Once upon a time, the gods added a certain je ne sais quoi to the southwestern region of Romania we call ‘Banat’: mysterious and dark forests, fast rivers, deep gorges.
It was also the region in which the kingdom of Romanians’ ancestors flourished – Dacians must have appreciated the sanctuary feel provided by primeval forests and by the wilderness around them and used the communion with nature to their own benefit in the wars against the Romans at the beginning of the first millennium AD.
It was only late in the game that I discovered it …after seeing many countries. And some might say that it was precisely what enhanced Orşova’s charm in my eyes. True or not, at the first glimpse onto its terraced layout and reddish rooftops, I knew I was hooked.
A drive later in the afternoon along Danube’s banks and a fish barbecue with my friends and the many mosquitoes buzzing around in the evening made me wait impatiently for the morning to come, because I craved to discover that gorgeous view in a different light.
I remember waking up incredibly happy the next morning. There was that complete and intoxicating silence that you get on holiday mornings, when everybody’s asleep, so I tiptoed to the terrace to take it all in. What a glorious sunrise it was! Fishermen scattered here and there in the lazy sounds of the birds, with the rays of the sun flooding my eyes. I was in love.
As we were going to experience it on our own for brunch, a boat ride through the Danube Gorges (Cazanele Mari & Cazanele Mici) made us feel like the characters in ‘Lord of the Rings’: the vastness of the water framed by the mellow cliffs that seemed to act as guides to a mighty kingdom. The second highest rock-hewn statue in the world – the one of the last Dacian King, Decebal, who courageously fought the Romans almost two thousand years ago – and ‘Tabula Traiana’ – a Roman plaque commemorating the completion of Roman Emperor Trajan’s military road, in his attempt to conquer Dacia – added majesty to it all, while we wee speeding our way through the gorges. There are numerous caves here for the passionate speleologists to explore and discover.
Even after entering Serbia, the charm of the area does not fade and there are few who resist the temptation to stop their cars and take a final look and a few pictures of the Romanian bank. Even for travellers who are not set to drive farther away through the Balkans, a short drive to Serbia and back would give them an opportunity – apart from sampling some delightful fish soup in one of the traditional restaurants – to feel the energies of the two Danube banks interblend. Both Serbian and Romanian are spoken in these restaurants, with both Serbian and Romanian currencies accepted, so this is definitely a half-day trip to be considered.
The following spring brought me back to Orşova and I rediscovered my outspoken passion for the sunrises lived here and my memories from those lazy days of March are some of the most luminous memories of my life. A new boat ride on the Danube together with my Brazilian friend that I was introducing to the awesomeness of it all came along with new stories, connected to the most important island in the area. Actually, a former island.
As I was holding the pictures of the inhabitants of Ada Kaleh in my hands, I realised how incredibly bohemian and oriental must life have been there in the 60s. Following the dynamiting of the island in view of building the Iron Gate Dam, part of the islanders (mainly of Turkish origin) moved to Dobruja, in southeastern Romania, close to the Black Sea, and those remaining – to Orşova, despite the fact that the authorities had envisaged their move downstream, to Şimian Island, which still hosts the historical ruins transported from Ada Kaleh. It is said that Ada Kaleh was truly special – with a Mediterranean climate that allowed the growth of fig, tangerine, and orange trees, with cafés serving Turkish coffee and Turkish delight, and with a vibe and atmosphere specific to the East.
Being away from that amazing light and energy helplessly drew me back that summer. This time, a new road from Serbia to Orşova revealed sights I had only seen from water, as this road had been closed for traffic due to landslides. There is something romantic and soothing when driving along the Danube at dusk, in the persistent July heat, that one can savour by having a meal with friends or with their loved one at one of the restaurants overlooking the river.
The next summer I got back, eager to get one of my best friends acquainted with the astonishing beauty of the area and with the sunrises. That was when I realised the immense attraction that Orşova could exert over anyone and that even for an experienced traveller who would not revisit the same places but rather head to discover the new destinations on the horizon, this is a place one cannot help but explore time and time again.
Picture courtesy of Marcel Băncilă
About the Author: Olivia-Petra Coman: Experienced traveller, history buff, lover of adventure and extreme water sports, and last but not least – vegetarian. Born and raised in Braşov, Romania, I have been constantly pursuing my greatest dream: seeing the world for what it is, without any commercial ‘make-up’ or artificial add-ons. Follow me on my blog, Facebook and twitter @oliviapetra