This time last year, I was acutely aware that I was about to pass the threshold of inconsequential decisions. Never one to shun impulse, I spent my 26th birthday dying my hair purple, blue and green, in a nod to the decade that had passed since the glory days of my teen years.
And now, as I hurtle towards my 27th at breakneck speed (and back to natural hair colour, thank God), I seem to have regressed further; this time, to my primary years. An obsession with fairytales has grown in me and I’ve developed a wanderlust for anywhere with mountains, castles and mysterious romance.
And so, enter Romania; or rather, I entered Romania. After being turned off from Bucharest from disenchanted fellow travellers, I opted instead for the third or fourth largest city (depending on your source), Timisoara. Having grown around beautiful, central European-style public squares and lavish parks, the city of Timisoara has earned the nickname ‘Little Vienna’. I have a penchant for a colourful city – revisit Gamcheon Culture Village in the Korean city of Busan here – not least for views like this:
Shortly after my £15 (return!) flight reached Timisoara on Friday night, I was picked up by the portly Mihai, who was greatly amused by the fact that I’d arrived alone. Something about it not being a safe place for a lady on her own. Homeboy mistook me for a lady; but doesn’t he know I’m far too vulgar for that shit? Admittedly, I’ve been known – on occasion – to don the mask of a well-brought-up, feminine little flower but missing out on the Women’s March in London rendered me prickly enough that he soon cottoned on to the fact that I’m no delicate petal.
“There are too many fucking churches,” he said. “Over 100 in Timisoara. Banks too. You have a gun?” silence “Um, not about my person, Mihai.” “That’s sad. You could have gone back to London a very rich lady.” Yes, it took me less than an hour in Romania before I appeared to be planning a bank heist…
There was something gentlemanly about him though, as he accompanied me to a cash point to make sure no one mugged me. I’m convinced it was all sensationalism; I didn’t feel unsafe at any point during the weekend. In fact I’m always reluctant to buy into the fear factor. By some people’s standards, I’ve gone to some downright dodgy places and the only real danger I’ve been in was in Kuala Lumpur*. But Romania? Everyone’s nice as pie. Customer service might not be served with a smile but as far as safety’s concerned, you’ll be fine. Don’t let the haters bring you down.
*Ladies, if you’re on your own, don’t go to an Airbnb, lest the woman you’ve been speaking to turns out to be a very drunk man with fire in his loins. True story, and don’t mistake my light-hearted tone; this is genuine advice.
Well that was tangent enough for one day so let’s get back on track, shall we?
Or off-track, as that’s precisely what Timisoara is in January. For my new year’s resolution, I’ve decided to visit a new place every month. I’m essentially searching Skyscanner incognito, picking the cheapest flights to wherever I’ve not been before, and booking without a second thought. At £15 return (going down to £10 return a few days after I’d booked), I feel I picked up something of a bargain; though as a slave to impulse, I rarely question good fortune before it’s too late. If I thought the Latvian capital of Riga was cold (read more here and here), I wasn’t prepared for the -9C nighttime temperatures of Timisoara… This might go some way towards explaining why central Timisoara seemed positively deserted for the whole weekend. Take a look at Union Square, one of the biggest attractions in the city and bask in its desertedness:
Struck down with the lurgy, my first morning was spent in bed but by lunchtime, I’d donned all my clothes (and I mean all of them. I wore two pairs of tights under my leggings) and ventured out into the frostbitten fairytale I’d admired from my bedroom window. Strolling through thick fog and snow, I hardly saw another person. Every now and again, a dog would bark in the distance. It’s the perfect setting for solitude and while I’d originally lamented Hotel Excelsior*’s beyond-the-Bega-river location, I came to appreciate its separateness from the city. My walk through gypsy neighbourhoods and distant view of the Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral were compensation enough for a 20 minute walk in insufficient trainers.
So as it turns out, January is tourist low season for Romania, what with it being around 50 degrees cooler than summertime. But this exhausted extrovert makes no complaints for serenity; not when her sole goal is to place herself back in a fairytale.
P.s. This blogpost on Timisoara in summertime gives an alternative view of the city in sunshine. Check it out here.
P.p.s. Flights, a four star hotel, spending money (including nice restaurants and taxis) came to less than £100 for a weekend. I reckon it could be done for £60. Incred.