We’ve travelled a long way since you last heard from us in Budapest. We’re now on the Black Sea Coast having driven out of Hungary and right across Romania.
On Sunday 7th September we travelled on surprisingly good roads, for Hungary, from Budapest towards the border with Romania. There’s an endless stream of vans towing empty trailers, often with a second one strapped on top, going the other way. When we stop at the border, near Oradea, we realise they’re bringing cars in from Hungary. Many of them are damaged. There must be money in it!
The crossing was easy and not busy and we were entertained by the border guards practicing their English on us; “Twooo persons only” and “wait just a minute please”. They didn’t actually want us to wait; so they smiled and waved us through.
First stop was the row of dodgy looking kiosks on the Romanian side. We needed to buy some road tax. I chose the ‘most official’ looking one and having carefully drawn a picture of Heidi with sizes and weight on it, I was relieved to find that not only did they speak good English, but we only had to pay car rate as we’re not a goods vehicle. Back in the van, Elaine pointed out that one of the kiosks was offering free beers if you bought it from them. How did I miss that! There was one offering free coffee too.
There was also a cash-point so, having spent the last of our Hungarian ‘monopoly money’ on diesel; we took out another unknown currency. At least these are generally in hundreds, not thousands and the notes are more distinguishable. We were hoping for cheap fuel. I thought the fact that there were 8 or 9 garages, all in a row just across the border, was a sure bet. Well probably in the past but any more. There was virtually no difference. It’s still marginally more expensive here than it was in Germany.
Next came ‘the Romanian road experience’. People weren’t kidding when they said that Romania has some of the worst roads in Europe were they! We took the E79 / Route 76 south and east towards Beius. Very slow progress! This is the main and only road here and saying it’s awful is an understatement! It obviously never had proper foundations so was lumpy bumpy with huge potholes of indeterminable depth because they were full of water. The edges of the road had often fallen away and were only occasionally marked with a cone or some sort of warning. There were short sections with no surface at all and of course there was no lighting. Why did we do that bit in the dark?!! Then there were the endless stretches of one-way traffic controlled by lights. It was surprisingly busy for a Sunday evening and surely the red lights didn’t mean stop?! Whenever we stopped, there was always a stream of several cars rushing past us and through the red light. You can guess the result!
We turned off near the edge of an area marked as the Apuseni Nature Reserve We wound through a few villages with everybody sitting out on benches chatting in the dark. Luckily we only passed one horse and cart (no lights of course) before we found a picnic area and car park near Pierterosa. We were woken in the morning by cowbells as a local cowherd led them to graze around us. They soon moved on though.
We continued on, taking the ‘Scenic Mountain Highway’ / Route 75. It sounded good and it couldn’t be worse than the other road – could it? It was mostly very quiet which was an improvement, but the surface was just as bad as it wound tortuously slowly up and over the mountains. The scenery reminded us of the Alps.
We passed through relatively well off looking ski / walking areas, desperately poor looking Roma communities and the odd busier town before reaching, to our surprise, a brand new motorway (well I’m glad my road tax is paying for something!) which took us effortlessly past Sibiu and into the next mountain stretch. The road through the ‘Carpatii Meridonali’ remained surprisingly good quality though terribly busy (it’s the only sensible route south here). We pulled of the road and stopped down by the river for the night. An attractive spot I thought as I sat with a beer and watched a fly fisherman mid stream. Shame about the noisy road, the railway on the far bank and the stray dogs! There are a lot of stray dogs in Romania, though actually they’ve been little bother and quietly skulk away if you ignore them.
On our third day in Romania we travelled over 500km – the most by far, this trip. Initially following the increasingly scary E81 as it twisted through the mountains passing through a couple of isolated Roma villages. We followed the stream of Trucks hurtling along at times, before coming to a standstill behind a horse and cart piled high with straw or simply someone walking in the road pulling a handcart full of fire wood. It is obvious that the locals have always walked this way, carrying their scythes and pitchforks as they chat side by side. Now the main road had been put through here, there is often nowhere to walk, only a deep ditch each side. I wonder what the death toll on this road is!
As we came out of the hills at Pitesti we thankfully joined motorway again and followed it across the flat plains all the way to Bucharest. The motorway abruptly ends as it hurtles into the centre on 3 narrow lanes of traffic each way, with no proper pavements. People are double parked on the inside lane, leaving an even tighter 2 lanes free. There are virtually no signposts. People pull out of side roads without warning; it’s hot and busy! Apparently there was some sort of ring road, but not obviously and yes, we missed it. About an hour later Heidi emerged having ‘done’ Bucharest! It’s Huge, ugly and seriously crowded. Many of the horrible concrete blocks of flats are in such poor state that they are shrouded in that fishing net type stuff to stop the falling masonry hitting too many passers-by. One wonders why is it even there? It really is in the middle of nowhere and not on a river as so many places are. There does appear to be water about though, so maybe there are springs and presumably it was a trade route junction point.
I’m sure if we’d planned it, our impression may have been different. We did pass a few parks and the Palace of Parliament sounds impressive; the second largest building in the world after The Pentagon, but with our agenda to get to the Black Sea before summer finished we didn’t loiter.
We found the ‘ring road’ as we were leaving – not sure it would have been worth it anyway and thankfully joined the A2 motorway taking us on a dead straight line, across dead flat plains.
It’s just miles and miles of nothingness. Huge ploughed fields, banks and banks of combine harvesters with the occasional grain silos and billboards advertising agrichemicals companies. In amongst it all there were odd isolated Roma shacks. They were collecting whatever was left around the edges of the fields sometimes with a horse, sometimes with just a handcart. Cow and goatherds also wandered the scrubby grasslands between the crops. Romania certainly is a land of extremes!
We crossed the Danube one last time (It’s still big and wide!)
The delta is marshy with numerous channels and islands and was going to prove difficult for us to navigate on ferries, so we turned south and stopped at Elforie Sud, a holiday resort just south of Constanta on the Black Sea coast. The sun was shining and the sea looked very appealing. Time for a swim. That’s better!
We spent a couple of days swimming, lazing in the sun and exploring. Everything is very tatty and much is derelict. It obviously once was much more than it is now. A few places were being repaired and restored but they’ve got a LONG way to go.
We spent the next week or so slowly exploring this bit of coast. It’s packed with purpose made holiday towns with original names like ‘Venus’, ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Saturn’ – yes really! The scale is astounding; so is the amount of derelict, crumbling buildings and businesses. There’s a lot of ugly high-rise concrete block apartments interspersed with cracked, weed covered roads and paths, broken street lights and over-flowing bins. The season is very definitely over here already. Nearly all the cafes and beachfront places have already been boarded up for the winter. Even taking account of all the ‘dead’ places, I suspect it was still busy a month ago.
We spent a few days on the cliff tops near Costinesti with our own virtually private beach just a few minutes walk away – nice, and another couple of days just outside Vama Veche right on the border with Bulgaria. Vama Veche is obviously an immensely popular hippie hangout in season. Why? ‘depressing dump’ just about summed it up for us. Still, I suppose it’s all about the ‘vibe’.
The wildlife seemed to like it there though; we had two uninvited guests while we were there. At about 11am one morning a bat flew in through the open window and then vanished somewhere in our over-cab bed! We searched, but couldn’t find him. Maybe he had flown out of the window again? No such luck. Once we’d turned the lights out and had gone to bed it was time for him to come out and play again! And of course when we turned the lights on again he’d instantly vanished again. Luckily it was a warm night; we opened all the windows wide and left him to it. He appeared to be gone in the morning, which is more than can be said for ‘guest’ number 2; “Mousie”. Mousie, it seems, has decided to move in. He likes nibbling apples and especially grapes; taking a little mouthful of every one! So far we have tried in vain to catch him in various plastic bottles and containers – any ideas? He’s only a tiny field mouse; we’ve seen them in the sand dunes, but if he decides to take a liking to Heidi’s wiring we will not be pleased!
Time to move on now. Next stop Bulgaria. We’ve not exactly ‘done’ Romania, but then we hadn’t planned to visit at all this trip. We’ve met some surprising people. There was the guy staying in an ancient British-made caravan who assumed that since I was English, that I must know all about his electrics and have a 12v plug for his TV. He spoke absolutely no English, but still ‘dragged’ me off for a look. After much sign language and drawings I’m not at all sure either of us understood each other. He seemed pleased with my efforts anyway and gave me some of the fish he’d caught. Then there was the guy who knocked on the door late in the evening to ask whether we minded him spinning and screeching his car round in circles in the carpark right next to us, in perfect English! Well we did, but not wanting to ‘rock the boat’, I said “as long as you don’t hit us!”. “No, I’m a professional. I’ll only be a few minutes” was the reply. And unbelievably he did seem to know what he was doing and was gone after 5 minutes!
Until next time. Best Wishes from Peter, Elaine, Batty and Mousie.