Best big city: Timisoara
Timisoara is how all big Romanian cities should and hopefully will be. It’s trendy, cosmopolitan, full of great museums and sights of tourist interest, excellent restaurant/bars/clubs that were simply too numerous for me to note for the book and run by an organized, competent and proud civic community that knows how to put up conspicuous and clear street signs, makes it easy for people to do business and employs people who are capable of providing help rather than saying “I don’t know” and “It’s not my problem” then going back to reading their magazines like officials in most other cities. I was sorry that I only had two days here and plan to go back as soon as time allows.
Best small city: Curtea de Arges
I’ve already given these people props, but you can never get enough of a good thing. The town is chilled, has more than its share of nice things to look at and no other place in all of Romania has such a high standard of accommodations at such low prices. Again, I didn’t want to leave.
Best place to road trip: Maramures
Don’t get me wrong, driving through the north of Romania in the winter is a certifiable mistake, but in the summer I imagine this would be absolutely lovely. All those tiny villages are still very much living like they did 100 years ago. Guys still walk down the road to work with a pitchfork over their shoulder (though these days sometimes there’s a cell phone in the other hand). Old leaning houses are still the norm, with some very classy new houses springing up, being careful to stay true to the old architecture. The old people stand out on the road at the end of the day to socialize. Lots of moonshine is consumed and people are very religious and superstitious. My car and I were blessed repeatedly by strangers as I motored through their towns.
Coolest looking city: Arad
All that Hapsburg architecture is looking worn, but is still very nice. Some renovation work is underway, but otherwise these buildings are foraging on, enduring every day use as apartments offices and restaurants.
Ugliest city: Satu Mare
My predecessor(s) state this outright in the book, but nothing really prepares you for the ugliness of this place. I’m considering putting in a small piece of text about identifying the ugliest buildings in the city as a form of distraction, as there is little else to do.