Today was the day we were going to enter Romania. Szeged is pretty near
the border, and we got to the customs post fairly early. It took a long
time to get through though. Hungarian customs were rather careful about
letting the bikes out, and Kevin was very glad to have remembered to sort
out his crash documents. Getting in to Romania was a bit of a performance
too, there was a weird collection of little customs booths, but some were
bureaux de change, and some sold visas and some did both. We tried getting
through with the letter Sergio had given us, but they wouldn't have it.
I gave the woman in one of the booths $100 and asked for a visa and
some Lei. The visa was $23, so she typed in 77 on a calculator and showed
it to me. I think I could have worked that out myself, knowing how many
Lei I was due to get would have been more helpful. I soon got some idea
when she went to a cupboard and pulled out a bundle of bills, 100 10,000
Lei notes. You can be a Lei millionaire for 40 quid. It was a bit puzzling
as the 10,000s were huge, but the 2 50,000 ones I got were much smaller,
as were the 5000 and 1000 ones. I never saw any Romanian coins, hardly
surprising when you have notes down to thruppence. The notes were a bit
confusing to my eyes for another reason, they use a decimal point to separate
thousands. So, I stashed my wad and filled out the Visa, then went to the
passport control booth and tried to get through. The chap in there was
a bit annoyed "Why you not fill out the exit part????". Because I am not
leaving yet, I thought to myself, wandering off to comply.
Once sorted out visawise, and after answering some weird questions
from the border guards "you have army?" "What is that?" (GPS) we were in
Romania, and suddenly it was a different world. The road was flat, and
went across a wide flat plain in straight lines. Lots of straight lines
not necessarily pointing in the same direction. At the side of the road
at intervals were old women with what looked like washing hung out to dry,
but turned out to be cloths and embroidery for sale. The country was visibly
poorer than Hungary, poorer than anywhere I have seen in real life. The
roads were littered with Dacias, which seem to have a terrible propensity
to punctures and wheels falling off. Probably due to them being at least
10 years old in the main, and based on a 25 year old Renault design. As
we rode along (doing only 50 in deference to the 31 mph limit for motorcycles,
Cars can do up to 70 if they have a big enough engine. All rather strange)
we crossed numerous railway tracks, and every now and again we would pass
huge concrete civil engineering projects like sports grounds, and lay-bys
with cast-in-situ tables and chairs among overgrown concrete flower beds.
Signs of a country which used to be ruled by an autocratic ruler with a
concrete fetish. The first major town we came to was Arad, and what a shock
to the system that was. It was in terribly poor repair, signs of decaying
splendour abounded, amongst more unpleasant, unfinished, unaesthetic building
projects. At a set of traffic lights a young lad tried to get some money
off of us for washing our windscreens, but he didn't do too well. (To be
honest I didn't fancy pulling out a million Lei wad in the middle of the
road). He settled for trying to twist the throttles instead, and nearly
got throttled himself when a flamboyant gesture of denial from Mike caught
him in the throat. Poor kid.
We carried on following the signs for Timisoara and the road got steadily
worse. At one point an arrow pointed off to the left, but Jeremy ignored
it as it was obviously pointing down a railway track. 100 yards later turning
round in a dead-end street amongst houses which must once have been nice
but now had the threatening look of a horror movie hillbilly town we realised
our error, we really were expected to ride down the railway line. It was,
to be fair, largely cobbled, except in places. But on fully laden bikes
(and with trams using the tracks) it was a little fraught.
Past Arad eventually we once more entered open countryside. People
seem to spend a lot of time by the road in Romania, whether they were waiting
to be picked up, guarding crops or merely watching the road for entertainment
was something I never worked out. We stopped for fuel and I got very confused.
The pump said 254 (or similar). I had a wad of notes marked 10.000 and
some marked 50.000 and suchlike. I knew that I was missing something, and
eventually realised that it was the little price ticket (normal on-product
size) with x100 written on it in biro. Once that was sorted out it made
a lot more sense. 25,000, 6-7 quid or so. Throughout the time we spent
in Romania prices were to cause us difficulty, largely because they seemed
to be made up on the spot. Fanta varied between 12p when the prices were
on the shelves to over a pound when they saw us coming.
After stopping at a roadside establishment of some sort, and the bikes
causing quite a stir all parked up, we had a Fanta and a croissant or three
in a plastic bag for lunch. We were to find that Romania didn't seem to
do roadside eateries, no demand presumably. We hadn't seen a single policeman
so far and decided to ignore the speed limit entirely. From that point
on our speed was governed by the road condition, and they kept it down
to 50 at times.
Slowly the countryside become more hilly and scenic, and we arrived
at the hostel where Sergio had booked us in in the little village of Rusca.
We caused quite a commotion, with all the village children stood in the
road holding their hands out to be slapped as we rode through. I hadn't
thought that taking 10 bikes to Romania was anything significant, the locals
seemed to disagree.
We were shown to our rooms in the hostel, The smokers bagged a room
for three which had three beds in it, which proved to be a good tactical
move. I ended up sharing a room with Jeremy and Ian. Jeremy bagged the
couch, and Ian and I agreed to use the single bed in the room alternate
nights. There was some comment about the toilet, a box with a toilet seat
on top of a large underground tank. It did smell a bit, and being in a
double-glazed room didn't help. A small privy with a short door with a
heart-shaped hole in in traditional style would probably have been better.
Eventually we all managed to get a shower (the water pump kept tripping
out). We were introduced to Bogdan, our local lison, a Romanian who spoke
English and who would have been riding in EnduRoManania if he hadn't had
a bad crash recently. After a few beers dinner was served, and a splendid
repast it was too. We washed it down with several beers and locally distilled
brandy/cognac/fire water. We were in a vaguely celebratory mood, we had
made it to the destination. Marvin decided that Mike should chat up the
hostel assistant woman, but Mike didn't seem to get very far.
Day - Next