Men showing bellies
expansive flesh on display
what is up with that?
Having checked our bank balance after a few more than expected hotel and pensiune stays in Romania, we came to the conclusion that in order to reach Istanbul before we completely ran out of money we had two options: pedal faster or eat less.
Naturally we chose the former.
And just as naturally, it wasn't quite that easy...
After leaving our plush hotel room in Drobuta-Turnu Severin last Wednesday we started our push. That day we broke three records – fastest downhill (54km/h), longest distance covered in one day (132km !) and most hello's in one village (in Poiana Mare we must have been greeted by nearly every man, woman and child as we cycled through).
The most common greeting was 'Buna', Romanian for hi, but we also heard hello, hola, salud and even one sawadee (Thai).
It was a long day, made even longer by our search for a quiet camp in the fields. There was no quiet corner anywhere – everyone was out in the fields from long before dawn to long after sunset harvesting then shucking the corn. By hand. Eventually we found a sheltered spot just off the road in a field that had already been harvested.
|One more long slow hill, Romania.|
The other problem with wild camping is the combination of extremely greasy factor 50 sunscreen, copious quantities of road dust and sweat coupled with a lack of water. So we decided to alternate wild camping with pensiune stays where camp grounds weren't available.
In most villages, the young boys would compete to see who could get close enough to high-five one or both of us. We just hope they washed their hands afterward.
Thursday night we stayed in a hotel overlooking the Danube at Corabia after a measly 113km, enjoying the shower and airconditioning as well as the cooked breakfast the next morning.
By Friday, as we got closer to Bucharest, the villages were increasing in size and showing a little more wealth. The houses had more land around them, with a few flowers - not just used for farming. We still passed flocks of grey and white geese by the road side. Plenty of turkeys and chickens as well, and carts drawn by horse or donkey loaded up with corn cobs. But there were also more Audis and Dacias (the Romanian Renault rip-off) on the roads now.
|Turnu Magarele, Romania.|
Common to the rest of the world Romanian drivers, whether of horse and cart or brand new Audi, drive single handed – the other clasping a mobile phone to ear. Or even better, texting. We liked the way oncoming car drivers could simultaneously drive, talk on the phone, honk the horn and wave at us. We just wished they could stay on their side of the road while they did it.
Friday, we started to wilt. Neil's insomnia had been acting up and Iron Guts Gabby ate something that disagreed slightly (ok, it was more like a twenty round punch up than a slight disagreement but you really don't want the gory details). So we stopped at the only hotel for 50km in either direction after cycling only 88km.
Unfortunately it happened to be a four star hotel. With a bath. And wi-fi. And the hugest bed in the world.
Budget ? What budget ??
Friday night we both got worse so decided to stay another night. Slight problem - no more rooms, the hotel was fully booked. So we had to ride on to the next town – more than 60km away.
Naturally this is where we hit the worst stretch of road in Romania. Huge potholes and stomach cramps do not mix well. Travelling extremely slowly, it took us most of the day to cover the 63km we could normally have covered before lunch.
Once in Giurgiu we relaxed for two nights in the comfortable Hotel Sud (slumming it in three star) before heading off on Monday, 280km to go to the Black Sea coast. It seemed so close, an easy three days we thought.
|Concrete apartment block next to our hotel, Giurgiu, Romania.|
Not quite feeling recovered, we still managed to cover 117km over countryside becoming steadily more hilly. Another long day, another wild camp, another field, another stunning sunset, another wonderfully starry night. For the first time we were starting to look forward to finishing our journey rather than enjoying the journey itself.
|Neil cooking dinner at sunset, wild camp near Calarasi, Romania.|
|Another peaceful sunset.|
|Dawn over our camp, in a corner of someone's field.|
|The long grasses are covered in tiny white snails.|
The second last day, Tuesday, was the worst. After crossing the Danube by ferry to Silestra, we continued along the south side of the river before farewelling it, our companion of the last couple of thousand kilometres, and heading for the coast. At Silestra we met some new, unwelcome, travelling companions – cobble stones.
Cobble stones are pretty enough to look at and certainly lend an air of historic credibility to a village. But to cycle upon – well, printable words fail me. Between Silestra and Ion Corvin, where we collapsed on Tuesday night (in a bed), a distance of more than 50km, possibly one third of the road was cobbled.
Think of the saying 'cobbled together' and you have a better mental image of the roads we travelled. We didn't even take any photos we were so shook up. And after nearly 5000km of puncture-free cycling, I manged to get a puncture (through kevlar lined tyres) after a really rough section. There were also lots of hills. With cobbles.
The scenery was actually quite nice - large expenses of grape vines, roads lined with walnut trees and a few enormous fields of sunflowers ready for harvest, that would have looked amazing in early summer in full flower.
|Our last glimpse of the Danube, east of Silestra.|
|Interesting pensiune decor, Ion Corvin, Romania.|
Wednesday. At last. Our final day on the road. Luckily there were no more energy draining cobbles after Ion Corvin, and after the first 40km even the hills started flattening out as we got closer to the coast. Then the busy roads started and we were among city traffic again.
|Roadside picnic table, with accompanying rubbish tip.|
|Monastery near Adamscli, Romania.|
|Picnic lunch in the shade of a walnut.|
|Only 35km to go !|
|Last leg on a busy highway with no shoulder.|
All we wanted to do was to get to the water, maybe have a swim, definitely have an ice-cream, then find a hotel. Naturally it wasn't that easy. Navigating city traffic with a really basic map (no street names) is never fun and at the end of a very tiring three days cycling, Neil made one last heroic effort and finally got us to the water's edge.
|Traditional self photo - us by the Black Sea !|
Not to swim, but for an ice-cream. It was enough. 4963km from Dublin and we were finally looking at the Black Sea.
And the water IS almost black in colour. Unlike the Danube which was not blue.
Next stop, Istanbul. By bus.
words and photos by both of us