Archive for the ‘Europe 2010’ Category

Oh we do like to be beside the sea side

6 September 2010

Here we are in Şarkőy on the North coast of the Marmara Sea – a place with millennia of history and legend. Having returned to sea level we feel we’ve crossed the continent.

We’ve enjoyed quite reasonable quality roads and quiet traffic for most of the day riding through sparsely populated farmlands. Tail winds again! 😉

We stopped for tea/cai in Kozyoruk – a tiny, hard-times place. The young cai man thoughtfully brought bottles of cold water without us asking. The teas was strong and served in tulip-shaped, fine glass beakers. He wouldn’t take any money.

Cai in Kozyoruk

We bought food for lunch in Malkara – a biggish struggle-town with a large gypsy (?) village on the outskirts. These satellites are not really shanty towns because the buildings, though modest, seem too substantial, but you get the idea. It was market day – an extensive market with food, clothes, hardware and household goods. Where does all the produce come from and what happens to the vast majority that doesn’t get sold? Rosalie is worrying about oversupply and waste in European markets.

Abundant market produce in Malkara

After lunch we had 10 unpleasant kilometres on a dual carriageway (but safe with wide, debris-clear shoulder/breakdown lane for us) and then 30 kilometres in rolling hills/farmland – too many hills at end of a long day.

Şarkőy is a down-at-heel resort town for Turks. It’s the end-of-season so there’s lots of vacancies and things are cheap. From our balcony we can see the broad Marmara to the East narrowing towards the Dardenelles (and sunset) to the West. We can see the high mountains of Anatolia across the water but have decided to stay on this side for a few more days. Tomorrow we plan to ride down the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Pensinusla to Eceabat opposite Canakkale. We’ll make a low-profile visit to Anzac Cove. We fear we may have strayed into an area all too familiar with ugly Australian tourism. Since it’s not April we may get away with it.

I think I should take Rosalie for a swim in the wine-dark sea but she’s adamant – no more new countries or languages. So, we’re going to catch a ferry to Gokceada a Turkish Island in the Aegean for a couple of nights. And then it’s back to Eceabat, ferry across the Dardanelles, 160 km to Dandirma and then ferry to Istanbul.

We splurged on a seafood dinner on the pier – very nice (pricey by Eastern European/Turkish standards). We were their only customers. Ramadan must be hard on restaurants especially at the end of the season.

We’re anticipating a good night’s sleep – wire screens on window, seaside, touristic area so probably left alone by Ramadan drummers.

Figs glorious figs.

Figs glorious figs...

Cycle route:
Babaeski – Şarkőy

Observations on Bulgaria

6 September 2010

I made some observations on Romania, and as we only left Bulgaria yesterday, it seems only fair, and the right time, to make some comments from our limited time in this country.

Bulgaria is more orderly than Romania, has better roads and urban infrastructure, and a lot less people (7m compared to Romania’s 20+m). Its recent history is quite different of course.

The communist era ended about 20 years ago. We have seen a few cities that have modernised centres that we assume date from this time, with large paved squares, statues, civic buildings and pedestrianised main streets.

The Cyrillic script is a real barrier for visitors. Fortunately most road signs are in Arabic script as well, but signs and other information of interest to visitors is often presented only in Cyrillic. We became familiar with words like hotel (xoten) and restaurant (Ресторант), but there were a few occasions on which we were without any help. Bulgaria celebrates the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet with an annual public holiday.

It was usually possible to communicate with our half dozen or so words of Bulgarian combined with English. A couple of times we had problems communicating basic things to young people who we thought may have learnt some English at school – eg two beers please, do you have a room? This was both funny and ridiculous, as in each situation there was little else on offer and we thought that what we wanted was obvious.

The Roma community has been more visible to us in Bulgaria than in Romania. We assume that the drivers of the many horse-drawn carts are mostly Roma.

Apart from Kotel, we have been in  untourist regions that are not mentioned in Lonely Planet. And the LP info on Kotel was pretty scant. Once we left Yambul we were in a sparsely populated area where villages were few and had little commerce. Beyond Sredets, to the south, most villages we saw were largely abandoned. Of course the Black Sea coast is where most tourists go. We heard from Kiril that this area was greatly affected by the GFC and he lost his job in a resort there when that occurred.

The Bulgarian people largely left us alone, but always helped when asked and returned our greetings when we waved or said hello. Food, drink and accommodation was good. Beer is very cheap. Best thing was having shopska salad (tomato, cucumber, roasted capsicum and grated white cheese) each night with dinner. It’s delicious, healthy, easy to make and I am going to introduce it to the Royston Park area.

Turkish Space Program

6 September 2010

The Turkish Space program is going great guns. Every village we visit has at least one spherical Radar Dome and a pointy rocket ready for launch. Rosalie tells me that they are mosques!

Turkish Space Base

Drums of Ramadan

6 September 2010

What a night. Mosquitoes, dogs, high-powered muezzin for last-light and first light calls to prayer and then at 3:30 am rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat… (RD: it was more like an extraordinarily loud boom, boom as I heard it). What now? Oh, that’s the man who thoughtfully goes through town making a racket to stir the faithful early enough to give them time to have breakfast during Ramadan! A bit annoying for infidels living here for any length of time (I’m sure the faithful have alternative ways of organising their lives in Ramadan) but quite nice for one or two nights. A lot nicer than the amplified Muezzin.

Malko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) – Babaeski (Turkey)

5 September 2010

That was our last day in Bulgaria! We rode into Turkey today – our last country and language.

It rained overnight leaving us with wet helmets and gloves (but not a wet Brooks leather saddle because I always put the cover on – smugness of a Brooks saddle owner who hasn’t yet lost the cover). The rain had faded to drizzle by the time we got up. We bought breakfast at the only place open early on a Sunday (where we had dinner the night before) and it was OK once they worked out we wanted some bread (we would have preferred toast and something to spread on it – serves us right for not learning Bulgarian better). We also had a delicious omelet garnished with paprika, feta cheese and tomato.

And so off we rode up the hill, into the clouds and to the Border Crossing Control Point. There were about 100 people employed there this morning and they were achieving a throughput of about 2 cars/hour. Unlike the other BCCPs we’ve used there were separate Bulgarian & Turkish passport controls – suspicions run deep and long here. From the Turkish side, Bulgaria is called Bulgaristan. We briefly met Denis here, a French cyclist of mature years with a Bob trailer. We had spotted him in Malko Tarnovo the previous evening. He was feeling tired of leg.

Here we are in Turkey

We enjoyed almost deserted freeways in Turkey – smooth surface, no traffic, mainly downhill and a tailwind. Happy days!

We made it to Kırklareli (note the lack of a dot on the first i but dot on last one) for lunch but got none except for some fresh pretzel-styled bread bought from man carrying a carefully arranged stack on a wooden board. Things are looking up. We also joined the mass of worry-beaded men in the park drinking sweet black tea (cai) and then off to Babaeski after failed attempts to find a map.

We spied a ukulele-bearing, German hitchhiker – Armi – outside Babaeski. Rosalie had a jam with him (Let it be) that was interrupted by a possible lift and some local children.

We found a satisfactory hotel with a smarmy owner in Babaeski. Rosalie beat him down 20 lira but still says we paid too much. She’s going to offer 50% of the first price in future. Shades of the Life of Brian! One noteworthy feature of the hotel is a padded toilet seat – who wants that?

While officially secular, alcohol drinking seems to be an off-the-street affair confined to discreet, dark and dingy bars not very conducive to a late afternoon aperitif. 😦 Nevertheless Babaeski is a nice place – busy streets – commerce-oriented shop-keepers. They don’t bother you as you walk by unless you hesitate or show any sign of weakness and then they greet you in a friendly fashion and start extolling the virtues of their wares. It’s a lot better than the sulky staff we’ve had lately.

There are several mosques in town all equipped with high-power PA systems. I quite like the muezzin’s call to prayer when delivered acoustically but this is too pushy, unpleasant and unlikely to win over any converts. I didn’t see many locals dropping everything in response.

Small mosque in Babaeski

Off to the Marmara coast tomorrow. I think we have about 400 km left to ride.

Cycle route:
Malko Tarnovo – Babaeski

Sredets to Malko Tarnovo

5 September 2010

This is probably our last night in Bulgaria. We rode from the resort near Sredets to Malko Tarnovo, 5km from the Turkish border, on almost deserted roads through oak and beech forests. We’re staying in a doss house, discouraged by grottiness from showering this evening.

A breakfast highlight was the sulky resort staff who were more interested in their early morning cigarettes (smoked in the restaurant) than supplying customers with breakfast. We persisted and were ultimately successful. One waitress was on our side and made an effort to help us.

On the road, at a spring in the heart of the forest, two Bulgarian guys offered us a lift to Burgas, ‘One bike in the boot and one on the roof – no problem! Big kilometres.’ We thanked them kindly and continued on our way after filling our bottles.

The feature of the day were the flies. Who said Australian flies are bad? They haven’t experienced these little blighters. Strangely, they don’t settle or bite, but hover in dense clouds within centimetres of one’s face and hands – very aggravating and a great incentive to keep riding. We could drop them if we could achieve an air speed of about 15 km/h which proved a hard ask on the many hills. The slightest head wind was welcome assistance.

Tea time in the forest

We did manage to find a place to stop to brew a cup of tea. There was shade but it was in a clearing on the top of a hill with enough breeze to keep the insects at bay. Ah tea! We’ve been suffering from severe tea deprivation on our trip and it was a pleasure to stop and sip, slurp and gulp some – partial compensation for not getting lunch (no stopping and no opportunities).

We met a young Dutch woman, Suzanne, who left Holland 3 months ago. She’s cycling alone (with tent) and had got this far on her way to Istanbul. She had come via Serbia, Croatia and other countries that were formerly Yugoslavia. She admitted to having had a miserable night camping in the forest with the flies.

We’re now just 160 km from Istanbul as the crow flies but, STOP PRESS, we’ve decided not to ride there. In order to beat the traffic we’re heading south to the Gallipoli Peninsula. From there we’ll take a ferry across the Hellespont/Dardanelles (Rosalie’s tempted to follow Byron’s example and swim) and then another ferry across the Marmara from Lapseki (hopefully) or Bandirma to Istanbul. That’ll probably mean an extra 100 kms of riding but it increases the chance of survival compared to braving Turkish traffic into Istanbul.

Cycle route:
Sredets – Malko Tarnovo

Kotel to Sredets

3 September 2010

Phew! 159 km is too far. We decided to ride to Sredets from Kotel – too far but there was nowhere to stay between Yambul and Sredets. Contrary to expectations and advice obtained in Yambul there was no accommodation in Sredets either (or so we were told there) and we had to ride on 6 km, and climb 200 metres, to the only hotel in the area – a holiday complex called Bogura. It is Homer-esque. We must be close to Greece. We regretted the beer we confidently drank in Sredets *before* asking about accommodation – hubris! We are definitely close to Greece.

The descent from Kotel was quite cold but we didn’t resort to gloves and thought about the warming climb to come. We saw a number of horse-drawn gypsy carts with red pompommed horses and children wrapped in blankets. We stopped in Gradets to check out the tail-end of an informal gypsy market and received a warm and enthusiastic welcome.

Gypsy in Gradets

The villages we passed through today seem quite poor with little commerce. Most feature communist-era statuary and have an adjacent Roma community in more humble buildings.

We’ve had a nice cool sunny day to ride through beautiful Bulgaria. In the morning mountains (not too severe) and in the afternoon fairly flat farmland. In between fairly uninspiring Yambul although it did have an extensive car-free and shady area in the centre. We encountered our first child beggars in the steet today 😦

For most of the day we have been riding on well paved but quiet roads.

Our first donkey cart

Cycle route:
Kotel – Sredets
Sredets – (not so) nearby hotel

Kotel with Kiril

2 September 2010

We succumbed to encouragements from last night’s translator, Kiril, to spend the day in Kotel and allowed him to place us in a cheaper and perfectly acceptable hotel (Hotel Konstanse – looks like ХОТЕЛ КОНСТАСН tel +359 887 786 600). There’s actually a lot of accommodation here but it’s not easy to find. The Cyrillic script and inconsistent transliterations make discovery of Bulgarian businesses quite difficult on location or on the web.

Kiril is a local gypsy with excellent language skills and an interesting mix of local community roots and a global view. He is obviously proud and enthusiastic about his community and home town and has plenty of reasons to be so.

Kotel, Bulgaria

Apart from being simply a beautiful mountain village it also seems to be a spiritual heartland of Bulgaria being the home and location for much of the Bulgarian revival (for that read ousting the Turks). There’s a renowned gypsy music school here and a large gypsy community living mainly in an adjacent unofficial town (not officially recognised on tourist maps, etc).

Feel free to Google to your heart’s content about Kotel and its famous sons. A notable contribution from Kotel’s less-famous daughters can be found in the tapestry weaving museum. Impressive decorative and functional weaving from a well-established weaving community.

Tapestry weavinf from Kotel, Bulgaria

We had a pleasant day with a charming and helpful guide but the steep streets have left us leg-weary again.

PS Rosalie thinks I should change my rear tyre. The black tread has worn through to a contrasting layer all the way round now. However, that tyre has a Kevlar, puncture-resistant belt that the replacement lacks. So, I think I might persevere a little longer. Also, my wheel is dirty and I’m going to get grubby changing the tyre. 😦

Kotel Gypsies

2 September 2010

We’ve made contact with the Gypsies! While wandering the almost deserted streets of Kotel a couple of men greeted us. They invited us to come with them to their restaurant in the lower part of town – the gypsy part. With a few misgivings we accepted and an excellent evening was had by all.

Both of the men were called Angel. One of them owned the restaurant and both played clarinet in their band which assembled soon after we arrived (three clarinets, one piano accordion and a drummer). They asked us whether the band could form and play for us. We were a bit worried we were booking the band and not sure what the bill for the night would be. Anyway we enjoyed the good food and excellent spirited playing and when the bill for dinner arrived it was perfectly reasonable. We added some money as a tip for the band.

Gypsy band in Restorant Zlaten, Kotel

Kotel is a renowned source of gypsy musicians who travel across the Bulgaria and Europe for gigs when the money’s available. There’s a music school here. The GFC has hit this area hard with 70% unemployment in Kotel apparently. The band played their cabaret/show set and then followed up with their local Gypsy music. They don’t use the machine-gun staccato tonguing of the Romanian wedding bands. Their ensemble was tight and in tune and, as I say, spirited. The place soon filled up with locals once the band started.

In addtion to ‘Roma’ and ‘Gypsy’ they also seemed to refer to their community as ‘Tsigani’ – possibly even prefer that term but it was impossible to explore the potential connotations that the various terms carried.

We’re a bit embarrassed about our early concerns regarding the way the night might be heading. We had a great night and have decided to stay another day here.

So when you’re next in Kotel, seek out Restorant Zlaten (Golden Restaurant) and hope that the band’s in town.

Bucharest to Razgrad, Bulgaria

31 August 2010

Yesterday, after visiting the PP and trying to buy maps in Bucharest, we spent the rest of the day preparing to change countries again.

This morning, preparation completed (as far as possible), we cycled to Gara de Nord to take 2 trains, the first to Videle, 50km SW of Bucharest, the second to Giurgiu, on the Danube and a border crossing into Bulgaria. Our Bucharesti friend, Radu, recommended this method of reaching the border. The woman in the ticket office said there was no train to Giurgiu and it was not possible. We did it anyway.

Interesting sight en route to station: at least a dozen dogs lying and snoozing together on footpath. There is no shortage of dogs in Romania; on the platform at Videle I saw a dog suckling 9 little pups.

Interesting sight at Gara de Nord: Orient Express, looking very classy; we saw it again at on the bridge over the Danube at Giurgiu. Our trains were not in this league, but they left and arrived on time and were completely satisfactory. There were no gruesome murders on our train.

We left Romania where there was a long queue of trucks waiting to enter, then rode across the Danube which looked drab and industrial, and had our passports stamped.

Our first Bulgarian city was Russe, the delights of which were not immediately evident. It did, however, have an interesting pedestrianised centre with a large plaza surrounded by historic buildings. We bought some brezels and hot bread rolls before riding out of town.

The main challenges of Bulgaria so far are the Cyrillic script, the language of which we learnt 3 words on the train, and the currency. An unfamiliar script adds another layer of alienation for the traveller too gormless to have learned the local language before arriving. But we are managing so far.

As we climbed out of the valley of the Danube (for the last time) we passed a young English cyclist who is also headed for Istanbul. We had a good tail wind and soon left him behind. Because we had little knowledge of road conditions and accommodation options we took the main road to Razgrad, about 65km. This was not too bad, with road surface quite good, road space ok and traffic volume tolerable and not life threatening. The only thing is that we are not really considered to be legitimate on-coming traffic so we have to watch out for vehicles overtaking towards us.

We have seen several mosques today, in Russe and Razgrad – the first for a couple of weeks. They appear abandoned.

Apparently abandoned mosque in Razgrad

An entertaining and potentially embarrassing feature of Bulgaria is that they nod their head for no and shake for yes!

Cycle route:
Giurgiu (Romania) – Razgrad (Bulgaria)

Paris of the East

30 August 2010

Here we are in the Casa Gabriela. It’s quite a nice, newly-renovated pension/guest house. We have a palatial suite at a cheap rate with room for the bikes and a novelty toilet seat featuring barbed wire set into the acrylic – very funny. We seem to be the only guests.

We’ve been enjoying Bucharest’s shabby chic (or is that faded glory). The traffic situation is pretty dire and hard work for cyclists and pedestrians until the cars jam up and then we’re off the leash. Bucharestis are excellent at parking cars – much more inventive and successful at finding places to leave their cars than almost anyone else in the World.

Orthodox church squeezed by Communist-era buildings

We’ve found cafes to be ridiculously expensive and selling below par beverages. Most humble cafes in rural Romania do better for a fraction of the price. We have found a number of hole-in-the-wall bakeries selling pastries and covrigi (Romanian pretzels) which are cheap and good.

We leave this Paris of the East tomorrow morning by train hopefully headed towards Bulgaria. At worst it will get us out of the city. We’ve been struggling to get Bulgarian information (maps, guide books in English or consitant traffic advice) – we’ll just have to wing it.

People’s Palace

30 August 2010

We’ve just finished the ‘standard’ tour of the People’s Palace. We achieved that without the obligatory booking made a (working) day in advance. There was high security (surrender passports) and severe threats directed at visitors with a mind to wandering off alone. We didn’t pay the additional photography tax so you’ll need to Google if you want to see internal shots.

People's Palace

Words fail about the palace although ‘lumpen’, ‘white’ and ‘elephant’ are floating around trying to form a sentence that isn’t unfair to elephants. A more spiritual person might find the place soul-destroying but an atheist must make do with mild depression.

It’s hard to identify why such an expensive place so misses the mark. Why is Les Invalides in Paris so splendid and this so ghastly? How much was the 27 year old architect, Anca Petrescu, to blame? Was she a member of the presidential family? Perhaps this is an object lesson for architects in the dangers of a difficult and opinionated client. According to Goethe, architecture is frozen music so what’s the music of this palace? Once again I have no answer but perhaps this building can be Romania’s entry in Eurovision for the next few decades.

I can’t shed a tear for the Ceaucescus who never got the chance of waltzing in the ballroom.

Bucharest

30 August 2010

29 August. After map study and assessment of the legs situation we took the train to Bucharest. Before we left we paid a brief visit to the Curtea de Arges monastery and its chapel – a popular destination on Sunday mornings. There was an orthodox service in progress with an excellent choir singing the responses.

Monastery chapel at Curtea de Arges

Curtea de Arges has a grand station and the train was the same kind as the one to Sibiu with plenty of bike space. An interesting situation developed when the conductor told us to get tickets for the bikes. She took Ian into the ticket counter where they told Ian that bicycle tickets were not needed, but Ms Conductor then grabbed him by the arm and marched him to the train. She could see an opportunity that she wasn’t going to miss, and once the train was moving, she moved in on us and charged 22 lei for the bikes. No ticket offered, money into top pocket. She is a go ahead type.

It was a good decision to cover this distance by train as it is flat and not especially inspiring, through poor farming land and villages, abandoned factories and unappealing towns.

Bucharest, city of mixed reputation, has turned out to be better than expected. We were not robbed of all our belongings at the apparently notorious Gara de Nord, the traffic was not horrendous, we cycled everywhere, and the city has its share of charm thanks to the presence of many tree-lined streets and some beautiful large parks.

We found our casa with a palatial-sized room, then did a city tour to take in the Arcul de Triumph, Piata Charles de Gaulle and, of course, the Parliament of the People. There is plenty of urban decay here as well.

Spaghetti wiring in Bucharest

We met and spoke at length with a WarmShowers contact, a young architect who is a cyclist. He is not able to find a job so far but remains optimistic that he will. He impressed me with his insight into his own situation and that of his country.

Descending the Fagaras

29 August 2010

After a hearty Romanian breakfast at Cabana Balea Lac we fired up our lights and went through the tunnel to The Other Side. Emerging at the other end, after 800 spooky metres, the view was just as stunning as the northern aspect.

Southern descent of Transfagarasan

We passed a couple of shepherds minding sheep on a precipitous slope while tourists in 4wds stopped to take photos. The landscape is absolutely dramatic. But people were pitching tents by the road, even at this elevation, and setting up for a weekend party. We saw some bikini-clad and topless tan-up groups lying on sunbeds. It’s a quick descent to the treeline, then the road follows the valley of the Arges river most of the way.

This area is understandably popular with local people who love to come for the weekend, camp and dump their rubbish. Ian has had his say on this and I can only agree about the degrading effect of litter. It’s a real problem.

We met a couple of young Polish men, Martek and Woitek (spelling probably wrong)  riding up and stopped to talk to them. They are on a bigger trip than us and had travelled over 3000km in under 30 days. They liked big numbers where daily distance was concerned.

Traffic going up caused a minor jam at the dam. We passed the ruin of Vlad the Impaler’s castle without getting impaled. Eventually we emerged from the valley into the southern plains and followed the Arges River to Curtea de Arges, through a productive farming area with lots of orchards, gardens and haystacks. There were many roadside fruit sellers but few buyers in evidence. Our Pensiunae was found after asking several people and finally receiving directions in French from a policeman.

Cycle route:
Lake Balea – Curtea de Arges

What about the ukulele?

29 August 2010

Just thought people might be wondering why I brought it and what it’s been doing all this time.

Well, travelling with a ukulele is a no-regrets option. It’s small, light, easy to carry in a dry sac and, if lost or stolen, it’s not as tragic as losing a Stradivarius. My hope was to find opportunities to play with others and find ukulele clubs and bands. There seemed to be reasonable prospects in Paris and Zurich where such groups exist, but ukulele comrades in these cities did not reply to my messages. Well, it is holiday time here and even ukulele players are allowed to head out of town to the beach or the mountains or wherever they like to go.

Beyond Zurich, Europe appears to be a ukelear-free zone. My instrument has been regarded with disinterest on several occasions when it has emerged from its case. What about ukulele photography? This has not been a big theme in the photostream, mainly because I haven’t enough energy to spare for it. Many photos are taken from the bicycle while riding. Others are taken during a quick stop. On completion of a day’s riding priorities are food, drink, rest and preparation for the next day. So – no regrets but few uke comrades and greater claims on energy by other priorities.

Ukulele and Dracula's castle

Yesterday while descending from the Fagaras mountains we briefly met a French couple with loaded bikes, cycling uphill. The woman had her violin strapped on top of her bags and intended to play it along the way. It was their first day on the road. I knew what lay ahead of them (long uphill slog, heavy traffic, hot day, roadside rubbish, no proper camping facilities) and, from my more seasoned perspective, doubted that there would be a lot of violin playing happening. I hope I am wrong. Our travels are not yet over anyway, and maybe ukulele universe lies ahead. If not, I know of a nice ukulele planet in South Australia and I look forward to returning there in October.

Fallow land

29 August 2010

Romania seems to be largely lying fallow. Despite some half-hearted maize crops (presumably for cattle feed) and some impressive backyard vegetable gardens most of the agricultural land seems to be covered in unimproved pasture. There are few farm animals except for flocks of sheep attended by shepherds. The fresh produce available in markets attests to the presence of market gardens but we haven’t seen them. There are many abandoned orchards (plums, pears and apples). From a passing vantage point it is romantic to see the grass being scythed, raked, carted, stacked and carted again but how much ends up in ruminant stomachs? The land must be fertile. The Danube brings alluvium from Western Europe and rivers from the Carpathians must be doing the same for the rest of the country. Ceausescu reportedly considered agriculture too low status and it was abandoned in favour of an unpromising manufacturing industry. There’s lot’s of space here. Some modern farming could produce a lot of food (and money).

Contryside near Sibiu looking towards the Fargaras mountains

Still, you don’t need much agriculture to maintain the locally-preferred beer and cigarettes diet-cheap and available. At Lake Balea we saw three healthy, outdoorsy men consuming beer with pinch of salt (1 litre/person) + spirit chasers + coffee for breakfast.

Curtea de Arges

29 August 2010

This area seems to be a digital map black hole. None of my GPS maps are very helpful especially for finding our pension. Even Google Maps is deficient. We finally succeeded with the assistance of the local gendarmerie. The only language we shared being French we took the directions in French and found our accommodation with no further problem. What seasoned expert linguists we are! A German student staying in Curtea de Arges told us the local map problem was much worse (and more extensive) 12 months ago. Perhaps in another year digital maps of Romania will be better and more available.

Shepherds near Lake Balea

Romanian Weddings

29 August 2010

It’s the weekend again so it’s wedding time. The streets are alive with the sound of noisy, ribboned cars driving between the church, photo sessions and the reception. One of our hosts talked about the social obligations of weddings. Those on a tight budget dread receiving an invitation because of the ‘wedding tax’. Apparently, well-run wedding can nett 100K euros for the happy couple with firm expectations of the value of gifts from each guest. I guess, over time, once all young people have married the money has gone around in circles. Too bad for those who don’t marry. The bridal outfits can be quite revealing!

Romanian bride

Mititei

28 August 2010

Mititei are Romania cevapcici. Similar to cevapcici available in Australia but several times bigger – and served rare. We’d prefer well done but haven’t achieved that yet.

Make that *Trash*fagarasan Highway

28 August 2010

Well, I can keep quiet no longer. The rubbish strewn along the Transfagarasan Highway is a disgrace. This road passes through spectacular scenery and represents a tremendous national and international attraction but at every road-side stop/picnic area/camp-site there are mounds and windrows of rubbish surrounded by fields of toilet paper.

Some campers thoughtfully make a nice neat pile of their rubbish before they leave making it easy for the wild or feral animals to tear apart. Others join the national land-care program of burning all their rubbish adding the the inversion-trapped smog haze over the country.

If you look at the scenery everything’s splendid but if you look where you’re walking (and, let’s face it, you’d better other wise you might have some messy shoes to clean) it’s sordid.

Trashfagarasan highway

There are thousands of people camping along the road/river, no facilities and shallow soil between the boulders. So, don’t drink that sparkling clear water – you’ll be sorry if you do.