‘Super bonus,’ says the man who bestows my cycling partner two hands full of fruit. We pass him when he was collecting little pears from a tree, his T-shirt chock-full with them. This gesture says so much about the whole country. It is such a beautiful move. I at once lóve Romania!
But first a little information for cyclists who like to follow the EuroVelo route 6 or 15 or the Danube Cycle Route, or whatever it is called we are on. The route and its sign-boarding is non-existent. You can’t go wrong however, just follow the river and know that it is legal to camp wild. You will see little trailers and tents right along the river, mostly from fishermen, as well as the campers their toilets. Quite a terrible dirt heap and stench are coming from those places but if you can manage that (I don’t want to) you have easy access to many ‘campsites’.
Shops are open on Sunday (unlike in Serbia and Hungary)
We pedal through low hills, into Naidăs, the first village in Romania. It is so heavy with atmosphere that we don’t want to stray too far from such a heavenly old-fashioned village. Children swim in the river, elderly sit outside, youngsters gather on the hood of a car. We set up camp right above the village its main shepherd pasture.
And so we wake up with dozens of sheep, we hear them bleating long before they arrive when we are starting breakfast. The shepherd talks and talks, it doesn’t seem to matter that our Romanian is non-existent. As it doesn’t matter for the shepherd that a few dogs are tagging along while they aren’t shepherd dogs.
Back at a former communist town
Moldova Nouă is our first meeting with a Romanian town. We get an instant liking to it although the town is heavily dysfunctional, sad and drastic communistic in atmosphere. Yet the men playing a board game under the vineyards, while women haul with loaded plastic bags. We see big cafe’s where people come to bet. Inviting looking places with an extensive menu, and a ridiculous name ‘El Gringo’, where it turns out they serve only drinks. Such places are run by boys who are still children, or by women where I ask myself whether it is a prostitution business? The road is broken and dusty, and the giant gray buildings are falling apart. We drink and eat some on a terrace, and are immediately mobbed by beggars. An overweight physical challenged woman collect money in a stream while an angry, mental weak woman scares people off. There is a little supermarket too, all under the structure of a massive communistic high-rise building. I am afraid it will collapse anytime.
My bunch of people!
The atmosphere is set though: rakish and dashing, people seem to celebrate life in the way they move. The women their dresses are an incoherent bunch of bustling patterns on long synthetic skirts while men often go for a synthetic pair of pants and a whitish singlet. Of course, those people are the Roma and no wonder I love to watch them, finally folks who act as if they are pleased with life! Like Serbia, but more.
Cycling along the Danube
Is it that the communistic era caused dysfunction, led to a failure in attempting to set up a business or to grow common sense in healthy living? We see a lot of fancy houses being built after Dubova, the shoreline of the Danube is once again built up with rich-men villa’s. Fake grass, kitschy glittering decoration, a swimming pool, wooden jetty and terrace are all present, at each and every villa. As sudden as the nouveau riche start building and acting out their distaste, it stops soon too. And thankfully the one Hummer and many huge polyester swans stop appearing as well.
Huge polyester swans disappearing? Yes. But only after we leave the hotel with the peddle driven swan boats. We decided to sleep a night at Pensiunea Decebal. We were attracted by its big light object in the shape of a fish hanging outside it’s wall, and the smell of fried fish. That they play hideous European pop-songs and American schmaltzy love ballads interspersed with Italian sultry voices over a communal sound system right next to our room, is only adding to communistic atmosphere.
The ‘Iron Curtain’ route is quiet, peaceful and softly arousing in beauty, reaching a peak when the river is embraced by rocky hills. The road slides right along the river with sometimes a climb. A car passes now and then, driving in the middle of the road, that is what Romanian drivers do. Vegetation is growing over the road too, and with the Danube on your right hand side, Serbia is never far from us. Serbia has many tunnels though, while Romania looks more quiet and surely is less cycled.
But mind you, only after The Iron Gate it becomes truly interesting.
We do meet fellow cyclists, one of them somewhere on a terrace, drinking coffee from an automate. We do the same. Isn’t it normal to greet each other in a small village, on a little terrace of a mini supermarket? We greet other people too, as a sign of having seen them, a non-arrogant way of acknowledging one and another. Just a little node with the head, eye contact. Well, I guess it is just friendliness. But some people do all to avoid any contact whatsoever. This guy is so obstinate it must be hard work. He does not look at us, while we are quite hard not to be seen in our high viz T-shirts. I wonder whether they feel nullified by other cyclists? Like their adventure suddenly seems less special now they are not the only cyclists anymore? Are they having such a hard time cycling through, they feel invalidated by our seemingly easiness and happy expression? Or just by the fact we do the exact same thing which make them less special? I don’t know, could not ask the guy.
Fellow cyclists: don’t worry. Not all people are going to interrogate you. Some people, like ourselves, are not interested in that. We are just friendly and after a nod of the head, we won’t bother because that’s the sign you send out. Unless you somehow try to connect, like the English mom and son did. We’d seen them for the first time in Hungary and they’d pass us about 4 times over the course of weeks. Only now they are very close behind us and tag along for half an hour or so.
The beatitude of cycling in Romania
Cycling along the Danube has another very remarkable fact: the route goes through villages, each almost an exact copy of the other. Houses are built precisely the same style and facing one direction. It looks all very cozy and homey, except for the many stinking placards on the road; dead dogs. That’s something that never really adds to the beautification, or to an atmosphere. Each village is small, sporting a church, a few small shops and many horses. Distances between villages is evenly spaced, with in between fields of sunflowers and corn. The road is lined with geese, turkey’s and trees and behind the trees is a long line of multicolored fences in many different styles of cast cement. Each house has its own bench in front. Those benches match precisely with the artistic array of different cement colored fence, yet each bench has the same style. It must be a communistic thing! And what’s more delightful, people sit on those benches. And the most pleasing happening of all; they wave at us!
Subtle use of sex appeal for commercial purposes
Not only elderly people, young and old alike sit on wooden benches. Young guys sit there, watching the scenery of horses pulling carts, undoubtedly frowning upon cyclists passing on the EuroVelo route as well. Surprisingly not everyone is busy with their phone’s, people just sit there and watch kind of television, but then the real-life version. It is such an abundance of life coming together on those benches that it strikes me as a pleasant relaxed country where people still know how to balance things. Sometimes young women are draped over the bench as if it is a supersonic bolide. Their beauty strikes me!
Talking about supersonic automobiles; a car is an achievement. As a young man, having a car seems a magnet to young women. We pass a young woman draped over the hood of her boyfriend’s car, profusely making selfies. While we pass a horse-cart full of children passing their time in nature rather than behind a computer, we do notice the salivating over a car too. In the bigger cities we notice pornography sets the tone in everyday life. Of course, with being in Romania we haven’t entered a kind of back-in-time paradise. Naturally, sex is a thing everywhere. So we pass advertisements where a woman soaks a car, with her slithering on the hood in an all revealing bikini. We see advertisements for the hotel we stayed at where a woman in a thong catch a huge fish. Another photo is being taken from between the legs, the sunset a deep orange with her bikini clad crotch in close-up.
We even notice this tea package:
It is simply delightful to pass horse-drawn carts. We turn ourselves a bit to wave and we receive big smiles, big waves of the left hand and all kind of full-bodied sentences we never understand. People have the tendency to talk vividly to us, like we understand their Roman language. We talk back in English and often there’s a long conversation going on.
‘PAJAPA’ screams an elderly woman on a horse cart. She stands right in front of our tent. Our tent is set up on her route. The route she takes every day to collect hay. She does this by hand. Now she has to pull the reins of her horse to the left, and quite wildly too. The horse walks around us, his cart swinging roughly, through the harvested wheat field. We arrived late the evening before and thought setting up camp at a track grown with prickly plants would be fine. We also thought we were stealthy but as soon as we start eating we noticed life buzzing around us. One of them a shepherd busy with his cellphone. He can afford that since his super smart shepherd dog Lookie does all the work. His tiny body is soon placed in my arms but the little smart canine prefers his boss and him only!
Many sausages, better olives and exquisite feta
At the end of our day we often enter a little shop to buy groceries. Since we are with two, we have more to spend and more to eat. Last few weeks we don’t bother with long cooking timings and often eat fried white bread, sausages and cheese. The shops are now focused on service and instead of collecting all your own goods, a young lady collect it for you. All from behind the counter. Now I stand next to tiny, old, tattooed females in a multi-design of fabrics. The women are little and wrinkly. In their hand a few coins and some meshed up paper money. We watch each other in wonder, while they buy one thing and I go nuts. A child behind me screams for a bright orange lollipop, a baby outside gets Fanta from a 2 liter bottle to drink.
Hello, Salute, Bon Giorno, Ciao, Hola!
Passing through villages is constantly being entertained. At the end of each day I have pain in my arms from waving. People seem to await us as if we are the uncorrupted president of Romania. Children scream ‘turist’ and run towards us, clapping our flat hand in passing, all lined up along the road. As everywhere else in the world, girls are quieter, men are more lustful, elderly are enthusiastic. Sadly, as in many other parts in the world, girls are married off at an early age and some of whom we meet are barely 15 and proudly holding their own human doll.
As many dead dogs are decorating the road surface, equally much are alive stray dogs. We buy extra sausages and pate and feed the dogs with it. We can balance the stench of rotting meat easily with each morning-glory of bird singing, several shepherds around our camp, or goats or cows, and the sound of horse-drawn carts.
A very sudden shock
Entering a bigger town is always passing a factory on the verge of collapsing. Houses, often gray neglected blocks with tiny windows are welcoming the passerby. Imagine living in there. When we follow the arrow to a hotel, we are in a mild state of astonishment. To enter a space where rich city kids gather, coming over with their dad’s Mercedes and sojourn with overly healthy looking military people from USA is quite a contrast with wooden carts, rolling on automobile tires and horses pulling them. The hotel itself is pleasantly normal, a factory beautifies the left and an excavation the right. Victor, the guy who runs the hotel in the afternoon, asks us for dinner: ‘Pork, chicken or fish?’ and follows up with ‘mixed salad?’ to end his conclusion with: ‘Fish goes well with polenta, mixed salad with it?!’
A simple life in a slow pace
We cycle on along the Danube, a pleasantly flat road, towards Giurgiu. The river out of view most of the time, the people full on display. Many people seem to live the life they did under communistic regime. Perhaps it gives them security, something to hold on to. They live a simple life, quite self sustainable, with an average income of €250 a month. Yet we see, or get the idea, that people are satisfied with such a simple lifestyle. And why not? I could easily fit in if I needed to. It may be that in 10 years the horse-drawn carts are gone, perhaps people see carts pulled by horses as tardy. Imaginable people start to ride on the back of a horse for relaxation instead of sitting on a cart for a daily task to be done… I think that is a way forward, not necessarily for the better.
Romanians still work the fields by hand, some patches are big enough for a human to work. Few fields are supervised by humans, who sleep on it in a little hut. They sell the products on the land or in a car along the road. There is mass production by big corporations, but there are still people taking what they need and no more, whether or not forced. And that’s one of the reasons why Romania is one of my favorite countries, along with the people inhabiting this land.
I cycled in Romania July 2015