Romanian Road Trip Timisoara

Timisoara had to be on our list of places to see in Romania. They have beer. We were told by many that the city of Timisoara was a “better” version of Bucharest, and certainly a hot spot in Romania. Concidentally, all these cities in Romania the we wanted to visit were mostly in the western portion of the Country, so very convenient. Because we did not wish to stay the night in Hunedoara, we continued onwards towards the land of cheap beer.

We got back on the road late afternoon, heading north towards Deva, then wast towards Timisoara. No doubt we would arrive for a typically late dinner. The drive from Hunedoara to Timisoara was actually quite a nice drive. The lack of communist buildings and the abundance of beautiful scenery at dusk was enough to keep us from dozing off as one so often nearly does on the drive from Bucharest to Brasov. This “Romanian Countryside” drive actually had some interesting surprises along the way.

We pulled off the countryside highway about halfway through our trip to stock up on convenient store snacks, and low and behold wound up spending less the 4 euros for three people (two Americans) worth of soda pop and candy. Pretty well done for what would normally set us back for twice that price in Bucharest. That is something that we have noticed almost across the board on this trip: Bucharest is expensive! Compare prices and you’ll see that on average, the Capitol city is roughly 20% higher on your average cost of living. This isn’t an oddity though, as most Capitol cities are indeed costlier than “lesser” cities within the same Country.

As we continued on, we came across what literally was a “stop the car” experience. There, on the side of the road, just before entering the small village of Faget (go ahead and look up the proper pronunciation on your own), was an old DC-3 airplane once painted up with some old Coca-Cola imagery, complete with terrace, table, and chairs. This indeed was a bit of old Americana in the form of a roadside cafe. It was after hours, so we didn’t stop for a bite. Too bad, it was pretty unique, especially for Romania. Maybe next time we’ll enjoy a meal at this charming little Faget Aerobar. Some quick photos and we were off again.

A bit of an interesting story though… as quickly as we were able, we researched this little attraction on the net. Come to find out, we were wrong. This was not a Douglas DC-3. How could we have misjudged such an icon of the travel industry??? Well, we hadn’t really misjudged at all. This was not a DC-3, but Russia’s knock-off of it, the Lisunov Li-2. After some further research, it turns out that nearly 2,000 of these Russian variants were built. It all goes back to the beginning of Russian Airline Aeroflot’s inability to secure a proper aircraft for commercial travel. The failing practice of refitting military aircraft for civilian transport good go on no longer if Aeroflot was to maintain itself as a viable airline. So, between 1936 and 1939 is allegedly when these 2,000 DC-3’s arrived in Russia. It wasn’t long after that, that engineer Boris P. Lusinov began to adapt these existing aircraft for Russian use, as well as assist in the production of what is estimated to be 5,000 additional “copies”. In typical Russian fashion, the Douglas aircraft company never received any payment for the agreed-to-be-license built aircraft. We see this concept of business later spilled over into the Romanian systems.

Enough of this mind-numbing Eastern Bloc trivia. We continued on our “journey” to Timisoara.

Very soon after this we entered onto some well-paved roads that marked our entrance into the city limits of Timisoara. It is a bit like coming into Bucharest via Otopeni, however the boulevards are marked with a bit more “life”. There are truck stops followed by cheapy hotels, followed by more truck stops, and more cheapy hotels. Car showrooms and light industry dot the increasingly dense urban landscape. Nothing really unique yet aside from the over-abundance of street-side women. Looks like we have just identified one “reason” the expats in Bucharest like to talk about Timisoara. I get it. The night life. Ha. We decided to continue driving through the city in the same fashion that we tend to drive through most European cities. Follow the signs to the most “stuff” and if the roads get more crowded and the buildings become more dense, then we’re likely heading towards the city center. Our plan for tonight is to quickly get a feel for the layout of this city, locate a reasonably priced hotel that is “close in” to all the action, then go grab a bite to eat for dinner.

Step one, Learn the City:
Should be easy enough right? I mean, we have a good map, and this isn’t exactly rocket science. Oops. Our mistake. Without specifically counting, I would say that we made at least five circles around what we later determined was the “center” in our attempts to actually locate the city “center”. We road over many a tram track, crossed over the same one-way streets, and u-turned in “familiar” parking lots many times. We drove past what looked to be a good-sized westernised shopping mall many times, and even saw what looked to be some nice parks along a “quaint” waterway. Maybe in the daytime this place would be pretty cool. One “odd” thing jumped out at us as we were making our way through what turned out to be essentially the entire city…

Step two, find a reasonably priced hotel:
Well we couldn’t. There isn’t one that we found. If you know of one, PLEASE put it in the comments for all to see. Our criteria again was that we find a hotel that was close to the action. The hotels 10 kilometers out in the outskirts of the city were not going to cut it for us (especially since their rates actually turned out to be roughly that of what we finally wound up paying). We made our circle back to what was the center of town, Piata Unirii (by this time we knew it well) to inquire about rates at a hotel that is located essentially on this main pedestrian area of the town. The name of this hotel is the Timisoara Hotel. Upon our arrival we did observe that one entire wing of this hotel was under renovation as well as a re-branding. The rates weren’t “bad” at roughly 65 euros per night for walk-in rates, but certainly nothing to write home about (believe it or not. The hotel itself was of the quality of the Phonecia hotel in Bucharest, so at least that was good. We brought are items up to the rooms, made sure the car was locked up, threw on our jackets and headed out for a night on the town.

Step three, find dinner:
Uhhh.. you would think that in all of Timisoara there would A) be lots of restaurants, and B) be lots of restaurants that are opened late on a weekend. This simply was not the case. Timisoara is absolutely awash in Pizza joints. You can’t seem to walk a block without seeing some other “rendition” of what looked like the same pizza place you just walked past. Funny thing is, everything closes early. So try to imagine a crappy Trattoria’s that closes prior to anyone (expats at least) arriving for what would be considered a late dinner. After walking up and down Piata Unirii (the site of the revolution that helps make Timisoara famous) and seeing nothing but cheesy local brand clothing stores followed by disgusting apartments and closed pizza restaurants we decided to get back into the car and drive to some of the restaurants in the city guide we picked up at the hotel. No such luck. They were all closed. It was of course, after 9pm. Good thing anyways, as we didn’t feel like pizza. We made our way back to the hotel, after nearly an hour of driving in even more circles. What a waste. Once we got back to the hotel we walked the 300 meters to the McDonalds at Piata Unirii that was opened ’til midnight. At this point my BigMac really tasted great.

After eating, we retreated immediately back to the hotel, because, throughout our driving and walking around, it wasn’t difficult to see that the “nightlife” in Timisoara revolved around a “trying to be Bucharest, yet failing” type of crowd. These were all the “tweenagers” in their tight stonewashed jeans, shiny patent leather tennis shoes and glossy marshmallow-esque poofy jackets all walking in at out of the pizza-joints-turned-discos with the typical young Bucharest male swagger. Staring at the ceiling of my hotel room while laying beneath crispy over-starched bed sheets seemed like the deal of the century at this point.

I can’t imagine life here before the revolution.

The next morning we awoke rather early, to check out of our hotel and see if we could grab breakfast (hopefully not pizza) before getting on the road. The three of us seemed to unanimously agree that this town essentially was a waste. I felt nothing like the fellows on the fun-filled television adverts for Timisoareana Beer. We walked back into the Piata Unirii, where, this time, there was a good sized crowd of people, but again, nothing seemed to be really “going on”. Maybe there was a hoop and a stick they were all playing with… who knows. We went to sit down in a restaurant in the Piata that had looked interesting, but was of course closed the night prior. This restaurant appeared nice.. at first. Yup, I know you may be thinking at this point that all I’m doing here is ranting and complaining… but holy crap, this town seemed to be one big let-down after another! I ordered a fruit breakfast as it was not so expensive. It was like 10 Lei and included coffee and toast.

I kid you not, they brought me a damn apple on a plate with silverware. How they could do this with a straight face must take years of practice. After I ate my apple, drank my coffee, and the other two had their meals (complete with gnat infested oil and vinegar) we reluctantly paid the bill, ran back to the car, and left this hell-hole for good.

If you take one thing away from this article it is this:
Stop in Timisoara only if your car breaks down. Otherwise, keep on going. It ain’t a better Bucharest.

Up next in the Romanian Road Trip series, we actually DO find a great little town by the name of Arad. It is where we SHOULD have stopped for the night instead.