Hungary and Romania
I’ve been less than motivated to update my blog this trip,but spending a rest day in Bucharest Romania, so after delaying as long as possible I figured I’d get started and see where it took me. Riding has been exceptionally different as we traversed the countries of Hungary and Romania. While the cities, Budapest and BuchRest are very cosmopolitan for the most part and the people young and economically viable in both, the travel through the towns to get here has been very different.
Before I get off onto the countryside, the big cities are very easy to navigate and they take great pride in these monstrosity of buildings…a museum, opera, bank, official building everywhere. They are grand and spectacular buildings, and quite beautiful even although certainly seems like a waste of resources. Neither city is built up in height, in bucharest maybe 10 to 12 stories max, so you can see everything without the claustrophic feeling you get say like in NYC. I have not been to DC in a while, but it is more like being on our mall but spread out all over the city. They each have an old town with cobble streets that is wall to wall restaurants/bars for many streets. We eat early enough that we don’t catch the night life but I am sure it must be hopping down there. Dan and I have covered many miles in both cities in some ways more exhausting than riding. We just bought some stuff from the market and had a nice lunch in one of the big parks near our hotel and the parliament.
I have fallen in love with Romania but disliked most of Hungary except Budapest. In Hungary, many locals use bikes ( the oldest crumminess bikes you ever saw) but the drivers are not kind to cyclists at all. The Hungarian people are very dour, not ever a smile, nor even eye contact. Everyone goes to the local market with their little bag to pick up the days goods. The roads were horrific, potholes and thus slow going. No one in our group cared much for Hungary and we were glad to see it in the rear view mirror
One quick story in Hungary. We were staying in a campground in a decently sized little town. Dinner was not for quite a while so I went on my quest for a market to find my fix of coke zero, because I hate water and only drink beer when it is cold and available. Most people were at this huge community pool,I took this walking bridge over to what happened to be the university…it registered about 37 C or 99 degrees. In other words hot as hell especially when you ride in it hour by hour. As I wandered through the town I ran into a local wedding, which was quite fun to see as it reminded me of a Shriners parade with traffic stoed and all the horns, stuff on the cars, cheesy outfits etc. On the walk home there was an outdoor amphitheater and luckily for me I sat through the dress rehearsal of the town/university 100 piece symphony orchestra for their event that evening. A wonderful seat in the shade and since the theme for the concert was cinema, I got to enjoy the full medley of Sound of Music, as well as other recognizables.
Another quick story about my market quest….staying at a moderate size about 20,000 town. Got into camp and heard of one of the bigger grocery stores within a mile or so since I was almost out of candy as well as needing either my red bull or coke zero fix I headed off on my bike with pretty sketchy directions. After going in at least 6 different directions I found it, but had put an extra 7 miles on my bike and made Dan pretty worried having been gone for over an hour, especially because I have the worst sense of direction. Dan and I don’t have phones. One thing positive about both Hungary and Romania is that you feel really safe around the towns, men don’t leer at anyone not even the young ones and except in the grocery store where the security guards are posted everywhere watching you don’t see or even hear of crime on the news. ( strangely Romanian is very similar to Spanish so I could read and understand some of the news and some of the words)
The we crossed into Romania. My first experience with passports and officials in a less modern country. It was pretty intimidating. Romania is part of the EU but still has its own current and because of some other treaty thing, they don’t have open borders. For about the first 30 miles after we crossed the border it was a very very scary tough ride. Because this is one of the main border crossings between countries (one road that’s it) and the commerce travels all by truck, these huge double trucks would be coming in both directions with hardly a shoulder. You just hoped they would slow down enough or move over enough to not hit you. You feel the hair on the back of your neck go up several times….but we all survived and things were wonderful on e we turned off that road and began to visit the small villages.
I just loved Romania, a country so still stuck in the past but with much investment in roads and tourism, etc. Every village in Transylvania you could see from miles away by several steeples. The smallest of villages would have these spectacular churches. We learned some of the history about Romania in that Romania is made up of Germans ( mostly gone now), Hungarians, Roma (gypsies) and Romainans Orthodox and non orthodox. Many of the church structures were fortresses over history and each sect-ethnicity of course needed their own. Many of the progressives complain about all the money that still gets poured into building new churches on a hill in some grandeur in a poor town…I digress. The people Re much friendlier although not friendly. They work so hard. Many live off the land themselves as this part…Transylvania is quite fertile. At first it was rather shocking to see a horse drawn wagon with an old weathered man or woman on it with the wheels about to fall off loaded to the gills with hay, then it just became commonplace, clopping down the busy highway. You see them working the fields with their scythe. Sometimes you see them moving the cows from field to field or herding sheep across the road with their dogs. Oh Dogs….we were warned Bout the dogs because they are everywhere, we had no problems with them but stray dogs are just part of the culture. We would stop at little markets at the end of the day near our hotel or campsite and drink beer … not with the local men but alongside. It was quite common to see men drinking early in the morning. Beer is like a dollar in many places. Cheaper than water And in many towns they have to buy their water.
I briefly mentioned my hellacious climb up the mountain on the most famous Transfagarason Highway. 18 miles up 6000+ feet with not one inch of downhill. I learned to respect the mountain, and learned that no matter what gearing you have you can always use 2 more. At the top was this bazaar like atmosphere with tons of cars blocking the top because it is a big tourist thing And we were there on a beautiful Sunday. Luckily it rained before we climbed and that night but we went down very steep switchbacks in dry weather. We had to stop halfway down because your hands start to cramp from squeezing the brakes to slow you down enough to manage the switchbacks and the bumpy roads. New found respect for cycling pro racers they are nuts!!! Romanians don’t have any sense of keeping the environment clean and they seem to drop trash wherever, so around the mountain where people camp there were bottles etc everywhere. No the top of the mountain was certainly not Romania at its best.
A touch of stomach stuff hit several of the riders so they got a ride in the van. I was severely nauseous for a long 75 mile very hard day. To compound the misery, the last 10 miles into town was the most harrowing. These trucks would come zooming by literally coming within inches. hen. you have the BMW fast cars coming from the opposite direction passing a truck coming right at you head on before barely squeezing back in. We all had stories to tell. One guy Frosty an Australian yelled F ck You at one of the BMW and it turned around. Luckily the police were there in a second to prevent anything from going further ( big police presence in Romaia… another time one of our riders touched wheels and went down and within 2 minutes they were there)
So after that difficult ride our fabulous tour leader scouted another route for us into Bucharest….and I thought some of those little villages we went through were poor, well they were poor but more like a throwback in time. This time we took some gravel roads and you road through shanty a with a bunch of kids out and people out, but despite their lack of wealth, these communities seemed very friendly with all their neighbors and happier, while those older communities appeared to be more distrustful of each other.
Finally one quick last story. This was out of Abdul Julia, on our rest day Dan and I sauntered off about 10 miles through 2 off the beaten path villages. Not many people out behind their gates ( all thes towns each of the houses have these big gates which face the street…so it is just gate After. gate (not wide at all) but you don’t really see any open space or their houses. Anyway, we were going by this church and a very old lady in black saw us coming and started yelling at us and then took some produce out of her bag and chucked it at Dan. On our way back, at around the same spot an old woman and her grandaughter started doing the sign of the cross, so I guess they must have thought we were the devil.
Still planning on going to the Silk Route S we only hav 8 more riding days left. As in these things, in some ways looking forward to home, but in many ways sad to see it ending, that is why planning the Silk Route… 4 months all through China end to end, the mountain passes of a few of the istans nd then Iran and Turkey will give us something to look forward to.