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Published: June 26th 2013
We would now actually like to wake one morning and find it is raining to cool the atmosphere down as the heat at 35C+ is sapping the energy a bit.However,the forecast suggests that is not going to happen today or the next couple of days if the forecast for the places we have booked to go to are correct.
We had worked out the road we would take to the border with Hungary but all that got blown apart when we discovered that the town we thought we were heading for wasn't the actual town where the apartment was that we had reserved.It was all very easy to make the mistake though when you see just how unpronounceable and yet similar the names of the towns were.And one just north of Debrecan and the other just south.Never mind ,at least we saw the error before we tried to programme it into the GPS.So we are off to Hajduszoboszlo instead of Hajduhadhaz!
We reckoned we had driven well over 5000km in Eastern Europe and except for one instance in Bosnia, where we were waved on when the policeman realised we spoke only English and he didn't, we had avoided being
stopped by the police for no good reason other than to try and extract some money from us as we had read in the guidebooks warning us of what the police get up to and make some money for themselves.Today, however, that was all about to change but more about that later!
We continued on the 1F that we had taken to get to our overnight stay and the countryside we passed through was very much the same as yesterday at least at the outset.
Before we got to Zalau,another of those 'has been' industrial city's the road climbed up over a range of hills which was the first time since the Transfagarasan that we have done any hill climbing.We had Romanian Lei to spend before we left the country this afternoon so we found ourselves a Kaufland supermarket and tried keeping a track of how much we had spent as we filled up the basket and equating it to what we had in the kitty.The Lei doesn't have a lot of value out of Romania and despite our efforts we still had Lei20 and a few coins left.
We hadn't bought any wine and so I left Gretchen storing the goods we had bought in the car boot and headed back in to find a bottle of wine.And I actually did better than just a bottle of wine and fronted up with a 2 litre bottle of beer,orange juice and the wine.But as they went through the register I had the feeling I was going to be a tadge short in coin and so it turned out.But the young woman smiled and let me off the last 10c!
With Zalau behind us we headed onto R198,a lesser but even quieter road than we had been on during the morning.
We passed through the last town near the Romanian/Hungarian border crossing and were about 4km from the border when the incident happened!
With Gretchen driving we approached a railway crossing with a stop sign without barrier arms running across our path.
Now after all the railway crossings we have driven over in Romania and indeed in all instances since we set out on 1st April in Italy we have been very wary of the effect of the rough surface on the ride of the car and so either stop or at least slow down to an almost stop to reduce the effect.
As I normally do as the front seat passenger I sit well back in my seat so Gretchen can see past me to ensure no train is coming from the right and she always checks the left hand direction too.
The motor of the car cuts when you come to a stop and we are sure it did as we came up to a white line before the track.With the way clear she drove on.
Then as we went through a small thicket of trees we both heard what sounded like a siren behind us and yes it was a police car with blue lights flashing.
Gretchen pulled over and waited for the policeman to walk up to her window.He claimed she had not stopped at the crossing as required by the stop sign and he was going to have to issue her a driving offence ticket.Well Gretchen was gob smacked. The policeman returned to his car to process the ticket and was sitting in his car on the edge of the road with his drivers door open and cars flashing by heading to the border,He clearly was trusting the other drivers not taking his door off!
After some discussion he wrote the ticket out for Lei750!The average wage in Romania is about Lei1600 per month so this infringement would have accounted for nearly 50% !! of the average Romanians wages for the month not leaving a lot for food and rent if they had been in our position!!
We smelt a rat or should we say the Romanian police hadn't been able to find anything on us during all the kilometres we have travelled through the country but had trumped this one up with 4km to go to the border!
Now the Benvie's do not back down where we believe we are in the right and this was one of those occasions.
Daniel,the policeman who spoke English quite well,said his colleague had our travel over the railway line recorded on film and if we wanted we could view it.The fine had to be paid in Romania and we were informed that this could be a problem for us as we were only 4 km from the border. He added that if we paid the fine today and before 4pm as the City Hall closed then(it was now 3.45pm)then he would reduce the fine to Lei375.
Right!We were going to challenge his claim and we wanted to view the video and so followed him back to the other side of the railway line where the partly hidden car with the camera was sitting.All of this by the way had been done with a smiling face................his face that is.His colleague was no different except he didn't speak English and just jabbed his finger at the video screen as the film at a speed so fast that it appeared as though we had sped across the track with no attempt at all to even slow down!The video didn't even show the brake lights coming on and whether that was down to the speed the video was played at or just because the video screen was so small and scratchy that you couldn't tell the video was even in colour.It was pointless trying to get across to him what we thought about the video and so we said we would go back to the City Hall and challenge the ticket.
We don't think they expected this and perhaps hadn't had anyone challenge them before or at least recently but then they hadn't met the Benvie's before!Before we got into the car to drive back the short distance to the town Daniel,with the smiling face,tried a bit of small talk on us,asking if we had enjoyed our time touring Romania.There was only one answer to this and it was,yes,until now!With that we left them to 'catch' more unsuspecting souls and make their money for the day. We also had to stop on our return from City Hall to give him the receipt as it belonged to him!!!???
Back at City Hall we initially had some difficulty getting to talk to someone who spoke English until a young woman fronted up and she directed us to another window on the other side of the room.Here,the woman didn't understand us and just wanted us to pay up pointing at Gretchen's signature on the ticket indicating that she had accepted that she had to pay.Daniel hadn't said that if the ticket was signed then we had agreed to pay!After a couple of moments the woman who understood English came over and there was much talking out the back between the cashier and others.
Finally she said we would have to go to the police station if we wanted to challenge the ticket and that was a short walk down the road.She was very nice about it all and apologised if we had been put out by what had happened.
The police.Were the Benvie's taking on more than we could handle bearing in mind this was Romania and not New Zealand?!No.We were in the right and the ticket was a trumped up a charge.So off we went boldly marching the 200 metres to the police station.
Just before we entered the police station we passed a scruffy looking man in a faded blue shirt who acknowledged us in Romanian as we walked by.
As we might have expected there was no one in the police station who could speak English(yet they understood it !) and we were left standing there not sure what was going to happen next or how we could get across our innocence regarding the alleged offence.
Then a young woman police officer came in the front door and negotiations started.She was pleasant and listened to what Gretchen had to say and while we were talking the scruffy man we had seen on the way into the station came across and said something to the policewoman in Romanian.The next minute she was saying we should forget what had happened and continue our journey to the border.The scruffy man,who we now believed was the man in charge,took my hand from my folded arms(not the best stance I know when one is facing the police but it just seemed to come naturally)and shook it with a smile waving his hands as if to say,go,go!
The policewoman went on to say that if we challenged the fine then we would have to appear in court in 15 days and did we intend to come back to Romania to do that?No way!She said we had nothing to worry about and that the Romanian authorities couldn't do anything to us in NZ which we were sure of anyway.She added that she was sorry our time in Romania was ending this way and that Daniel was just doing his job on a hot,stifling day.
So with that we left the police station feeling we had won our little battle and in a quiet way,proud we had stood up to the Romanian police and the trumped up charge.
Before we headed back towards the border and to tell Daniel that we were challenging the fine through the courts(he would find out later we guessed from the scruffy policeman that he had told us to go and not pay)we checked the brake lights and they were working OK.
Gretchen pulled in behind the police car with the camera and walked towards Daniel who was talking to someone else who also looked to be getting a ticket.After he had finished with him Daniel turned to Gretchen and asked if she had paid.When she said we were challenging the ticket he let out an audible sigh and his face turned from that 'cheery smile' to one of disappointment.
We went towards the rail line making sure we stopped and the engine cut out.Gretchen pumped the brakes 5 or 6 times just to show our brake lights to Daniel who was watching.And off we drove to the border.
The crossing was another easy one although sitting in the sun in the short queue was a bit of a trial on its own until we got under the canopy while the police from the Hungarian side seemed to spend some time checking our passports.
After the time spent with the police incident all we wanted to do was to get to our apartment in H but we were to be further frustrated by Vicky thinking that there was only one way through the city of Debrecan and that was through the centre,as she has this penchant to do!A couple of missed turnings and we were off down the road to H.
We were still getting over the police thing and didn't really pay too much time to the lovely spa town we had found ourselves in and were just happy to sit down and have a beer and a wine,dinner and bed!
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