I took a break from the Hairenik a week ago to go on a business trip for a few days. My destination was Timisoara, Romania, which is located in the county of Timis, and formerly Transylvania. As anyone with a mild to intense attraction for horror knows that Transylvania is home to Count Dracula. Despite many requests for bones or teeth belonging to the king of all vampires, the only souvenir I could find was a plastic keychain with a raised visage of the real Dracula, sporting a fabulous moustache, who was known for impaling his enemies rather than sucking their blood.
I had about seven hours to kill before my flight left Vienna for Timisoara, so I decided to take a commuter train into the city. I wanted to get off at the St. Stephens’ station but I lost track of the stops and ended up getting off at the next station. It seems that I went a few kilometers too far because I could not find my location on a vague, seemingly inaccurate map I found on the back page of some free magazine printed especially for tourists that featured Gerard Depardieu on the front cover for some reason. I made a mad dash to the nearest café to use the toilet for 50 euro cents, then started wandering around hoping to find a road on the map in the vicinity where I thought I was. Lucky me, none of the street names appeared on the map. So I strolled with a six pound laptop crammed in its case slung across my shoulder in what seemed to be a residential area of the city, but located somewhere northwest of the ring surrounding the center. Nearly 90 minutes later, while periodically squinting to read the street names on the map, a futile effort, I wandered upon a subway station that according to the map would lead me to the right train I needed to get back to familiar surroundings. I visited Vienna about six years ago last and I remembered where all the action was. About 20 minutes later I was at St. Stephens’ Square (Stepansplatz), which is loaded with real cafés—not the silly places found around the Opera House in Yerevan—as well as wall-to-wall shops. The area is a tourist trap because of the cathedral, which is perhaps the most beautiful one I have ever seen anywhere. I roamed around some more, stopped to have a Café Latte and a croissant along the way, snapped a couple of photos of the cathedral, and was off to the airport on the express train. Unfortunately I found it impossible to frame the entire cathedral in a single shot since it is surrounded by buildings and thus preventing a wide shot to be taken, so instead I focused on the spires, as probably everyone does in the same situation.
Timisoara (which is supposed to be spelled with "ş" in place of the "s" and pronounced "sh") has a near 1,000 history in various incarnations and nomenclatures. It is a city of just under 340,000 people located near the Hungarian border, and shares the Baroque architecture that can be found throughout Vienna. I didn’t really get a chance to see the city until my last night there, when I strolled down the ancient narrow streets that lead into expansive squares flanked by massive churches and royal buildings. I found the people there to be very friendly and polite, which was a far cry from those in Yerevan, especially employees in shops who always seem to serve me with a tired, disgusted visage, straining to do me a favor like take my money. Romania on the other hand, having worked tremendously hard to get its act together in time to join the European Union in January of this year, puts professionalism before attitude. Generally people seemed more laid back and civilized to me in public spaces than in Yerevan, where much shouting and yelling out “hey brother” is predominant in communication. There is virtually nothing to indicate that the country was once communist behind the iron curtain. On the contrary, compared to Armenia it seems extremely advanced in terms of its infrastructure, attention to order, and peoples’ respect for others. The country I am sure has its own share of problems, but I am writing this from an observer’s perspective, naturally.
It is always fantastic to visit Europe because I am always amazed by the architecture, historical monuments, and culture which is abundant in every city I have visited, Vienna and Timisoara in no way being exceptions. When I first visited Yerevan in 2000, that European charm was evident in the city, especially in its old neighborhoods and their winding streets. But most of that charm evaporated with the obliteration of historic buildings to make way for reinforced cement monstrosities constructed by business tycoons bent on destroying the past. And it only amounted to just about 100 years of history at the most, since Yerevan has been built and destroyed so many times over the last 2,000 years or so. So for me at least visiting Europe even for only a few hours during a single visit is always a special treat for me, because I cannot scorn being surrounded by history and deep-rooted culture. Armenia is wonderful, but there is nothing like Europe. It’s just a fantastic place.
I hope to post some photos whenever I get the film developed.
Labels: Personal Experiences