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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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.

Picture of the church in Iasi in which Petronela and I were married

Our ultimate destination, Iasi. This is the church in which Petronela and I were married

I’ve done it. I’ve booked the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland as the first stage (or is it the second?) of a summer trip to Romania, repeating the trip of last year though more leisurely and with a rather different, less direct, route to the Romanian border (yet to be finalised).

Definitely to be avoided is Budapest, a beautiful city along the Danube but a nightmare to navigate, literally life-threatening. The M0 motorway around the city is a death trap with some of the worst driving you’ll see anywhere in Europe, tailgating at 100km or more (last year I just avoided a 5 car pile up). We’ll also avoid a camp site near Munich where a left-over from the Nazi regime almost had me abandoning my usual peaceful disposition; in fact the facilities at the site looked not a lot different to an imagined WW2 concentration camp.

For bloggers who do not regularly read my posts I should explain why the decision to go is a momentous one. I was waiting for my medical consultant to say it was OK (you’ll find things about my medical condition in past posts) but, in the end, I thought I’d go anyway and made the ferry booking. Romania has superb doctors!

Recording on film and digital

Having made one momentous decision, I thought I’d go for broke and make another – begin to post again on my almost abandoned classic camera/film photography blog, grumpytykepix. But I’ll be recording our trip here, having abandoned the horrible Facebook which I used for previous trips. For this I’ll use digital camera or iPad (and perhaps a little C41 film which, both monochrome and colour, I can get processed and scanned in Romania). So I might be able to do one or two posts on grumpytykepix, or when using ‘legacy lenses’ on a digital camera.

Mini, our classic mini which took us there and back without a problem in 2006

We (ie my wife Petronela (P) and I) first did this trip in 2006, in a classic mini, camping – not a single problem so the toolkit, just a screwdriver and 1/2in spanner, were not needed!

VW camper: Lofty2Romania

In 2015 we did the 4,635 miles round trip in Lofty, our 1972 VW camper; a few problems – part of the ‘fun’ of the ‘dub’ –  but P didn’t appreciate it much. And we had mother-in-law shouting to be let out as we navigated multiple one in three hairpins in the mountains. Unfortunately I can no longer handle him for long journeys.

Lofty with me, having just caught the ferry back as the stern door closed. Late arrival resulting from a ‘little’ problem solved im record time by a superb Dutch garage

In 2016 we did it by flying (I hate flying, or rather I quite enjoy flying but hate the waiting, often chaos, and being ripped off in airports now). It’s a pity as Jet2.com, which I like, is only 15 minutes away at Leeds-Bradford airport. Hiring cars when in Romania also was not good, not financially nor for the nerves with 1,000 Euro deposit possibly to be lost thanks to some crazy Romanian driver.

Dacia Duster: Dusty2Romania 1

Last year we did the trip in Dusty, our 2013 Dacia Duster. Really wonderful but taking both our two-man tent and a large one with kit for 6 people to take P’s parents to Transylvania strained even the really capacious Duster. This year we’ll take just our 2-man tent and put the parents in ‘pensiune’ (B&Bs) when we take them somewhere.

Why not Hull ferry?

As we live in Yorkshire you might wonder why we don’t use the ferry from Hull to Holland. It’s a night sailing so apart from the fact that we enjoy a daytime crossing (I love the sea), the mandatory cabin makes it expensive. The disadvantage of using Harwich  is the long drive, the most obvious route, A1 and A14/M11, being dreadful. So we’ll leave early in the morning and take a lazy drive down through Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, camping for the night a few miles from Harwich at a pleasant camp site behind a pub (Stranger’s Home) before taking the morning ferry. The pub has decent food so no cooking for me!

First stop over the other side, for a night, will be Arnhem, on one of the excellent Dutch camp sites (Camping Warnsborn) – only matched by those in Austria and some in Germany. We used it last year on the way there and back.

Halloween borsch? With witches’ noses

I abandoned Keighley library yesterday, visiting my friend Lou who lives with her family in a lovely old farmhouse overlooking the moors close to the Brontë village of Haworth. Her home is not in what you’d call a village, a hamlet would be more correct; there are no street names, the houses just have a number then hamlet name, like many small villages in Romania. I haven’t seen Lou for quite a while for one reason or another so three hours drinking ‘a brew’ (Yorkshire for a pot of tea!) and chatting in her farmhouse kitchen passed very quickly. Husband Stephen, a busy man – farmer, builder and heaven knows what else – popped in for a minute.

Lou runs her graphic design and small printing business from home. I love the fact that at the time her 10 year old daughter Kate is picked up from school business stops for the day. I saw Kate’s first watercolour yesterday, following a school trip to the English Lake District; she’s clearly taking after her mother. Unfortunately I couldn’t wait to say hello to her after school as I had to pick up Petronela.

Keighley railway station

 

On the way to Lou’s I stopped at Keighley railway station, one terminus of the Worth Valley steam railway, and took a couple of pictures to fulfil a promise. No steam engines there at the time so I stopped briefly in Haworth when I saw two engines in steam.

Borș, beetroot-coloured but without beetroot

I had a brief discussion about borș (Romanian spelling) a couple of days ago on the blog of one of my favourite food bloggers, Gabi in Gură Humorului, România. She’s a superb food photographer too. Part of the discussion was about how borș, the sour liquid added to a ‘soup’ to make it ‘borș’, should be made.

Seeing for the first time ‘purple’ carrots in a supermarket (Sainsbury’s – being sold as ‘witch’s noses’ as it’s close to Halloween – aaagh!), I decided to make a borș using the carrots.

 

I don’t make the borș (the sour liquid – confusing isn’t it?), I buy it (as Gabi said she does) but mine from Marinela’s Romanian shop in Leeds. As I said, it’s made by fermenting wheat bran.

My ‘borsch’ looks more like a witches’ brew than any borș I’ve seen gracing a Romanian table, but tastes pretty good. Apart from the purple carrots, which have a slightly peppery taste when raw, it has a chicken stock base with proper borș added ‘to taste’ (I like it fairly sour) but what in Moldova at least is considered an essential ingredient – leuștan, ‘lovage’ – potato, some left-over pork sliced into thin strips and, finally, added at the table, sour cream.

Purple is, of course, an original colour of wild carrots, the ‘eastern’ variety originating in Afghanistan. Those I bought yesterday were grown in Scotland, by James Rearie in Fife. I’d never seen one before. There’s a lot more information about them on the web page of the Carrot Museum; yes, there is such a thing.

Returning to Keighley

It looks as though I’ll be returning to Keighley the week after next, after school half-term break, as it seems Petronela will probably will continue teaching there. I’ll likely continue my Keighley sagas now and then.

 

 

As many of you know, I enjoy writing short pieces with a precisely defined structure or number of words – haiku, tanka, stories of 75 and 100 words exactly. Shortly before this summer’s trip to Romania I came across 50 word stories and resolved to attempt one, or more. Now, having largely renounced anything other than my Facebook journal Dusty2Romania, and a very few blog posts, while travelling I thought it might be a way to ease myself back into so-called ‘creative writing’. I haven’t dared pick up my ‘long short story’ which, at approaching 25,000 words, was turning into a trilogy but I will, eventually.

So, here’s a bit of ‘fun’ in 50 words – precisely. 

She sat in the sun, he close to her. Their three little ones scampered below watched by the vigilant parents. A warning cry ended the carefree melee; a few seconds attentive inaction then the youngsters hurried to join the adults.

Frustration polluted the air with every twitch of Tabby’s tail.


A beautiful day at ‘Camping Warnsborn’ near Arnhem close to the German/Dutch border. This is an excellent site and perfect for a first stop after taking the morning ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland and for the afternoon ferry back, being only 1.1/2-2hrs drive from the port. The owners, Felix and Margo, are very pleasant. Beautifully maintained grass for pitching a tent and surrounded by woods; we didn’t have time to explore them 5/6 weeks ago but will do so on this lovely ‘English’ summer day – 24-25degC. It’s easy to find from the E35 motorway as it’s close to Burger’s Zoo, which has clear signs on the motorway after which there are excellent camping signs to the site.


Surprising a good run this morning from the Rhine valley to here, arriving at 1pm after a leisurely drive with no holdups. I’ve mentioned before the inability of Germans to maintain free-flowing traffic around road reconstructions and although we had a clear run some indication of what motorists were in for was given by a kms long queue in the opposite direction to enter Germany. I guess Germans can organise a piss up in a brewery but that’s about it; I don’t want to hear any more about German efficiency, though those in the north seem generally a lot friendlier than those in the south despite the oompah oompah and lederhausen down there.


I probably mentioned the birdsong last time we stayed here at Warnsborn, lovely to wake to, but this time we are visited by many dragonflies; they seem to find Dusty’s open door the ideal place to sun themselves. I got a oic, sort of, but the iPad isn’t ideal and I can’t be bothered with a camera.

In fact the last three days, two in the Rhine valley and one restful now not far from the ferry are an ideal finale to our trip. We just downed a bottle of some fizzy rosé P found in Aldi, about acceptable for the occasion resembling a mildly alcoholic lemonade. Far better was some ‘alt Gouda’ cheese, bought in Germany though we’ll be passing close to Gouda tomorrow morning.

It’s good P is not going back to stress of ‘that school’ and it’s allowed us to miss the rush back for the beginning of school this week. She has meeting with two agencies next week for some ‘supply teaching’; anything is better that the nonsense she had to endure where she been for so many years, much appreciated by the students but not by the so-called ‘senior management’. Better for my sanity too.

It’s good to have such a fine end to the trip (not counting what we might find when we arrive in UK, though we know the campsite is good) after the ‘disasters’ of Hungary and Munich. Thankfully we had the pleasant Austrian site between.

As so often in Romania, things are not as they seem nor as you have been told.

The necessary legal documents to buy the ‘dream house’ (see previous post) were not in order as we had been assured they were and, more important, the elderly lady – D-na Saveta – owning it has two daughters, one of whom was keen for her to sell it but the other – who wasn’t answering the phone or communicating in any way – didn’t want her to sell it at all it turned out. She needs ‘permission’, and a legal agreement, from both to sell it.

We haven’t yet given up entirely but it seems unlikely; to get the documents in order would take at least a year (though that time scale would not be a problem for us).

Tomorrow we’re hoping to have another chat with D-na Saveta after erecting the tents in the garden here to dry as we packed them rather damp in Săliște. It should be sunny here tomorrow morning.

The route back – first part

Map of route we aim to follow from Campulung Moldovenesc to Budapest

So, we are back in the Bucovina having spent about a week in Săliște, Sibiu, returning to Iași on Thursday. The villages and small towns around the city of  Sibiu are quite wonderful with their multi-coloured, well maintained saș (saxon) architecture. I put a few pix on my Facebook journal, Dusty2Romania, but Petronela has put far more on her Facebook. Having ‘done’ the spectacular ‘Transfagărășanul’ last year we thought we’d try Romania’s highest main road – Transalpina, 2,145 metres – this year. I wasn’t so impressed though it seems extremely popular with motorcyclists and occasional cyclists.

Very noticable throughout Romania was a massive increase in the number of cyclists – lycra, helmets and all – not only foreign tourists but many Romanians.

Back in Bucovina

We arrived at my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house, just 7km before Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a couple of hours ago. We will leave most probably on Monday to follow the route shown above rather than the way we came, via Baia Mare, Sighet and Borșa, so then skirting the Ukrainian border. There is camping at the spa town of Marghita (not named on the Google map above but the last thick black circle before the Romania/Hungary border I think) so we aim to spend a night there then on to Budapest, where we have selected another campsite.

We will then go through Budapest, hopefully avoiding the M0 motorway around the south of the city which is a really scary drive – maniac Hungarian drivers sticking 2 metres from your boot at 90mph – on the way to Austria then Germany but haven’t decided on a route yet. So far we have seen four bad accidents this trip, one on that Budapest ring road and one today on the way here from Iași which, to get round it, took us on what was really a forest footpath – fun in other circumstances.

We fancy trying to pick up the Rhine valley which we really enjoyed in the classic mini in 2006, where there were some excellent campsites. I’ll probably be able to do another post somewhere along that route.