Southwest Romania and Hungary

October 6. I awoke in the strange partly built suburb of Szeged, trying to be as quiet as possible.  I didn’t want to wake someone’s dog or the ire of the neighbors.  I headed to Timisoara, having forgotten about the time change (the clock advances an hour when crossing from Hungary to Romania), and arrived at 12pm.  After finding a parking place in front of a flower stall, I walked several blocks to the main square, doing my usual people watching.  I could tell it was a university town.  Young people scurried along the sidewalks, looking at their cell phones and seeming preoccupied.  The main square was bordered on all sides by Neoclassical architecture.  Close by were rather ugly buildings as well.  I didn’t understand the juxtaposition of beauty and utilitarian ugliness, but assumed the less attractive ones had been built during Soviet occupation.  I wandered into the Orthodox Church across the square, then into the grand park and across the river, back to the old town and main square bordered by the catholic church and former palace.  The palace was grand and stately, and very Hungarian in design.  I wandered for a few hours, then headed toward Retezat National Park.  After two hours of horrible traffic (a line of cars a mile long creeping along through small villages on a two lane road), I decided to head to Hunedoara instead. Hunedoara had the smell of a mining town, and its only claim to fame was Corvin Castle.  I walked onto the castle grounds at night as it was open for a special event, only to be told I wasn’t allowed to enter the castle proper.  I found a nice bar on the main strip and drank grapefruit and orange juice while working on my blog.  I had a hard time finding a place to sleep, so decided to drive out of town toward Sebes where I found a small village and parked up a dirt road.  I prayed that no one would come down the road during the night, and didn’t sleep out of fear and the noise of barking dogs.

October 7. It had been a cold wet night, and the day proved no different.  I awoke and headed back to Corvin castle.  Arriving at 10am, I entered and got an audio guide, which gave me a very good overview and explanation of the history of Corvin.  I met a Renaissance instrument enthusiast named Nicholae who played all instruments and was proficient in the pan pipes.  He demonstrated an az and ne, as well as other wind and string instruments.  Later, I met his friend Parcariu Nistor, a vibraphone player, who plays jazz with Nicholae and music in the castle.  Then I headed to museum to learn about the archaeological find in the nearby hill, then to the guild house, and finally to Alba Lulia.  During the Roman period the settlement was called Apulum (from the Dacian Apoulon, mentioned by Ptolemy). When the settlement  – upon Roman ruins – became the seat of a dukedom in the 10th century, the population may have been Slavic. The early Slavic name of the settlement was Bălgrad (meaning “white castle” or “white town”).  

The main historical area of Alba Iulia is the Upper Town region, developed by Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor in honour of whom the Habsburgs renamed the city Karlsburg. The fortress, with seven bastions in a stellar shape, was constructed under Habsburg rule between 1716 and 1735 by two Swiss fortification architects.  After 1720, the two architects radically transformed the medieval fortress shaped by the former Roman castrum into a seven-bastion baroque fortress, developing Menno van Coehorn’s new Dutch system, of which the fortress of Alba Iulia is the best preserved example. Inside the fortress are The Union Hall with the National Honour Gallery, The National History Museum of Unification, the Princely Palace (Voivodal Palace), the Orthodox cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, the Batthyaneum Library, the Roman Catholic bishop’s palace, the Apor Palace, and the University of Alba Iulia. Built in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Roman Catholic cathedral is the most representative building in the medieval Romanic style in Transylvania, and is considered to be an important monument of early Transylvanian medieval architecture. The tombs of John Hunyadi and Isabella Jagiełło—Queen of Hungary are located there.

I enjoyed the Museum Principia and Union Hall, but decided to return tomorrow as the museum was too large to see properly in 40 minutes, especially with my snail-like museum pace.  I walked around the upper town, gaping at a large wedding with some people wearing traditional Romanian clothing. I walked out of the walls to an old wooden church with a beautiful shingled roof, and out to the edge of the fortress wall where I walked until dusk, then headed down the hill in search of wifi to write my blog.  I found a nice place in a theater/indoor mall, where an employee was kind enough to give me the password.  I left around 10:30pm in search of a place to sleep, and found my resting spot about 8 km away in the mountains near an oak forest overlooking a meadow.

October 8. I awoke to see a shepherd grazing his sheep in the field below.  On many a morning I’ve awoken to shepherds grazing their flock.  Very picturesque.  I returned to Alba Iulia where I spent 2-1/2 hours at the National History Museum of Unification looking at the rest of the exhibits and taking photos. I took another look at the Union Hall and walked to the outskirts to take a last look at the wooden orthodox church, then headed to Sebes. It was one of seven German-walled cities in Transylvania.  I had been told it was a nice place to visit.  I found the home of Transylvania’s voivode John I Zápolya, who died in Sebeș in 1540. The Transylvanian Diet met in Sebeș in 1546, 1556, 1598 and 1600. The Zápolya House was the location of the Diet and is now a museum. I went to the museum, where I learned about a Romanian world-traveler who had lived in the house in the 1800s.  There were a myriad of photos about his trip to Africa and other exotic parts of the world, as well as postcards he’d written to friends and family at home.  When I’d had my fill, I returned to Hungary via Szeged where I had a nice meal, enjoyed some lovely polyphonic music, before heading to Bugac in Kiskunság National Park, part of the Southern Great Plain.  I drove over dark roads into a beautiful wild land whose only sound was the quiet rustle of trees and grass.  It was the best sleep I’d had in a week.

October 9.  I awoke and explored Bugac on foot, scattering Racka sheep and Hungarian gray cattle that are indigenous to Hungary and that make Kiskunság National Park a special place in the Southern Great Plain.  After exploring by foot, I tried to drive out of the park and got lost.  I saw a group of ecotourists on horseback and hailed them.  It turns out they were French, and gave me good directions in French on how to get out.  I’d driven through some fine white sand on my way and wasn’t sure I’d succeed in going back through without getting stuck.  I found the museum of shepherds Puzta which showed how shepherds lived, then headed to the town of Bugac and on the road to Budapest for my last dental appointment of the year.  Dr. Windisch and I met to discuss the next steps, then I waved goodbye to Budapest and headed to Bratislava.  Zuzana and Marek weren’t home, so I bummed around the city waiting for them, and finally was able to take a shower and get access to the bags I’d had to leave when I left to pick up a new car in Munich.  I like Bratislava, despite the ravages of Soviet occupation.  It is a pretty city.



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