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Romania 

 

 

20/21 October

Crossing the border was again a breeze. - Australians? What do you have in your baggage? Move on... 

"For all you know, this could be the garden centre of all Bolivia!" (Sundance to Butch on their arrival in Bolivia - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969)

 

 

The sight confronting the two evergreen heroes of the greatest movie ever made was almost identical to that presented by the first village we passed through in Romania. Free range chickens, ducks and turkeys scavenged on the roadside. Broken farm equipment littered the dirt and gravel side streets. Dirty children played in the dusty streets. At every turn, horse-drawn carts driven by dark, unshaven men and  women (yes, we mean both), lumbered along amongst heavy trucks, BMWs, Trevants, Dacias (Romanian made) and one lone campervan! 

Was this finally the un-reconstructed East we had come to see? You bet 'ya! 

Romania has a population of 22 million and a GDP about a quarter of Australia's. The monthly wage is about US$100. Capitalism has again been adopted with  fervour, in this the poorest of the Eastern European countries. The usual street stalls line the streets of every village. However there is something different here. Except for those who have been able to jump the 'capitalist queue', mostly we assume educated urban folk, much of the population is still living the bulk of their daily lives as they did in the 1930s (mind you with satellite TV and electricity). 

Water is carried by cart from wells to home. Corn and other staples are stored for the winter. Cattle and sheep are herded by shepherds - across Highway 1 today!! Horse-drawn ploughs are as common in the fields as tractors. 

Sadly the industrialisation brought by the Soviet era has either fallen into an ugly disuse, or is so antiquated that it pollutes what otherwise would be a beautiful country. Although small villages abound, the intervening countryside is virtually empty. Is this a result of Collectivisation? Whatever the cause, the country is open and often bare. It is not unusual to come to the top of a hill and have a clear view, as far as the eye can see, uninterrupted by any sign of human habitation. Most unusual in Europe! 

To the roads. Guide books warn travellers not to drive at night in Romania. Why? The potholes, open manhole covers, one-way bridges and sections of roads in and around villages and poor or non-existent signage of all of the above!!. Extensive road repairs are in progress throughout the country and when one is lucky enough to travel on new roads, they are very reasonable. But! At least two thirds of the roads we travelled in the past two days allowed speeds of no more than 40km/hr. In a full day's driving, 8.30 am - 5.30 pm, (no stops!), we covered just over three hundred kms. 

All along the roadside there are people!!! - people sitting outside their homes, either selling things or just sitting and watching the traffic - especially  - it seems - us; people standing around and chatting or watching - again - us; people waiting for buses which never seem to arrive; people hitching rides EVERYWHERE - even policemen and soldiers at the end of a shift or tour of duty; people at the aforementioned potholes, one-way bridges etc trying to flog red onions and glassware to captive motorists. The most unnerving aspect of this country to date has been the feeling of being constantly observed. WHY - we ask????? It is an aspect of European life with which we Australians don't feel comfortable.

 In stark contrast, the cities have all the services you might expect…although they are fewer and further between! But mixed with this are the ever present carts, dirt streets (even in the middle of cities) and undriveable roads! 

Romania is not the Third World. But it is the closest we want to get at the moment.

 Finding camping places is a matter of sheer luck. Last night we had an uneasy night in the carpark of a closed Spa Resort outside the small city of Oradea. We survived. Tonight we tracked down a Restaurant/Cabins place that allows camping in Sighisoara. Not bad as we don't have to sleep in the cabins (they are a bit off!) but we have pulled our van up beside one, fed our power lead in through the window and have full and exclusive use of the shower and toilet.

22/23 October

 Transylvania is supposedly the home of Dracula! The real person on whom the character was based was Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. His birth place is really the small village of Sighisoara where we spent last night. The birth place of the legendary Dracula is now a restaurant!!

 

Supposedly, the Dracula legend is associated with a castle at the small town of Bran. The castle is sited on a rocky outcrop guarding a small pass in the mountains. A perfect opportunity for that widely accepted European custom - the TOLL! With the sky as clear as a bell, the castle was a picture. We camped in a field at the foot of the castle hill.  

More practical minds turn to what this great weather means at this altitude! COLD! The next morning the inside temp was 0C, with ice and the usual "crisp" -read "frozen" - laundry. - Still no rain to speak of after 5 weeks!

Late in the afternoon we were befriended by a local "lad" whose 'job' it was to watch cars in the castle carpark. His approach was less aggressive than the norm, so, against our normal practice, we gave him a tip. He had put us on to the free camping spot and later that evening he 'happened' past for a chat and told us that his mother made jumpers. Partly to get rid of him and perhaps more to salve our conscience, we agreed to look at mum's handiwork  'domani' -  meaning tomorrow. Within minutes, however, mum was at the van door wanting to know the size. She was ever so nice and we chatted incomprehensibly but mutually happily for a while until we agreed to buy the local product in the morning!

 7:45 AM -4C, at least, outside. As soon as we moved in the van there was a knock at the door. Poor old mum had been standing in the open field for God knows how long waiting for us to awaken! The total cost of the kid's tip and the jumper was less than $20AUD. The elevation of first world guilt was worth at least ten times that much.

Cold is actually refreshing and what we expected - but the van didn't. The b... wouldn't start. We assumed battery trouble (and for once were right). Now. To harp back to the van biosphere. We have two batteries. After trying every thing else we decided to 'jump' start the main battery from the accessory battery. Obviously this requires leads.. We had none. But this is Romania and anything is possible. Walking around on the scrounge is a normal activity here. After a while we came upon a buried cable. Was it live or not? Who gives a rats when you are desperate? In a sequence that again is best left for dinner conversation we 'came upon enough wire to jump start the car! (Good story - please ask one day!)

Drove into Brasov to find a new battery ........... and ........... after several attempts we finally found a Ford dealer, which was more than we had expected. This place was a story on its own (more dinner conversation) - don't forget to ask about the FORD 'chickie babes’ and their accounting methods!'.

 This has been a very long day! To cut a long story short - Janita drove into Bucharest in peak hour in the dark! Got lost on the worst roads you could possibly imagine, survived humungous potholes, trams, tram lines and Paul's panic attacks Look out!!.Go left!!! NO, go right!! Found a freeway and we are now ensconced in a very questionable motorway motel (first time!). Had dinner. Did washing..... 

The night before we had agreed to 'look' at some jumpers...... Romania has laid claim to two more victims.

 24 October

 Sun, smog, 0C degrees and a clear blue sky. What better a start???

 Why are we in Eastern Europe? Vive la difference... And that's just what today brought. Off on the freeway to Bucharest. Why? 'Cause it's there!

 During the communist period the Ceausescu regime commenced work on what was to be the largest building in the world. The Palace of the People. It is in fact the second largest building after the Pentagon - and we saw it! Well actually drove past it twice on our way into and out of what has to be  the new lowest ebb in civilization - yes Wroclaw has been out done! - by smog, by ugly rows of ugly "Communist Grey" buildings, by roads being dug up, re-routed (without signs), and unmarked so the bit of the road  you're driving on becomes a lane - easy!! -- but most of all by the people. They're everywhere - waiting for you to stop so they can clean your windscreen and then demand payment, waiting to cross the road, crossing the road right in front of you, lurking around streets (not just corners - whole streets!), just standing, watching you, waiting for buses/trams, etc, etc. AND they're generally dark, swarthy, dirty-looking people you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. So-o-o-o....

 We had decided that we had had enough of Romania. But she had not HAD enough of us. Minding our own business on one of the country's 'superb?' roads, we were pulled over by what seemed to be a group of plain clothes Police. "Passports! Auto-documents!" The usual cry. We asked for ID from the officers and with the confusion of language and the imposed threat to us and our plans we complied (suspiciously) with demands to see our money. Were we carrying drugs? etc. In the course of all of this one of these 'Police' lifted one of our Visa cards... (Another dinner story!)

Mobile phones quickly remedied this problem. A quick call home to Liz and our cards were cancelled, hopefully before they were used.

 With this bad taste in our mouths we attacked the Romanian/Bulgarian border, reputedly one of the most challenging in Europe, with gusto. Romania was not finished with us however. Ecology tax, Bridge tax and ‘just being a tourist’ tax took all but our last US$20. We approached the other side of the frontier with a degree of trepidation as we knew they also demanded their pound of flesh in US$s! 

A very jovial immigration officer did the usual "Australians" - wise knowing nod? And waved us on. Next stop entry tax. US$15... Oh dear? Was there more? Oh yes indeedy! Quarantine. The officer smiled as only the knowing Serb can! "How much?" said I, knowing that I had $5 left and more than likely would be camping with the ever-present 'Roma' in no-man's land for the rest of the holiday. "Four dollars", she said, knowing somehow that that was all I had! We drove through the car cattle dip (another dinner story) and were in Bulgaria. 

Overnighting in a servo right beside the motorway, the only bit in the country!. Noisy but seems safe!

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