April 21, 2008 GMT
Romania 101

10 to 19 Apr 08
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We drifted into Romania on 10 April and got carried along in a tide of traffic towards the capital. We had found a list of Bucharest hotels on the web and had good mapping of the city for the GPS so we anticipated a relatively easy run into this big city. By the time we closed in on the centre, however, the traffic was nearly gridlocked and the Elephant was an overheated handful. An hour and a half to hunt down a hotel and we were all hot and bothered.
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Bucharest gridlock
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We spent two days walking from one end of town to the other and our feelings about Bucharest are mixed. On one level it is a very beautiful city. It was remodelled in the 19th Century by French architects and has some wonderful buildings and world class parks, but it also has appalling traffic congestion that leaves most of the city gridlocked much of the day. This is another city that the cars ate.
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Bucharest park.
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Jo with the spring blooms in a Bucharest park.
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Bucharest has many beautiful buildings and elegant streets, but…
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…it is hard to photograph anything without a view-finder full of cables.
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Bucharest also provided an interesting contrast between the elegant 19th Century buildings of the city and the colossal Parliament Palace. This legacy of the Ceausescu era is the second largest administration building in the world (the Pentagon is the largest).
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This is a side view of the Parliament Palace. We couldn’t get back far enough to get the front with our camera.
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It also got a big tick for having water features that worked. We have seen dozens of water features on our travels and almost all are dry! Bucharest manages hectares of fountains all blasting water into the spring air. On a warm spring day with the sun behind, they are enchanting.
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…and the fountains work!
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After the hustle of the big city we rode east to the Black Sea coast. This was mostly an uneventful ride over the broad plains of the Danube valley, that is, after we had spent an hour and a half getting out of town in the Saturday morning gridlock. By the time we cleared the city the engine was one click short of overheated and detonating under load. The rider was just detonating.
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Doesn’t this look like fun.
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During two days in the town of Mangalia, the Elephant sat in the hotel’s front garden under its cover. Unfortunately it also sat with its parking lights on as I had inadvertently turned the key one click too far before removal. It was a silly mistake that left our battery so flat it wouldn’t run the GPS much less spark the ignition.
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As has often happened in tight situations, a friendly local went out of his way to assist us. A delivery driver brought his van around and parked in close. We found two lengths of 10 amp electrical cable. From (bitter) experience I knew that these would not crank the engine so we connected the cables and let the Elephant draw some power from the van for about 15 minutes, resisting the temptation to press the starter and smoke the cables.
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No slave-start cables but a length of electrical cable will do the trick if you know how.
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When there was enough power in the Elephant’s battery to give a bright ignition light, we unloaded the luggage and Jo and the van-man gave a big, running push while I jump started the beast in 3rd gear. The engine fired easily and we were away!
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After such a bad start-up we rode the length of the Black Sea coast to the town of Tulcea on the edge of the Danube Delta arriving with our rain suits and the Elephant caked in mud thrown up on the dirty road. We had three days on the Delta , one day to see the sights and two to wait for the rain to stop. On the first fine morning we headed back to the centre of the country looking for dry weather.
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The Danube is a big river this close to the mouth so ferries are used in many places.
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We found the Transylvania Highway and, eventually, Transylvania. Jo kept the clove of garlic she had been saving in the food box readily at hand. Unfortunately, vampires were thin on the ground but we did find some delightful Transylvanian Gothic architecture and interesting towns.
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Brasov had a well preserved old city. Like all of the cities and towns we have visited in Romania, it is very clean and well ordered.
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We even found Bran Castle, the place Bram Stoker is supposed to have used as inspiration for the Dracula story. It didn’t look too scary in the broad light of day.
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Bran Castle was a very modest little dwelling compared with others we had seen.
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School children head up the path to Bran Castle. Romanians are very proud of their history and take folk art and music very seriously.
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This little pile, Peles Castle near Sinaia, was more to our liking. The architectural style looks good set into a mountainside forest with snowy peaks behind.
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We found this bust of Vlad Tepes (aka Vlad the Impaler) in his home town of Sighisoara. Those mad eyes were enough to make you pucker up.
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This part of Romania has an interesting German and Hungarian history. While wandering through the old grave yards we were surprised to find that Johannas were thick on the ground…or in the ground, as the case might be.
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Johanna finds her name everywhere for a change.
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So far we have found Romania a clean and well ordered sort of a place. Our only real disappointment has been that the regional cuisine is not strong and most of our meals have been lacklustre. The vegetables, in particular, have been poorly prepared. This has been very annoying for people who believe, to mis-quote Anthony Bourdain, that you never trust a man who mistreats vegetables!

Posted by Mike Hannan at April 21, 2008 03:48 PM GMT
 


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