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Tue, 11 Nov 2008 – Romania update and travel musings

July 1, 2009

Hey y’all!

Ok so the local greeting is now buna ziua (boona zeewah) not my southern US greeting above. I have been in Romania for about 2 weeks now and have travelled on a large proportion of their rail system and braved the cities on my bicycle. My least favourite place to be in any Romanian city is the train station and unfortunately I can’t really avoid them! I attract a large amount of stares turning up with my bicycle laden with stuff and subsequently taking it all apart and packing it in a bag to get it on the train. Still, I am getting used to the stares as it is hard not to look blatantly like a foreign traveller especially when you happen to look about as far away from the Romanian cultural stereotype as you can get!

I really am not quite sure how to describe Romania other than an a country of many contrasts! The cars and trains are either very old or very new. The people I’ve seen appear to be either very old or very young; very poor or very rich; both hospitable and judgemental at the same time. You can be passing a horse and cart one minute and walking into a shiny new mall the next. The apartment blocks look rough on the outside but can be modern as you like on the inside. There are a large amount of these apartment blocks in most cities built in the times of the Communist era when people were forced to come and live in them. Before this the Romanians lived in villages. As far as I am aware, the cities only exist as a result of Communism. There are many new houses being built here that are so luxurious you wonder where the money is from because rent here is high and wages are low. I am told that it is cheaper to buy a house on the Azure coast of France than an apartment in Baia Mare which is a pretty small city in the north-west with not much to show-off. Many of the middle-aged people are working abroad to get money to send or bring back here (hence the either old or young thing earlier) and in total around 1 in 7 Romanians have left to live abroad which is a considerable proportion of the population!

I decided to spend time here to see if I could gather what it is really like to live here and for my very English brain it is confusing with all its apparent contrasts! Still, the people are very friendly and I have had a lot of fun staying with locals and trying the local cuisine. I think I have pretty much had all the traditional food that is on offer including belly soup, chicken in a weird salty jelly and mamaliga – a dish made from cornmeal with added goats cheese for flavour. The cornmeal itself is very good for the travel budget at less than 30p a packet which lasts for 5 meals! Other than that the diet is mostly pork products and the concept of salad is entirely unlike the British, involving either pickled something or something in mayonnaise.

One thing that is hard to show with pictures or even describe is how places smell different. It is something that doesn’t really strike you going about your daily business in your usual surroundings. I have been trying to work out the smell here and how to describe it and I don’t think is going to sound entirely attractive but it seems to me that the air in the cities here often smells like a combination of staleness, cigarettes and hot dog sausages! It really isn’t as bad as it sounds mind and not so pungent, just a background kind of thing!

It has been quite an experience being on the road and a little more tiring than I thought. Travelling is often thought of in a day-dream fashion by those hard at work or studying as a lovely, glamorous thing to do. It is great exploring new places, however it is also harder than you think; having to adjust to new sleeping arrangements and new people all the time, especially if you stay with people in their homes with all their different ways of doing things. When constantly moving from place to place you have to learn to adjust pretty quickly. I have found that staying 2 nights in a place gives you about enough time to unpack and pack again and see a few things round about a city but really have no clue of what a place is like to live in. 3 nights allows you to feel just about comfortable before you uproot and head off somewhere else, and if you should stay 4 nights you forget entirely what it is like to be on the road, you find a bit of routine and home comforts and when you leave you feel like you have left home all over again especially if you are also leaving newly-made friends behind. My experiences have been made great not only by the varied culture and scenery but also by the people that I have met and befriended along the journey so far. I have had such fun with the locals and other foreigners who are living here in Romania. I think this can be something that you miss if you are travelling with friends as you could quite easily entirely avoid interactions with the locals and approach things from your own cultural perspective.

I remain in Romania for the coming week before heading on to Moscow next for a couple of days before catching the Trans-Mongolian train to Beijing. This is one of 3 routes that go east from Moscow and although it is not as long as the Trans-Siberian train ride it is meant to be the more interesting route crossing Siberia, cutting across Mongolia and the Gobi desert, then entering China and at 6 days and 4,735 miles it is quite long enough for me. I wonder how I will manage to not go mad and bounce off the walls when I am usually so active so in fact I probably will be seen bouncing off the walls or running up and down the train or attempting parcours style jumping from bunk to bunk or cabin to window or floor to ceiling or sink to toilet! I expect though that I shall have plenty to see and will meet others to while away the darker hours with by playing cards or some such.

Albums 4 and 5:

4 – http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=181567&id=847665248&l=ea2fb81632

5 – http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=181905&id=847665248&l=f149cf022c

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