Once my first impressions of the frostbitten fairytale that is Timisoara sank in, I ventured out into the city. Although my usual approach to long weekends away is to just chill and let the city happen around me, I’d googled around mercilessly and my usual resources for travel – The Culture Trip and a multitude of blogs – turned up very little. With not very much to go on, I made my way to the centre and walked through grandiose restored public squares and cobbled back alleys.
As much as I’d have liked to explore the museums, many of them were closed for refurbishment so unfortunately, my knowledge of Banat culture and the 1989 uprising in Timisoara remains limited from experience. But with architecture like this, I’d no reason to moan.
Spending so much time outside meant I had frequent coffee breaks but you’ll find no hipster cafes in Timisoara. It was refreshing, really; I remember being thoroughly disillusioned by Cafe Strangelove in Vilnius, Lithuania, when I realised that one of the most popular cafes in the city was a remake of any Scandi-style coffee shop you can find all over Europe.
Having said that, I did find one Viennese-style, old-world cafe, and I fell in love. Baroque (no website, but that will show you where it is on Google Maps and here’s their Facebook) is on the corner of Union Square (Unirii Square). They serve a mean Baileys latte with a stunning view of the Serbian Orthodox Episcopacy. Think red velvet seats, dim lights, painted ceilings and gold chandeliers and you’re halfway there.
After a fruitless search for the Museum of the 1989 Revolution, I made my way back to Victory Square, the central hub of the city and unofficial front yard of the Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral. Choosing Lloyd as my dining place, I spent a lazy three hours eating olives, drinking refreshing Romanian wine and watching footage from the fall out from the Women’s March. Traditional and imposing, I’d certainly recommend for the surroundings (I’m a sucker for the pomp and circumstance of anything that emulates central European dining – I count The Delaunay and The Wolseley among my favourite spots in London). The high ceilings and waitstaff in their coattails made me a little concerned about the bill but I needn’t have been; a starter, main and two small jugs of wine came to the equivalent of £6. Romania is cheap…
With Mihai’s lament that there were “too many fucking churches” in Timisoara, I should have known that Sunday morning would be quiet. I finally found a taxi (no seat belts, but plenty of religious iconography to protect us instead) to take me over to the Fabric District.
The streets were empty, and I mean empty. With no wind but quietly falling snow, there was something of world’s end feel to the place, and I loved it. It got so cold that my iPhone switched off so I didn’t even have the sweet sounds of Modest Mouse pumping into my brain and instead, all I could hear was a very distant tram and the occasional traffic light beeping.
I’d come to the area on the recommendation of an app called GPS My City, which lets you download walking routes for free. As my phone couldn’t hack the cold it ended up being useless but where plans go awry, adventure beckons. I wandered around the curiously quiet and derelict neighbourhood, peering into blown-out windows on the fronts of buildings yet to be restored to their former glory.
There’s a Romanian fairytale called Youth Without Age and Life Without Death. When a baby prince won’t stop crying, the King and Queen appease him with the promise of “youth without age and life without death”. When they cannot fulfil it, he goes off in search of it himself. He finds the place of eternal youth but longs to return home, to be among the mortals. And if home was Timisoara, I couldn’t possibly blame him.
I’ve been really lucky with my short breaks over the past four months. I’ve visited Gothenberg, Riga, Vilnius, Sofia, Guernsey, Cornwall, Timisoara (and at the time of writing, Oslo). Undoubtedly, Timisoara was my favourite. If curiosity and fairytale scenes light your imagination, I cannot recommend it enough. I’ll go back, for sure; though perhaps for a little while longer, and with a trip to Transylvania.
Next up: Oslo…