Two months of zigzagging in Romania (2014-07-03–2014-08-28)

Every new country that I visit is a puzzle that I should solve. To understand why it’s a separate country, not a part of some another one. To figure out what common people of that country have. Everyone separately—individuality, but altogether—the whole, called “nation”

That wasn’t my first visit to Romania. Back in December I’ve already crossed it on the way to Montenegro. At that time it happened fast, I didn’t understand it plainly. For that reason I came back to unknown Romania and did a long way. However I haven’t found a solution for the puzzle, as people from different parts of the country differed too much.

My old visa has expired, so I went to Moscow to get a Schengen visa. I got used to Moscow reality quite fast, though, for example, it was strange not to hear polite “добар дан”, “изволите”, “приjатно” in Moscow shops. A feeling of tiredness was my permanent companion during this visit. Maybe it’s true, that a big city squeeze the juice out of a human.

I’m in the Austrian visa centre.
“Do you really want to get a one year long visa?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m afraid you won’t get it without a document that confirms you have some job.”
“Hmm… got it. Gonna go to find a job. Good bye.

Luckily, Spaniards were more compliant, and the precious insert shows off in the passport.

Apart from Moscow were also St. Petersburg, unplanned visit to Kharkiv with adventures on the Ukrainian border, and so on. But those are another stories, so I’m continuing about Romania.

After taking away my bicycle in Zaječar first of all I went to the Bulgarian border. Just didn’t want to cycle the same way in Serbia for the third time. Forty kilometers on a deserted road in Bulgaria, and finally I’m in Romania.

Painful first days, they were full of thoughts about the tiff that happened in Zaječar. Unbearable heat. Surprisingly I didn’t endure it well, even though I’ve spent in sunny Tashkent 14 years of the childhood.

Deeper in mountains I’d felt a sense of relief. There is no more sun, there are downpours in the evenings. There are no more thoughts, there is their absence. There are no more people, there is only something called “I”, and it’s moving on the abandoned road DN66A, crossing Retezat National Park. Though I met up a few people: five-six amazed dirt motorcyclists and a few guys driving heavily loaded trucks with wood. There was also a man, who clapped and laughed when the ducks in the lake scared the claps and rushed to swim away.

Two days that I spent on that road ended up by the half-hour downhill, it was an incredibly high-quality road and there wasn’t even a single car.

As though I didn’t get enough adventures on DN66A, I continued the route by a small road DJ666. Such an attractive number! It had fully justified itself. That was absolute hell lasting just ten kilometers, but a few hours. At first I got lost, and after I got stuck on a such steep uphill, that even pushing my bicycle I could move only one meter forward after every push.
It isn’t true that only legs of cyclists get trained.

But that was over as well. I came down from the mountains and returned to civilization. After watching the castle in Hunedoara, a souvenir seller, who looked after my bicycle, reached me a cigarette. She didn’t have it in the beginning, but managed to find while I was exploring the castle. A random cyclist asked me where I’d come from. His last phrase was: “Romania not safe! Gypsies, bum-bum! Go Moscow!”

A crazy grandpa in Deva. He was wearing high fur boots silently drinking beer on a terrace at a pub. Suddenly he’d asked in Russian: “Do you speak Russian?” I replied affirmatively, so he started speaking strange language, neither Russian, nor Romanian. A waitress brought me a piece of cheesecake and added funnily: “Don’t worry, it isn’t taken from trash”.

A week of camping had ended, I was hosted by Dana from Timișoara. It’s strange, just a few days ago I was in total isolation from people (but one of the evenings was brightened up by a mouse; it found dropped rice seed near my tent and didn’t want to run away), and now I’m in a crowd on a square, jazz sounds from the stage are reaching my ears.

On the next day jazz festival is still going on. We are dancing near the stage in downpour. We are moving into a pub. We are going outside and there are a couple of stoned guys. One of them is giving me a hardly started joint. New friends of mine don’t understand how I’ve managed to get a joint in such short time.

Right after that is Oradea, the city that I really liked and kept in mind thanks to Silviu.

In the morning we are going in the city to buy contraband cigarettes from Ukraine and Belarus. It’s interesting that you’d hardly find those brands in the country of origin. “Ţigări, ţigări,” a dude at the corner is blurting out through clenched teeth.

Before my departure Silviu wants to take a picture of me under water in the bath for his photo exhibition.
“Should I put off my underwear?”
“No-no-no… it’s ok like that.”

A short visit to Hungary to “open” the Schengen visa and be able to enter Kosovo with that visa later on. Again Romania, Maramureș.

In Maramureș everything is in its own way. Massive carved wooden gates in front of every house. Men wear big sun hats. Women, even grannies, put on black skirts and black shawls. Men are getting back home from fields on bicycles, sharp scythes are attached to the frames.

I’m standing at the side road waiting for a proper moment to cross the bridge, pass the field and find a place for camping staying unnoticed. Here a man is coming on a bicycle. I’m pretending that I’m look into the map, but actually I’m waiting when he’ll disappear after the turn. Yet he is approaching exactly towards me. Mixing Romanian, English, Spanish and Russian languages Aurel (oh, Romanians have such beautiful names: Silviu, Aurel, Camelia, Roxana!) is inviting me to stay in his house.

What a wonder, every time when a stranger invites me to his house it’s a moment, when I really experience some problems trying to find a place for spending the night.

Aurel and his father are bakers. The bakery takes place on the first floor of the house, the family lives on the second floor. We are entering bakery, and he is poking me hot, baked just now bread: “I know you’re hungry”.

On the next day I didn’t sleep in the tent again staying at Paul and Anna’s house in Bistrița. I couldn’t take a shower there as they fixed it at that moment, but Anna got a genius idea: we went to a swimming pool! Of course there was a shower too.

Beyond question I wanted to meet up with Gherman when I was on the north of Romania. He lives in Ukraine just in a few kilometers from the Romanian border. Yes, yes, that striking Gherman who I met in Lviv, and then we saw each other in Chernivtsi a couple of times.

When I came to the Ukrainian border point I was dressed in colors of Ukrainian flag: yellow shirts, a blue rain jacket. An army cap with a red star from Laos crowned my head. For sure, it happened like that by accident, but it looked a bit ambiguously taking into account current Russian-Ukrainian relations.

I’d spent there about two hours. A border guard asked questions and diligently wrote down the answers. At the end of the conversation it turned out that they recorded everything on dictaphone as well. One more interesting detail: at the entrance point the guard greeted me in Russian, but right after the start of official part of “interrogation” he switched in Ukrainian.

“What’s the purpose of your visit to Ukraine?”
“I want to see a friend of mine.”
“What’s his name?”
“Full name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where does he live”
“In Krasnoilsk.”
“Exact address?”
“I don’t know.”
“How many days are you going to spend in Ukraine?”
“I don’t know. Three-five-six.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Mmm… I don’t know. What do you usually do when you meet up with your friends?”

Pff. Allowed to go. And they didn’t even check what I carry.

We had an agreement to find each other at the selsoviet (rural council). Being already in the village I asked people two or three time where the selsoviet is. They replied me quite distrustfully. No wonder: a strange guy on a bicycles, speaks Russian (everyone in Krasnoilsk speaks Romanian, as it was a part of Romania in the past), and for unknown reason that stranger is looking for the selsoviet…

It’s very easy to communicate with Gherman. At times there is no need in words, anyway you feel everything. During those days I was like his shadow, as if I chipped off a bit of his life.

We went to the forest, picked mushrooms and blackberry, sat under the “legendary” bridge (I’ve heard a lot about that bridge after our previous meetings) and listened to music there.

Gherman mowed down grass, milked a cow, looked after the house, and so on. I watched.

Gherman attended me on a bicycle when I left Krasnoilsk. I didn’t turn round after we said each other goodbye. I know we’ll meet again.

Getting back from Ukraine to Romania was much easier. Just Romanians asked for fun if I carry AK-47.

By chance I met a bicycle mechanic Lucien on the streets of Suceava. He told me that further on the road is another one cycling tourist. Indeed, after a few hours I’d caught up Anton Duma who did charity cycling tour in Romania.

We spent some time together, drank beer, took pictures for our mutual friend Alina and continued our trips separately. In the evening I was in Piatra Neamț.

I didn’t expect anything special from Piatra Neamț, but everything can change due to people who host you. When Radu and friends of him offered me to join hiking in Ceahlău Massif, I didn’t hesitate, I accepted immediately.

We spent some hours on the top and started descending. Radu decided to pick up mushrooms and from time to time he stopped spotting another mushroom. In our turn we called him from time to time, but Radu almost didn’t react, so thanks to these delays he witnessed a big double rainbow. As if a magic source in the rock had been opened, and all kinds of colors gushed out from it. And it’s not a big deal that we came back through the forest in the darkness.

What I remember about the way from Piatra Neamț to Cluj-Napoca is that there are quite many Hungarians. There were some villages and towns where all the signs were in Hungarian only. Leaving Târgu Mureș I hesitated which road to take. Suddenly, I’d got urgent necessity to visit the toilette, so there was no more hesitation, I took the road that allowed me to leave the city as soon as possible.

Eventually I came to Transalpina road, the highest road in Romania. I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed. There isn’t that high correlation between altitude and scenery you can see. But I didn’t hurry to go down after passing the highest point. I wanted to luxuriate in mountain coolness a bit longer, when you don’t have that delicious mix of dirt, sweat, sunscreen and repellent on your skin.

In its turn, Transfăgărășan road was absolutely splendid.

I camped there on a paid campground. There was a nice company of Poles who travelled by cars, and thanks to them the dream, that I had during that day, came true: I had a company to drink beer.

A bear came to a trash bin during the night trying to find something eatable there. They say he comes every night to that place. Funnily, my first reaction was: “Wow, a bear, finally! Faster! I need to grab camera and torch!” There were many places on the map in GPS-navigator marked by bear pictogram, and once a couple of Romanians in Apuseni mountains promised me that I won’t sleep alone there (a bear will join me), but so far I witnessed a bear in relatively natural conditions only once, on that paid campground.

It was not that hard to go on the top as in case of Transalpina. I didn’t even expect that I have enough power after all previous climbs. There were many motorcycle travelers on the way, almost everyone with a GoPro-camera. Some other mountain roads in Romania are also occupied by motorcyclists. I even wonder how many times I was filmed and how often I smiled when I went uphill, rather than cycled with the last bit of strength.

Robert M. Pirsig wrote in his “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”:

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

It’s more true if you will just change the word “motorcycle” to “bicycle”.

By the way, another very steady partners on mountain roads in Romania were gypsies who sold exactly the same dinnerware set wherever I was in Romania. They even offered me to buy it.

Fascinating descent, another forty kilometers, and I’m in Sibiu. Finally I could take a rest staying at Vlad’s place.

When I’d left Sibiu at last, I’d forgotten the laptop charger. Fortunately, Vlad noticed it in time and handed it over a bus driver who followed the same route as me.

And then Brașov where I continued to get energy being hosted by Ivan, a guy from Ukraine. Usually I went on the hill where the citadel is located, watched the city from the top, and read a book. Ivan drove me to Bucharest by car as he was going there as well.

As in previous time Andrei and Roxana hosted me in Bucharest. It’s really nice to meet again with friends.

After Bucharest I went to the Black Sea. It’s hard not to notice mountains, but it’s easy to miss a sea. Here I’m at the entrance to Constanța, a few minutes later I’m cycling on the streets of the city, just a few more houses, last turn, and, finally, I’m seeing the sea.

I’m sitting at the seaside, sea wind is blowing on my face. Suddenly, like I did quite recently, a picturesque man with a snowy white beard is coming up. He also travels by bicycle.
“Hey, man, how are you doing?” Who was the first who said that?

With Lars we rode together just a little bit and said goodbye. That was my last day in Romania, but only the first day of acquaintance with Lars. Sometimes our paths cross with amazing people, and sooner or later we are lucky enough to meet up again. I met Lars on the very next day. In Bulgaria.

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