Adventure


I have never seen Romania so green, so beautiful, but it is a beauty only skin deep. Beneath the surface disasters are happening. We left Yorkshire with an extraordinary summer, weeks of sunshine with little rain, a situation rarely seen before. As we ventured further south east, through Germany and Austria, the heat was still evident but more and more rain, often torrential.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

We, the human race, are destroying our life as we have known it. Fifty years ago I was writing, as a journalist, about the dangers of ‘global warming’ though few wanted to listen then. Not enough are listening now to those far better qualified than me, especially ignored by the most powerful ‘world leaders’.

Forest destroyed

Swathes of forest have been felled in Romania and it continues so the natural protection against excessive run-off from the mountains has been and continues to be removed. The effects are clear to see: excessively swollen streams and rivers, moving swiftly to sweep away anything in their paths, including bridges and complete houses and causing wide-spread flooding. And for what? Money, of course.

But not money for the general population, money for a few and mostly for foreign investors. Something like 58% of Romanian land, among the most fertile in Europe, has been sold to large foreign corporations from other countries In Europe but also from as far away as the Arab states and China. This is ‘globalisation’ – stealing from the poor to make the rich more obscenely richer. The fat cat politicians pat their back pockets stuffed with Euros, Dollars, Sterling and other currencies, weeping crocodile tears to swell the already swollen rivers.

The immediate effect on our trip

The final good sleep in our tent, at the excellent Warnsborn camp site at Arnhem, Holland.

We have not escaped. Our tent, resistant to 3,000mm water pressure, did not resist the torrential downpours and for the first time ever we have been woken up in the night to find ourselves wet. We ‘escaped’ at 2.30am on two occasions to sleep in the car and on one occasion where it was clearly going to rain we did not bother to erect the tent – with front seat backs fully lowered Dusty provides a reasonable sleeping position but far from ideal, so until we reached my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc we had not had a good night’s sleep since leaving Holland.

New tent!

Having had an interrupted night with heavy rain in Atea, close to the Romanian border at Petea (a great ‘camp site’ which I’ll talk about sometime later), we ordered a new tent online from a Romanian supplier to be delivered to Petronela’s parents. We’re now waiting for delivery. It claims to have 5,000mm water pressure resistance so with any luck it will resist whatever the weather throws at us till we return home.

Idiot Romanian politicians

If the destruction of the environment was not enough, watching Romanian tv is equally horrific: a Prime Minister who doesn’t know what capital she is in (when I lived here I could stop any high school student, probably any primary school pupil, and ask for the capital of any country and they would answer correctly). Then we’ve had the Minister of Agriculture publicly comparing the incineration of pigs to Auschwitz! The only conclusion we can come to is that people like this are put into positions of ‘authority’ to be easily manipulated.

Some things good to finish

First, the people! Warm, friendly, amazingly hospitable. How on earth they have ended up with a Goverment made up with many idiots or corrupt politicians is almost incredible. Part of the answer is without doubt that so many of the young well-educated, well qualified of the population have left the country.

Second, the food. Tomatoes, giant tomatoes which taste like nothing found in UK. Not from a supermarket but grown by people in the country. Then there’s fresh sheep’s cheese, caș, again made by the country people not in any factory, and together with something I cannot translate, urdă, made by heating the wey after making caș and skimming the solids which come to the surface. When made well it is wonderfully sweet and creamy. That was my lunch and I could live on these three foods with a little home-baked bread, made with flour again from the country.

That is not to say I do not enjoy anything else; I could fill many posts of 1,000-2,000 words just to list the dishes I most enjoy – ciorbe (sour soups), plateau țarănesc (a pile of pork, beef, chicken, lamb from the gratar – grill, which we ate with my former student, Anca, yesterday (see below) and of course, borș (borsch – not the Russian borsch known in UK made with beetroot) made by ‘mama’, which greeted us when we arrived yesterday evening.

Anca

Me with Anca at the

With Anca. Petronela took the photo. Plateau țărănesc (or what remains) in front of us.

One of the highlights of my visit will be the meeting yesterday with my former student Anca, who I have not seen since she was a young teenager. A wonderful four hours with a youngster who has grown to be a successful lawyer and a beautiful woman. I wrote in the past about her finding me through Facebook and our meeting yesterday was everything I expected other than it was too short.

Through her initiative I have contact with other former students from the same class and I intend to meet with as many of them as possible, those who have remained in the country, despite the weather as it is which might limit access to some parts of the country.

Rest after 2,700 km drive

Today I am resting – sleeping, eating and writing this post – after driving about 2,700km (1,800 miles).

Later, I will attempt to write a haibun for each day since leaving UK; at the moment they exist as only rough notes scribbled among the ‘adventures’, mostly down to the weather.


PS. We have today, having access to television news, been following the situation in Athens. I am without words, remaining only with tears.

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First haibun written in the open notebook, with Japanese characters for ‘haibun’ on facing page

This is my first attempt at haibun.

Discovering an old ‘diary’ of my first two months in Romania, in 1993, bringing to mind events and emotions I had entirely forgotten, and reawakening those I had not, I had the urge to record my forthcoming visit to Romania in some form of diary. But Romania, particularly the northern area known as the Bucovina, has had such a life-changing effect on me a normal ‘travelogue’ seemed entirely inadequate.

Haiku and haibun

My love of haiku is well documented on this blog, I even endeavour not only to write them but to experiment with them, so haibun – a mixture of sparse prose with haiku – seemed the ideal form in which to attempt a ‘diary’ of my latest visit.

Though this is my first venture into the ancient Japanese world of haibun, albeit necessarily in a westernised form, I cannot resist experimenting. So, just as my haiku sometimes became what I called ‘picture haiku’, some of my haibun may become ‘picture haibun’.

#0 because the journey has not yet begun. A trial run if you will. My aim (I won’t say ‘hope’, a word I’ve eliminated from my vocabulary) is that they get better as I journey through the forty seven days.

Around 2,400km (1,500 miles) from Hook of Holland to Iași if there were no diversions, but by the time we’ve found campsites and visited friends on the way our forthcoming drive to Romania will probably be more like 2,600km (1,600 miles +). Add 250 miles (400km) from home to the ferry port at Harwich and the round trip will probably be something not much short of 6,000km (3,500 miles) though we may not follow the same route back. We’ll probably do a few hundred km while in Romania.

Map showing the approximate route we will take from Hook of Holland to Iași

The approximate route from Hook of Holland to Iași.

We will not take the more usual route from our home in Yorkshire to Harwich – A1, A14, A120. It’s a nightmare. So a more leisurely drive through Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, pitching our little 2-person tent for the night near Harwich.

New menu heading for ‘grumpytyke’

The eagle eyed among you may spot a new menu heading on this blog -‘Dusty2RomaniaII‘.

’That, I hope, will become a daily diary – the first time I’ve attempted one. If you click on that menu you will see a drop down list of days till we arrive home. Each will open a new page. If all goes well, although I will probably not be able to post every day, I will write each day and each of those days will eventually be filled. (I haven’t completed all the links but there’ll be time after we arrive in Iasi).

A more ‘literary’ diary?

My intention is not to write a conventional diary, but in deference to the writers’ club to which I belong – Writing on the Wharfe – I’m aiming for it to be a literary adventure (at least for me). All might become clear when the first day has some content.

It will be supplemented now and then by more usual blog posts.


Our first drive to Romania and back in 2006, in ‘Mini’, our 1975 classic mini, was not documented. In 2015 we did it in Lofty, our 1972 Bay VW camper, documented in a somewhat hit and miss fashion on Facebook as ‘Lofty2Romania’. Last year we did it in Dusty, our 2013 Dacia Duster, so ‘Dusty2Romania’, again documented after a fashion on FB, both being rather longer trips as we took to the mountains of Transylvania.

However, I’m so fed up with FB now I hardly look at it, never mind posting to it, so decided to give grumpytyke a chance to show what he’s made of, thus ‘Dusty2RomaniaII.

The moment I cross the border into Romania I feel better, particularly if I cross in the north east of the country. This route takes me most directly to where I say I was ‘reborn’ – the Romanian Bucovina – via Maramureș, the two areas of the country where tradition is best preserved. They border the Ukraine, the part which was Romania until Churchill and Stalin gave it to the USSR. I’ve been there when I was chucked out of Romania for some minor misdemeanor (probably not renewing my visa in time, but that’s another story). It’s still very Romanian and I found most people spoke Romanian as well as Ukrainian.

In the past, when I lived in Romania, in the early years I had to leave Romania every three months then come back to renew my visa. Usually I chose to go to Budapest and crossed the border at Oradea, a busy crossing. Since returning to the UK I’ve preferred, when driving, to cross in the north east. Two years ago I crossed at Valea lui Mihai, a quiet crossing point.

The route

Google map of route from Petea to Iasi

This year I chose a crossing a little further north, at Petea, taking the 19 from the M3 from Budapest, well signposted for Satu Mare and Romania, as although it seemed to be a bit busier it was quite a few kilometers less to get onto the 18 road taking us through Maramureș and Bucovina – not the quickest route to our final destination, the city of Iași, but the most spectacular. Via Bistrița would be quicker and we’ll almost certainly return on this route knowing of the roadworks on the 18.

The Romanian border police have an excellent website which shows the actual waiting time at each crossing.

We did get ‘lost’ a couple of times negotiating Satu Mare to get to Baia Mare. The first was in Satu Mare itself, as so often the case, having been well signposted suddenly you reach a T junction with no sign. We turned the wrong way. Second, after leaving the town there was a sign indicating the route for heavy vehicles so we didn’t take it. When we reached a village with a typical Romanian country road it was clear we should have done. No big deal, it just took a little longer.

Roadworks

The road works on the 18 mountain road, which began on the climb to about 1,000 metres then descent (I think 26 hairpin bends) of the Gutai pass on the 18 between Baia Mare and Sighet, this year made it all the more adventurous (as logged on my Facebook ‘diary’ Dusty2Romania). At the top of the pass is a ‘han’, an inn, Pintea Viteazul, good for a break and something to eat. We ate a ‘ciorba’, a soup. Later I saw that this renowned inn is for sale, for €300,000.

For kilometer after kilometer there was a giant hole about every 100 metres, to take a very large ‘tube’ (1.5-2m diameter) to take water from the mountain under the road, rather than washing the road away as in the past. Some of these holes would have accommodated the Dacia Duster.

The right ‘lane’, which we are on, has been excavated to put a layer of stones then asphalt. The left ‘lane’ has not. Often it was a single ‘lane’, sometimes with traffic lights, sometimes not. More fun, especially when some drivers ignored the red light.

 

As I wrote in the ‘diary’, roadworks like those between Sighet and Cîrlibaba in UK would surely have led to the road being closed. In Romania no, particularly as it gives the only access to many villages along it. It was always an ‘adventure’ to take this road but at the moment more so. When complete much of the ‘adventure’ will have gone, though it will still be a spectacular route.

Camping Borșa

We camped for the night in the village of Borșa on a small campsite (Camping Borșa – they have a website) at the base of northern Romania’s highest mountain – Pietrosul Rodnei, 2,303 metres.

A few kilometres more and there’s the Prislop pass, 1,416 metres high. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it when we traversed it in the camper two years ago, in fact we slept a night at the top, but it had been dug up this year.

Continuing to Iacobeni you meet the major highway E58, a good road immediately climbing the Mestecăniș pass,1,096 metres, then down through the town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc to Gura Humorului, where you’ll find two of the famous ‘painted monasteries’, Voroneți to the right as you enter the town and Humor from the town centre to the left. In and around Câmpulung and Vama we have many friends, mostly deriving the projects I did in this area in the 1990s. We did not stop as we’ll be going back there.

The E58 goes to Suceava city but shortly after Gura Humorului we take the 2E towards Fălticeni but bypassing that we turn south on the E85, the major north-south highway from the border with Ukraine at Siret (where I spent my first 6 months in Romania in 1993). I drove this road many times, to the capital București, in my first six months in Romania. After several kilometres we turn east at Moțca, another good road, the 28E through Pașcani to Târgu Frumos, where we pick up the E58 again all the way to Iași.

I can’t explain why I feel so much better after entering Romania. Although the hot weather has something to do with it, it’s not just that as it was similarly hot in Hungary. It’s something spiritual.

Thanks to the medication prescribed a few months ago I feel able again to drive to Romania; last year we flew and I still ended up in A&E! It was a big problem having to hire cars – €1000 guarantee because of my age so I was driving stressed most of the time. I’m looking forward to taking Dusty the Dacia to his home country 😜, leaving on 25 July.

Photo of medication to take with me to last six weeks

Medication accumulated, Levothyroxine and Xtandi keep me bright eyed and bushy tailed. Xtandi and Zoladex will, hopefully, keep me alive. My lovely nurse here in the UK, Hafsa, tells me the needle of the Zoladex implant is “like a screwdriver”; I’ve never dared look. The due date for one to be put in is midway through our Romania stay but I’m certain the Romanian nurses will be just as competent.

A lot of thinking has to go into what to take as, spacious though the Dacia is, it is no comparison with the VW camper but for sure I couldn’t do the trip in that now. The trip to the English Lakes was about as far as I could manage. Looks like a lot of meds but the biggest problem there will be the temperature in Romania – not for me, I love 30-35degC, but the Xtandi is supposed to be stored no higher than 25degC.

 Click on a picture to read a caption or view larger as a slide show

Feeling much better than for a few years I’m hoping to document the trip far better than last year or the year before, with regular posts here supplemented by a Facebook group for shorter posts. So, two years ago it was almost exclusively on a Facebook group ‘Lofty to Romania‘; this year look out for ‘Dusty to Romania‘ on Facebook but, I hope, more substantial posts by grumpytyke. Romania merits it.

Lofty, closer to home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

Lofty, 10 mins from home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

The hoped for trip to Romania gets ever closer; a few health and other hurdles yet to overcome but increasing optimism has prompted me to create a Facebook ‘group’ where I can keep a running diary during the trip. The group is ‘public’ so anyone can see it, but only I can post on it – that makes sense as it is intended to be a diary of the trip. Of course anyone will be able to ‘like’ and ‘comment’ and I hope they will. I’m hoping too that I might be inspired to create a few more haiku too.

The Facebook group is called Lofty2Romania – ‘Lofty’ (1972 VW crossover Bay) is, of course, camper’s name (given by the previous owner due to his high top). He has a standard 1,600cc air-cooled engine but has an LPG conversion, done by Steve Shaw at Gasure, just inside Wales the other side of Chester. Definitely recommended; the only downside is losing the storage under the rock and roll bed, mostly taken up by the LPG tank.

I may do the occasional post on the new Facebook group as things progress towards 26 July. I’m hoping Lofty doesn’t get too excited as although he knows the Yorkshire Dales, N Yorks moors, Yorkshire coast and the Lakes very well and has been as far as Cornwall (with us), he’s probably a bit jealous of his little sister ‘Mini’ (1975 classic mini) who took us to Romania and back, camping, in 2006 without a minute’s trouble, even taking hub-cap deep potholes in the Rodney mountains in her stride (I did this same trans-Romania route on a push-bike in 1994; no chance now!).

Mini

Mini - my 1975 classic miniMini will probably have a bit of treatment while we are away; her original suspension cones are rather hard after 40 years and the state of Britain’s roads now, and those ridiculous speed humps, cause her (and me) a lot of agro, especially while recovering from surgery twice this year (I’d probably have been able to drive her much earlier had the suspension been softer). I’ve only been able to drive her for about a week and have yet to drive Lofty since the surgery at the end of May.

picture showing some of the hairpin bends on the trans-fagaras highwayLofty will have to do even better than Mini in some ways though we don’t expect potholes on the trans-fagaras highway, by which we intend to cross the Fagaras mountains, visiting blogger friends we’ve never met in person.

Paint, seat, exhaust, petrol pump and …

At the moment Lofty’s still getting some new clothes (ie coats of paint – rollered). He’ll probably get a few more flowers and butterflies too. The driver’s seat needs new seat pad, back pad and cover; in fact he’s needed them for years now but maybe sitting more or less on the springs is not a good idea for a 4,000+ mile journey. For the past year I’ve not been able to do it because of the health issues.

He’ll be making a trip to Gasure soon to have a new exhaust fitted and while there have a dicky petrol pump replaced. It may not always be possible to find an LPG station on the trip though hopefully most of the time as he’s much more economical on LPG. I reckon I’ll need about 1,000 litres of LPG during the trip; it wouldn’t be much less petrol at almost twice the price!

Harwich to Holland

At the moment the intention is to go via Harwich to the Hook of Holland. Hull would be great, as I’ve done before but not with the camper, but the cost is ridiculous now. A leisurely trip down to Essex then a sleep before taking an early morning ferry, at about 1/3 of the price, makes sense to me. Anyway, I love being on the sea so a daytime sailing is much more attractive.

Back via Weimar?

To Romania we will be taking more or less the same route as with Mini 9 years ago – down the Rhine through Germany then Austria and Hungary. However, I’m hoping to come back via Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic then what was East Germany where I was last some 40 years ago. I really want to visit Weimar though it will not be the same. I vaguely remember playing a piano said to have been played by Liszt and Wagner (was this at the Elephant, now a top luxury hotel, or the Erbprinz – now no more?) and sitting at a table, certainly the Elephant, at which Hitler was said to have held meetings with the Nazi hierarchy. Not in a museum; they were just there.

Wish us luck to be able to make a start on 26 July.

 

I consider myself very lucky as through things I do, day to day including my work, I learn of some of the amazing things our oft derided youngsters do. 

The latest is about 14 lower sixth formers from the excellent high school within our village boundary – St Mary’s Menston.

St Mary's Menston pupil Hannah Smith reads abut football to South African children

Hannah Smith, pupil at St Mary’s Menston, reads Frank Lampard to Zulu children

St Mary's pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

St Mary’s pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently created a blog/website for the Wharfedale, Yorkshire, village in which I live – Menston. Looking around for news as the schools started up again after the summer break I found out about the latest phase in a project in which St Mary’s is involved, now in its seventh year.

Bambisanani (more…)

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