A Weekend in Romania

Jesse and I have been longing to go to Romania for months.  What looks deceptively close on the map, however, is in reality a huge trek.  Getting to the heart of Dracula’s territory would’ve taken at least twelve hours by train.  Instead, this weekend we went to Oradea, a city that is just across the Hungarian border.

According to The Debrecen Sun, there hasn’t been a direct railroad line between Debrecen and Oradea since WWI.  (Prior to The Treaty of Trianon, Oradea/Nagyvárad belonged to Hungary.  It was briefly part of Hungary once again during WWII.)

Logistically, this meant that we had to travel southwest from Debrecen to the tiny town of Püspökladány, change trains, and then head back east.

Although Oradea has some interesting sights, it is not a big tourist destination, and this was fine with us.  We spent the weekend walking around the town, enjoying the architecture and the sunny skies.

The main attraction of the city is the Citadel.  Oradea gained importance when it became the seat of a Catholic bishopric in the 11th century, and a fortress and Gothic cathedral was built soon after.  The cathedral is long gone, and most of the citadel that remains today was designed by an Italian architect and constructed at the end of the 16th century.

Black Eagle Shopping Center

The building that will remain most clearly in my memory is the decrepit, abandoned synagogue down the street from our hotel.  Seeing the broken windows and overgrown trees sent a shiver up my spine.  It is a reminder of the Holocaust, sitting forgotten in plain sight.  According to the Oradea Jewish Community website, approximately 1/3 of Oradea’s population was Jewish before WWII.  Only a few hundred Jews remain today.

During WWII, the Jewish men were forced into slave labor for the Hungarian army.  In 1944 the remaining men, women, and children were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The beautiful if dilapidated synagogues in Oradea chilled me.  While we walked around a fascinating city, the empty buildings were quiet reminders of the absence of thousands of Oradea’s citizens.

One of the most interesting parts of traveling is stumbling across groups of locals gathered for some purpose that is not immediately clear.  This has happened to us a lot in Hungary, and it happened in Oradea.  While looking for the citadel, we came across a large number of people clustered in front of an ugly building.  After spending a few minutes trying to decipher the banner, we decided that it was a Roma political party meeting.  Google Translate tells me it means something about turning the wheels of fortune.

Because there weren’t many touristy things to do, I couldn’t resist posing with this cow in front of the Lactobar, the most “American” restaurant I’ve encountered in Europe.

Oradea is certainly an interesting mixture of old and new!

We only traveled 12 km beyond the Hungarian border, but we encountered a new language, a new currency, and we got a new stamp in our passports.

I have now visited Canada, India, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, and Romania.  Next up: France!

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5 Comments

Filed under architecture, Romania, Travel

5 responses to “A Weekend in Romania

  1. Great photos 🙂 I’ve always been more intrigued with Eastern Europe rather than the western side of the continent, perhaps because there’s a lot more mystery to the whole place. And there is also great fun to be had in to towns not so known and popular with tourists.

    • Thanks! Eastern Europe is fascinating, but I think Sicily might be my favorite place–it is a world apart from Northern Italy, very intriguing, and there are tourists but there were many times when we were the only tourists about. Although I wish I’d gotten to see the heart of Transylvania.

  2. marion c

    Well you are certainly not the typical American. Were you, you may have Googled a few things about Nagyvarad as it was originally known and found a few more interesting tidbits.

    Oradea, as they call it today, was a foundry town up through the 60’s. there are many old remnants of the factories. A few clicks in, you would have enjoyed a beautiful and well known historic mineral spa- Baile Felix.

    In town at the Citadel the few rooms and spaces there are rented out to locals, One is an artists ‘loft’ where classes are taken as well as given, another is used by a local rock climber and current number 16 in the world!

    There are two farmers markets, bith diverse and separated by the old trolley that still runs and is used daily.

    The theater there was once host to many o europes plays of the 18th cent and is filled with awsome craftwork.

    Your picture of the main boulevard is until world war 1 known as the Paris of eastern europe and was host to many famous poets writers and painters of the time.

    the main Strand across from the Intercontinental, is one of the most famous beaches visited by royaly of the austrian empire and to this day beautiful during summer with concerts and events.

  3. All these photographs are beautiful! I have a friend who lives in Romania, she once invited me to visit her country, though I did not make it! Hopefully, in the future I will visit Romania.

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