Oct 8-11, Bucharest, Out of Romania
Established now in the little Vila11 near Gare de Nord in Bucharest, I came down at about 7:30 looking for some coffee. This little hostel is run by a Canadian woman who has lived in Bucharest for twenty years. There are all sorts of nice things about her place. She puts on breakfast and even though it doesn’t get going until 9:00 it is a nice change for me to have people to eat and visit with.
I made some instant coffee and talked a bit with a cyclist couple from Odessa on their way home. They were getting their bikes ready to catch the same train to Galati that I had taken a few days ago. It was still raining hard and so their panniers were wrapped in a kind of home-made rain cover. They only had a few minutes in the rain so they would probably work fine. When they left a couple from St Petersburg began getting their bikes ready to take on the plane for their flight home.
At 9:00, the other cyclists gone, I moved into the little breakfast room and began with coffee. Pancakes soon arrived. As I was eating a Romanian couple living now in Stuttgart came down and were preparing to leave on a train as well. I shared my tale of woe regarding not being able to get on trains. They were surprised and asked where I was trying to get to; Timisoara, I replied. They were heading to the train station and indicated they would look into it, and took my cell number.
I started to get ready to head out for the day, still worried and mentally working out all of my alternatives. At the top of my list was to look into a bus to Timisoara, but I was seriously considering boxing up my bike and taking a long international train or even flying back to Germany. At any rate, today, a rainy Sunday, I was going to head into the centre looking for the National Museum and hoping for some clearing later in the afternoon. A text arrived from my Romanian friends giving a train number that would take my bike to Timisoara. I finished fussing and within half an hour had a train ticket for me and my bike to Timisoara on Tuesday. Thinking about it I had probably gone to the wrong ticket window, asked the wrong things, got a tenant who had a bad day….Whatever, the critical worry gone, I could now appreciate my two days in Bucharest.
There is a pretty good subway system in Bucharest; I think about four lines. I bought a 5 lei ticket (less than $2) which was good for two rides which would get me into the centre and back again. It was very easy to navigate, even considering that I had a two line run going each way.
I got off the station that would give me a view of the mammoth Parliament buildings, one of the many Ceausescu projects that drove Romania into a downward tailspin that it is still fighting to recover from. It was still raining too hard so I found the Romanian National Museum where I hoped to polish up some of my conceptions of Romanian history. I was greeted by Trajan and a Dacian Wolf on the steps of the museum. Unfortunately, two floors were closed for renovations and these contained all history since the Romans except for an extensive special display on WWI. I did enjoy the Roman displays, taken with how extensive their efforts were in this region. There is a copy of Trajan’s column. It is full size and has been dismembered with 125 bathroom sized segments spread around two floors. The event on each segment was explained. I have seen the original in Rome and the other copy in London but cannot remember being aware that most of the events depicted on the column were from Trajan’s campaigns in Dacia, hence the interest here.
I did get some shots of the Parliament buildings and wandered around a lot of the old city. Being such a bad day there were not many people on the extensive car free (i.e. café) strips. I felt sorry for the young people huddled out of the rain with their menus trying to entice customers. The gloominess was enhanced by the vestiges of the many years of communist architecture and the decimated economy that gutted much of the old and beautiful Bucharest. Some of the old 19th century buildings survived, many seemingly occupied by banks; a few newer glass buildings are rising up, but the dozens of morbid apartment buildings left the predominant impression on me.
I finished my Sunday with a pleasant hour in one of the most attractive bookstores I have been in. The inside of an old building on one of the walking strips has been reworked to open up the four floors with books on the walls and the inside left clear as an atrium, with curving stairs connecting the floors.
Monday was clear and after finding a bike shop for a little work I cycled back to the centre, took a few more pictures, re-visited my book store and finished the day in Parkul Cismigu, a large park near the centre with swans, ducks and hundreds of people out absorbing vitamin C after many days of deprivation. I had my meal of the day in Bucharest early, while still near the centre, so I didn’t have to find something attractive near the train station, although the offerings inside Gare de Nord in Bucharest are better than in most train stations. In one store I filled up a shopping bag of drinks and snacks for the 13 hour train ride.
My train left at 10:00, and I was there at 9:30 hoping to get on early, as has happened more often than not. On this day the train didn’t pull in until 9:50 and there seemed to be a lot of people milling around to get on. So until I found which car I was on I was in a bit of a dither. A young woman helped me wrestle my load up into the car. It is three steep narrow steps and a good metre to heft things up. Luckily there were very few people on this car. Before the train left I removed my bags; I had planned to remove them before getting onto the car but it felt too rushed at the time. There was a spot half-way along the car that was open seated, not the closed six seat compartments of the rest of the car. The aisle was wider at this point. I settled in, my bags were all around me, my bike right there bungeed quite out of the way against a post. I was kind of hogging five seats in this situation and so I sat there waiting for the conductor or other passengers to arrive and ask me to move. For 13 hours this never happened and I was able to enjoy my time and the ride without worry about my accoutrements.
It was a beautiful sun filled day. The train ambled along initially headed towards Transylvania. There was snow on the mountains and the yellows of fall had accelerated their arrival since I had left just over a week ago. Some of my best pictures of the trip were taken through the train window. Why does it feel like cheating when I do that? It took three hours to get to Brasov and I had even recognized a few of the views from my castle tour with Dan.
As the day progressed I finished reading “Between the Woods and Water” by PL Fermor that I had been rationing since my trip began. He finished this middle of his trilogy on his walk to Constantinople as he was leaving Romania to go into Bulgaria. I am leaving to head back into Hungary so it is kind of appropriate. I had also bought an ebook version of Dracula by Bram Stoker that had audio. For many hours of this train day I sat gazing at the kaleidoscope slipping by the window as I listened to the band of intrepid Englishman chasing down their abominable foe.
A word on why I am chose my escape to Germany route that I did. I mentioned that I was greatly stressed by my trials of getting train passage for me and my bike. Except for my initial train ride from Frankfurt to Regensburg and my almost city ride out of Budapest, all of my trains have been Romania and none have been across borders. I have read about others having troubles in eastern countries as well and did not want to further complicate matters by heading into Bulgaria or Serbia as I had long contemplated. But as I was wandering around Bucharest in the last few days I realized that I did not want to begin experiencing any more countries/cultures. This trip has been mostly about Hungary and Romania and there is so much to think about with these peoples. I did not have room in my head at this time to begin yet another. I also had a very good experience cycling across Hungary and so I felt confident that I could re-cross Hungary, weather willing, without too much trouble and was eager to expand my Hungarian experience. Hence I am headed to Timisoara, and on into Hungary. I arrived a bit after 23:00, found my little Hostel Nord across the street from the station and went to bed.
The next morning I was out on the street about 8:30. I could have spent a day in Timisoara, there is lots of interest here, but my mind now is on getting back in to Hungary. I still have a full day of riding in Romania on roads that could be problematic. It took about 45 minutes for my cell to get me through the city onto my chosen road. As I expected the road out of town was narrow and very busy, but I was able to ride pretty fast and there were no aggressive drivers so it was not very stressful. After about 15 km the going to work crowd disappeared and the riding was lovely.
I was riding mostly west, the sun behind me, allowing good vision of things around me. The fall colours were out in full. With the sun rising behind me I was able to see detail that my ride east over the last six weeks has not allowed; most of my riding is in the morning. I was able to discern that the crows I was watching on this morning were actually Rooks, the light coloured bills apparent to me. I saw at least two buzzards and one little falcon, possibly a merlin. Close to Hungary I am again in a puszta. The fields absolutely flat. I had a slight tail-wind for much of the morning adding to my enjoyment.
Close to noon and after 70 km I pulled into Sannicolau Mare, the last major Romanian town. Leaving this morning I thought if I was slow I would spend the night here. I had a nice lunch and booked accommodation in Szeged, a major Hungarian university city, a further 50 km along the way, seemingly easy to reach. Leaving town the road was so quiet for a while I was worried I had missed the way. I arrived at the border crossing and the Romanian guy had a lot of questions about my entry into Romania. I’m not sure he ever really understood how I had got into the country without going through customs. But he, like the people I encountered coming in, shook his head and passed my passport to the Hungarian guy.
I pushed a reasonable headwind all afternoon and so when I entered Szeged at about 3:30 I was tired. And now my Romanian sim card didn’t work anymore. I flailed around town looking for a cell provider or the Information Centre without any luck. At a map in the main square I located the street my place was on. I checked into a lovely apartment and booked two nights. I need to get cell coverage again and I need to work more on my Hungarian plan.