by Sandy Lai
Cluj-Napoca is the technopolis of Romania, a city whose IT-filled present is balanced by a rich historical legacy. An important cultural, academic and economic center, Cluj (as it’s known for short) will keep you entertained. Its architecture, fine dining and growing cultural scene make for a wonderful visit. The hospitality of its people ensures that you are welcomed wholeheartedly into the city’s arms.
Matthias Corvinus, the 15th century king of Hungary was born in Kolozsvár (present-day Cluj-Napoca). Renowned for his fairness, he is a popular character in folklore and his statue is an important landmark in the city. The mounted statue stands in front of St. Michael’s Church, one of the best pieces of Gothic architecture in the country and it has the highest church tower. This spot is busy with a wide mix of people and is a great place to take a break from the day. The area around the square contains many landmarks such as the Palace of Justice and Corvinus’ birthplace, now the Visual Arts Academy. One of the great streets for architecture is Iuliu Maniu Street, nicknamed the Mirror Street due to its symmetry. The smaller streets lead you to charming old houses and courtyards, as well as a section of a medieval wall. For a sneak peak at what’s in store for you, check out this live cam from Cluj’s Technical University, which you can control and provides views of the city.
To get a real view, I climb up Cetăţuia Hill and take in the city. At the top are the remains of an old citadel, and the area makes for a romantic walk. Other nice green areas of the city include Central Park, with its small lake where you can rent rowboats and hydrocycles at your leisure. And of course, there’s the famous botanical garden, with over 10, 000 plants from all over the world. You can even get better views of the garden by climbing its tower.
Cluj has some amazing museums, including the National Museum of Transylvanian History. Their impressive collection of artifacts spans several eras. Even more impressive is the Ethnographic
Museum of Transylvania, particularly its open air exhibits. Farmsteads and other examples of traditional architecture have been transplanted to this site. Walking around takes you back to simpler times, and allows you to see the similarities and differences in styles among the various counties of Transylvania.
The city’s nightlife includes a slew of clubs, the oldest one being the Diesel Club, which is still one of the top three clubs in Transylvania. If you feel like bar hopping, go down StradaPiezişă and party along this strip with the city’s students. A more relaxed
setting is L’Atelier Café, a place that is often referred to as “that cardboard bar”. It lives up to its moniker. With its furniture and lighting fixtures constructed from cardboard and paper products, this hip little bar oozes character. I know what my apartment’s going to look like! Speaking of apartments, Insomnia is pretty much an entire floor of an apartment and doesn’t look too far off from one. Local art students cover the walls in paint in a big way when they want to redecorate, which means that this café is about as cool as it gets.