I had simply assumed that I’d be able to reach Timișoara, in Romania, by train from Belgrade. I was mistaken. When I went to the Belgrade train station to inquire about tickets, the not-very-polite teller scoffed, “Timișoara?” Then she wagged her finger and said, “No trains to Timișoara.” I asked how I might get there, but I knew there would be no expansion on the scope of her assistance. She shrugged and went back to chatting with her co-worker.
Luckily, the staff at Hostel 40 Garden Park, where I was staying, were able to help. On my Eastern European trip, Hostel 40 was the only true “hostel” I’d stayed in. I had a private room but used a shared bathrooms, and some of the rooms were dormitory-style. It was recommended by a local, and because there is a bit of a value gap in Belgrade-area hotels (at least from what I could glean in travel guides before I went), Hostel 40 seemed to be the best deal. And it was indeed a great deal. The people were nice, fellow guests invited me to a kafana, and now the owner was arranging for my transportation to Romania.
It turned out to be a minibus, and I was its first passenger. I erroneously assumed I’d have the bus more or less to myself, but we then spent another 90 minutes picking up other passengers at various points in Belgrade until the bus was packed. Then it was a six-hour slog to Timișoara, which included a stop at a highway oasis, a long wait at passport control at the Romanian border, and a drop off at the airport. Apparently half our passengers had booked cheap flights out of Timișoara. Cheap enough to warrant a long bus ride, anyway. I was the second-to-last drop off, and it took the better part of the day to travel 100 miles.
As for Timișoara, I wish I’d stayed longer than 24 hours. It’s a beautiful city, proudly Orthodox but with tinges of Latinization here and there, reminding one of Italy. Cobblestone streets unfold into sweeping piazzas, where seemingly everyone in town is out and having a beer or dinner outside. The people themselves look more Mediterranean, not at all obviously Eastern European, as Serbians clearly are. In fact, recent foreign investment from Italian companies has resulted in some migration. But more historically, the Romanian language is a Romance island in a Slavic sea and shares much in common with Italian.
My hotel was situated a block off of Victory Square, birthplace of the 1989 revolution. The square is bookended by the National Opera and a stunning and dignified Orthodox Cathedral, pictured above. In between are beautifully landscaped gardens and hedges and laid back cafes, perfect for a morning brew or an evening stroll.
Unfortunately, I didn’t spend enough time here to settle in and get a read on the people or culture. I simply passed through, but Timișoara is memorable enough that I’d love to go back and spend a week or two absorbing it. I encourage anyone with any information or memories to share to leave a comment.