Ah. Dracula's Castle. Should have known better.
I rounded the corner in the shadow of the legendary castle, possessed by the spirit of Van Helsing, to be met by... Dracula's Bazaar. Stall after stall of Vampire merchandise: rubber bats, false fangs and masks. And to top it all, the castle was shut. I drank an instant coffee and eased the bike between the tour buses and rode on in search of the 'authentic' Transylvania...Once again I'd let my imagination run away with me.
The further east I rode the more I found. I found it, yes, but couldn't bring myself to stop in it. Through enchanting villages, passed picturesque pensions...but I kept riding, searching for that perfect location. Needless to say, I ended up in the communist built Hotel Venus. You live and learn.
The Hotel 'Venus' (I'd ridden passed it several times thinking it was a brothel) didn't do breakfast so I pulled into a roadside Service station and was met by some very 'friendly' locals....(see comic strip)
I declined the gentleman's offer, straightened my tie and rode purposefully to the Bulgarian border.
Romania. Worth a visit, Si? Definitely. Click on MORE below for Romania tips and advice and how to make your own Dracula mask. Got a question? Email me at email@example.com
My Advice? Buy a large motorcycle, sell the house and kids and get out there before it's too late. Go for a month or three - this country needs exploring.
My Tips? 1. Get a good map, turn off the main routes and head across country - Medieval Europe awaits. 2. Stop. Drink a beer with the locals. Show them a picture of your Grandma. Maybe they'll introduce you to theirs.
The countryside looked different. People looked different. They drove differently. An old Lonely Planet guide states "...since the revolution many drivers lack discipline. On the other hand, you'll find the Romanians eager to meet foreign motorists". I just hoped that didn't mean 'head on'.
It's a cliche, I know, but crossing the border into Romania was a culture shock. I hadn't expected this kind of change until maybe eastern Turkey. This was where the motorcycling became 'adventurous'.
I regret not spending more time there...but, I will go again.
And finally, as promised, the Dracula mask. Simply copy this picture onto some card and get an adult to cut it out for you. Then scare the hell out of them...
Hang on. Pakistan? What happened to Bulgaria? I thought we left our gritty Biker sweeping down to the Black Sea coast?
Ah, yes. But what I've done here is fast forward to a scene in Quetta near the Afghan border. As I mentioned I need to put the first three chapters of 'The Book' together to approach publishers and, rather than start at Dover, I've opened the first chapter in Pakistan.
I picked my way through the day’s debris back to the Hotel, quickening my pace as dogs crossed the road. This was their time of day. During the daylight hours they cowered under tables, scavenging for scraps but as darkness fell they’d race through the streets like packs of hyenas. Best avoided. I was relieved to reach the gated parking lot of the Hotel Bloom Star. I was not ready for what followed...
‘And now you draw us, Mr Simon!’ said the young man on reception, excitedly. I glanced around and my heart sank. Seated in the foyer were a dozen swarthy looking men. Dangerous looking men. The 4x4s double parked outside indicated they were also important men.
click here to see the full story
Earlier that evening, I’d chatted to him about my trip, mentioned that I was an artist and that I could draw his caricature after I’d been out to eat. A mistake.
I dutifully fetched my sketch book and pens and the first victim, sorry, subject was volunteered. I looked up from my pad at a man who could have been Bin Laden’s brother. Thick beard, hooked nose and piercing eyes under a mono brow. Normally perfect material for a caricaturist. But this was not normal. This was not a Company Christmas party. This man was not drunk – or smiling. A drop of sweat ran down my temple.
Click on MORE below for further excerpts from the rough draft.
I sketched feverishly trying to do a drawing that would not result in me being dragged naked behind galloping horses. I knew he was expecting something grand. A falcon on his shoulder…women at his feet…a proud white stallion rearing up in the background. I should have warned him that I didn’t do horses. Instead I concentrated on his head and shoulders – hoping to keep mine connected.
I turned the drawing round. He frowned. An expression of confusion bordering on anger. I swallowed hard. He showed the rest of the assembled ‘frontiersmen'. Silence. Then one started laughing. And another. Then all of them guffawed with laughter which set my subject off. ‘ Good! GOOD! Now you draw all of us!’
I rubbed my neck, smiled nervously, and moved to the next man.
Within weeks, cartoons of Mohammed, published in the Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten were causing uproar throughout the Muslim world resulting in angry protests, embassies being set alight and death threats for those responsible. My journey east could have been very different if I’d left the UK a few months later.
The Lonely Planet says...'Quetta. A meeting point for numerous tribal groups.Unlike most other Pakistani cities, it exudes the air of a wild frontier town'. I read on. 'Although the main township is safe for tourists, occasional tribal clashes do spill out onto the street'. Right.
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