My name is Tom Kiziewicz, I am twenty six and I was born and raised and have lived in England for my entire life, until one day I was given the opportunity to visit Timisoara in Romania. I had never really been abroad and the only thing I knew about other cultures was from what I had seen on television and the internet, read about in newspapers or heard from the people I had met who had been to or come from another country. I knew so little about the rest of the world that when I was given the chance to see more of it, I knew I had to take it.
When people mentioned Romania it was usually just the common stereotype that it’s full of gypsies that will try and sell you their tears or steal your shoes at knife point, but by seeing Timisoara in all it’s beauty in the summer sunshine and meeting the Romanian people that live and work there, it’s hard to believe that is what people think.
As the plane came into land at Traian Vuia, the airport of Timisoara, you could see for miles in every direction. The bright, colorful landscape seemed to strecth on forever with small clusters of houses that dotted the landscape surrounded by fields and farms. For a moment I thought we were going to be landing in the middle of a field on a dusty track in the middle of no where.
Traian Vuia is the only airport in Timisoara and compared to the International airport I had just flown out from four hours earlier, where hundreds of people arrive and depart every five minutes, rushing to and from gates, fighting against the ques of hot, sweaty people that are all desperate to catch their flight, it was such a contrast to land in such a small and quiet place.
The plane was stacked full of people from England and Romania but as we rolled to a stop it seemed to be the only plane on the tarmac. I wasn’t sure what to expect as we were all shuffled off the plane and onto a bus that drove us barely thirty metres across the landing strip to the terminal, but as you step onto Timisoarian soil and you can see the entire sky and horizon, there is a sense of space and freedom that is very hard to find anywhere in England. There were no hills or sky scrapers or tower blocks in the distance, the airport was almost empty except for our recent arrival and there was no sense of urgency to be anywhere. As soon as I found a seat I just felt that I could sit down and relax until I decided that I wanted to move. There was even an automatic massage chair that you could pay for a one minute, five minute or ten minute massage in Romanian Lei.
Lei is the Romanian currency and at the time of my travel (July, 2010) it worked out at slightly over 5 Lei for 1 Pound. A one minute massage, which was an intense experience, not quite the same as a real massouer but for an air port chair was perfect, cost five Lei which of course is less than one pound.
I decided to try and buy a drink as the sweltering heat, despite the fact that there is air conditioning almost everywhere, was starting to leave me dehydrated. Despite having never spoken Romanian nor had I ever heard it spoken before, inside a small café I managed to quote a ‘hello’ from my guidebook in Romanian, which is ‘buna’ (pronounced ‘boo-na’) to the waitress who kindly corrects my attempt with a smile before I begin pointing at the light coca cola’s, when she asks me, “Coca Cola light?”. Feeling like an idiot I nod and without even worrying about the cost I just try to hand her a twenty pound note. Her English was limited but I still understood through her gesturing to go outside and turn right and the sentence, “next to the newstand”, that’s where I needed to go to swap my currency. Sure enough, just outside the café to the right, next door to a stall selling hundreds of newspapers, there was an exchange desk.
While standing in line at the desk because there is someone already being served, a woman joins the line behind me but suddenly says something to me in Romanian and points at where she is standing before walking off. I realise I have been asked to hold her place in the que until she gets back. She returns very quickly and thanks me in Romanian before I explain that I’m English. Before I knew it we’re having a conversation about how she is engaged to a man from England, they are due to be wed in February and that she has just flown back to see her family.
Meanwhile I get my chance to cautiously slip some of my money out of my wallet, glaring over my shoulders and taking care not to show how much I’m carrying, gripping hold of it tightly for dear life like it was my passport, I pass some English notes through the slot in the window to the teller before suddenly I’m given a receipt and a large wad of colorful looking notes. Without even taking time to look at the faces and pictures on the notes or count how much it is, I quickly shove it back inside my wallet and thrust it back into my pocket. I never once felt or thought I was in a dodgy situation in Romania where I could have been robbed and to be honest, I’m more likely to be mugged on the way home in London, but when you’re in a foreign land it’s better to be safe than sorry.
I attempt to thank the teller in Romanian by saying, ‘multumesc’ (pronounced ‘moolt-soo-mesc’), and with the help of the engaged Romanian woman behind me and the teller as he stamps my receipt, I finally grasp how to pronounce it correctly after about the sixth or seven go. I thank them both again, congratulate the woman and wish her luck and head back to the café to buy my coke with my fresh Romanian cash and try out the new language. This time there are two waitresses behind the counter and they both laugh and smile while once again correcting my attempts. Spending the effort to try and learn the language and applying it, even if you fail miserably at saying the simplest of words and phrases, is always worth it in Romania.
Getting a taxi in Timisoara is simple and cheap so using just a printed e-mail with the address of my hotel I take a taxi from directly outside the airport to my hotel. I even wind up having a conversation with the Romanian cabby about his visit to England to work, until his friend who had invited him had kicked him out of his appartment because his wife saw him in the shower! Romanians certainly have a massive amount of character and always make the smallest of conversations entertaining. There is always a story to be told.
I arrive to find I have a very comfortable room with it’s own shower and bathroom, my own air conditioning and a television with, to my surprise, at least three or four channels of English speaking programmes that had Romanian subtitles. It turns out that the majority of movies released in Romania are still in English and only subbed in Romanian so it suddenly becomes clear why a lot of Romanians know so many parts of the English language.
I found it amazing that so many Romanians could share a conversation with me in clearly pronounced English, despite having to fill in some of the gaps, yet they would still tell me that their English was not good. It’s funny when someone tells you that they can’t speak the language they are speaking in, when here I am having a hard time just trying to say hello and thank you. It makes me feel so ignorant to only be fluent in one language, however it does prove that by being polite and with a smile and a few hand gestures that resemble a bad game of charades, you can get almost anywhere.
The public transport into and around Timisoara is fantastic, cheap and quick. There are busses and taxis all over the place with trams running in and around the centre, all running often during day time hours. There was a bus stop outside my hotel and no matter what time I went in to town I found myself barely waiting for five minutes before the next one arrived.
If however you do find yourself somewhere without anything obvious nearby you can quite easily find someone who speaks a little English and they will most likely explain where to find or call a cab so long as you have an address to get to and the money to pay. I never found a ride that cost me over ten Lei which works out at about two Pounds so it helps to make sure you are carrying some smaller notes.
The centre of Timisoara is truly beautiful. It’s such an amazing mix of architecture as throughout it’s history it has been occupied by five different civilisations, originally being a part of Hungary and eventually becoming part of Romania in 1920. Even the oldest buildings that look like they are on the brink of collapse are as beautiful and unique as the modern structures that line the streets.
There are two city centres in Timisoara and just to walk through the streets between them to see small children painting paving stones bright green and blue, people stopping briefly at the drinking fountain in the centre of Union Square and letting a jet of cool water fly into the air, down to the fountain infront of the Metropolitan Cathedral and through the park towards the Bega river where some guys pedal a swan down stream, was one of the things that I know I will never forget until the day that I die. It felt like I was walking through a dream scene of a Hollywood movie and any minute I was about to wake up.
As the spray of the fountain blew across me, soothing the baking heat of the sun upon my skin, I stared in disbelief at the sites around me with the Cathedral stretching up infront of me into the clear blue sky. I couldn’t understand how a place as beautiful as this wasn’t swamped from end to end with tourists and market stalls or street traders desperately trying to sell t-shirts with ‘I heart Timisoara’ and mugs in the shape of the Cathedral. There were just some outside café’s and bars with plenty of empty spaces where you could just sit and enjoy the sites while drinking a beer in the shade, and this was mid Saturday on a blissfully sunny day in the centre of town.
In some places in Romania the beer was cheaper than bottled water. To a man who enjoys a good, cold beer on a hot day it was like heaven had opened its doors to me. You could find everything you wanted along the streets of Timisoara in its vast collection of different shops. There was even a ginormous shopping mall where you could shop until you dropped if that’s what tickled your fancy.
Timisoara had everything I could have ever dreamed of but it did with so much more style than I could have ever imagined. A hidden paradise protected by a gypsy blessing, or as most may call it, a stereotype that keeps a million tourists from destroying the peace and serenity it offers in all of it’s beauty. I hope that when I return it is just the same as I left it.