Archive for the ‘Romania’ Category

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)

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.

The Transfagarasan Highway

28 August 2010

27 August. We made it! We are at Cabana Balea Lac, about 2000m above sea level.

Lac Balea sunset

We left Sibiu early and rode in the cool sunny morning through quiet countryside and villages to avoid the main road. We passed several flocks of sheep that were watched by shepherds and had another dirt and grass road section for awhile. A couple of times dogs chased us in a threatening manner but we were able to outrun them pretty easily. Cartisoara is the village at the northern end of this road where we stocked up with water and prepared for the climb.

The road is really an engineering folly as there are other easier routes over and through the mountains. The first 12km up to the Balea Cascade are well graded through forest that provided welcome shade. There are many souvenir stalls here, eating establishments and a cable car to the summit. The final 12km is the most dramatic section where the road ascends to the top of the waterfall, then enters a hanging valley above the treeline and snakes its way up with switchbacks all the way to the top. The views are incredible.

Transfagarasan Highway

This is a popular tourist road and there was quite a lot of traffic, but adequate road space for us as well. Some people who travel this road appear to be happy to leave it in a worse state for the next travellers by leaving their rubbish along the way. An area like this in many other countries would be a national park. Romania is either not able or not willing to protect this place and this is understandable given that it probably has few resources and other priorities. It is sad to see Lake Balea, a beautiful alpine tarn, just below the summit, overwhelmed with tourist development. That said, we are staying here ourselves. It is a popular hiking area and you can walk to the top of Moldoveanu, Romania’s highest peak. We also saw a flock of sheep grazing above the lake, then watched them being shepherded down at dusk (don’t know where to).

A day in Sibiu

26 August 2010

26 August. Sibiu is a major town in Saxon Land, an area of Transylvania that for centuries had a mainly German population. This is no longer the case but the Saxon heritage endures and it is a centre of tourism and culture. It is justly proud of its award of European Capital of Culture in 2007. We have taken our tourism duties seriously today and have followed the guide book closely. There is a fine view in all directions from the Town Tower and we have visited the churches and three town squares.

View of Sibiu from city tower

Tonight is the opening of the annual medieval festival so there is much preparation for the program that will continue for the next three days. We are staying in a lovely pensiunae that is run by a family. Our clothes have been washed in a washing machine. We are preparing for a big ride tomorrow to Cabana Balea Lac at the top of the Fagaras range at just over 2000m. An early start will be made!

To Sibiu

26 August 2010

25 August. We left Pietrele early and descended the rough track, then the newly re-sealed road to Salasu de Sus. Here we collected our gear and met a few other couchsurfers including two young women from Georgia who are working on a volunteer project in Arad. They are both graduates but were unable to find jobs so signed up as volunteers with a Georgian NGO. They said that the project was not really satisfying but they had been able to implement some of their own ideas and were making some short films. We also met Jos, a Dutch maths student and photographer who has travelled a lot by bicycle around Europe.

After returning to Hateg, we headed for Hunedoara, the location of Transylvania’s most famous gothic castle. Our guide book instructed us that this should not be missed on any account. The route was through beautiful countryside, over a couple of small saddles, marred only slightly by roadside rubbish. A descent took us into Hunedoara, past an area with many houses that the guide book refers to as tin roof palaces, and some call gypsy palaces. They have rooves decorated with fancy metalwork and are very distinctive but not all in a state of completion. The castle is an impressive building with pointy towers. It reminded me of Schloss Neuschwanstein with its dramatic architecture and its capacity to attract tourists.

Hunedoara Castle

Hunedoara and the area to the north, however, is seriously blighted by a vast area of abandoned industrial sites and factories. This was a bit hard to take in after the pleasant country we had just seen. We pushed on to Deva along a busy road where the presence of road works gave us an empty lane for much of the way. We had intended to cycle to Alba Iulia, but hot weather, concerns about traffic and time getting on resulted in a decision to take the train to Sibiu from Deva. We then had a few hours to wait.

Deva has a ruined castle on a hill overlooking the city but is mostly a modern socialist era city. The railway station can only be described as dilapidated, but the booking system was computerized and the train left on time. It was similar to one of the French trains we travelled on with plenty of space for the bikes and it was uncrowded. The train line follows the valley of the Mures, through a beautiful rural area. It took 3 hours to go the 130 or so km so it was after 10pm when we arrived. And just one other thing – this morning we saw two teenage boys scything in a field with their father, so maybe I’m wrong about the younger generation’s interest in this activity. Also, the pipes along streets in towns mentioned before are gas pipes.

Romanian trains
Contrary to some warnings we’d received we’ve found Romanian trains to be pretty good. While they are a bit scruffy, they seem to arrive and leave on time and travel faster than any passenger trains in Australia!

Bicycle route:
Pietrele – Deva (we did the rest by train)

Riding to Salasu de Sus

25 August 2010

We were not sorry to leave Caransebes, a town of few delights, and the only place we have been to that had no outdoor cafe. It transpired that no train service existed to Hateg and our only option was to ride there. We had received advice that the traffic wasn’t too bad.

At about 10km along the road, Ian experienced a sense of curiosity about the location of his wallet and sensibly decided to stop and check. He examined the contents of all four panniers without luck. He then re-examined all panniers – still no luck, this despite a habit of rigorous inspection before leaving our lodgings. This is the experience that travellers dread – the possible loss of an essential item. Bicycle travellers dread also the prospect of backtracking as it goes against all instincts to waste effort needlessly -especially on a potentially futile errand along an unpleasant road back to a vile city. Before giving way to despair, another search was done and the wallet was there. That was a good moment.

We breakfasted another 10km along in Otelu Rosu, where there was a supermarket and a town market. Our route took us along a gradual climb through farmland in an area that is more intensively farmed than we have seen so far. It was quite beautiful with corn fields, orchards, roadside apple and walnut trees, conical hay stacks and neat villages with flowers on the verges. The scythe is being put to good use in rural Romania. We saw people scything paddocks of grass and raking fields by hand. A couple of times we saw men cycling along with a scythe on the rear carrier. Somehow, though, I don’t think that the younger generation will be scything as much as the older. Another unusual sight was a horse drawn cart (we have seen a few of these) with a load of cut grass.

The most unusual sight was a dead horse on the roadside in a village, we think hit by a car. It was refreshing and spirit-lifting to see this area, surrounded by hills and with towering mountains on the horizon, and to be away from the direness of the towns. At the top of the climb (600m) we stopped to rest. And an old wrinkled woman with head scarf was sitting there, no house or other habitation nearby. Her name was Ida, aged 77, Hungarian, no English of course, very sad because of tragedies in her life, greeting us and saying prayers in Latin.

Roman ruins were by the roadside further down the other side, nicely and neatly preserved with concrete holding the old stones in place. Probably not archaeology best practice but good for a tourist stop. We bought supplies in Hateg for a couple of days off the beaten track.

We are in the small village of Salasu de Sus with Mihai, a couchsurfing host and friend of Raul. He has open house here for couchsurfing and travellers. It is a simple setup here with a one room house filled with couches, stream beside the house for washing and long drop toilet out the back. Kazu, a Japanese CS is here too.

Mihai’s place

Bicycle route
Cranasebes – Salasu de Sus (some how missed the last bit of the route but you get the idea)

Observations about Romania

25 August 2010

Romanians like loud music with very fast melodic lines and lots of repetition. Our Caransebes hotel was hosting a wedding reception so we had several hours to enjoy the band. Car parking is no problem: you do parallel parking if there’s room and if not, you do angle parking. The reputed dangers of travelling here are overstated. We have been careful but do not feel at risk, except from traffic on highways. Modern supermarkets are present in most towns – Tesco, Spar, Carrefour. Mobile phone shops such as Vodaphone and Orange are numerous. WiFi is frequently available. Bars selling beer, soft drinks and coffee, but no food, are common in towns and villages. Food and coffee are generally good. We can get espresso in most places. The only bad faux coffee we have had was at the train station in Arad. It is not easy to find good bread. Smoking is allowed in cafes and restaurants. Accommodation is generally of a good standard. Three large towns we have visited, Arad, Lugoj and Caransebes, have big new Romanian Orthodox churches. We have seen one or two new sections of road with a bicycle lane. This seems incongruous and we guess it’s because of EU requirements.

Second hand shops that sell clothes from western Europe are in most towns. Arad has one in the main shopping street. Larger towns have big pipes along the footpath. We wonder if this is for hot water for heating – more research needed. Towns and cities can be grim places with bad roads and pavement, crumbling buildings regardless of their age and spaghetti style overhead wires, but most of them also have redeeming features, such as shady parks, pleasant outdoor cafes and at least some historic buildings and churches in good repair.

We can communicate adequately in English for basic things. We have seen Roma but usually sole operators who ask for money but move on when refused. Astrid spoke to us about the deportation of a number of Roma from Denmark recently, an action that apparently sparked a great deal of public discussion there, which she felt was constructive.

Romanian turkeys in a tree near Tincova

I wonder what it’s like for people to live in Romania with its many problems and its reputation as a poor and dangerous country. Raul is happy in his situation where he works from home for clients in Canada and the US. He said he wouldn’t mind going to live in Canada. Anita has lived in Germany and Greece for several years, and has returned to Arad to be closer to family and friends. Kristina has also lived elsewhere and returned. They are aware of their country’s difficulties but the things that keep them there are connections, obligations, their own history and a kind of acceptance that it’s their country for better or worse.

The Retezat

24 August 2010

[Editorial note: inadvertently left unpublished since 24/08/2010]

Mihai has a cabin in the Retezat Mountains, a national park, one of only 3 in Romania. It is 12km up the road from his village, then a 5km trek up a rough track that is only passable by tractor and has wrecked some 4wds. We decided to go up by bike and stay overnight. It was quite a climb, about 1000m. There is a cabana, cantina and camping area at the end of the road, then you have to walk up the track to Pietrele, where there are more cabins and a cantina serving meals and drinks.

As we walked up, pushing our bikes, we were accompanied by Emil, a retired mining engineer who, although aged under 50, is now a volunteer ranger in the Retezat NP. He was cheerful about his circumstances that gave him a satisfactory pension and the freedom to do what he enjoys. His wife is a teacher and he has an academically gifted daughter aged 18, who is destined, according to him, to be a judge. Not a lawyer or magistrate, a judge. Hope she makes it. He was friendly and helped me up some particularly steep stretches. We bought him a beer at the cantina.

Emil favours the Putin look!

The day had started with a minor disaster as Ian had left his cycling shoes outside the door overnight, and in the morning only one was there, the other having been taken by a dog. We found it, badly chewed, the tongue mainly destroyed. The velcro strap was still OK and the sole was fine, so with the addition of a shoelace he was back in action.

At Pietrele we took a brief dip in the freezing water, enjoyed the views of the tops appearing above the trees and rested. In the evening we were joined by Maya and Yoav, from Israel. They had walked further up to one of the numerous alpine tarns on top of the range. They are travelling without mobile phone or internet, finding their way to interesting places as they go by talking to people and seeing what is around.

Cabin at Pietrele

To Lugoj and Caransebes

22 August 2010

Blue sky, no wind, quiet road out of Timisoara.

We stopped briefly in the small town of Bacova to admire the church. A parishioner with few teeth spoke to us in German and explained that it was a Swabian church that had been renovated with funds from Hungary (except don’t quote me on that as I only got the merest gist). It was nicely decorated inside. A short distance further along was the slightly larger town of Buzias where an Orthodox church was holding Sunday service. This was a small church, but richly decorated inside and with two water taps outside, one  dispensing normal water and the other holy water.

Our road  was  undergoing repairs in some sections. It is alarming to see a drop of about 30cm from the edge of the bitumen to the unpaved shoulder.

After a lunch stop in Lugoj, a good sized town with similar characteristics to others we have seen (ie decaying historic buildings, Ceaucescu era fringes), we found a more rural road for awhile, along the valley of the Timis river. This road carried little traffic but varied in its quality. Our landscape was different too with hills nearby and high mountains in the distance, a welcome change after many days of cycling through flat country.

One village we passed through, Tapia, seemed to have been denied a sealed road, as the seal ended at the entrance and a bad bumpy metal road began and continued for some kilometres. The houses here were built from bricks that have what looks like a ceramic surface in different colours, arranged in geometric patterns. Other villages along the way had these too. In Tapia there were many people in the street, more than we have seen anywhere else. In most villages there are people sitting alone, or in twos and threes, watching the passing traffic.

Woven fence near Tincova

Eventually the road deteriorated into a rough unsealed track, but on the advice of a young boy and his family we pressed on. Henri would be proud of us, riding on grass, through puddles into which frogs leapt as we passed and along faint car tracks. Garmin didn’t know this road at all so navigation was done the old-fashioned way.

Exactly which way is Tincova?

Once past the village of Tincova we crossed the river, stopped for a paddle to cool off, then rejoined the brand new EU funded highway. Fast traffic, no lines marked, big drop off the edge… this does not make for enjoyable or safe riding. We are now in the unremarkable town of Caransebes considering our options for escaping more highway riding tomorrow.

Bicycle route:
Timosoara – Caransebes

Timisoara, Romania

21 August 2010

On the recommendation of both Raul and Astrid, we decided to come to Timisoara, a city renowned for its history and architecture. There is only one route available and we tried it for a short distance, on a shoulder less than a foot wide, with cars, trucks and buses thundering past at high speed. After travelling less than 10km out of Arad we turned back and went to catch the train instead. This was a good idea.

The train left on time, travelled fast and we were here by 1pm. There was no place for the bikes so we just piled them in and hoped for the best. The ticket man said we had to pay extra but he did us a special ‘unofficial’ deal.

It has been quite warm and we have spent most of the day in a shady outdoor cafe doing some planning and checking the election results. Timisoara is famous for the role played by people here in initiating the 1989 revolution that ended Ceaucescu’s regime. An earlier claim to fame for the town is as the birthplace of Johnny Weissmuller (the Olympic swimming champion and actor who played Tarzan for uneducated readers).

The past glories of the town are evident but there’s a lot of urban decay and bad 1970s housing. Today has been a big day for weddings with bridal parties everywhere and car convoys roaring around town blowing their horns.

Timisoaran evening skyline

Arad, Romania

21 August 2010

Oroshaza was quiet with cool breeze and blue sky this morning. We breakfasted on hamburger and Hungarian taco (only one cafe open) and chatted with a friendly Hungarian couple who helped us with some vocabulary and pronunciation. Our road was quiet and flat, fields of corn, sunflowers and watermelons. We saw some oil rigs presumably pumping oil.

A setback occurred when Ian’s rear pannier bolt sheared off, requiring a reassignment of luggage and a cable tie fix. We were unsure whether it would be easy to fix this, but a stroke of luck! In Battonye, far eastern Hungary, a small quiet town on a national holiday, we happened to see a bike shop open (social gathering place for assortment of blokes), and in a short time the problem was fixed, free of charge. (We tried fairly hard to pay.) One of the blokes had a sickle in the carrier on the back of his scooter – more Aussie blokes should get into scything and sickling I reckon.

Mirakel Bike shop in Battonye, Hungary

Entering Romania was pretty straightforward involving getting passports scrutinized, and telling various officials about our trip. They were all friendly. Turnu is the first Romanian town so we stopped for a drink to celebrate our arrival.

The city of Arad could be seen from here and we rode on the shoulder of a busy highway through the ugly industrial area (similar to approaching Adelaide along Main North Road actually). Then through the Ceaucescu era residential highrise and into the centre. There are some grand buildings here and a pleasant atmosphere with shady trees, grass, cafes, trams.

The river Mures flows through the city, brown and muddy like the Tisza which it joins in Hungary. Arad has clearly had better times. Many buildings are in a decrepit state, but the main civic and historic buildings are well maintained.

We met Raul, our couchsurfing host, who lives in a flat on the 6th floor of an apartment building on the main road from the border. He is a real gem, an enthusiastic host who has lots of CS visitors. We joined Astrid, a Danish journalist who was also staying with Raul.

Together we went to a small local festival behind the apartment buildings where there was dancing, music, food and beer. The dancers and costumes were very good and we were also impressed by the saxophone and accordion players.

Romanian dancers in Arad

Accompanied by Raul’s friends, Anita and Kristina, we went to the city centre where there were food, drink and handicrafts stalls. We talked about Romania, relations with Hungary, European Union, Roma, the economic situation, Ceaucescu. Both Raul and Anita are self-employed, running businesses from home, in 3D computer modelling and wine cork importing respectively.

After all we’d read and heard, we were feeling some trepidation about entering Romania. We thought the roads would be wrecked with horse-drawn carts and knife-wielding gypsies. We’re pleased to report Romania a nice place to visit (though poor and run-down). Free WiFi is much easier to find here than Hungary or Western Europe.

Romanian has experienced a lot of history in the last century – many events from the Treaty of Trianon, Soviet era, Ceaucescu era, globalisation and financial crises are all adding weight to the country’s yoke.

Bicycle route:
Oroshaza, Hungary – Arad, Romania