. Larry and I
left the group in Oradea while everyone else continued on to spend a day
exploring Budapest before saying their final good byes to one another.
Oradea, with a population of about 200,000 , is certainly not a tourist destination; but we headed into the center of town to explore anyway, since we had several hours before our night train to Bucharest would leave. We got on the local tram after unsuccessfully trying to find a place to buy a ticket. After trying next to communicate with a fellow passenger as to when we should get off, another lady who spoke English saved us and we got off at the first stop, happy that no one had caught us without paying for the ride. She explained that we had to walk the rest of the way, anyway, because the street was torn up for repaving. She was only there temporarily but said that the repaving had already been stalled for a year and it looked like it would take much longer still to complete. Such seems to be common in Romania, where improvements take a long time.
The town lies on the river Crisul Reped and its geographical location put it at the crossroads of old trade routes between East and West. It has some charming architecture, but even the rather spectacular high domed shopping mall needs attention. Nevertheless, it is still a vital business center for Romania.
We walked to the old fortress whose inner buildings are still somewhat used as government offices centered within the ruins of huge walls of protective embankments.
We managed to get a very good meal in one of the restaurants, which improved our opinion of Romanian restaurants. The night train was slow and fairly warm but we slept well in our two person compartment and arrived at 6 a.m. with my cousin Kerstin and her husband George waiting for us at the Bucharest station.
Rain had not yet arrived in Bucharest to break their heat wave, but a breeze through their new garden terrace made the day bearable. Nevertheless, it was decided that we would travel into the mountains to a friend’s cottage to escape the heat. We would be able to access a train from there to Prague, from where we would fly on to London.
A half hour four-wheel drive over gravel roadway hair pinning up the mountainside got us to the picturesque cabin and a temperature change to 18 degrees Centigrade from the previous high of 41 degrees (from 104 down to 64 degrees Fahrenheit). The farmer neighbors and George shared their greetings across the small yard and soon they came to share a Palinka, bearing the cheese and eggs which Kerstin always buys from them. Later, we feasted on the two homemade white cheeses as well as the creamier one creatively packed in a hand-sewn bark tub. The deep yellow yolked eggs were saved for a breakfast omelet as well as being hard-boiled for our next train trip. With good planning and local produce picked up along the way, Kerstin continued to expand our variety of food options. I had gone with her in Bucharest to the local market in which she shops and saw the wide variety of food available there. It is so much different from when we visited ten years ago. Kerstin said that now they can get most anything they want in Bucharest . That is the advantage of being in the capital city where the center of all activity is. Many improvements have come about in Romania and more are in the works now that they are pushing to join the European Union. However, the city’s buildings, roads, and sidewalks still have a long way to go. Electricity and water availability now is much more reliable with hi-speed Internet now also fairly available. But the old Communist, cheaply constructed, bleak apartment buildings look dirty and decrepit. Although Ceausescu’s former palace (second largest building in the world, behind our Pentagon) and the boulevard leading up to it are impressively beautiful, most of this city is still fairly derelict. The suburbs show more promise, but mostly because of the foreign interests who have built offices and lodging there. Perhaps as their government and currency becomes more stable and corruption disappears as an accepted way of life, the Romanian people will emerge from the destruction brought on by 24 years of Ceausescu’s Communist dictatorship.
Our visit with George and Kerstin wouldn’t be complete without also visiting their friends Maria and Surbon, the multilingual Romanian who worked as a dentist in Denmark before retiring back in his homeland of Romania. With houses and friends throughout Europe, he is a fascinating host who converses constantly in a fluent transition between the two or three languages of his many guests gathered around his bountiful dinner table of wonderful food prepared and exquisitely presented by his wife Maria. Like our previous visit ten years ago, we had a lovely evening with them and three other guests who had just dropped in that afternoon.
After our relaxing visit in the mountains, George and Kerstin drove us down to the Brashov train station to begin a 24 hour trip to Prague. Brashov appeared to be a neat and tidy town as were a couple smaller ski resort villages also nestled in the mountains. It is near Sinea and a couple popular Transylvania castles, including one which is commonly referred to a “Dracula’s Castle”. Needless to say, that is a tourist magnet.