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Last and best stop in Romania

click here to view a slideshow of images from Romania

Originally published: July 2007

For all of its 332,000 plus inhabitants, Timisoara, Romania has that small town atmosphere that makes you fall in love – both with the city, and again with your partner, once you step out into its flower lined squares and winding narrow streets.

We stayed at the Hotel Timisoara (tel: 498-852-295-278 Str 1 Mai 2) and paid about $80 if I remember correctly. But be aware that prices fluctuate, going up, not down. It ’s almost a year since we happily walked into this hotel’s luxurious lobby, with its internet facilities right by the registration desk and its outdoor/indoor café and bar ready to welcome and feed us at midnight, when we finally arrived by train from Sibui.

Timisoara is right on the Hungarian border and is famous as the birthplace of the 1989 revolution. It ’s Romania’s fourth largest city and is known by Romanians as “Primul Oras Liber” (First Free Town). The first Ceausescu protest was here.

Hotel Timisoara has its back to Piaja Victoriei, a beautifully-landscaped  pedestrian mall lined with shops and cinemas, with the National Theatre and Opera House one end.

It was on this square that thousands of demonstrators gathered on December 16, 1989. Many were slaughtered. A memorial plaque at the front of the Opera House reads: “So you, who pass by this building, dedicate a thought for free Romania.”

In a corner of the square right near our hotel, we enjoyed cappuccinos at a gorgeous little outdoor café. The cafés have a Hungarian air about them and so do the cakes. Unfortunately, we were accosted by gypsy children begging. I can never resist them.

We ventured out the second day to find the synagogue. A senior gentleman we met on the street directed us to the Jewish community headquarters hidden on the second floor of a dilapidated building on a narrow street.

We met the leader of the community, who took us on a tour of the crumbling synagogue and told us it was to be renovated and transformed into a community centre. The size of the synagogue made me imagine the large community that once congregated there. The community now is quite poor, especially the seniors. We were invited to lunch with them but declined.

Instead we left a donation for the seniors and made our way to one of the many restaurants lining the huge square a few streets away. The food was wonderful and the view of the square spectacular. We dined on fish, vegetables, potatoes and cr ème caramel, with prices below even Romanian averages.

Because I’d rather leave room for pictures, I’ll end now and invite you to read about this summer’s voyage to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and St. Petersburg beginning in our September issue.

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