Romania. It feels like you have arrived in the year 1200 AD. Most people are poor. Most people are dirty. Most people are friendly.
Being still a travel-virgin, I was a little bit afraid to leave the main road. Passing small villages, I would catch a glimpse of unpaved streets, open sewers and bad looking men with dark burning eyes and unshaved cheeks. There was the real world. After half a day of this ‘peeking inside’, I decided to ‘shape up’. How could I explore the world if I was scared to even enter a village?
So when I reached the next village, I turned of the main road and entered the cage of the lion. Small groups of men, hanging around, leaning on walls and fences, looked at me with their dark burning eyes. Now, five years later, I know they looked at the bike, like any other man in any other country would do. Like I had done myself so many times. But to me it was intimidating. In my mind they were talking about hanging that stranger that dared to enter their world of gipsy kings and magical curses, upside down by his toes in the big oak tree for a day or two. And then do some really bad things to him.
But five minutes (that seemed to last five hours) later I was alive and well on the main road again. Now, that was not so bad, was it?
Getting braver I decided to have my lunch in the next village where I stopped at a water-fountain. A nice place to eat my sandwich.
I placed my bottle of cola in the fountain to cool down and enjoyed my sandwich and my bravery.
Suddenly a little old lady with a cane walked in my direction. She stepped straight towards me. My brain went into overdrive. What had I done? Was the fountain sacred and had I desecrated it with my cola-bottle. Would she make a scene and call for the men with the unshaved cheeks and burning eyes? Should I run for it?
She stopped in front of me and asked in a mixed German and Romanian: “Du bist fon Holland jah?”, which means “You are from Holland, yes?” I guess she understood the ‘NL’ sticker next to the license-plate on my bike. Sort of confused I answered that I was, still expecting a vicious attack with her cane but to my surprise she than asked if I had any news from her son. He had gone to Holland, and she had not heard from him for a long time. When I asked her if he had not telephoned her, she replied that the village did not have a phone, so she waited for someone to bring her news and hoped I was that someone, which of course I was not.
We chatted a little about Holland in a strange mixed language. I was still a bit nervous and sort of expected her to call the unshaven men to force me to tell the truth about what I had done to her son, but nothing of the sort happened. She touched my hand and left with a smile. I was a bit puzzled. No phone? Is it then not logical that you don’t hear anything?
I guess my logic does not apply to this world.
I finished my lunch, feeling much more a veteran traveler, not afraid of anything. Except for little old ladies of course. Back on the road I came across an other little old lady. This one was at least 200 years old, small as a gnome but skinny and frail like a tree-leaf. Her back was so crocked she must not have been able to see anything but her own feet. She wore a shapeless black rag and pulled a small cart (still twice as big as her self) with firewood on it.
It was such a dramatic sight, I just needed to have a photo of it so I turned around (when you see things like this on a bike you are past them before your brain tells you it’s a Kodak-thing), parked 30 meters past her on the opposite side of the road, got out my camera and took the photo.
Apparently she did not like it and waved her arm towards me. “Hah, I am a veteran traveler and not afraid of anything”, I told myself. And anyway, she was on the other side of the road so what! But then the little old lady left her cart and her firewood and crossed the road. Before I could make a run for it she reached me and started to speak. She did not use the familiar German-mix. Her crackling voice spoke real, Transylvanian, Romanian. It was the language of vampires and I did not understand one word of it.
What I did understand was that there was a big roaring truck coming our way and this little old lady was so frail, she would probably be blown away by turbulence of the passing truck. To protect her I placed my arm around her shoulder. It felt bony and fragile. No flesh, just bones and skin.
The truck passed and nearly blew me away, but after the dust settled we were still there. Both of us, and now she said something I understood: “Departe”, which I think means leave or depart. Then she took my hand and kissed it. Saying again: “Departe”. I was puzzled (I seem to be puzzled a lot these days). At first she was upset with me for taking her photo, but she ended up kissing my hand, well my glove actually, as if she sort of blessed me.
I continued my way, following the Donau, which is called the Danube by now, on my way to the Black sea. I visited the castle of Dracula and tried to send an Email on a 500 year old computer.
The castle was more fun. Even though I had to climb a staircase with 1400 steps in my bike-gear.