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Băile Herculane, a spa town in Romanian Banat, in Caraș-Severin County, has a reputation for hot springs with natural healing properties
So, What’s the Plan?
Nursing an iced latte, slightly hungover after the night at D’arc pe Mal, I was watching my ice cubes melt, sat in a shaded side-street in Timisoara. The sun was relentless, I was tired, and I was feeling lonely in my apartment. I had befriended a German gentleman in the previous hostel who had mentioned Baile Herculane.
He soon joined me for a latte and asked again if I wanted to take the trip. Without hesitation, I agreed. I was carrying only my passport and purse, but hey – what’s the worst that could happen? Who needs anything anyway.
With no plan, we made it to the train station just in time to catch the right train and off we went without a backward glance.
Stepping on to the platform, I was captivated by the way the foliage overhung, filling my head with daydreams of the Jungle Book. An old man hurrying past with his belongings felt quite poignant. In the midst of this beautiful place, he was a timely reminder that time waits for no one.
As we went to walk down the platform, a gentleman saw me taking photos and ushered me toward the train station itself. A bewildered look on our faces, I caught the gist of his phrase, “Cea mai frumoasă gară” (“the most beautiful train station”). We followed his beckoning and, after whispering “mulțumesc” to him, I just stood for a moment, admiring the interior. The Baroque-style, domed roof, and mosaics on the wall are beautiful and not what I expected. My pictures have not done it justice.
It is easy to find the Historical Centre once out of the train station. We turned right, then left past the Penny store and walked up the hill for a while. The lush green backdrop and chalet-style buildings made it feel like we were in the Alps.
We walked for a long while more but, further on, it’s full of pretty buildings, with many in a dire state. It was good to see that restoration works had been started, but it appears the town has long been neglected.
The river running through acted as a breath of fresh air against the grey sky and tower blocks.
There is also a small cave nearby with graffiti of all ages adorning the walls.
There are many places to hike, the Cerna Valley being a stunning natural area in itself. Don’t be afraid to veer off the concrete paths, some of those dirt tracks lead to incredible places.
Points of Interest
Aside from churches and hotels, there are also some cute little café’s around. We had stocked up at the supermarket so only stopped for a beer at a pub we found after hearing traditional music.
The Podul de Fonta, leading to the Imperial Austrian Baths "Neptune", was blocked off, meaning only a distant view of this once elegant building. The magnificence this building must have held in its prime, can only be imagined. Even now, in its dilapidated state, it emanates an air of exuberance.
There is a Statue of Hercules at Baile Herculane and, legend has it, that the weary Hercules stopped to rest in the valley and bathe in its waters. Many statues have been unearthed in this area.
Continuing on past the statue, there is also a small Roman-Catholic church.
I have long since forgotten the restaurant we stumbled upon, but I cannot forget to mention a beautiful pair we met that evening. They offered us a seat at their table while they finished their beers in the busy restaurant, but we ended up spending the entire night with them. Mixing Romanian, German, and English, we had non-stop conversations about life and the universe, languages and nuances, never ceasing to enjoy the moment.
Several hours, plates and beers later, by the guidance of their dog, they took us to the river. Down a steep hillside, across a rickety old rope bridge, with no lighting. We stopped where the natural thermals come up through the riverbed, there was a cluster of boulders underwater arranged in a circle to regulate the water within. Ingenious engineering that meant we could obtain the perfect temperature to bathe in. Under the light of the stars and the fireflies, I counted my blessings. Money can’t buy that kind of experience!
Not wanting the night to end, we found a bar with the porchlight still on. So, at 3am, we knocked on the door and the landlord told us he was closed but joined us for a beer anyway, baffled by the strange group in front of him. He was fascinated by our tales of travelling, the knowledge of the languages between us, and he treated us like old friends. An amazing end to a random day.
Change of Plan
Due to the change of plans and additional adventures, I abandoned my apartment in Timisoara that night and ended up staying in a hostel. Stinking of sulphur, I curled up and slept for a couple of hours before needing to leave and catch the train. Not before making friends with the resident cat and her owner, who gave me home-made schnapps for breakfast…
The issue with Baile Herculane, is that there is one train in, and one train out. The Station Master was extremely patient with me as I conversed terribly in Romanian and just chuckled as we muddled through what I needed to establish. As the train pulled in, I forgot everything I knew in Romanian, and just managed to point and question “asta?!” to him. He nodded, “da”, laughing - it was the correct train! Time for me to head back to the apartment in Timi.
I left my new-found friends behind. The Romanians to enjoy their beautiful country, the German to continue his world travels, and a piece of my spirit to float in the river, as lost as I felt. Solo travel can be a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s fun and exciting, meeting new people, experiencing new things, seeing out of this world stuff. But then you pick yourself up, leave it all in the dust, and go your own way.
A sombre train ride back, I had my head in the clouds and questioned everything about my life back ‘home’. My only trinkets to remember this night by were a few pictures, a lighter, and some Romanian Lei.
VISIT!! Though small, it is stunning. Even the Romans chose this as their lavish retreat. Once you have explored here, there are many options for day trips out. Next time, I would like to take a boat trip and see the rock sculpture of Decebalus. I travelled using Interrail but it is easily accessible by road. There are plenty of places to stay, take a look on Booking.com.