Translvania

Tuesday 28 January

Ooooh scary!  I don’t mean seeing my sister; I mean doing a long-awaited tour of the famous Carpathian mountains.  For years my sibling and I have desired to visit this mystical land full of castles, gypsy villages and vampires.  Bram Stoker aficionados since our teens, we’ve been obsessed with all things Dracul.  My first Halloween costume was based on Bela Lugosi’s famous rendition, while Lindsay desperately wanted to sing Annie Lennox’s Love song for a Vampire from the 1992 movie (for which Gary Oldman should have won the Oscar). Finally persuaded to meet me on my travels with Transylvania the sweetener, the twins are back together again to cause mischief and hunt Nosferatu.

Romania, covered in a blanket of thick snow, is stunningly beautiful.  Driving though ramshackle towns and old-world villages is a real joy, and transports us back to a dark corner of Europe.  Although he never visited, you can appreciate why Stoker was drawn to pen his classic set in this unknown land.   Orthodox crosses appear at every intersection, while we remissness at how “the dead travel fast”.  Every chance we get we’re quoting book and movie, while drinking in the actual history of Romania’s favourtie son; Vlad the Impaler.  Bran’s castle is a delight, as is, for different reasons; the Ice Hotel.

It was to be a holiday of experiences.  A holiday from my travel, and a holiday for Lindsay to leave the rat race of London for a brief time.  I think we both really pushed the boat out, especially when she was drunk in freezing cold temperatures running around the Ice Hotel in the buff.  Not really a sight I had wished to see, but she surprised me in letting herself go.  Of course the pictures of me swinging a chain saw around in the snow with not a stitch on might have had something to do with it.  I guess I’m something of a bad influence.  Nonetheless, I think she managed to escape her bubble and actually have a little fun.

Of course all good things must come to an end, but back in Bucharest we did our best to give her a good send off.  She lit up the hostel, conversing with all and sundry, and came out of a shell that she didn’t really have – I just thought she did.   With a bit of luck, it won’t be too long before she is on the road herself, and maybe the terrible two-some can re-unite for more shenanigans in another far-away land.  Regardless, I am still immensely proud of her.  She is my sister.

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Hitchhike to India leg 18: Timișoara to Bucharest. Total failure.

Saturday 25 January

This is going to be ridiculous.  560 odd kilometers through country and mountain roads, no direct route, and breaking the number one hitchhiking rule; never have a time frame.  I’ve got one day to make Bucharest for my sisters arrival by Sunday lunchtime.  Oh and it’s driving snow.  I can barely see my hand in front of my face.

I’ve set my alarm for 6 am to catch the morning traffic.  Of course I ignore this completely and roll out of my hole an hour later. I’m screaming bloody murder when I realise I’ve crossed another time zone.  In short, I’m two hours late to the side of the road.  This often makes a massive difference, especially when attempting greater distances.

I’m waiting for a lift to take me to the edge of the city, when the bus passes right by my stop, in spite of my manic attempts to wave him down.  He’s just looking at me like I’ve lost my marbles – and in this weather, I definitely have.  I wait for the next transport, safe in the knowledge that it will stop, as maybe they didn’t really see me the first time.  The second one comes and goes.  Yelling obscenities, I stomp to find the right bus stop, and running a whopping five hours behind schedule, I arrive at my hitching spot around 11 am.

I must be insane.  Clinically insane.  The snow is biting hard, the wind whips it into my face and makes holding my ‘Bu‘ sign nearly impossible.  Heavy trucks spray up muddy slush.  My one saving grace is the volume of traffic, but the vast majority are signalling that they’re staying local.  Two hours drift by.  A police officer waves me on, and as I’m shivering back at my bus drop off point, the ride back into town returns.  It slows, it pulls in to turn around.  I’m fighting with every bit of will power to stay the course.  As it’s about to pull away, and with my head and heart hung in shame, I jump on.

Some time later I’m sitting on a train, peering through the glass at the frozen wastes beyond.  It looks duller than it is, but it’s not long before white gives way to black, and the only thing I can see is my defeated expression staring from the darkness .  I’ve failed.  Now any sensible person would tell you that the chances of me getting lost and dying out there in these conditions is seriously high, and I’ve done the right thing.  Incidentally I’ve discovered my GPS tracking systems’ lithium batteries have run out – not easy to find, so I would literally be flying solo in dangerous conditions.   But I’m not a sensible person.  If I didn’t have to meet my sister, I would still be on that road.

The longer the journey takes, the more it becomes apparent I would never have made it.  On the train we’re some four hours late, with apparently many roads closed and disruptions to the lines.  I’ve no idea where my hostel is as I pull into a blizzard Bucharest around 3 am, to discover you have to queue for taxi tickets.  The weather is so bad that it appears to have been snowing inside.  I stumble through the onslaught and flag an over priced cab down some distance from the train station.  He’s ripping me off, but I just want to be warm.  He drops me nowhere near my destination.

At the end of my tether, I turn to the police.  The kind-hearted bobby actually walks me to where I’m meant to be, and I collapse upstairs to find nobody on reception.  There’s only one thing for it: the Irish bar.  I return at 6 am, steal a blanket, and bed down on the hostel common room sofa.  My sister will already be in the air.

 

 

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Timișoara

Thursday 23 January

It feels genuinely wonderful to be in a new country, and one I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time.  Ever since I heard about Transylvania , I’ve had this desire to explore this mysterious and fascinating land called Romania.  With the utmost respect to the Balkan countries, I’m thrilled to be back amongst a language I can attempt to figure out – and one which really is music to the ears.  As ever with crossing new borders, it’s nice to feel like you’re traveling again too.  After a days recovery from my idiocy the night previous, I set out to explore the picturesque town of Timișoara.

It’s a beautiful part of the world, steeped in history, and one that I would love to spend more time in.  Alas I need to make Bucharest by Sunday to meet my sister, so my revelry here must be cut short.  As much as the quaint, cobbled streets and ancient architecture are real attractions, there is a blight on the picture-postcard scenery before me.  Much like Olomouc in the Czech Republic (a very similar town), the council here have seen fit to dig up every road and square – all at the same time.  Consequently a decent picture is raped by a stack of bricks or a JCB .  Apparently they’ve just sold off all the stone cobbles in their main square to Austria.  They’re stacking the centuries old pathway in preparation for sale.  Times must be hard indeed.

Regardless, the people are incredibly friendly and laid back, and in-spite of a few blots on the visual horizon, it’s a gorgeous little place with a lot going for it.  I think I’m going to like this country.  I may be here for some time.

 

 

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Hitchhike to India leg 17: Novi Sad to Timisoara

Tuesday 21 January

Save the ridiculously easy journey from Belgrade to Novi Sad, hitching of late has become something of a difficulty;  and it will certainly continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  This appears due to a number of factors, the primary one being no real direct roads anywhere.  I fully anticipate requiring several rides to achieve my destination.  This of course requires significantly more preparation.  Rising with the light, I step out into the first spots of rain; the goal to make Timisoara by nightfall; and with it the promise of a new country.  Romania.

I’m having a nightmare ten minutes in.  It’s lashing down with rain and I’ve misread the directions to the first hitch spot from hitch-wiki.  I’ve walked about 2 KM, my stuff is soaked, and I’m in totally the wrong place.  I bite the bullet and use a quick taxi to retrace my steps.  He drops me at a service station just outside of town.

It’s not looking good.  No traffic is pulling in, and everything else is flying by on the main road.  Standing on that would get me arrested by the gaggle of police having coffee.  I swig one back myself while I change my sign to read the next town.  I was setting my sights a little too high, but I still need a miracle to get out of the city limits.

Step forward Serge; a giant of a petrol pump attendant who soon has me in conversation.  He appears to be something of a free spirit, a Jimi Hendrix fan and lover not a fighter.  Consequently he’s asking every driver if they can take me as far to the border as possible.  A smoke filled battered can on wheels is close to going the whole distance, but they need to pick up another passenger.  With Serge doing all the work, it’s not long before he’s arranged a ride to Zrenjanin.  Hero of the day number one.

Two uneventful lifts later and I’m edging closer, but now I find myself on a road running between two fields.  I’ve ditched my Zrenjanin sign, but if nobody picks me up here I’m sleeping in a barn.  Step forward Daniel;  an insurance broker with near perfect English, he has a meeting in the town just shy of the border.  He insists on buying me lunch, asks me to wait, then drives me out of his way to the crossing.  Thanks to him, I’m making record time.  Hero of the day number two.

Once again it starts to look bleak.  I’ve eased out of Serbia, and I’m walking the 1 KM to the Romanian station.  There isn’t a sinner on the road.  Home base is about an hour away, but there is nothing coming through and I’m scanning around for a bed for the night.  Step forward Stolli; a super friendly Romanian border guard who is fascinated by why and what I’m doing.  Traffic across the frontier increases, and beaming merrily he asks every trucker to give me a lift.  It takes him about 5 minutes before I have a ride all the way to Timisoara.  Hero of the day number three.

Pulling into the city before the sun has bowed his head and it’s hard not to shed a little tear.  Starting so badly, I’ve been overwhelmed by human kindness, which has resulted in my most memorable (positive) hitch experience so far.  I decide to go out to celebrate, and drunk with happiness and…well…being drunk…I buy a load of Romanians drams of a 14 year old Oban malt – distilled where mum and dad retired to.  I promptly get so shitfaced I excuse myself and stagger home to collapse in a happy heap.  Of course I’d totally forgotten to pay the bill.  Karma’s gonna be a bitch.

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Hitchhike to India leg 16: Belgrade to Novi Sad and military wankers

Saturday 18 January

I’m sitting nervously on a bone shaking tram for ten stops before I realise I’m going in the wrong direction and I’ve forgotten my kilt knife.  Serbians glower strange looks as they see a bag laden angry dude curse his way back into town.  I hate losing time on hitch days, and especially missing the morning commute traffic.  Unperturbed and with some good fortune I find myself – belongings intact – standing in a bus stop lay-by some 15K out-of-town on a road I’m convinced goes to Novi Sad.  Because a bus which said “Novi Sad” has just passed.

It’s a glorious day.  The sun is shining, if there were birds they would be singing, and I’m in really high spirits.  I spot a nice photo-op with my gear at the side of the road – a picture I occasionally take to document the hitching.  It’s not long before some asshole decides to piss all over my fire.

I’m squatting down lining up a shot when a car swerves from the other side of the road right at me, beeping continuously and narrowly missing my head.  Upon rising, the driver is angrily blaring Serbian at me.  I politely inquire if he speaks English.

“YES I SPEAK INGISH.  VOT ARR YOU DOING HERRE?  DIS IS MILITARY BASE!”

He gestures to an open field and some trees beyond.

“I’m just taking a picture of my stuff on my hitch-hike to India.  I’m trying to get to Novi Sad…”

“DIS IS MILITARY BASE.  YOU CANNOT BE HERE.  GO AVAY!”

He gestures again to the empty field.

“Is it invisible?”  I desperately wanted to say.  Damn those Serbs with their new technology.  Invisible military bases.  Watch out world.

“GET BACK IN CAR AND THEN GO TO POLICE!”

He then speeds away before I had the chance to explain I didn’t have a car, and if I did I wasn’t going to drive to a police station and explain I was taking a picture of a field and told to turn myself in.  Public enemy number one.  I imagine to myself he thought me some sort of spy, especially considering I was speaking English.  I should have told him my name was Bond.  I  wanted to ask if the base was behind that thick line of trees nobody could see through.  I should have requested if he’d take a picture of me.  I thought of so many things I could have done to totally rip the piss out of his tiny paranoid mind for half an hour after he’d gone.  Don’t you just hate that?  Comedy gold ten useless minutes after the moment has past.   I took a picture of his “base” anyway just to spite him, which you can see below.  Eventually a ride interrupted the monthly talk-to-myself.

It’s a woman!  Only my third one!  She speaks broken English, but can take me all the way to Novi Sad.  It’s a very pleasant journey with her as we try to break the language barrier, and she tells me the name of all the towns we pass through.  Every time she mentions Novi Sad she sings it.  “Nooovi Saaad!”  With a happy trill.  The douchey military jobsworth is soon forgotten as I suck on a bon-bon.

I’m dropped yards from the old town just before midday.  After finding a hostel, in 17 degree sun I wander the quaint town, then head for a beer in the mid January summer.  I experience a power blackout around 9pm, sleep through my alarm and wake up at 3 in the morning.  So dreaming about a great night on the town is just as good as having a great night on the town right?  Except you don’t spend any money.  Right?!  Am I right?!  ‘Sake.  The streets look something like the aftermath of a festival.  All I’ve got to look forward to is two slices of pizza and a wank in the shower.  Said without a hint of sarcasm; it’s been a great day.

 

 

 

 

 

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