Archive for the 'Romania' Category

Goodbye Romania

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

It was hard to say goodbye to Romania. We had one of our worst days ever followed by two of our best and in the end we didn’t want to leave the country.

The day after Jamie’s golden birthday brought us 80km and 5 hours of cycling in pouring rain and 10°C weather. Matters were made worse by a fierce headwind that not only made it hard to cycle but also chilled us to the bone. Not too fun. We resorted to saying desperate things to each other pretty early in the day. Stuff like “Only 50km left!” (FYI that’s over three hours of cycling), and “Can you go farther without eating? If we stop we will probably freeze to death!”

At the halfway point we gobbled our lunch of bread and cheese as quickly as possible while standing on the side of the road. Jamie said the rain made our bread taste like a baby had been sucking on it for awhile.

We got sprayed by passing cars and trucks all day as they tore through the standing water on the roads. As a result, we were completely covered in road dirt by the end of the day. By my estimate, approximately 90% of the “dirt” on the country roads in Romania is horse and cow manure. Gross.

I also developed what is known as an “ice claw” during the course of our ride. My gloves were so wet that after lunch I decided it was gross to put them back on. That was a stupid idea. Within 15 minutes my hands were frozen into claws molded around my bicycle handlebars. These ice claws lacked opposable thumbs and I believe best way to imagine them is to picture the hands on Lego Men.

We now know that close to 100% of our waterproof gear has failed at this point, after 10 months of cycling. Only one piece of gear is still keeping things dry – our Ortlieb panniers. Our jackets, drybags, waterproof gloves, and waterproof hiking boots are all leaking. We have given up on trying to stay dry during a day of cycling. It is better to focus on wearing enough clothes to keep warm and then finding food that you can eat without stopping so you can stay warm.

When we reached our stopping point of Oltenita we began to search for the one hotel the town was supposed to have. Wanting to find it as quickly as possible, I asked the first person that walked past us where the hotel was. Unfortunately I have quite a knack for asking crazy people for directions. Not kidding. So of course, this guy wasn’t able to help us find the hotel and instead he followed us around for the remainder of our search mumbling about French and English and sometimes offering his phone to me. In the end we found the hotel though and settled in to dry our gear and warm back up.

The next day was beautiful, with a blue sky and sunny warm weather. The ride was great with the only event of the day being a flat tire on my bike. This is only our second flat in Europe – not bad! After 70km we reached the town of Calarasi. We stopped at one hotel but the price was 150 lei (~US$65.00) and the receptionist wouldn’t negotiate so we decided to look around some more. After a little more searching we found another hotel on the other end of town and met Daniel the owner. He was a really nice 27 year old Romanian guy who spoke excellent English. After we got settled in our room, Daniel invited us to have dinner with him in the hotel’s restaurant where we tried some delicious turkey soup, pork stuffed peppers, and deer with polenta. He told us about his business, which organizes and leads hunting parties. His family has a gigantic ranch right on the Danube where they can hunt for pheasant, quail, wild boar, and much more. After dinner he brought us on a quick sunset tour of his beautiful ranch where we saw sheep, ducks, geese, and about 15 hunting dogs. We absolutely loved it and were blown away by his hospitality.

The next morning Daniel knocked on our door and invited us down to breakfast. It was fun to skip our usual muesli and yogurt and enjoy another meal with Daniel. During breakfast we were joined by his cousin, Aristotle, who also worked in the family hunting business. We’d originally been planning to continue on our way after breakfast, but when Daniel and Aristotle invited us to have coffee with them in their favorite cafe, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

After sipping some espresso and discussing life in Romania, we decided to pay another visit to Daniel’s ranch to see some of the hunting dogs in action. These are two little four month old puppies going nuts for some fresh chicken!


The dogs were all so excited when they realized a few were about to get to go on a hunting expedition. We felt sorry for the ones that didn’t get selected for the outing.


Daniel and Aristotle picked four adult dogs and the two puppies for a walk through the woods to look for birds. We all loaded into a truck to drive to our scouting location.


It was so much fun to walk through fields and forests on such a beautiful fall day. The dogs went crazy running all over the place sniffing for birds, the puppies followed the adults and tried to copy everything they did, and we walked along with them spotting the birds they scared up. In addition to birds we found a place a wild boar had wallowed in the river mud and another place he’d scratched himself and his nasty mud on a tree trunk.


As we were driving back to town from the ranch, Daniel turned to James and said, “Hey, do you want to get a haircut?” James was way overdue for a trim so we happily trotted over to the barbershop where James got a European-chic haircut. Daniel wouldn’t let us pay at the barbershop and then turned to me and said “Now it is your turn!” He brought me to his friend’s beauty parlor where I was treated to a trim and a manicure. I was shocked (and delighted) to say the least. Talk about hospitality!

James’s first mullet! Eurostyle baby!



We then went back to Daniel’s hotel and ate more delicious Romanian soup and about 10lbs of grilled chicken and pork each. But the day wasn’t over yet! Daniel and Aristotle were driving the 115km to Bucharest that evening and invited us to come along. We were originally planning on skipping the city because it would be a several day ordeal for us, but a short car ride made it much more appealing, so we decided to join them. We left Calarasi at 5pm and arrived in Bucharest only one hour later. Here we are posing outside of The Home of the Nation.

Picture 056

After taking a few tourist-style photographs we went to dinner at a nice restaurant owned by Daniel’s friend, called Palladium. It was delicious and so much fun to be hanging out in a fancy restaurant with our new haircuts and my new manicure! After dinner it was off to the giant shopping mall for the 3rd espresso of the day and then we returned to Calarasi and headed off to bed.

Aristotle, Jamie, and Daniel.

Picture 058

The next day we woke up to gray skies and more rain, but we really felt like we should get on the road to Istanbul, so we decided to leave. We had so much fun with Daniel and Aristotle we seriously considered staying a couple of more days, but in the end we hit the road. The border was only about 10 kilometers from Daniel’s hotel but before we made it there another hotel owner pulled up in his car and asked us if we wanted to have some coffee and food at his hotel. Romanian hospitality is amazing!

Eventually we did make it across the border though. Now we will head southeast across Bulgaria until we hit the Black Sea where we will turn south.

Gettin’ Medieval

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Romania is one of those countries where as soon as you cross the border it becomes apparent you’ve entered a whole new world. The first thing we noticed was the multitude of wells. They are all over the countryside and the villages.


Most are the traditional pulley type, but every so often we would see one that involved a giant lever.


Check out Sarah proving she is a true humanzee as she tries to figure out how to work this thing.

Along with the wells came an increase in the number of giant nests on the telephone poles. Every village seems to have at least three or four nests. Too bad we haven’t seen any of the giant birds yet!


We also immediately noticed a big change in the people and villages in Romania. Everyone is dressed very traditionally and horse-carts and bicycles have replaced cars as the dominant form of transportation.


We see dozens of horse-carts a day and they vary just like cars. You’ve got the antiques.


The old guys crawling down the street.


And even young guys hot roddin’ it up.


In most villages, the geese and turkeys outnumber the humans and all the locals are either herding their birds or sitting on benches lining the street and watching the action. It’s not uncommon to see a bench of three old women knitting followed a few meters down the road by one of three old men smoking.


There has also been a marked increase in the friendliness of the people here in Romania. Everyone yells and waves “hola”, “ciao”, “salud”, or “buna” as we pass. It’s a definite change from the severe stares we garnered throughout most of Eastern Europe.


We will continue to cycle east in the Wallachia region for a couple of more days before we cross the border into Bulgaria and then head southeast to the Black Sea.