I have to be honest, Romania was not on my original travel itinerary. Had it not been for a very special encounter earlier in Spain, it may have taken me several more years to plan a visit. However, I came, I saw and I am excited to explore more in Romania.
Timisoara was my first contact with Romanian soil. What I really like about this city is, despite being the second largest city in Romania, it has an easy-going vibe and many opportunities to discover new things. 2012 was the first time I ever heard about the city, in spite of it’s historical significance as a crossroads between civilizations. During almost two-months of my stay I have seen very few foreign travelers unlike many other European destinations.
Did you know that Timisoara is that it is the first town in Europe and 2nd in the world after New York City with streets illuminated by electric lights!
I can tell you several reasons why you should consider putting Timisoara on your travel list. Instead, I feel like sharing the things and activities I have enjoyed as a visitor here. There plenty more that can be added to this list and plenty more that I, and others, have yet to discover in Timisoara. For now, let’s explore the city through my top 10:
10. Visit an outdoor market
The stalls range from antiques to modern art, freshly made crepes to artisan honey. You can find a variety of merchandise at the outdoor markets organized in one of the historic squares in Timisoara. Recently, I specially attended one that was called the “ Really, Really Free Market”. The market was organized by a collective of socially responsible individuals to promote kindness and the alternative gift economy. And yes, everything was really, really free and top quality. Plus I had a wonderful time making new friends and learning about the local culture.
09. Buy fresh produce
Personally my two favourite spots are and Badea Cartan. It’s wonderful to have easy access to locally produced fruit and vegetables grown by pheasants ( term often used for farmers in Romania). I simply love it — you shop in fresh air, buy season produce, choose from one of many farms, and pay less than at the supermarket! Aside from the two markets I mention there are other markets all around the city, making them accessible to everyone.
08. Rediscover the joy of sipping tea and wine
If you’re a tea enthusiast then Carturesti is the place for you but if you’re a wine connoisseur visit Enoteca de Savoya. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to become a regular at both during your stay in Timisoara. At Carturesti you will find a wonderful selection of tea to keep you coming back for months. I usually go to the location near Unirii Square to write but you you can also pick up a book from the bookstore on the lower level as relax. Not far from Carturesti is Enoteca de Savoya. Here you can find a bottle wine from around the world. There’s some excellent wine that’s produced in the region, my favourite is the wine from a place called Recas, some 25 kilometer outside of Timisoara. Find a cozy spot in the cave at Enoteca de Savoya and take the time to experience local wines with a delicious platter of cheese and olives.
07. Lemonade in Unirii Sqare (Union Square)
Unirii Square is a beautiful baroque plaza surrounded by colourful and unique architecture that house a museum and many cool cafe’s and restaurants to hang out at. The square is filled with historical monuments and artifacts, some of which require a bit of searching, as well as cultural symbolism. For example, you see an orthodox church constructed right across from a beautiful catholic church. From I have been told, this symbolizes the open-mindedness of the people of Timisoara towards religion and respect for different faiths. Oh, and that lemonade — you can find it at almost any of the cafe’s here but be prepared to make decisions. Only in Romania you find several choices for lemonade flavours; my favourite is the lemonade with forest fruit.
06. Visit the countryside
Timisoara is surrounded by some interesting countryside. A local friend once told me about the discoveries he’s made by cycling to several, inhabited and abandoned, villages nearby. A village I discovered and really like is called , about 35 kilometers north-east of Timisoara. I found Stanciova through an organization called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof) while I was looking for volunteering opportunities at nearby organic farms. I have met some incredible people in Stanciova dedicated to building a strong community based on fairness, care and respect for people and planet. I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to experience inspiring discussions on community development with the people here. It’s amazing what you find when you choose to go off the beaten path.
05. People watching in Victory Square
Whenever I am looking for creative inspiration or just clear my head I visit Victory Square. With beautiful flower beds and sculptures tastefully sandwiched between the Opera and the magnificent Orthodox Cathedral, it’s the ideal promenade for people to socialize. The view of the cathedral from the opera is my favourite in Timisoara and one of the most cherished in all the world. Victory Square is one of the best spots to witness life as-it-happens. I have seen people from all generations come here to meet, celebrate, share, teach, create, and even cry. The plaza always seems to be the scene of formal or spontaneous activities. Strolling around here can also works up an appetite for ice cream or sweet and savoury pastries. I also discovered the best shawarma’s outside the Arabian peninsula here as well!
04. Discover the parks of Timisoara
Timisoareans will tell you that there’s not enough green space in Timisoara. I don’t really agree with that, though I also don’t argue that there could be more. I love the parks scattered all around the city. Sometimes you just have to get off the main road or walk through a, not-so-obvious, gate to find one of the very well maintained public green spaces. There’s 4 interconnected parks, Parcul Andrei Mocioni, Parcul Copiilor, Parcul Rozilor, Parcul Central right along the Bega Canal that I run across at least once a week. The Botanical Garden and the Regina Maria Park that are also worth a special mention and a definite visit. There are several more parks in various neighbourhoods all across the city with interesting art and monuments around them. It’s always wonderful to see children and people young and old being outdoors and taking advantage of these beautiful spaces.
03. Opera in the Park
I was lucky to have arrived during the Festival of Opera and Operetta towards the end of this past summer. The magnificent sets and stage were setup outdoors in the Rose Park (Parcul Rozilor) with large and comfortable outdoor seating for the audience. I happen to catch Georges Bizet’s “Carmen“. Beautiful costumes, superb lighting and sound quality, an excellent performance, all made it the perfect night out in the city with a wonderful companion. Aside from the Festival of Opera, there always seems to be an art project or initiative in the city — everything from the classical to the contemporary, literary to performing arts.
02. Mass at the Orthodox Cathedral
I am not religious, yet whenever I needed spiritual guidance my feet guided me to the Orthodox Cathedral on the far end of the Victory Square in Timisoara. When I saw the cathedral for the first time I imagined it to be a fairy tale castle with it’s colourful spires in conical and pyramidal shapes. The cathedral is the tallest church in Romania and the 8th tallest Orthodox Cathedral in the world. It’s interior is just as magnificent as it’s external architecture — high ceiling with walls adorned with traditional orthodox art and a grandiose gold altar. There’s a warm, spiritual essence that can felt inside the cathedral. The scent of incense and candles along with soft sounds of prayer carry you in to a deep meditative state where you can find the serenity and peace, however clamorous your day may be.
01. Run, walk or kayak along the Bega Canal
As someone who loves to be on his feet, I like places that offer many outdoor activities. In Ottawa, I have the trails of Gatineau Park and the Rideau Canal. In Timisoara there’s the Bega Canal that runs through the entire, east-west, length of the city cutting through the center and connecting 4 parks. My favourite activity is to run through 3 of the parks all along the Bega, while watching/experiencing local life. Walking, specially during the fall season can be inspiring, invigorating and a romantic experience. There’s also the option of renting a bicycle or get right on to the water with a kayak, a paddle boat, or go fishing. If you really don’t feel active you can find a quite bench to sit and read or visit one of the bar and cafe’s on either side of the canal. Bega has a lot to offer and that’s why it’s number one on my list.
About The Author
Urooj Qureshi is pro Adventurer and storyteller. Follow his adventures on Instagram @uroojqureshi.
Originally published at http://www.living-being.com on October 22, 2012.