Originally I wanted to use the headline ‘Suicide Cycling’ but Johan intervened and said that our parents are reading our blog, so I should not choose such a scary headline. Short of better ideas, this is now the second part of the Romanian adventure. So far, the country hasn’t been very welcoming I have to admit and we still hope that we will soon like it here. We’ve had three tough cycling days in a row – in total 350 km – while all of them were meant to be the contrary. But first an explanation on the title I wasn’t allowed to choose. Several times per day we have to make a decision: do we take the national road which is the fasted and most direct way and get killed by all the trucks transiting through Romania or do we take the slow roads – if available – and get killed by a herd of semi-wild dogs?
Saturday morning for example we start pedaling from the pension and discuss how to go and decide, OK, let’s try the national road this time. It is Saturday morning, there won’t be many trucks and people also don’t drive to work, so it shouldn’t be an issue this time. Once we reach the crossing we just stop to have a look at the map again and one huge truck after the other passes – through the village with a speed of at least 100 km/h while they are allowed 30 km/h. The national roads are busy roads with crazy traffic, trucks don’t move one centimeter and prefer to overtake other cars even if there is oncoming truck traffic and we are just in between. Why would they use their brakes if they can also hit the gas? If we are lucky they honk to warn us but that happens one out of ten times. So it doesn’t even take us five minutes to change our minds – we take the dog route.
The dog route could be wonderful, if there weren’t the dogs. We cycle through almost medieval villages with all kinds of animals on the dusty streets – geese, ducks, chickens, cows, goats, horse carriages, every once in a while a car passes, dogs are barking, toothless women are sitting on benches in front of their houses, old men carrying tons of vegetables on their rusty bikes and you think you’ve arrived in another world, this is no longer the Europe we know.
The roads through the villages and between the villages are usually unpaved and in a state of the worst forest paths in Western Europe. Our speed is between 10 and 15 km/h on flat roads to give you an idea how bad the roads are. I bet no tourist has ever seen these villages. The landscape is very nice, it has become a bit more hilly since our arrival in Romania, we cycle most of the day along a river, through the forest, we start seeing the first big mountains, enter Transylvania and still have great weather with temperatures during the day of up to 27 degrees. This sounds and looks like a fairy tale and very romantic, BUT there are the dogs. Which makes this whole journey some kind of a nightmare.
What I’ve learned by now is to distinguish between a real mean and a harmless dog, at least when we see them in advance.
You normally see the harmless ones in advance and they just bark and if you look at them they go away. The mean and aggressive ones suddenly appear from behind a house or barn, they run like idiots towards you, bark and snarl at the same time from their wide open mouths full of sharp teeth and slobber. To survive these attacks and to prevent to be torn apart by these monsters we both carry at least one kilo of big stones and it’s crucial to directly hit them with the first stone.
These coward dogs always choose the last cyclist, because they think this is the weakest one. They are of course completely wrong, since I have a hero behind me who is protecting us by throwing stones to get rid of these murderers. So far, we had a few dog attacks in the middle of the village and nobody really helped us. One woman was even shouting at us when we started throwing stones at her dog, most likely she wanted to tell us that he is a nice one, and just wants to play. Another time we passed a house in the middle of nowhere and they had three or four dogs that were all chasing us, but thankfully the house was about 50m away from the street so we could just cycle away. So far, our tactic works well, but by now I am terrified each time we enter a village. And these dogs are just small or middle-sized dogs, what if they become bigger?
So you can imagine that this is not really relaxed cycling, but the alternative is even worse.
Another reason why our days end always completely differently as planned are the distances and that we constantly have to take other roads than the planned ones. We currently don’t camp anymore because there are no campsites and there were no real opportunities for wild camping (no forests or hidden places to go). Another reason are the very cheap pensions, we usually pay around 20 EUR per night, including breakfast. Normally we plan where to go the evening before we leave. Unfortunately we don’t have internet connection everywhere so we cannot double-check if there is any accommodation available and just go for the size of a village or town. And what happened twice now is that there are hotels and pensions after around 30 to 50km cycling, which is usually when we have our first coffee break and then there is nothing for the next 50 to 100km and the village dot on the map turns out to be a village with a few houses and nothing else. So we have to continue until we find something to stay the night. And then we have to take everything that’s available, no time to choose anymore.
The first time we stayed at a horrible place called ‘Maria’, a 3-star-pension. The water smelled like iron, I had to shower with cold water (but that was my mistake, the owner told us in broken German to wait 20min for the warm water, and I understood that we could only shower 20min and already thought, that’s generous, I never shower so long :-0), the dinner was disgusting and we only ate it because we were hungry from 119 km cycling (Johan got diarrhea from it and spent the breakfast time on the toilet). But the best was when they prepared our coffee while we had dinner and reheated it the next morning and the owner proudly showed us our breakfast meat and cheese platter consisting of greasy meat and cheese that looked (and the next morning tasted) like plastic. To top this we got completely dry bread with our breakfast. We couldn’t even eat half a slice of bread nor drink more than one sip of coffee and decided to leave to get some pastries at the next bakery. Since then we cook ourselves again.
To repeat myself from the beginning – not very welcoming so far, but things can only get better as from now. We’ll still give it a try.