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So there we were.  We had managed to navigate Dulles, Istanbul International, and Franz Lizt Airport in Budapest.  We had climbed Gellert Hill and lunched in a cafe on the top of Castle Hill in Budapest.  We had bought toilet paper and a new/used European cellphone (to replace the piece of crap sold to us by Telestial which had stranded us at the airport without a way to call our rental car) in a city where we didn't speak a word of the local language.  We had driven our rental car south into the famous Puzta, the westernmost vestige of the great Eurasian steppe, to see Hungarian czikos demonstrate their once-famous horsemanship (and gotten lost following Google directions in a small town in southern Hungary, and gotten directions from the locals without, may I remind you, speaking a word of Hungarian -- only this time, the locals didn't speak a word of English, either!).  It was time for us to cross the border into Romania . . .

Yes, the stories are all true.  While the main roads are paved, well-marked and signed, and relatively easy to get from Point A to Point B upon, you may at any turn find yourself pulling up hard behind the family horsecart or a flock of sheep.  Beware the goats; that was the one hazard that nearly tripped up my race-car driving AutoWizard.  Sheep will wander away from vehicles, if slowly.  Goats may just decide to challenge you for ownership of the road.

Other than livestock in the middle of the road, you know you are in Romania when you see the churches.

Hungarian churches are designed on the German model, with the familiar square towers and steeples.  Cross into Romania,  however, and you begin to see Orthodox architecture.  Towers may be round; columns and arches, or at least the illusion of arches, are typical, and they will usually incorporate domes, even if the dome is topped by a steeple.  Up close, Orthodox churches are always topped by the Orthodox or Triple Cross.  Unlike the Russian Orthodox crosses, these consist of three horizontal bars, with the middle being the largest.

Large cities in the plains immediately west of the Carpathians retain their Catholic cathedrals as well as Orthodox metropolitans and generous sprinklings of Lutheran, Calvinist, and Unitarian followers.

This church dates to the period when this region, known as the Banat, was firmly in not merely Hungarian, but Austro-Hungarian hands between the 18th and 20th centuries.  It shows elements of the Secessionist architectural style in its colors and the line of the adjoining roofs.  The Secessionist Movement was a loose confederation of young German artists in opposition to the dominant artistic institutions of the early 20th century.  Powerful in nearby Vienna, it quickly caught on in Budapest and from there spread to other cosmopolitan centers in what was then Austria-Hungary.  As a result, the western half of Romania (which was Hungarian until the Treaty of Trianon in 1921) is full of gorgeous Secessionist architecture.
And of course, more gorgeous churches.  This is the Metropolitan, or episcopal cathedral, in Timisoara.  
Note the round towers, and the truly conical rooftops.  You'll see a lot of those later, when I post the pictures from the famous painted churches of Bukovina.  This is quintessentially Romanian architecture.  In Transylvania and the Banat, you find it side by side and cheek-to-jowl with traditional Hungarian, medieval German, and the monumental architecture of Imperial Austria-Hungary.  Not to mention the ugly concrete relics of Communist rule, made amazingly lively by the simple addition of flowers trailing from every conceivable (and a few unbelievable) surfaces.

My little brother warned me before I left that I had been writing fantasy, not even historical fiction, and I shouldn't expect to find my fantasy kingdom waiting for me across the ocean.  I fully expected that he was right, and wanted only to see for myself just how far wrong I was.  It's true that much of Romania has indeed entered the 20th, if not the 21st century.  We are quickly glossing over, for instance, our visit to Timisoara's Iulius Mall, proof positive that Eastern Europeans are far too eager to imitate the worst an American lifestyle has to offer.  Still, one can only ask for so much.  I didn't expect my timewarp to get me all the way to the 17th century.  I was delighted to find that on the whole, I COULD get back to a very nice 1930.  Which just happens to be about when my novels actually take place.  This, I could live with, providing I could find a little more Chinese food.

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