Since I had replaced my week in Egypt in March with a week in Romania, I though I would travel from Hungary to Moldova as quickly as possible. However, the limited research I did left me with more places I wanted to see in Romania than in Hungary, so I took the slow route, stoping in 3 cities along the way.
First was Timisoara, the birthplace of the 1989 revolution, where I visited the Revolution Memorial (note the Berlin Wall segment).
It recently moved into an old army barrack, and let’s just say it’s a work in progress. I signed the required guest registration book, which showed me I had been the only visitor that day. I even met the director, a man who was himself shot and hospitalized for several months on that fateful year. The first thing he asked me was if I came from the French speaking part of Canada. When I said yes, he seemed very proud to be able to offer a French subtitled version of the Memorial’s 30 min video, which I watched by myself using the small conference room’s overhead projector.
The movie confirmed what I had read in Bucharest about Ceaușescu’s 10 minute trial. Most of the violence in 1989 occurred after the fall of the Government on December 22nd. More exactly, 162 people were killed before and 942 after. While it seems obvious in hindsight that the regime had fallen, it was not clear at all for many at the time, and various groups still loyal to the regime committed acts of violence. Some groups of revolutionaries even killed each other, by mistake. The execution of the dictator was to be the sign that this was over, the regime was dead. Right or wrong, it worked. And the risks that because of a show trial they executed an innocent man are quite low indeed.
This was Victory Square, the day I visited. Mostly the domain of pigeons and Easter celebration vending booths.
This was the same place in 1989. The reason why the troubles started there was that most people in Romania were completely unaware of what was happening in the world, the State-controlled media avoiding any reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall, or other such topics. But in Timisoara, along the border with Hungary, people were getting TV signals from Yugoslavia and knew of the great upheavals in the communist world.
The memorial is mainly a photo exhibit, with the digitalization of archives happening in the offices. Some pictures are quite powerful.
The Government initially tried to cover-up the shooting of protestors. The bodies were transported to Bucharest and cremated. Families were told their loved ones had been hospitalized, but had then escaped and fled out of the country.
Flags of the time, with the symbols of communism cut out.
Unfortunately, terrible weather limited my exploration of Timisoara and the next day, I headed to Sibiu, Transylvania.
This lovely bridge is an iconic symbol of Sibiu and the legend says that if you say a lie on the bridge, it will collapse. It’s certainly a nice bridge, but don’t go with super high expectations, or you might face the same kind of disappointment this German Tripadvisor reviewer faced:
“Just a bridge with not nice view” (Reviewed September 18, 2013)
“You are staying on the bridge and look into the lower town: You see rotten houses
You are staying on the bridge and telling lies: Nothing happens. The legend is a lie.”
I guess it’s all about expectations!
The 12th century Council Tower.
You can climb to the top for about a dollar, but it’s not always the easiest climb.
The old town, with the socialist architecture on the outskirts.
While Sibiu, like Timisoara, was all set-up for Easter celebrations, the weather was not cooperating and the children’s rides were closed. And a fountain on a rainy day is somehow less exciting.
But I did see the largest rabbit I have ever seen! And I then headed to Brasov, a city I had been to a few weeks before, but had not really had a chance to visit because of heavy rain. Of course, it was still raining when I got there…
But this time I had a local guide! I often take pleasure in visiting people I met a year before, half-way across the world. In this case it was a little simpler. I met Benedek in Bratislava only the week before and when she said she was from Brasov, I said I might drop by for a beer. And I did!
Despite the light rain, this time I visited Strada Sforii, billed as the world’s narrowest street. The German guy would have been really disappointed here!
The massive Black Church, which unfortunately was closed that day. There are buildings all around it, so it is difficult to photograph properly.
A highly unusual statue sits at the top, commemorating the death of a little boy, according to legend pushed to his death as a result of some jealousy induced feud.
Benedek took me to see another Orthodox Church.
It is really strange inside. Some priest is babbling along in an incomprehensible language (to all, not just to me!), and nobody seems to be paying attention to him. It is nothing like Catholic of Protestant churches, where everyone sits silently, at least pretending to pay attention. Here they stand around everywhere and do their own thing. And they kiss icons, a practice the Romanian authorities noted might not be a very good idea in times of epidemics. The Church calmed their fears, informing them that it was impossible for a icon to pass on germs, because they are blessed.
The cemetery was even stranger. This man, who probably doesn’t trust his relatives at all, had his own tombstone built and installed. The date of his future death remains to be added. Only an engineer…
While that was entertaining, I must say I learned some shocking things about Romania in Brasov.
First, I witnessed an army parade. Now, I understand that Romania is one of the poorest NATO member countries, but I found the level of equipment they provide their troops to be totally unacceptable.
Second, I witnessed a criminal trial and I found the police and courts treat the accused very badly, even resorting to severe beatings. Again, I am shocked the EU tolerates such behaviour from a member country. And this is not some strange rumour, I saw it with my own eyes!