This is a very self indulgent account of Richard and Heather Knowles travels as they wander through Europe in search of a different way of life.
This is a very self indulgent account of Richard and Heather Knowles travels as they wander through Europe in search of a different way of life.
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Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary (cont)

6 June Sunday

Miserable day so read and relaxed. It is funny how it always rains when Heather does the washing. I know the remedy but she won’t agree. She likes to keep me clean and stop me turning into a grubby old hippy.

 

 
7 June Monday

Arrived Esztergom. Went directly to Tesco. Filled trolley with goodies. Major problem ! The electric has gone off in the store and the back-up generators are working on the chillers but not the tills. An announcement in Czech. We could have won the lottery and we would not have had a clue. People start abandoning trolleys at the checkout. We hear an English voice coming from one of the managers sorting out the problem, so Heather seeks explanation.. Our man hails from Wakefield. He explains that as all the tills have gone caput we will have to leave our trolley and the store until the till fault is solved. We retire to the café and enjoy excellent pizza and coffee whilst discussing the merits of emerging Europe and Tesco domination of the world with said manager, who was about to return to UK after five years setting up new stores in Czech and Hungary. (Hungary now has 36 stores. All 24 hour. Tesco rules !) He was a bit trepidacious about his return. Mutual concern about England having lost the plot. In the mean time staff are emptying all the abandoned trolleys and returning goods to shelves. Just as all trolleys are emptied the tills start to work. So we refill new trolley with all our previous goods, easily identified as mostly put back on right shelves but not quite straight or completely wrong shelves.

In Eastern Europe you can still see the remains of the austerity years, (apart from Trabants) where people had to mend and make do. One of the finest bits of innovation I have seen was in Czech Republic were greenhouses were made out of empty pickle jars, cemented together to make solid glass walls, a bit like the glass blocks so prevalent over here. Here in Hungary it was the pickling season and in Tesco I couldn’t help liken the pallets of gallon pickle jars stacked 10 ft high to DIY greenhouse kits. Just add cement.

 

 
8 June Tuesday

Passed the day visiting sites of Esztergom, Hungary’s answer to Rome and then slonking in the sunshine back at campsite. Returned at night to see buildings floodlit.

 

Esztergom

Little Rome

 
Esztergom Little Rome
 

 
9 June Wednesday

Returned to Estergom Tesco for a few odds and sods and entered into Slovakia as a means of crossing the Danube by bridge rather than ferry and then back into Hungary to avoid Budapest traffic. We travelled through miles of undulating woodland and farmland, eventually arriving in Gyongolas where once more the heavens opened with a heavy thunder storm. So we stayed on yet another Tesco car-park for the night, inevitably shopping once more. We wondered how long it would be before height restriction barriers arrived to stop the marauding hoardes of campervanners abusing the facilities as happens more and more in France, Italy etc.

 

 
10 June Thursday

Left our Tesco campsite quite early for us and travelled cross-country to Eger. We travelled through miles and miles of wonderful forest walking country of the Matras mountains. Arrive in Eger and after an initial recce realise that we need time here to absorb its relaxed atmosphere and public places with impressive buildings. Found the camp site, another undermaintained ex army barracks but close to town. Sipped excellent white wines in picturesque square whilst watching a theatre group rehearse a play on a stage surrounded by tourists dining in pavement cafes. Still not sampled Bulls Blood famous Eger red wine. Majoring on Tramini, Muscady, Olazsreisling and Kerkofrancos to name but a few. Kept awake till the small hours by the excited chatter of schoolkids staying in the euphemistically named bungalows on the campsite , whilst on their school trip.

 

 
11 June Friday

Stayed in Eger another day. Visited the castle, scene of heroic defence against the Turks hundreds of years ago. Ate out in Hungarian restaurant visited last night for wine. It was disappointing. The cause of this disappointment wasn’t the “Slipped Picquant Porkragout into sheepjacket”, which I was curious to try but not curious enough. Nor really my “Hunter’s Favourite” described on the menu as Stag and Wild Boar cooked in red wine with cranberries, which majored in tinned cherries and apricots. But H’s pizza deserved the chef to be outlawed to Italy until he had learned the necessary. A prebought, stodgy, thick pizza base covered in ketchup, mushrooms and cheese and then more ketchup did for pizzas what Colonel Saunders did for full chicken dinners. On return to campsite we were approached by two 16 year olds from the school trip keen to practice their English. “Have you a question you want to ask me” they started. We improved their English for an hour or so but were impressed with their ambitions and linguistic skills. “Do you find Hungarians friendly ?” Yes we thought but they seem to us very dour and could do with cultivating some laughter lines.

 

Heather one tub

 

Heather one tub

 
H reinvented the single tub washing machine, which has a technique which is a cross between treading grapes and step aerobics. She is looking forward to the day she can have a twin tub.
 

 
12 June Saturday

Found a gas filling point in Eger. Just normal LPG but they had a cunning adaptor which fitted gas nozzle to our gas bottle. Would I like one of those. All gas problems would be solved. (Well Heather’s wouldn’t). Drove through even more miles of forests with excellent hiking trails, past the occasional small winter ski resort, to Szilvasvarad, a very popular spot, which hosts a walking trail and tourist train. The trail we took takes you gently uphill past Lippizaner horse riding schools, trout farms, fish ponds, waterfalls, prehistoric caves through leafy deciduous woods with red squirrels and higher up wild boar and horned goats.

 

 
13 June Sunday

Wake up in Tesco Car Parl Miskolc. Travel to Miskolc Tapolca with desire to visit Thermal Baths which extends into caves. Overcast day yet again. Camp site very like old army base in need of serious upgrade. Site very quiet. We know that the main tourist season here is July and August but we can’t help wonder whether open borders now means that Hungarians will venture abroad for their hols. Will the hundreds of campsites and home tourist spots now be in serious decline (like Morecambe and Walton on Naze amongst many others back home). Managed to rig up laptop TV to watch European cup. Euphoria of technological achievement flattened by disaster on the pitch as France given game by lack lustre England.

 

 
14 June Monday
 

Cave Spa

 

Cave Spa

 
Spent a lovely relaxing day in the Spa at Miskolc Tapolca with glorious sunshine and pools inside caves as hot as 35 degrees.
 

 
15 June Tuesday

Left Stalag Luft Miskolc and did local tourist traps around Lillefured, a steep limestone valley with nice walks. Stocked up at Tesco once more to spend remaining Hungarian money prior to departing for Romania. After first foray we had 700 odd forints (£2) left so we decided to split the money and go and see how many treats each we could buy. Move intercepted by woman begging (sent by God to test our generosity). I only gave her half (and still feel guilty) and bought chocolate desserts, fruit and nut, (crispbreads we forgot on first foray) and cheese and onion crisps with the rest. Leaving Miskolc we came across (by accident) a moving memorial (not mentioned in any of our guide books)to the repulsion of the Turks in 1241 by the Christians. It comprised a mound covered with full size crucifixes through which an evocative and thought-provoking path meandered to the top. Despite our lack of religious fervour this rather run down and understated monument was one of highlights of our trip so far. Moved on to Hortobagy renowned for its birdlife, through a Camargue like region (with awful roads). Weather still inclement with bad forecast so relinquished bird-watching from hides overlooking reed bound lagoons and definite sights of Spoonbills and other water birds not yet ticked off on Ornithological log to travel to Debrecen ready for a sprint to the Romanian border the following day. Guess where we spend the night ? Tesco car-park Debrecen.

 

 Lillafured

A green hill far away

 
Lillafured A green hill far away
 
Lasting memories of Hungary. Baroque buildings, interesting new housing designs with turrets and towers, Trabants, Wartburgs, Storks, Tescos, abundant Birdlife, Spas, shoals of oven ready Carp swimming nonchalently in tanks in supermarkets and large people not even managing to get round Tescos, (there again), without visiting the in store fast food area to stuff some more pizza down their gullets.
 

 
16 June Wednesday
 

Hot tin roofs

 

Hot tin roofs

 
Crossed the Romanian border at Oreada quite painlessly. Needed to buy car insurance following intransigence of our own insurance company. Receive misleading information despite sunny dispositions of contacts at border from agents all offering Carta Verde cover and unable to use credit or debit cards to acquire money from Exchange Offices so travel to town get money from bancomat and insurance from local company. Impressed by bonhomie of Romanians. All, except drivers, are very friendly and courteous. Drive inland into Transylvania to Cluj Napolca through rustic scenes abounding with horse and carts, farmyards awash with chickens, old fashioned haystacks, water buffalo and other long-horned cattle and stacks more Storks. This area the Huedin gap is the home to the second biggest ethnic minority in Romania and the architecture in Huedin is something to behold. The roofs of the bigger buildings look like silver-plated chinese pagodas. We park up at Gilau in a spotless well equipped campsite.
 

 
17 June Thursday
 
Discover that clocks have gone forward another hour. Break camp and decide to do a circular tour round the nearby mountain past very scenic lakes with picturesque villas on the lakesides. The road to the top is magical and well maintained tarmac with stunning views and wild flowers. We reach the top and are unperturbed by the un-metalled narrow road to take us back down the other side. After 3km of cobbled uneven cart track we are starting to get perturbed, but there is no turning back because the road is neither wide nor even enough and surely it will be tarmac again soon. After some 15 – 20 km of hairpin bended track and an hour and a half of precarious and very careful driving, with the permanent worry that if anything happened now we were well and truly stuffed we arrived once more on black-top to great relief. The truck unscathed, just our nerves shot. What was needed now was food, booze and retail therapy.
 

Transylvania

 

Transylvania

 
We are preparing to travel to the coast in the next few weeks and intend to make the most of water sports, both here and in Greece. So we splash out and spend 2.5 million on a boat ! Now for 2.5 million pounds sterling that would be some boat, but actually its 2.5 million lei or £44 for a ten foot, four man (or 1 Richard, 1 Heather and 2 very small people) dinghy. In total we spend about £140 on flippers, snorkels, boat, oars, lilo, compressor, vodka, brandy, wine, beer, food and other bits for which we had no great need but couldn’t resist.
 

Roadside Verge

 

Roadside Verge

 
We abandon our intention to visit Cluj and drive on to Turda and park up in a noisy lorry park for the night. Shortly after arrival a cheeky young lad, sporting shell suit and USA flag bandana, and his shy friend come armed with water bottle and squeedgee seeking the chance to wash the windscreen. Sammi and Rachid, two likely lads, in Sammi’s words “I am the Capitalist and he is the Professional”. We didn’t know how to interpret this whether it meant Sammi was the boss and Rachid did the work or that Sammi was the entrepreneur and Rachid was looking to join a profession. Whatever the case, Sammi was a very bright young lad, with boundless energy and charm. “Your camping car is super, it is my dream”, he extolled. We hoped that he would get the opportunity to use his vivacity and wits to achieve his dreams but somehow it seemed unlikely. Despite amazing changes in Romania there must still be thousands of bright young kids here who will not achieve their potential. Although their education system has them learning English from the age of 4 and you can have a good conversation with most 12 year olds. We packed off Sammi and Rachid with Snickers bars, a bottle of Coke, a few bob and some left over Hungarian sausage grills. “Super, Hedder, you are good cook.”
 

 
18 June Friday
 
We drive onwards to Sibiu along back roads full of potholes flanked by fields of cereals and vegetables. We pull up in Blaj and head for a smart looking coffee shop. It is full of 10-14 year olds in their Sunday best celebrating the end of school with a pizza party. Two lovely coffees and excellent cakes comes to the princely sum of 40,000 lei (66p). We join a table of 12 year old boys and are soon discussing football, the merits of surrounding countries and where to visit in their region. The mix of characters in the group was colourful. Amongst them there was the self confident leader, the little, smiley, but silent Thierry Henri lookalike, an obvious future accountant and a snazzily dressed lad in candy-stripe shirt, leather waist coat and a thin cowboy style bow tie who eagerly joined the table to enter the conversation. The banter was good and they jokingly looked at our state of the art camper and said “It’s a scruff !” The contrast with these comfortably-off kids came when we left the café to be met by a gypsy woman and young girl begging coppers.
 

Industrial hell

 

Industrial hell

 
We drove on to Medias a nice old town and through Copsa Mica, perhaps the most polluted town in Romania a few years before.,The so called hell of Communist industrialisation. Rich methane deposits lead to the development of industrial complexes to produce sulphuric acid, chlorides and carbon. All of which sedimented on the buildings, trees and lungs of the population. Many houses are still covered with black “fall-out” and until recently no-one within a 10 kilometre radius kept a horse because the toxins would kill them.
 

Rural Idyll

 

Rural Idyll

 
We carried on to Slimnic, a small village with one of many Saxon citadels, really fortified churches, for defending the community from the Turks in the 14th/15th centuries. . Lots of the villages, in this area, were settled by Germans at this time and many are still known by German names. We parked in a rough lay-by on the main road 400 metres from the citadel and walked up the steep track to the ruins. We were beckoned in, by an old guy. He lived in a shambling hut in the citadel grounds with chickens and a couple of ancient dogs. “You can climb up the tower” he gesticulated “but don’t ring the bell.” So we set off. Hopefully when Romania joins the EEC in 2007, health and safety officers will turn a bit of a blind eye and not expect normal standard to be adopted. If they do visits to places like Slimnic will be impossible. Without huge investment, it could never conform. On leaving the castle we amused ourselves watching some mischievous piglets who had escaped from a farm yard but who scuttled back when they saw we had spotted them. We returned to the camper to discover that all three good wheels on our bikes had been stolen (leaving the Moroccan one) and only our strong bike chain prevented the lot, frames and all, being lifted from the bike rack. After 10 months travelling we had got too complacent. More precautions in future.

We carried on to Sibiu and found a dilapidated camp-site but there was no other option.

 

 
19 June Saturday

Richard walked into town to source new wheels. Caught the bus back and totally panicked when he suddenly found himself in unknown territory. Had he caught the wrong bus ? Luckily a young lady fluent in clipped English allayed his fears and “chatted” in a very businesslike manner until she disembarked.

 

Sibiu

 

Sibiu

 
Took taxi to bike shop with bikes hanging out of the boot. Taxis here are very small not like the Moroccan ones where you would have got four bikes, eight people, several carpets, chickens and a camel inside and the same on the roof rack. We passed the afternoon in Sibiu, the centre of which will be fantastic when refurbished, as long as it doesn’t lose its charm by being too pristine. We ate michi the staple sausages, bread and mustard and drank beer in the central square which was to host a dance music concert at night. We intended to return but didn’t make it.
 

 
20 June Sunday
 
Splitting the difference Astra museum
 
Splitting the difference Astra museum
 
Cycled to Racinieri and then visit the Astra open air museum of “peasant industry” buildings. Each building complex had a “friend” to look after it and act as a guide and guardian, usually retired folk, who tended the gardens and presumably harvested the veg they had grown. What better? If you lived in a gardenless high rise flat to have a sublime rural retreat in which to pass your days through the summer. Richard has still been having trouble with Heather. Burning at the stake didn’t work so the old sawing a lady in half technique is being invoked. We ate in a traditional Romanian restaurant. Heather chose chicken. The waiter offered “You want “Half past chicken ?” he meant half a chicken. We had a mixed meat and cheese hors d’oeuvres, grilled meats, peasant potatoes, salad, bread, a litre of very palatable wine and coffee. The bill came to double that expected. We queried and realised that chicken is sold here by the 100 grams. It had cost as much as the rest of the meal. One can only hope it was organically reared in a local farmyard.
 

 
21 June Monday
 

Where's my cow ? You talking to me ?

 

Where's my cow ? You talking to me ?

 
Go to local fruit and veg market in Sibiu to stock up on greens and also buy wild forest fruits of tiny strawberries and bilberries from delightful friendly ladies, who demand copies of photos to be sent to them. We travelled to Carta to a campsite recommended. It is a peaceful haven run by a Dutch girl married to a Romanian Icon painter. Naturally the site is well advertised in Holland so many clients are Dutch. There are many gypsies in this village, happily living side by side with Romanians. Through the village a stream runs which is frequented by ducks, ducklings, geese, goslings, chickens and women doing their washing. Normally, all at the same time. Everyday all the domestic farm animals go off communally to the pasture to graze. At 8.30pm they return. Brought back by the duty shepherd. Horses, Cows and Buffalo, with or without off-spring troop down the unmetalled road and turn off into their home farmstead yard on their own. Occasionally some dreaming beast goes into the wrong yard and much shouting, whipcracking and cursing wakens it from its slumbers and shoos it off in the right direction.
 

Home, home from the range

 

Home, home from the range

 
England are playing Croatia in the European Championships and we watch the match in the campsite owners living room.
 

 
22 June Tuesday
 

Travelling Bilberries

 

Travelling Bilberries

 
Cycle to Cirtisoara not a very interesting village,we could see a monastery on the distant hills thought we would go and have a look. We met a woman and a group of young girls, who flagged us down, It’s obvious we are foreigners because their bikes have no gears, some have no breaks, and are definitely not smart mountain bikes. She asked if we had any cigarettes. We don’t smoke but had bought some to give away. We gave her a handful and in return she wanted to give us some bilberries they had been picking. They must have walked miles from home to find them so ,Richard of course nicknamed them “the travelling bilberries”. I had chocolate so I gave it to them and they were delighted. We arrived at Citisoara convent along a 2 kilometre dirt track. It, like many other religious buildings here, was being renovated, so after a quick wave to a nun, we set off home, full speed, to catch the post office before it closed to get a phone card to ring Lisa it was her birthday. The phone exchange is next to the P.O. Its just like you see in old films, women sat at switch panels with headphones, plugging in the myriad of cables and listening to all the gossip. Anyway we decided all phones must be switched off when they go home cos none of the phone boxes worked in the village that night.
 

 
23 June Wednesday
 

Blea Cascada

 

Blea Cascada

 
Drove up the mountain to 1600 metres above sea level, where you can then walk another 10 kilometres to Balea Lake (another 700metres higher) passing an impressive waterfall a Balea Cascada. We took a wrong turning somewhere and the only way to get any further was to climb up a dried up waterfall at a near vertical incline for 150 metres. I have to say (and I, Heather am writing this) that Heather was brill considering that I couldn’t climb a ladder without getting vertigo before this trip although clinging on to rock faces by fingertips you definitely have to have a screw loose. I’m just glad I wasn’t wearing flip flops. We met a couple of shepherds and their dogs weren’t to keen on the sight of Richard. I think they thought he was a Yeti. I must cut his hair. And Rich is a giant next to Romanians. In the bar at the top we met a couple of Brits on a walking tour with Romanian guides who said that the ridge walks over the peaks were very extreme but fantastic. They were gagging for a beer after their exertions. Sounds like we need to return to walk more in the future.
 

 
24 June Thursday
 
Left Carta reluctantly because we had enjoyed the total relaxation. Meandered to Sambata de Sus monastery. Fed and bought more bilberries from the hungry gypsy families around the parking area. Heather turned back from monastery for showing too much flesh. Easily tempted these monks ! (Ouch). All of the monasteries are beautifully kept and there are many in Romania. It makes you wonder about the economics. Who pays for it when so many normal Romanians live on the breadline.
 

Viscri

 

Viscri

 
Ventured up 10km of dirt track to Viscri a time-locked Saxon village with an impressive citadel. Prince Charles visited here on his Romanian tour and apparently grants were given for the villagers to paint the fronts of their houses. I don’t think that this adequately addressed their real problems. To raise some money the women of the village have joined together into a co-operative to knit woollen socks, weave rugs and run a café. Any unsuspecting tourist (and I cannot imagine that there are too many) is accosted by old ladies or children with a handful of prickly looking hose. A volkswagen minibus pulled up and asked if we wanted to visit the citadel because the “old woman” in the back was the caretaker and they were just taking her home. She looked about to peg it so we declined. It turned out that these people were trying to bring a truckload of aid into the country for a variety of projects (including a full children’s playground) and the truck was stuck at customs on the border whilst they quibbled about paperwork. Carried on to Brasov.
 

 
25 June Friday
 

Brasov

 

Brasov

 
Spent the day in Brasov a very pleasant cosmopoltan city with a lovely central square. There are many trendy sportswear and ski shops with amazing (for us) bargains. If only we needed skis…..but we don’t. Poiana Brasov Romania’s biggest ski resort is just up the road. Our morning’s rather excitable taxi-driver, who made sure we called him at night for the return trip, took us back by Brasov castle, which by his account is “famoos” for its food. He loves his city and although we couldn’t understand a word he said got the gist from his enthusiasm.
 

 
26 June Saturday
 
Needed a few bits from the supermarket so parked up at Selgros, described as a cash and carry but really a supermarket with membership cards or day passes for the bona fide. We just passed. Outside Heather was approached by a 13 year old boy Rares (pronounced Radish). He tagged on to us to get in to buy meat for his family. Although he was poor, he had his money, and just wanted to be helpful and get the best value he could for his parents. He drove the trolley like a typical Romanian driver. Both his parents were out of work and Rares carried all the cares of the world on his face. Despite his lowly status he was clean and well turned out and spoke excellent English. He was a lovely lad. His mother obviously did the best she could for him and he for her. He did well with his money buying pork mince, sausages, a big tube of pate and washing powder all for just over the £3 he had. We subbed him a little and dropped him off near home with a new football and some chocolate bars. I still feel guilty about the £30 or so we spent mainly on luxuries. We keep meeting more and more Romanians of all ages, who don’t necessarily want charity ….. just an equal chance.
 

Dracula's pad

 

Dracula's pad

 
We passed Rasnov mediaeval castle without stopping and carried on to Bran, the legendary location of Dracula and his castle. We stayed at Vampire camping (where else) a new unfinished site but which will be good in the future. The castle is well worth a visit for its architectural interest not the Dracula legend. Dracula has only been associated with Bran castle since the 1950s when it was adopted as host site due to its proximity to Bucharest.
 

Bran Castle

 

Bran Castle

 
My favourite misconception in the legend is that vampires sleep in coffins. Apparently in winter, old rustic Romanians slept in wooden boxes with straw and bedding to keep warm. At that time Austro-Hungarian troops were billeted in locals’ houses. The sight of decrepit unshaven, probably hung-over, farm-workers opening the lids of their sleeping boxes early in the morning when it was still dark to start their working day must have put the fear of God into their lodgers and spawned the myth.
 

 
27 June Sunday
 

As snug as a bug

 

As snug as a bug

 
Travel to the Prahova valley through heavily forested mountains dotted with ski resorts. This is prime tourist area so the roads are lined with vendors of fantastic smoked cheese, fruit syrups (really excellent with sparkling water) and multiple craft stalls, some are local products and others made by Chinese Romanians !! We buy a basket for mushrooming later in the season. We park up in the nearest camping to Sinaia and catch the local bus (a Merc Sprinter minibus) the 6 kms into town for 15p each. The buses are every ten minutes or so, very convenient. We buy some copied CDs, because we are sick of our music selection and a very recent DVD for our home cinema. It is gone 5pm so Peles Castle, the former royal palace,(which the recently returned Royal Family are trying to reclaim) is shut but the view from outside is enough. A very impressive structure. Like all tourist spots it is thronged with craft stalls, gypsies selling golden rod and wild fruits and old ladies offering rooms to rent. We return to the campsite, which is definitely not 4 star but only £3 per night. The Toilets (squat type) and Showers are pretty disgusting but after our training in Morocco we survive. At least the showers are hot. We see a lot of similarities between Romania and Morocco. “The have and have-nots”, beautiful countryside and the problems of modern living (litter), old under-maintained cars and roads, friendly but poor people, subsistence farming and abundant fresh vegetables, and of course carpets. But unlike Morocco you are not hassled on every corner.
 

 
28 June Monday
 
All tourist spots seem to be shut on Mondays in Romania, so our plan to catch the telecabine out of Sinaia and walk in the mountains is snookered. Instead we walk into the forest near the campsite along the “road of happiness”. According to a local lad this is a beautiful walk with lots of wildlife and waterfalls. His family who live next to this walk were woken one night by noises outside to discover a Brown bear carrying off “a bacon”. He meant a small pig. We talk to him about his life. He doesn’t go to school anymore because his parents cannot afford the 30p a day bus fare.
 

 
29 June Tuesday
 

Snagov

 

Snagov

 
After a mornings natter with some other Brit travellers who had been on the road for 2 years and hadn’t met anyone else from UK for 9 months, we set off early afternoon to Bucharest. The intention was to rough camp one night outside the city (to try to get budget back on track) and to book into a campsite early the next morning to spend all day seeing the city sights. We have been warned about Bucharest, both driving downtown and high levels of crime. We have had an area recommended to us so we decide to check it out. The campsite is very expensive (by our now Romanian standards, about £9 the night ) and not very exciting. So we decide to try a nearby parking area we spotted on the way in next to the police academy. We have been beaten to it by two other camper-vans. One is Swedish and one Norwegian. The occupants however are an interesting mix of cosmopolitans, originally from Persia (Iran) before the Islamic revolution. One family of which have previously lived in Romania, Johanna the wife is Roman.. Staying here is not a safe option we are informed. “Follow us, we will take you somewhere safe.” Trust is an important issue. When to trust and when not. One of our guides in Morocco claimed the way to tell was to look someone in the eye and feel the the vibes in your heart. We didn’t feel threatened so we followed them to Snagov, an upper class suburb comprising expensive villas and hotels round a picturesque lake some 20K from Bucharest. We pulled into a hotel car park. Martin our leader soon negotiated our parking (for free) for the night on the hotel car park and we hit the bar for beers. Like most hotels they were desperate for the business. As Martin said if you speak the language, anything is possible in Romania.

This area was a regular weekend break for the Ceaucescus and there is a royal palace just along the shore, so we shouldn'’ have been surprised when armed troops set off to patrol the perimeter of the lake and hotel. We were going to be safe here.

 

 
30 June Wednesday
 

Ceaucescu Palace

Hello Budapest

 
Ceaucescu Palace Hello Budapest
 
Had breakfast with Martin and family. Martin had negotiated the staff to move tables down to the terrace next to the lake. Omelette, bread and coffee and Martin insisted on paying. Then as if they hadn’t done enough they escorted us into Bucharest. Johanna, in our van, as our tour guide. She had been a student in Bucharest so was very knowledgeable, Apart from speaking about 7 languages fluently she had two degrees. She explained that in the previous regime you had plenty of time to study because there were few social distractions. TV was mainly propaganda or patriotic music. Martin drove in front and guided us to the Marriot Hotel and yet again negotiated with guards to let us park there (£1 for six hours). We then all pile in their van and they drop us outside Ceausescu Palace, the second (or third depending which books you read) biggest building in the world after the Pentagon it still remains 90% finished after “the former president” was overthrown. The guide referred to Ceaucescu like Dumbledore referred to Voldemort,( you know who) never saying his name We have learnt a lot about him and the communist regime on our travels, some good, some bad, but we wont write it here you never know who may be reading it and we are not ready to be deported yet.We had a guided tour round the palace. It is huge. 1000 rooms. It would take more than three years to spend a night in each. The marble walls and floors, beautiful hand woven carpets, intricate carved woodwork, huge crystal chandeliers and wonderful embroidered drapes weighing god knows how much. Rich was well impressed that all the work and materials were resourced in Romania. We were taken on the balcony to look at the view down the boulevard (which is slightly wider than the Champs d,Elysees) ,from here Michael(mistake) Jackson announced to Bucharest “Hello Budapest I love you” this was the first concert with an international artist after the fall of communism, say no more. Bucharest is a very different place than the usual western city. The architecture is beautiful in an awesome way, all part of Ceaucescu’s vision, which employed 20,000 people building it at one time. The parks and gardens are neglected. Its obvious not many Brits come here because people are always amazed when we tell them we are English. We drive out of Bucharest, That is the royal we because Rich has done most of driving and I am proud of him. He has driven through so many cities. Bucharest was not as bad as suggested. Genova in Italy still takes the biscuit. Anyway we hit the road to the coast and find a small hotel to eat a late meal, (and following Martin’s concept) stay on their carpark and watch the football on their tele. We are 2 hrs in front here so that is 9.45pm. We are near Constanta airport, on the runway I think! but flights appear to stop around midnight thank God.
 

 
1 July Thursday
 
Arrive Mamaia early morning and book into new camping with excellent clean showers and loos (although they are squats so toilet gymnastics will be required). The site itself will be good when the grass and trees have grown up a bit. It is also a bit out of town but with our bikes the exercise is worth the cleanliness as we will be here for a few days.

We walk along the beach seeking landmarks H might recognise as she came here in 1982 and everything has changed. Then you could only spend your money on cigarettes, vodka and coffee. Now you can buy anything and the car parks are full of top of the range “black: BMWs and Landcruisers. The men are mostly big, wearing designer labels, obligatory sunglasses and dripping in gold, whilst the women tend to be chic and scantily clad like a further trapping of financial success. You cannot help imagining Mafia connections. But there is no feeling of threat, everyone is very happy and enjoying indulging themselves. Mamaia is crawling with police to keep the “wrong sort” out so is very safe and has toll booths at either end of the main boulevard to control vehicles..

 

 
2 July Friday
 
We cycle the full length of the prom looking for where H stayed all those years ago. Its difficult to spot any similarities. The dingy bars and kiosks are now bright pizzerias and restaurants and designer shops. The “Les Dawson lookalikes” who previously waited on tables have given way to mini-skirted fashion conscious sophisticated young ladies. There is even a new gondola being built to transport tourists from one end of the prom to the other. What is amazing though is that here we are in the middle of July and there are still building works going on, with projects all over the resort..

We are in the process of renewing our Motor Insurance which is proving complicated over the net. It’s the time delay that’s the problem. However, the new cover will give us access to some countries we want to visit at no extra cost. We will stay in Mamaia until we can get new policy doc faxed to us.

 

 
3 July Saturday

Pottered around campsite and then set off to cycle to Constanta. Roads chaotic and very busy so we cut short trip. On way back we come across an Aqua Parc where Romanian TV are filming a talent contest, like New Faces, so we watch through the fence for a while. Richard is mainly watching the scantily clad girls, imported to give a bit of glamour, failing miserably to clap or wiggle in time to the music. The whole thing is a bit chaotic and unchoreographed, but jolly good fun. At night we watch another pirate DVD we have bought here. It would have been fine but for the obligatory chinese sub-titles superimposed with Romanian.

 

 
4 July Sunday

Spend the day at the Aqua Parc, which proves to be a good day out. The slides are exhilarating, some even extreme, and the food very affordable. If people watching is your bag, well this is the place. All shapes and sizes are wearing thong bikinis whether they are built for them or not. Gangster types parade, somewhat self-consciously, because their formidable bulks are better and more intimidating covered than revealed. Their model build escorts however tend to their every need with loving devotion or a duty based on necessity, who knows. And guess what ? Romanian TV are back filming another heat of Opportunity Knocks. H is fascinated by one half of a girl band duo, whose rhythm has been affected by her boob job and cannot dance to save her life. They are obviously popular here though because everyone wants their photo taken with them. The wigglers and shakers put on another lack lustre performance but excel at hair twitching and posing

 

Opportunity wobbles

 

Opportunity wobbles

 
The evening is spent watching the Euro cup finals in the camp site bar, where we take up the Romanian sport of sunflower seed eating. The game seems to be to see how big a pile of husks you can create in the shortest time. We wished we had already got to Greece to savour the hysterical atmosphere of a Greek victory.
 

 
5 July Monday

Set off to cycle into Constanta but the main roads were extremely busy and every attempt to find a quieter way through residential streets found us being chased by snarling street dogs. We decided to catch the bus another day.

We invest in some more pirate Dvds, resigned to the Romanian sub-titles. Anyway they will help Richard who wants to learn the language, as its similarities to French and Spanish and its Latin root means he has a head start. Andre the Dvd vendor is yet another talkative soul. He is a Sports Science student selling music CDs and Cassettes (and illegal Dvds) in his holidays for an unseen and obviously dodgy boss. He asks many questions about us and our life and travels but like all Romanians shows no jealousy just curiosity.

An English charity “Nightingales” has brought a group of teen-age disadvantaged kids from a care home on holidays. (The younger ones were here last week) They are in a little tent village and having a great time. The organisers, gap year students and other volunteers, have them playing games and taking them on trips. Its Aqua Parc today. “If I had the money I would live here all the time” explained Gheorge. Our kids would think it was a scrubby camp-site. To these kids it is Nirvana.

 

 
6 July Tuesday

We need some more fresh veg and decide to cycle to Navodari, the nearby town attached to the huge petrochemical plant further up the beach from Mamaia. Navodari has a great produce market. H still cannot stop remembering how impossible it was to buy any fruit and veg last time she was here, even after queueing for an hour or so. We buy Potatoes, Tomatoes, Walnuts, Peppers, Chillies, Onions, Garlic, Plums, Eggs, Peaches, Bananas, Lettuce and Chocolate Eclairs for about £3. All the stall holders are so friendly and cheerful.

 

Three pounds of veg

 

Three pounds of veg

 
Spent the afternoon on the beach trying to get rid of the white and pink stripes on the more inaccessible parts of our bodies. Contemplating an all over tan but some shifty types round the rather scrubby nudist beach seem best avoided.
 

 
7 July Wednesday

Spent all day frustratingly trying to get insurance sorted. Looks like we will be here another week.

 

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[Loire/Ile De Re] [Dordogne and Gorges] [Summer Alps] [Italy] [Slovenia] [Croatia] [On The Road To Morrocco] [Monte Carlo or Bust] [Spain, Benidorm and Gibraltar] [Rabat And All That] [El Jadida, Ounara, Essouria] [More meanderings & out of Africa] [Snowmads] [Snowmads 2] [Richard -  The BIG 50 !!!] [Eastern Europe] [Eastern Europe (cont)]
 

 

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