ROMANIA – While Cluj-Napoca is the most varied city I visited on this trip to Romania, and therefore my favorite, the most beautiful were undoubtedly Sibiu and Oradea. Sibiu is special for being a well preserved medieval town, but Oradea (the capital of Bihor county, pop.: 196,367), is special for another reason that I think is even rarer. And you’ll know what that is when I’ve finished these posts!

1. Arriving at Oradea station after a 3 hour, 157 kilometer trip over the mountains from Cluj, …

2. … there are no signs yet of what a gem of a town awaits. The square in front of the station feels dusty, provincial, and even a bit marginal (though as I later found out, only this street does). I stayed in a hotel opposite the station, Pensunea Hubert, which is comfortable, cheap, and for some reason stuffed with Dutch football memorabilia. The staff, most of whom where from the town’s large Hungarian minority (Oradea is only 14 kilometers from the border), are friendly and communicative despite not being able to speak English (I actually appreciated the fact that less people seemed to speak English in Oradea, because it finally gave me the opportunity to try to speak Romanian, teaching me quite a lot of words in the day I was there). I also spoke (in German) to a priest from a visiting church congregation staying at the hotel, who had been in prison for four years for being a Jehova’s Witness (there seem to be quite a lot of them in Romania) during the communist period.

3. Walking down Strada Republicii towards the center, it soon becomes apparent that Oradea is quite an elegant town

4. Many of the buildings on Strada Republicii are currently being restored

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7. A side street of low terraced houses in a style quite common in the border region of Hungary and Romania (which also includes part of Ukraine, where I visited Mukachevo in 2012)

8. Ugly buildings are rare in central Oradea, and even the few noticeable modernist ones – such as this one on the corner of Strada Republicii and Calea Republicii, at the start of the centre – are (IMO) of high quality

9. One of Oradea’s many churches stands at the entrance of Calea Republicii, which is the town’s high street

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11. Some typical houses in a side street

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13. Some of the magnificent buildings on Calea Republicii are in a bad condition, …

14. … but most of them are being renovated, or, like this beautiful Art-Nouveau one, have already been renovated

Not only is Calea Republicci lined with buildings in art nouveau and other ornamental styles, but its side streets are as well:

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18. There are terraces belonging to bars and restaurants down the middle of much of Calea Republicii. I ate or drank at some of them: the pizzeria situated at the far end of this row wasn’t very good or friendly, but the cafes and another restaurant where I ate were fine and the staff very friendly. I also sat here in the shade, drinking a granita bought from one of the many ice cream parlours during the hottest time of day, when it was over 35 degrees (which was when I made this picture)

19. An even more picturesque ensemble of buildings lines Piața Regele Ferdinand, at the end of Calea Republicii

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We will now explore the banks of the Crișul Repede River in the centre of town.

22. Looking back towards Piața Regele Ferdinand (see the last pictures in the last post) and the city hall

23. The city hall seen from the bridge adjacent to Piața Regele Ferdinand

24. Oradea’s most impressive ensemble of buildings sits around Piața Unirii, the square by the city hall

25. These pictures were taken on Sunday morning, explaining the lack of people

26. But Piața Unirii was more lively the preceding evening, when a few weddings were taking place in front of the city hall

27. IMO the crown jewel of all the elegant buildings in Oradea is the shopping arcade on the right, …

28. … which is why I don’t mind posting pictures of it from different angles (this one was taken from roughly the same place as picture #23)

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30. Renovation of the interior seems to be 99% complete

31. It includes a stained-glass window from 2007, …

32. … based on a similar one from 1909

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34. Looking out of the arcade towards the opposite bank of the Crișul Repede, …

… which we shall explore in the next few pictures:

35. The bridge from which I took pictures 22 and 23, seen from Piața Regele Ferdinand

36. Looking east from the bridge, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a town with a more prominent Synagogue. This is no surprise considering that approximately one third of Oradea’s inhabitants were Jewish before the war, part of the most active Jewish community in the Austro-Hungarian empire (according to Wikipedia). The architecture of this building combined with overall atmosphere and loud Romanian music being played at a wedding on Piața Unirii made standing on the bridge in the evening sun a very exotic experience!

Walking along the green northern banks of the Crișul Repede just enjoying looking at the reflections:

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43. Yes I noticed the mistake on this picture, but left it like this as I thought it kind of amusing (you’ll find this kind of things on some of the other pictures too if you look carefully)

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45. People enjoying the Saturday-evening sun on the northern bank (including someone who was singing ‘Country Roads’, which I found a bit surrealistic in this setting)

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Now the southern bank of the Crișul Repede river.

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48. The street it is on is opposite Parcul 1 Decembrie, where I rented a bike from I’velo so that I could see more in the short time I was in Oradea (I had to be at Budapest airport early the next morning)

49. You almost can’t see it here, but there are people sitting on all the benches in the shade under the trees (it was already getting much too hot at 10:30 in the morning)

50. Another (IMO) successful modernist building sits at the eastern end of the park. It looked like it contained an office for people who want to emigrate to Canada (Via Emigrarii Canada), as well as a church (some kind of service seemed to be being held)

A few more art nouveau buildings in the short streets between Parcul 1 Decembrie and Piața Unirii

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53. In a side street to the south of Parcul 1 Decembrie, the smaller of Oradea’s two synagogues

54. A more normal street on the edge of the center

When cycling along the street on the last photo, my attention was caught by a roof much higher than the ones surrounding it. It turned out to belong to this building, which is slightly hidden in the middle of a block. Those who have seen my other threads know that this is exactly my kind of thing

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57. It houses a bar that looks like it could have been in Berlin

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59. It wasn’t difficult to understand from the Romanian text on the bar’s website that it is a jazz bar serving quality wines from Israel (which obviously includes Heineken)

60. The building visible in the distance on photo 48 is this new-ish Orthodox church

Oradea’s citadel is situated behind the church (I don’t have any other pictures as I was getting tired at the end of this very hot day):

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We will now leave the centre of Oradea by way of Strada Moscovei, a side street to the west of Calea Unirrii (see photos 8 to 21):

63. A few more art-nouveau buildings at the beginning of the street

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65. The street soon turns into a more residential district of one-storey houses that seem to be quite typical in Romania (I like this style)

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69. The more modern districts of Oradea start at the end of the street

This particular district hides another of the city’s main sights: the Episcopal palace, that must have been built slightly out of town in the 18th century. It was designed by Austrian architect Franz Anton Hillebrandt, and was inspired by the Belvedere in Vienna. I didn’t get any pictures of the front of the building because the bright afternoon sun was shining directly behind it.

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La Revedere Romania

Klausenburg (who had also booked my room at Pensunea Hubert) had booked me seat on a bus to Budapest airport, leaving at midnight from Parcarea TVS on Bulevardul Dacia. I didn’t want to miss the bus, so I decided to use my rental bike to see where that was in the middle of the day. Expecting to find a bus station, this took me up and down the boulevard a number of time, giving me the opportunity to make pictures of a typical Romanian communist-era neighbourhood, which I think are mainly middle class (and which I hadn’t done yet on this trip).

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78. Having arrived on the edge of town (on the road to Hungary), I realised that the bus station wasn’t here, so I asked some passers by (all of them thought I was Hungarian and replied in Hungarian), but they didn’t know either

79. Finally, someone directed me to a change office, and I now know that 6 change offices in one block mean that international buses owned by private companies also stop at the nearest regular stop, which turned out to be near the roundabout you also saw on the first picture. As it was starting to get cloudy and not good weather for photo’s, I went back there early to make sure I wouldn’t miss the bus (it wasn’t marked on the stop, and I still wasn’t confident I had the right place)

Thunderclouds started to gather as I waited in the small park by the roundabout, watching Sunday-evening people coming and going – just sitting there, walking their dogs, letting their children play in the fountain. A homeless man washed his feet and was looked at disapprovingly by a distinguished looking man in his 50’s (actually, I had washed my feet in it too before he had arrived).

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People say time flies when you’re enjoying yourself, but for me the opposite is true when I’m on holiday: the week I was in Romania felt like I had lived in each town for a month. And as it often does when I leave a place I had started to feel a connection with, the clouds burst and thunder rolled, as if trying to give a dramatic, movie-like ending to my holiday. In this case this meant I had run for shelter, and I spent my last two hours in Romania sitting in the porch of an apartment building, in front of which a minibus did indeed stop at half past midnight to speed me away through the sleeping Hungarian countryside. But I know that I will be back!

BONUS: Having just arrived at Budapest airport after a short night spent half asleep on the bus, it was strange to suddenly be surrounded by other compulsive photographers again, as we flocked to the smoking deck to make a picture of this dramatic sunrise.

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