Timisoara gathers the will to become one of the cultural hotspots in Eastern Europe, here you can discover all those cool places you enjoy in young and cosmopolitan capitals, but on a small, walking distance, scale, without the tourist buzz. This is a beginner’s guide of Timisoara to beginners.
Last October, once again, I packed my stuff, left the colorful city of Porto and moved to Timisoara. The choice was unexpected. I’ve always loved Eastern Europe and I even spent almost 3 years in Poland and I’ve been in Romania before on a research trip, so coming back to this side of the Old Continent wasn’t a surprise. On the other hand, back in Porto, I had a picture of the city in my living room, offered by a friend, so by then I was saying i’d visit him, but never really thought I’d be actually living and working here.
My expectations were high, he was great at promoting the city and the job I was taking was pretty much what I really wanted to do. My expectations were not in vain.
A beginner’s guide from a beginner
Timisoara is clearly a city of a tremendous historic past, first records go back to 1212 under the Kingdom of Hungary and being on a strategic position in the Banat region, as it is called today, it soon became an important stronghold on the defence against the Ottoman empire. For that same reason in 1443 a big defence wall was built to protect and city and to allow the positioning of the hungarian crusaders. The strategy didn’t last long and the Turks got hold of the city till it passed to the Austrian Empire during the 18th century and, finally, to the Kingdom of Romania in 1918.
This way, the city always got a big influx of different people which makes it well known today for being a multicultural spot with 21 ethnic groups and 18 religious. On a daily basis though, you only understand it through the diversity of architectures and functions of the different buildings. For instance, in the just renovated Union Square, the old center, you can find the bright yellow Catholic Dome, the Serbian bishopery, a serbian church, a German school as well as the most beautiful and colorful Bruke House being a great piece of Art Noveaux. A bit further you’ll reach the Opera and Victory Squares, both being the actual main venue, where a great renaissance building, the Opera, hosts not only the national theater and a ballet academy, but shares the space with 3 other state theater: German, Serbian and Hungarian. By the end of Victory Square you will find the Orthodox Cathedral, a building I always see as a kind of Disneyland castle with three really tall green towers.
Skipping the architecture, Timisoara is also great in nature, it has amazing parks that whether in the summer or in the winter are great for a walk, I’d risk saying that a big part of the city center are actually green areas. The Botanical Garden is huge and as a beginner like myself you will get lost there. But because size isn’t everything, my favourite is the green path along the river Bega, where I had the most pleasant time when it was still warm enough to ride a bicycle or to get some really fresh air on a Sunday morning, after a good night out. The Rose’s Park is also well known and even though I didn’t get the chances to see any roses, everyone tells me they smell the best, which might not be a good idea if you have tough allergies like I do. Finally, the Children’s Park is also cool to walk and see how easy it is to entertain kids in playgrounds hiding in castles, spinning or sliding into sand.
Timisoara is also an artsy city, you’ll find art galleries easily by walking around the center, you’ll hear the sound of students playing their instruments through the open windows of the Music Faculty, as if they are offering free concerts to everyone. If you arrive in the city by October as I did, you will be lucky enough to check Timishort, an amazing work of a really cool team totally into cinema and experimental audiovisual, the venue of the festival itself is a must go as it is one of the last state cinemas in the country and it does need all the support from cinema fans.
For the fun, or a cool place to work, I really enjoy this chameleonic kind of place that gather different types of people, where you can enjoy a tea and stay throughout the day working peacefully and end up there on a friday or saturday night to have some drinks, enjoy a Timisoarina, the local beer, or some stronger booze while having a nonsense talk about all-the-problems-in-the-world. For this I’d totally recommend Aethernativ, surely calmer, with the best organic fair-trade coffee in town, with a cool terrace for a smoke or to enjoy the sun, when it comes. On the 1st floor of the same building, you can find Cuib d’Arte, as I was told it mean something like art’s nest and there you’ll have a really well decorated interior, with some geometric drawings and a kind of arts and crafts lookalike. On weekends by night they both get cool and fun with some piece of music you won’t find anywhere else around. A bit further from the center you’ll find Scârt, a bar part of a theater company, that takes you back in time with a great collection of objects from the communist period gathered on the basement in different divisions representing the typical home and house appliances by then.
If you’re looking for a place to stay I’d say Hostel Costel is a cool funky place to stay overnight. To fuel your stomach for the long walks you can find some good places in the city center as Planet for a fast, on budget, sandwich or the Serbian Restaurant, across the street, for a full meal still on a great price. But if you’re couchsurfing and want to get your host a nice dinner don’t miss Badea Cârtan, a huge vegetable market where people from the countryside go sell their all natural greens!
But if you really want to get to know the city just move your ass around the city and discover the great graffitis and abandoned factories, it is totally worth doing it and, honestly, you can’t get to know a city without discovering its surroundings. Even if you get lost, just ask for help, Timisoara isn’t big, but four months passed and I still get lost on the countless small streets in the center.