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.
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!