Hitchhike to India leg 30: Chisinau to Bucharest

Friday 20 June

Hello once again dear readers.  It has been a while.  For one reason or another I have disinclined to continue writing, choosing instead to procrastinate with horses.  And other such shady characters.  As a result, I am somewhat behind in regaling my adventures, so for the next few entries, we shall wind the clocks back.  Come with me on a journey through time and space, to explore stuff.  And things.  We start way back around June 20th, when I attempted the hitch from Moldova back to Romania.  Here we begin our tale…


Chisinau was doing nothing for me. Days on end spent endlessly drunk and alone, buying bottles of vodka from the supermarket, and downing them in the pouring rain. Strange looks from locals as I walked soaking through the streets as if oblivious to the deluge. It never rains it pours.

So one morning I decide enough is enough, and if I’m going to continue in this vein then I at least need to be around friends, or make new ones. I set off with the intent to reach Bucharest.

I manage to make it unscathed to city limits, where pretty much all the traffic is heading south and at least towards the border. within minutes, I’m picked up in a pick-up, by two large Moldovans, who through broken English insist they can take me to the border. Now there’s two routes from here, both of which could go either way. These boys can drop me at the crossing via Hîncești. I decide it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other and jump in.

Ten minutes later I’m regretting it. For some reason they don’t quite appreciate that I need to get to Bucharest by tonight, and they’re stopping at every damn chance they get. They practically buy a weeks shopping as I wait in the van, then run errands, then meet a friend. Hours pass. Not only that, but when they finally manage to drop me roughly where I need to be, I’m still about 3km from the border which I can just about see in the distance. Thanks very much guys.

Still I’m in high spirits as I march towards the checkpoints. Nobody picks me up, in spite of everyone going across. Naturally they’re all still waiting as I arrive sometime after, and I take great pleasure in beaming at them as I march over with ease on foot. I get the usual third degree, as of course they’re not used to seeing such a sight, but I’m soon back in Romania with little trouble.  Then it gets tricky.

I’m rueing not taking the other route. The border is dead, nobody going my way. I hike for what seems like hours in the vain hope of meeting some kind of busy crossroads, but all I find are more curious glances from locals.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never seen anything like this; a sweating, pasty wee white guy with massive back packs and a sign for Bucharest, marching through tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss them villages. I long to stop and take photographs, but advertising such hardware in these parts would be asking for trouble. I power on.

A few hundred yards ahead of me and a white cruiser has pulled in. Salvation! Joy turns to dismay as two Police officers exit, donning caps in that smooth, authoritarian “we’re the establishment” kind of way. They heckle me over. I approach beaming and friendly, my outer demeanour masking inner despair.

They’re scrutinising my passport and making various calls. My heart sinks. I’m either going to be escorted back to the border, or I’ll need to make some kind of ‘contribution’. After some sign language and charades, they motion for me to get into the vehicle. The passenger continues to hold my passport. It doesn’t look good.

Then I realise they’re actually giving me a ride! They’re taking me to the next town, and dropping me on the road to Bucharest! Well I never! A hitch with the cops! The only reason he still holds my passport is because he’s fascinated in all the places I’ve been. “Ahhh Chile!” He exclaims. “Da!” I respond. “Bina vino e chicas”. To much laughter. My Span-romanian was getting me by like a dream.

As good as their word, they deposit me on the outskirts of Husi, but I’ve still a long way to go. I once again hike out of the city, miles and miles uphill. I’m dripping buckets, and not a sinner is interested. When I feel all hope is lost, a young Italian guy and his smoking hot girlfriend swing in. They drop me at the next junction on the direct road to the capital. Progress is being slowly made.

So I find myself standing just after a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. Gypsies clip past in horse and cart. Bus loads of dodgy types circle around again for a better view of me and my gear. The afternoon wears on. The sun moves across the sky. Dogs bark. Crickets chirp. I draw on a cigarette.

A smart car drifts in. A suit. A smile. Very good English. And going all the way to Bucharest for a meeting! unbelievable. After an entertaining and hospitable 300 Km, my saviour has dropped me only a few minutes from my hostel. I cannot quite believe my luck as I hug friends, repulsed by the days stench still on me. I feel like I’ve returned to one of my homes from home. And with it, comes many memories. Some I’d like to let go of more than others. Nonetheless, I’m back in Bucharest. God help me.

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Listening to Ella Fitzgerald

Tuesday 25 February

Chance meetings with like-minded individuals sharing the same fervor for globetrotting are generally ten-a-penny for James Peter Alden.  Within minutes of strolling into a sociable environment a conversation would catch his attention, and more often than not the perpetrator would end up becoming something of a new buddy.  An instant friend in a cup yes, but one that would no doubt remain warm for a considerable time.  Girls were a different matter entirely.  He was jobbing around the planet without a care in the world, enjoying singledom and balking at social media pictures of weddings and babies.  Incapable of love or being loved, James was satisfied with the life of Riley, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Libertine.  Yet when the potential of something special hit, taking him completely by surprise, it hit like derailed rolling stock shipping a ton of incredulity.

At first he didn’t give her a second look.  An unremarkable girl-next-door type.  He thought to himself that if he didn’t go for it, someone else will, so he might as well.  Yet the more she talked, the more he listened.  The more he talked, the more she listened.  And the more they both listened and talked, the more they realised two days weren’t going to be enough.  The more beautiful she became.  The more Alden was following Alice.  The more he wanted to take the red pill.

Arranging to meet her again a month or so down the line, James was convinced it was just a flash-in-the-pan.  A few days of (probably average) sex, towards the end of which he’d be wishing she wasn’t there.  Bigger fish to fry.  More seeds to sow.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  A week came and went with such ease, fire and grace that he scarcely believed it had happened.  As she turned the corner out of sight the world slowed to a snails pace once again, and Alden found himself staring into space shaking his head and mouthing her name.   This doesn’t happen to him.  This is reserved for the hopeless romantic he once was, now a twisted, cynical and bitter shadow of his former self.  He was smoking during the day, burning nicotine down to calm his confusion, and he’d not written a song about anyone since 2008.

             “I’ll never buy you flowers, or treat you like a queen,

             You’ll settle for Drum Gold and Jim Beam”

A song.  A goddamn song.  Rhyme and reason had been flung out of the window.  What next?  A plane ticket home to see her again?!  Setting foot in his own country for the first time in over two years because of a girl?!  With little hesitation, he clicked “add to basket.”

Everything is a journey.  James Peter Alden wanted to see where this one was going.



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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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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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