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Published: August 7th 2010
Budapest to Cluj-Napoca, Romania 490Km
Well today had it all. Spotted hookers in the lay-by (adds some meaning to the term - lay-by that is, not hooker), then wanting to give up and go home, then an hour later elation riding through Zaleu amid rolling hills and singing “The Hills are Alight…” and then being exposed on the top of a bare hill with cell towers in a lightening storm. Fortunately, all I suffered was a complete soaking through my semi-waterproofs I suppose this is what it is all about but it was a grueling day on the road no question.
I had an enormous breakfast as usual. This serves three purposes a) it saves money since it is usually included in the room; b) time change makes it seem like dinner-time; c) It lasts me the whole day and I save money on lunch (everyone knows I am cheap). The glass atrium above the breakfast room in the hotel in Budapest began to show flashes of lightening and then a river viewed from the underside as the water poured off the glass to who knows where. The threat of thunder and lightening were to be the theme all
Such summer thunderstorms leave as quickly as they arrive and I set off in earnest given a break in the clouds. I really ought to think ahead. As I was setting the GPS it occurred to me for the first time that I could plug in my iPhone headset. Lo-and-behold directions as you drive. I may not have made it out of Budapest without them. Even then I had several bouts of “recalculating.” If only the battery lasted longer on the damn thing.
Finally out of Budapest and heading east on E60. Well the more serene roads I had hankered for yesterday were here - and now I wanted the expressway. The roads were sooo slow, and with maniacal Hungarians overtaking and playing Russian (Hungarian?) roulette with on-coming traffic. I tried to enjoy the waving fields of sunflowers and freshly mown hay as a second wave of storms was chasing me up the road.
On several occasions I passed by a parking area with two memorable features (one definitely more than the other). Piles of garbage and a woman standing there scantily dressed - it is hard to imagine a combined sight so depressing. Are these hookers? I
must assume so; ready to relieve the tedium of the long distance truck driver I suppose. Being on a bike I guess I did not offer much as a customer (thankfully). Plenty of urinating in public, but none of the other has yet greeted this passer-by - thank goodness.
Crossed the Hungarian-Romanian border west of Oradea and was reminded of my crossing into the USSR in 1978. None of the fear and trepidation I experienced all those years ago, but the same gray drabness. The border near Oradea was a bit like a scene from the move 1984, complete with Soviet style abandoned coal fired power stations. Oradea at rush hour is not to be recommended. Endless gray (that color again) and mad drivers Thankfully the road signs were good to speed me the hell out of there. Slow traffic going east and my race with the storms was lost. Huddling in the outside area of a yet-to-be-open gas station (there are yet-to-be-opened buildings everywhere) a nice fellow invited me in out of the pounding rain. We gave up our Romanian-English conversation almost immediately and to avoid embarrassment we both took to our cell phones.
The Romanian countryside is both very beautiful in parts and at the same time primitive. Plenty of horse and carts on the road and then a heard of cows just avoided - milking time I guess. Romania is definitely where new meets old - brand new expensive cars (not from other countries) driving on roads better suited to carts. Soviet style craziness seems to persist in places. I passed through a small village where every house had a stand in front selling the same baskets. Then not another basket stand to be seem anywhere in the country. Same thing in the cities, more taxis than the population could ever use. All this gave the impression of a lot of people standing around not doing much. The oppressive communist-style regime is slowly being brushed off here, but it seems slower than Hungry to the west.
Another downpour. This time so unexpected I was soaked before I had time to stop and shelter in the eve of an abandoned barn. Had to leave the bike in rather a vulnerable spot - there is not much of a road verge in many places here. So as soon as the rain eased I pressed on only to be caught in an open area at the top of a rise with lightening flashing close by. Off to my right were some cells towers. Could not decide if they would make me more or less safe. So much for everything we learn in science class. Wet and low I pressed on. My original goal was to head to Sighisoara, the birthplace of Dracula. A bit corny I know, but I could not resist. I had it on good authority (son) that it was worth the trip for the Transylvania experience. Not making it I settled for Cluj-Napoca. The main city in the region, and at its center a charming university town.
I found a hotel a little out of town with its own car park. I am conscious of the safety of the bike everywhere I go since it gets a few looks which make me nervous. My New York years coming back I suppose. The hotel was great after the rigors of the day and cheap, $50 including breakfast for an excellent room, internet etc. I walked into town and had a two-course excellent meal and a bottle of the local beer all for $7. I was starting to feel good again, even more so after a further glass of wine back at the hotel. My room had an expansive view over the surrounding countryside, including the local graveyard. As I dozed off lightening was flashing over the gravestones. What else would you expect in Transylvania
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