As you remember from previous posts of mine, in Romania all inhabited places are divided into cities (orase), towns (comune) and villages (sate).
Although most Romanian “cities” are extremely small, they all usually have a significant geographic feature, a series of internal divisions, each one called a cartier (car-tea-AIR) or a “neighborhood”.
All Romanians who live in a city will know exactly where these neighborhoods (plural: cartiere) are. Most bus routes are delineated by signage on which neighborhood they go to.
For example, in Cluj there is a bus that runs through the Buna Ziua neighborhood, which you know from previous posts means “Hello” or literally “Good Day”. So if you know your destination is in Buna Ziua neighborhood, you can hop on that bus knowing that it will get you close to your destination.
Furthermore, a lot of road signs inside the city point to the different cartiere or neighborhoods. Since Romanians are genetically prone to being the world’s worst ethnic group at giving directions, usually they don’t know where anything is but generally they do know where the various neighborhoods are.
Oddly enough, however, on a minor digression, Hungarians seem to be genetically the complete opposite, being outstandingly talented at giving concise, accurate directions. It’s almost a perfect shibboleth to determine one’s ethnicity in this country, interestingly enough.
Anyhow, the big problem for you, the traveler/visitor is exactly where these neighborhoods are is never marked or written down anywhere. It’s also rarely on any maps. It’s utterly bizarre. For example if you’re in a car, you’ll see a sign to turn right to enter Buna Ziua neighborhood. Fine. You make the right-hand turn. Are you in Buna Ziua? You will never know because you’re just “expected to know”. You’ll basically never see a sign saying, “Hey you are in X Neighborhood.”
It’s insanely confusing furthermore because often the exact border between each neighborhood is only loosely defined. Heck, I’ve heard Clujeni (people from Cluj) sit there and debate for 20 minutes whether Dorobantilor (Street) is the border of Marasti neighborhood or not.
As I said, it’s almost impossible to find paper maps (or maps online, even) with the neighborhoods marked and you’ll rarely, if ever, see any kind of written sign or other indicator to ever tell you which neighborhood you’re in. And yet it is the single most commonly used Romanian navigational reference point there is.
Elena: Hey I heard about this great new bar. It’s super tare!
Maria: Oh yeah? Where is it?
Elena: It’s on blah blah blah street.
Elena: It’s in X neighborhood.
If that’s not confusing enough, every city is also divided into an enormous number of police sectors, which are also never written down anywhere or put on any maps – you just have to “know” which police sector you’re in.
In Bucharest it gets even more complicated because the city proper is divided into a number of sectors (which thankfully are sometimes marked on street signs) which then is sometimes furthermore divided into neighborhoods or cartiere, the most notorious of which is Pantelimon, sometimes considered Romania’s “baddest ghetto”.
I think my favorite cartier I’ve ever been to in Romania is one in Iasi named “Moara de Vant“. It took me a minute to decipher this to mean The Windmill Neighborhood which, considering I’m a huge fan of Don Quijote, just made me smile.
A small percentage of Romanian neighborhood names make some kind of sense, such as Cartierul Manastur which is an archaic, bastardized way of saying “Monastery” which is logical as the oldest, non-fortified building in Cluj was indeed a (Hungarian) monastery and a small village grew up around it, later merging into what became the city I now live in.
In any case, the default cartier in every city is known as centru (chen-true), which means “downtown” if you’re American and “city centre” for everybody else who speaks English. Since this is often where most of the things you came to see are located, it’s important you get a feel for where centru is in every city.
Additionally, the borders between cartiere in all Romanian cities are often composed of a piata (plural: piete – pee-EHT-zay) meaning a “plaza” or “square”. This is not to be confused with the food market, which is also called a “piata”. These are therefore incredibly useful as landmarks with which to orient yourself.
If you’re coming to Romania and planning on doing some unguided exploration inside cities, I highly recommend you bring a dedicated GPS device with you as this will make orienting yourself and finding destinations about a thousand times easier.
Otherwise your best bet is to get a good map and learn how to find friendly locals (especially Hungarians) to give you directions, assuming you don’t have a host Romanian guide/family to help you.
Pot sa plec, pot sa stau, pot sa fac ce vreau!
Si daca plec unde merg, tot cu mine il iau.
Poate stii, poate nu, dar iti spun mereu
Gruia a fost si va ramane cartierul meu!