Week six - Booked a rest in Bucharest
When I wrote my previous blog I had thought I was finished with Romania. However, Romania clearly wasn’t yet finished with me.
After dropping out of the mountains I had arranged to visit friends of friends Mona and Dan in Ramnicu Vulcea.
Vulcea is an attractive, small city nestled between the foothills of the Carpathians and the pan-flat farmlands of Southern Romania. It has developed an unfortunate reputation as the European capital of cyber crime and has been described as “the most dangerous town on the internet”. You would never know this wandering around. The only indicators of its shady reputation are the numerous Western Union cash exchanges and flash sports cars.
I had intended to press on promptly towards Bulgaria. Instead I spent three full days in Vulcea. Mona and Dan were great company and cooked wonderful Romanian food, a combination which is likely to sway the resolve of most long distance cyclists. In the mornings we would eat Dans homemade honey with breakfast, then visit their orchard and over indulge ourselves on ripe cherries straight from the branch.
The day after my arrival I was taken on a monastery tour. First stop was the ‘One wood monastery’ in Frâncesti Commune. Legend has is that in the early 16th century a monk found an icon of the Virgin Mary in the hollow of a great Oak. Simultaneously, he heard a voice, commanding him to build a monastery using only wood from that tree. Theoretically there is no metal at all in its construction.
The second was the enormous monastery complex in Horezu. The main church was one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen. Every interior wall wall was exquisitely painted and maintained, with a panel representing each day of the year. We lunched with the nuns, who excitedly told us about when Prince Charles visited and even showed us his rooms.
The following evening we drove into Bucharest. I had some of the evening to myself and Mona and Dan were at a music concert. The evening air hummed with excitement as I wandered the ‘old town’ and I was convinced to alter my course to Bulgaria and detour through Bucharest.
On this journey I like to slow down and explore places when I can, but am conscious of the changing seasons. Spring has rapidly become summer, and in the back of my mind I know that a very cold winter waits for me in Central Asia if I dally too long in Europe. On my fourth morning in Vulcea I begrudgingly re-mounted and waved goodbye to Mona and Dan.
But I wasn't to be alone for long! Bucharest is two days ride from Vulcea. At the end of the first day, I sat roadside in the dust and sipped on my water bottle, enjoying the cooling evening. Suddenly a heavily laden cyclist flashed by, t-shirt flapping in the breeze and sunburned arms akimbo. I leapt back on the bike and gave chase. He had a 200 meter head start but I ducked as low as I could out of the wind and span my legs like a character in a 90’s cartoon.
Lauri is a Finnish dental student, currently touring from his homeland to Greece. As luck would have it, we were both heading to Bucharest, and then both also to Varna on the Black Sea. We needed little encouragement and this was deemed sufficient reason to stop for a celebratory beer(s). We made camp that evening together, and later agreed to team up for he next three day ride from Bucharest to Varna.
Mona and Dan had organised for me to stay with Alex, the son of their friend in Bucharest. We ate dinner on the bank of Herâstrâu Lake and I spent almost all of the next wandering Bucharest's enormous Herâstrâu Park. For me Bucharest is a city of the evening. By 8pm the temperature drops to a ‘chilly’ 29 degrees and it is a magical place when you escape the tourist heavy ‘old town’.
The waters of the Black Sea beckon, less than 300 km’s to my east. All being well, I should arrive in three days. Summer has arrived in earnest. Riding temperatures in the day time have risen to an uncomfortable 33 degrees and it will only get hotter as I near Istanbul. Regardless, I am enjoying the cycling more than ever as my strength grows and a new chapter awaits me in Bulgaria.