That Was Romania

We’ve been in a largely internet and wi-fi free zone for the last week.  It has been excellent, albeit this came at the price of leaving the world in ignorance about our travels for a while.  We expect you enjoyed the break as much as we did.

Romania was a revelation – if I’m being cynical it seemed that half the country was full of smoke from the fires that they seemed to like lighting, often in ditches at the roadside, while the other half was occupied by dusty dogs.  However, the pace of life was pleasingly slow.  Horse and cart combinations shared the road with huge container lorries and made sure that the seemingly nationwide spped limit of 50 km/h was observed.  Ocassionally a lorry would spot a fleeting gap and go hell for leather up the road on the wrong side as it tried to pass as many horse and carts as it could before lurching back to its own side just in the nick of time.  We added another general observation to the list that we’d made in a previous post – the further south you go, the madder the drivers seem to be.  Norwegians and Finns would only rarely be coaxed into an overtaking manoeuvre and required about 5 km of unobstructed highway view before they’d venture over the white lines.  Estonians tended to drive much as we in the UK normally do, but from there on it got steadily more exciting.  Greece should be fun and it’s probably just as well that we plan on stopping in one place for a while once we get to the coast.

The next thing about Romania is that Dracula’s birth place is to be found there.  It was in a surprisingly urban middle-class looking house that the fabled Vlad Dracul first saw the light of day – presumably without hissing, fizzing and shrieking out, “It burns, it burns” before disappearing into a cloud of grey dusty ashes.

The town of Sighisoara didn’t labour the Dracula point and it had no need to, as its Old Town was a remarkably good looking collection of streets and houses.

It also had a commemmorative bust of Vlad himself, with an impressive old-school WW2 Fighter Pilot type of moustache that somehow never made it into the Dracula films.  Here he is, with us.  He’s the one in the centre of the group…

Back on the road south again, we paused to recharge (literally as well as figuratively – we have a large collection of things that need regular feeds of electricity, like phones, a laptop, kindles, toothbrush, etc) at another Dutch-owned campsite where we were the only people.  This is one of the great things aabout travelling out of season – you’re seldom bothered by huge crowds of people and vehicles unless you seek them out in city centres.  We love it.  The next day we treated ourselves to what Top Gear had memorably called The Best Road Trip In The World, otherwise known as the Transfagarasan Highway.  It lived up to all our expectations and then some.  Imagine a life sized Scalextric track had been laid down with far more twists and hairpin bends than you’d normally expect, running around 2000 m up to the top of a mountain range – and then back down the other side.  It really was intensely enjoyable, despite the fact that we were in a lumbering 3.5 ton motorhome instead of a Lamborghini or Ferrari.  You’ll understand that we didn’t have either the attention or the spare hands to be able to take many pictures, but here’s one that gives a bit of an insight into the nature of the road.

After that roller coaster of a day we camped out in the wilds by a reservoir on the outskirts of Pitesti, before heading out of Romania and into Bulgaria.  Farewell, then, to dust, smoke, wild dogs, lunatic lorry drivers, phlegmatic horses pulling delapidated carts and all the rest of it – and hello Bulgaria!  Which proved to be pretty much a continuation of all of the above…

Pausing overnight to mark our 26th wedding anniversary, we harboured up inside a fenced compound in the poorer end of Ruse – a town with a definite menacing edge to it, as well as a collection of decaying multi-storey apartment blocks that looked like nothing so much as the ruined cityscapes that they put up in Glastonbury Festival’s Shangri-La area…

…but not as entertaining, with fewer people and no music at all.  We escaped as soon as we could the next morning.

Once free of the border regions we found an altogether different Bulgaria and hauled on the handbrake in a very laid-back campsite by a river just outside Veliko Tarnovo, owned and run by a Brit called Cliff.  What a find!  Peace, quiet and inner harmony all restored, we got down to ten days’ worth of laundry while the dog tried (and failed, countless times) to catch fish in the river as the sun continued to beam down.