensive array of onions, preserved peppers and pickled cabbages. There was also a vending machine dispensing cartons of eggs. We then walked around the botanical gardens, which weren’t particularly exotic or inspiring and went to see the synagogue, which it was closed. The Revolution Museum was open and upon entering, we were shepherded to a room scattered with fold up chairs, covered in faded pictures and flaking paint, where we were told to sit and watch a documentary on the revolution. I’m not sure what I actually learnt from the film, but after thirty-two long minutes we were more than ready for it to end. Sadly, the documentary seemed to be the only thing in the museum in English, so by the end of the tour we understood even. Not long after we meandered back to the hostel and made our way to the airport.
The trip doesn’t have any colourful climaxes or an action-packed agenda to document, but it was still really enjoyably and a great start to my once a month travel plan. I have found that, especially with the rise of social media and people sharing so much of their lives on it, life experiences are often falsely represented, only capturing the fun times and fake smiles, with all of the ugly photos remaining un-uploaded. I think that a key part of travelling is how you spend those boring moments. It’s a test of character and of a friendship to see how you deal with the tedious times when you can’t find the train station or the mundane moments when you’re sitting at station with nothing else to do but wait.