The van’s wheels crunched as they rolled over uneven cobblestones of the citadel dated hundreds of thousands of years earlier. In a country whose history was so rich, plagued with legends of vampires, impalers and communism, the little town seemed almost unreal. A fantasy in its existence. Each house was painted one vibrant color from the next and few cars lined the streets, only allowed with a permit as to not disturb the scenery. It is low season for tourism in Romania though the spring sun beat down as strong as I’d felt in months.We walked into our hotel and were assigned rooms. As I put my things down on the spare bed,
I couldn’t shake the weary, unpinpointable feeling. Perhaps it was the strangeness of being alone in a foreign country or the fact that I was standing somewhere that had been built hundreds and hundreds of years ago and seemed nearly untouched by humanity’s evolution. The clay colored shingles lay caked with varied layers of dirt from tower to tower that once housed workers of different professions. Still in the early days of spring, trees bent forward; their branches curling leafless like witch’s claws. Jimmy, the town dog walked along side for a while until he found something more entertaining.
The next morning, from the top of the watch tower that stood at the edge of the city, you could see around the citadel and into the new, more 20th century constructions below the stone gate. The architecture of this country absolutely fascinated me. Strong influences of Germany as well as Turkey were evident in the deteriorating, faded exteriors. The town square below was starting to fill its corners with new visitors as we surveyed from above. A single, drunken violinist played under a naked tree allowing us to watch him sing and sway as he fluidly stroked the strings with his frayed bow.
Beyond the colored buildings and identical rooftops were tortured old structures of buildings, boarded from abandonment adjacent to brutalist style flats in the same bright colors of the old town. The hillsides rolled in muted greens and browns against a gray sky with hints of a pale blue—the promise for another strangely beautiful day. Beyond this hour and this place halted in time, was a metallic blue sky and clouds like looked masterfully painted on, black trees that poked the skyline, boxed houses and magnificent castles.
Romania is a contradiction in a world of symmetry. As we’re so used to one place seeing the same thing from location to location, Romania is anything but that. It’s ancient and new right on top of each other. Decrepit and wilting, shining and sleek. A Banksy amusement park in real life.
Back in the van, I watched as steam rose from chimneys in massive apartment buildings that looked like mansions on the country side, clothes waving limp on multiple lines in the crisp spring air. A woman stuck out her thumb to catch a ride. Old factories slowly coasted past us, their windows crashed in or boarded leaving the ghosts of employment to the death of Communism. My air conditioned car came equipped with wifi.