1. Back from Central Asia on a Recumbent Bicycle
2. The Valley of Monasteries
3. A Funeral Party
5. Rainy Autumn Days
6. Wonderful Ceahlău Mountains
7. Gorgeous Gorges and Transnicum
8. A Dive into Darkness
9. Chill Out in Piatra-Neamt
10. Romanian Hospitality
11. An Eco-Friendly Friend in Iasi
After crossing the Carpathians in Ukraine, we followed the mountains in Northern Romania across Maramures and Moldova.
Maramures is the most rural region of Romania. Deep in the valleys of the Carpathians, surrounded by dreamy landscapes, many people still live like their ancestors did centuries ago. Maramures is a land of rolling hills and old wooden churches, traditional costumes and horse-drawn carts…
After crossing the small border point of Sighetu Marmatiei, we cycle into town searching for a place where we can sit and rest a bit. We have just entered Romania but we already feel a big difference with Ukraine. Here the streets are asphalted, there are no more potholes and no more smelly old squarish cars.
Tina: It seems that in the world there are as many types of beauty as the number of eyes looking at them. I wish to be able to understand one day what makes me see the beauty one day in a dusty village hidden in the Ukrainian Carpathians, and an other day feel the same in a Romanian town with lovely painted houses…
There’s a recumbent bike in front of a café. We glance at the terrace and quickly find out who’s the owner. Michel is Swiss from Neufchâtel and he comes back from a travel across Central Asia. Two months ago he was cycling across the steppes of Kazakhstan or crossing the beautiful Pamir mountains in southern Tajikistan. We are really enjoying his company so we end up spending most of the day talking with him about travel. He gave us some useful tips about central Asia. You can have a look at his website and his nice photos on Flickr.
In the evening, we cycle out of town and ask some people if we can put our tent in their garden. They tell us : “Of course you can spend the night here if you want, but you don’t have to be afraid of people here in Romania, there are no thieves!” A moment later we are setting up our tent under an apple tree, carefully watched by Andrea, ten years old, a little shy to talk with us but very curious.
The next day we start cycling in a valley that we plan to follow until Borsa. The orthodox churches by the road are beautiful, with entrance and walls painted from floor to ceiling with colourful drawings of the saints and scenes from the Bible.
In the streets, there are a lot of elderly women wearing scarves tied around their necks and most of the men wear beautiful straw hats. Most of the shops are also combining cafés and pubs with couple of tables inside or outside by the road. We are sitting at one of these terraces when a woman comes to us and asks where we are from. Even if Romanian is a Latin language and many Romanian words have the same roots as in French, it is really difficult for us to understand what she is trying to tell us. Most the adults would give up after ten seconds but she keeps talking to us, asking many times the same questions while we are eating our biscuits…
Further up in the valley we reach Barsana Monastery with a wonderful wooden church surrounded by other wooden buildings. Nuns in their black dresses are walking peacefully in paths strewn with colourful flowers.
Many people are gathered around the central altar where nuns are singing and priests are talking to the crowd. We manage to talk to a priest who speaks English and he explains to us that for the Orthodoxes, today is the day of the Holy Cross. People came from all over the county, most of them dressed in traditional clothes, to attend the ceremony. Even small girls are wearing a scarf.
Like many wooden churches in Maramures, the main monastery of Barsana is listed is the UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the main church, the walls and ceiling are covered with unusual paintings in squares that reminds us of some comic books. Looking at the ceiling in the entrance, we are surprised to see a drawing of the zodiac with the sun and the moon. It is the first time we encounter such depiction in a church…
JP: Before leaving the monastery we talk to a French couple travelling around Romania. We discuss about travelling by bicycle and somehow I mention that one of my friend was travelling around the black sea with a unicycle (see my article about Bulgaria). They answer me straight forward: “This must be Pierrick! We hosted him in our house in Turkey!”…. coincidences, coincidences, this is the second time this year that I hear about Pierrick 🙂
In every village we cross, we see beautifully carved wooden gates which are typical to Maramures. Many people are sitting in front of their houses, smiling at us and saying hello. The kids by the road are also watching us with admiring look or shiny eyes, waving at us and bursting in a happy laugh when we give them high five!
JP: You might have heard from some people that Romania is a dangerous place with lot of thieves but it is not! Yes, life is hard in Romania (even though hard doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The people we saw working in the fields here seemed much happier than most managers having a stressful job in big cities). There are some really poor people in the villages, but Romanians are so incredibly friendly and hospitable and we feel absolutely safe in Romania. I am really sorry that Romania suffers from such a bad image in the West and this is why I encourage anyone wishing to discover a beautiful country in Europe to come and visit Romania. Whatever stories you’ve heard about Romania, there is nothing like coming here to see with your own eyes, meet locals in villages and experience Romania! I thought of writing these few lines just a moment ago, when we stopped in a village and a man from the nearby café came to us and offered us a can of soda he had just bought for us, then he wished us “Drum bun!”, which means “have a good journey”. And a good journey we have! Even more than the wonderful landscapes we cross, the kindness of the people here make our travel across Romania simply beautiful.
After spending the night on a hill by a village, we cycle to Borsa where we hope to make a little break because our stomachs are still not ok since the Ukrainian Carpathians.
In Borsa, we decide to visit a local wooden church which isn’t too far from the road. A minute ago we were telling each other it would be nice to have something to eat, and now, in front of the church a girl in her twenties asks us: “I see you travel with bicycles. We are having a little dinner to commemorate the death of my grandpa, would you be so nice and eat some food with us? This is a tradition in our region…”
She was putting so many polite forms in her request that we first thought we misunderstood her. We thought she maybe asks us to provide a little food but she repeats: “We would really appreciate if you eat and drink with us. If you aren’t in a hurry of course…”
A moment later, we are sitting at the table with Gabriela and drinking home made Palinca (a local spirit made of distilled fruits), eating sarmale (traditional Romanian cabbage rolls) on a plate full of local specialities. Gabriela is a university student in Cluj Napoca but these days she is enjoying the end of her summer holidays with her family in Maramures. She tells us a lot of facts about the region and the traditions here. Her mum is also really happy we share the meal with them and she offers us some soda, beer, bread and chocolate for the road. Later in the afternoon we invite Gabriela for a hot chocolate. Sitting in a café, we watch the rain outside and wonder if we can make it to Prislop today. Hum… Prislop is only 30 kilometres from Borsa but it is a pass 1432 metres high!
As the weather is really bad and JP’s stomach is once more in a really… shitty mood, we decide to make a little break in a pensiunea (kind of Romanian B&B) to rest until he feels better…
The pensiuna is beautifully decorated with a lot of antiques and the owner a really friendly man who agree to leave us the room for a very decent price.
Tina: I was quite happy about our decision to stay because during the night my stomach decided to express sympathy to the stomach of JP and got sick in a way that both of us could hardly move from bed for the next two days.
JP: We are sitting in a café on our way to Prislop when we catch sight of two heavily loaded travellers cycling uphill. We try to call them from the terrace but they don’t hear us… I decide to quickly pack my bike (whose panniers were all open) and try to cycle after them.
Lena and Hardy are two travellers from Düsseldorf in Germany. Rather than talking by the road, I invite them to have a coffee with us. They are cycling and gathering money for an NGO called Bikes for Africa.
We wanted to do something similar before leaving but unfortunately we ran out of time and decided to work on it on the way when we would find a local NGO with which we would share the same values, some project we would like to support… and meeting Lena and Hardy really kicked our asses to do it!
The coffee break was not long enough to share our stories so we agree to cycle together until Prislop pass before night.
The twisting road to Prislop isn’t so steep but we are only recovering from our sickness and Tina feels still very weak despite the rest we had. As we are riding on the last hairpin bends, we enjoy a wonderful sunset on the valley of Borsa.
On the top of the pass, we find a place to camp with a hot shower next to some cabana thanks to the help of Hardy who speaks Romanian. Then we cook and drink and talk and laugh together until 3:30 am! 🙂
Talking with Lena and Hardy, it is also the first time we hear a couple of sad travel stories about cyclists.
Cars are killing machines, we know it only too well, every day we see dozens of memorials by the road… and trucks!? We are pretty sure we could cut the amount of trucks by 10 if everybody would be responsible, only consume reasonably and focus on local products. Really, we don’t need tomatoes from Spain and carrots from Netherlands when we can grow the same vegetable in a garden or buy them from a nearby farm. Nowadays, the nearby farm most probably grows them and have to export these vegetables elsewhere because the market is saturated with cheap imported products, but this doesn’t make any sense. I like to quote this small story when some years ago two trucks crashed in France, there were both carrying tomatoes, one was going from the Netherlands to Spain while the other was going from Spain to the Netherlands. I am convinced that this madness should stop and it won’t stop if WE don’t stop it, we have the power to change these things simply by choosing to buy local products…
Now back to our travel! 😉
In the morning, we pack our things and have breakfast surrounded by cows, the music of their bells, beautiful mountains and a clear blue sky! To make it even more perfect we prepare tea while Lena and Hardy prepare coffee… Yeah, the same way we carry a heavy thermos for our tea, they carry a special kettle to prepare every morning the little pleasure called espresso! 🙂
According to Jung “Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.”? Well, Carl, we are all guilty then! 😉
As we leave Prislop, we also leave Maramures with its wonderful wooden churches and enter the Romanian Moldova. The road downhill isn’t in such a nice state, there are couple of potholes which remind us of Ukraine. We cycle past couple of Roma sheds, some of them being not more than couple of tubes and a transparent plastic cover. These people seem to struggle for living, but the kids as well as the adults wave at us with a friendly smile from the side of the road. I will never forget the smile of this little girl with dark shiny eyes, bended by the window of an old car by the road… she seemed so full of life.
The sky suddenly fills with black storm clouds. We have just finished a snack by the road: some cheese and biscuits with a strange taste of shampoo (probably some cleaning product fell on it); and we are now back on the road praying for the storm to avoid us…
This time our prayers weren’t granted and we got the whole storm right on us. In all our wetness, we are still really glad to have some good waterproof equipment. Unfortunately,under such rain we cannot take much pictures of the beautifully decorated houses by the road. It is interesting to see that the patterns have changed since we are on this side of the mountain. The houses here are generally not wooden but are decorated with geometric and colourful patterns around the windows and the doors.
Tina: The night and morning I spent with Lena and Hardy (and some of their electrolytes :-)) really cheered me up but with the rain and cold whether I feel again like two days ago: weak and “empty” in every sense of the word. Damn, I wish to be back on my feet! There really isn’t anything more important than health… Which brings me this funny idea:”Instead of any radical act, what about giving stealthily a good dose of laxative to those who don’t hesitate to be harmful to others for money?” Hmm, the world could be much nicer if it was so easy!
Lena and Hardy have a website: www.velosophics.de. They have very nice pictures and articles so check it out!
All day, we’ve been cycling down Bistrita valley with Lena and Hardy, our friends from Velosophics. In the afternoon, the weather turned really bad but we kept on cycling until we reached the crossroad where our paths separate. Lena and Hardy decided to visit Bucovina monasteries in Northern Romania while we wish to continue East in the Carpathians.
Standing in the night, soaked from head to feet, we say goodbye to our friends and wish them a safe journey. A moment later we are back on the road under pouring rain. The traffic is awful and the night unusually dark. We both don’t feel like camping tonight so we stop at the first pensiunea we find near Vatra Dornei. Like many Romanians, the owner of the pensiunea speaks French and she offers to host us in a very nice room but too expensive for our budget… We tell her we can’t afford it and we will go elsewhere but she insists: “Tell me what price you wish to pay and you can have the room for this price”.
The next morning, we drink a coffee on the terrace in front of the house, enjoying a moment without rain. An hour later, we pack our luggage watched by couple of curious Romanian tourists. Once more we have to answer the usual questions before leaving…
JP: People often tell us how brave we are. Are we? I don’t know what to think about this… Yes, travelling by bicycle is harder than flying somewhere and spending few weeks in a hotel between beach and cocktail clubs but I’ve never envisaged this travel as holidays. On the road, we meet so many people who struggle for living every day, so many young people who were not as lucky as we are to be born in a country where you can earn enough money to afford this kind of travel or simply get a visa to enter the neighbouring country. Because these people didn’t choose to endure the life they endure, nobody tells them how brave they are… Isn’t this unfair? These people cannot live the life we live, they cannot take a plane and come home if anything goes wrong.
“Drum bun! Drum bun!”
Everybody is waving at us when we leave. In Vatra Dornei, we spend almost the whole day writing our blog and drinking delicious cappuccino… When we decide to go, it starts raining again. Tonight we are decided not to yield once more to the temptation of easy comfort but we would love to find a shelter so that our tent will be dry in the morning.
We are cycling uphill under the rain without knowing we are the wrong direction, we just cycle… cycle… until we find a hotel with a wooden stand in its backyard which seems just big enough for our tent!
With the help of our magic letter (couple of sentences in translated to Romanian to introduce us and ask if we can sleep around here), the owner agrees that we can spend the night outside under the shelter for free.
/ It rained all night and in the morning, when we peered out of our tent, we wondered… Should we wait here until the weather gets a little bit better? We might as well wait for days before it stops raining so we decide to go, it is time to test our waterproof jackets and gloves!
Cycling down the valley along Bistrita river, we feel that autumn is slowing taking its grasp on the landscape, trees by the road are sometimes tainted in bright yellow and red colours.
JP: My fingers are frozen… Brrr! It’s so windy and only 6 degrees! Tina seems fine with her winter gloves but I feel stupid that I stored mine so deep in my panniers… How will I manage to cycle in winter if I’m already cold now? How will I feel when it will be minus ten or minus twenty? hum… I don’t know if it comforts me now to think that it will be much worse soon 😉
We followed the valley of Bistrita river during two days before we reached Bicaz lake. The second day, the weather improved a lot. The view on the surrounding mountains was much nicer under the sun and we could witness more of the traditional rural life. During the last couple of weeks it became so common for us to see horse-drawn carts and babushkas wearing smock with rubber boots that we don’t anymore look at it as something special…
Bicaz Lake is an artificial lake built about fifty years ago in the valley above the town of Bicaz. Back then, many villages of the valley were rebuilt higher in the mountains before being submerged by the waters of the lake. For a whole afternoon we cycle up and down by the lake of Bicaz. It is quite demanding but the beautiful view of the lake and the impressive massif of Ceahlău makes it worth sweating on bike here 🙂
On the other side of the lake, in the little town of Izvorul Marmaitei, we are warmly welcomed by Barbasan and his wife Gabi in their beautiful wooden house at the foot of Ceahlău mountains. The panorama from their garden is simply breathtaking. Barbasan and Gabi are in their fifties, they have spent the last decade building this house themselves! After offering us some shots of local liquors, they tell us stories about their son who was travelling by bicycle in South-East Asia. “We are hosting travellers because our son was also hosted in some families and it helped him a lot during his travels…”
How nice is this! This is maybe a good reason for our parents to learn English 😉
Barbasan knows a lot about the region, its history with Stephan the Great but also mysteries and legends: “Once, they found in a cave around the bones of a giant, his skeleton was about ten meters but the USSR agents sent it to Moscow and we never heard about it again…”
We listen to all these stories while eating a delicious mamaliga (a Romanian speciality) prepared by Gabi. The cheese comes from a shepherd in the mountains and the cream from a local farm, this is simply delicious… well, just look at our happy faces in the photo below! 🙂
Barbasan opens couple of maps on the floor and tells us that we should consider to climb the mountain tomorrow: “From here it only takes eight hours to get to the summit and be back, we will wait for you at home with a warm meal!”
Even though we had a pretty long day cycling, it doesn’t take much time to convince us to go… Let’s pack our bags, set our alarm clock and tomorrow early morning we will be in the mountain!
Morning! Already?! We peer at the window of our room and see the whole mountain range lit in the red light of the rising sun. It’s going to be a beautiful sunny day! A minute later the table in the living room is covered with plates. Gabi prepared a mouth-watering fish egg salad and lot of other yummy things. We eat a lot because today we will need a lot of energy!
Barbasan was right, for eight hours we hiked on forest paths and rocky trails surrounded by wonderful nature and meeting very few people. From peak toaca, at 1900 metres, we have a beautiful view on Bicaz lake where we cycled yesterday. Back then we had then no clue we would climb this mountain today.
Tina: Enchanting beauty that makes you fall on your knees and forget all your troubles.
JP: Hehe, even thought it sounds a bit too much, Tina is right, this was one of the nicest day of our journey so far. The fresh air and beautiful landscape made us smile all day but damn, I regret that I didn’t choose a bigger size for my new hiking shoes because after 8 hours my feet feel like squeezed tomatoes, all strange shape and red 😉
When we get back to Barbasan, the table is ready for us with some delicious stuffed peppers. Unfortunately, Barbasan and Gabi have to leave for couple of days but they persuade us to “camp” in their garden tonight and rest a bit.
JP: We’re not yet in winter but the nights are already pretty long so that evening we watched a movie in our tent. That was actually a Japansese movie, such a sad story about the war that even when the movie ended we remained speechless watching the laptop until we realized how weird we felt to be so far from home, in a tent in the Capathians of Romania.
When we wake up in the morning, the whole mountain range is veiled by the mist. Soon, with the first sun rays, the mist disappear and leave a wonderful view on the mountains. We’re drinking tea, reading, feeling just great…
Bicaz is an industrial and sad looking little town. Lot of beton buildings, couple of shops , one café and an enormous and freaky cement factory owned by some German company…
JP: In Bicaz, we have the very bad idea to stop at a café. The place didn’t look any special but we just wanted to buy a yoghurt at the nearby supermarket and drink a coffee. As soon as the waiter saw us, I ask ina to order a coffee and I get to the supermarket. There are maybe ten kinds of yoghurt on the shelf but all of them are Danone! Danone everywhere! I don’t want to encourage such company in their holy crusade to buy the whole world of milk products… No, so what can I do? I get to another shop… Same thing! So well, shame on me I resigned myself to buy one Danone yoghurt. I bought some nuts too and came back to Tina.
“What? You didn’t find anything else than this sh…. Danone!?”
“I couldn’t, there’s nothing else… “
We ate it… and hated it! It really tasted bad and the nuts which I bought to enhance a bit the flavour were also crap. And the coffee? This was maybe the worst powder coffee I had in my life, I couldn’t finish it and wondered how they dare to call themselves café. Sorry for this angry parenthesis but, not everything is pink 😉
We are not cycling only for the sake of covering long distances but to meet people and discover places so, instead of going to Piatra-Neamt, we decide to head south from Bicaz to Lacu Rosu (red lake) and cross the steep but not less scenic Bicaz gorges.
Cycling up the gorges is very pleasant despite the occasional reckless drivers. The huge cliffs by the side of the road remind us how small we are. Half an hour after reaching the top of the gorges we are in Lacu Rosu, the lake everybody talks about. A woman at a stall talk to us in Hungarian… and soon we realize that everybody around us actually speaks Hungarian. Do you know the Hungarian liquor called Unicum? Here they drink Transnicum 🙂
After the First World War, some regions of the former Austro-Hungarian empire were left to Romania. In these regions, there are still about 2 millions ethnics Hungarians today, they speak Hungarian and feel Hungarian even though they live in Romania. This is a very complicated (and highly politicised) situation which led to tensions between the two countries. We are not going to debate about it here but we are glad that we met many tolerant and open minded people on both side regarding this issue…
We optimistically planned to sleep by the lake that evening but after we noticed all the signs stating “Camping Forbidden” we decided to ask someone for an advice and the man answered : “Oh, you shouldn’t sleep here but come with me, I have a house with a garden five hundred metres from here from here, you will be safe there!”
That was that simple, another camping with a view on the mountain!
Tina: For me, Lacu Rosu was just another “you-really-have-to-see-this-amazing-place” experience. Sometimes, you just you don’t find a place as exceptional as the travel guide book. After a very hard day cycling uphill (sometimes 10% steep) with a front wind, this famous lake with a couple of trees peeping out simply didn’t meet my high expectations. “What do you suggest, doctor?” — “Stop reading the travel guides, Tina!” 😉
But I did enjoy the adrenaline ride in the Bicaz gorges!
The next day, we cycled on the same road in the opposite direction. This time we had a nice tailwind, we hurried downhill in the gorges on the way to Piatra-Neamt until we spot two heavy bicycles by the side of the road… Yes! It’s our friends from Velosophics! Lena and Hardy were eating by the road on their way to Lacu Rosu so we grabbed little food and agreed to meet again the next day 🙂
Tina: It feels great to meet them again, but a little break by the road doesn’t seem enough. So this time, we exchange phone numbers and agree to meet tomorrow when they arrive to Piatra-Neamt to spend some time together 🙂
Just a couple of kilometres before Piatra-Neamt, we follow a small road to Bistrita monastery, a 15th century Orthodox monastery that Barbasan recommended to us. The evening Mass is just finished when we enter the main church. Priests and monks are dressed in black from head to feet, they walk like spectres in the dark candle-lit corridors. On the walls there are couple of bloody drawings depicting people burning and cut limbs to remind us we should not sin. In front of us two women are proceeding some kind of ritual, they kiss an icon, say a prayer then bend and pass through a frame under the icon, then kiss some other icons on the back of the room then come back to the first one and start over again. How many time will they repeat this? What does it mean to them? We stand in the dark, not daring even to whisper a word. The atmosphere is very grave, almost mystic. Nobody smile. One monk passing near Tina point silently but quite angrily at her feet. Tina is covered from head to feet but she’s wearing sandals and we wonder a moment if the monk was offended by her visible toes or by the fact she is wearing trousers, not a long skirt.
Tina: With all respect to places like this, when I come there, it usually makes me freeze… partly because of the dark atmosphere and partly because of the monks looking at me as if I was an intruder, willing to speak with neither me nor with JP; but all this is probably due to my lack of knowledge about the place and the dress code!
The best way to learn about the habits is to talk to people, but if they refuse to speak to you ’cause you don’t respect the habits, it becomes a vicious circle. And believe me, there is a lot of questions I would have asked them…
(Un)fortunately, we can’t learn everything from books or wikipedia 🙂 And so there will still be places like this shrouded in mystery.
At the entrance of the monastery, there are some flyers warning against the evil effects of pornography, promiscuity and even computers!
In Piatra-Neamt, we are welcomed by Emil, a CouchSurfer who lives in the town centre with his mum and his smart Jack Russel puppy called Hercules! 🙂
We stay couple of days at Emil’s place. Even though Piatra-Neamt seems to be a an interesting city to explore, we spend most of our time drinking tea and discussing environmental and social issues with Emil and his friends.
One day, we meet Emil’s friend Cosmin with whom we spend a great evening, drinking some delicious homemade cherry liquor in an empty kindergarten! That evening Lena and Hardy join us again and thanks to Cosmin’s hospitality, they will stay for the night in the kindergarten, sleeping in the kid’s dormitory like the Snow white on the beds of the Seven Dwarfs 🙂
We also spent an evening at Lucian and his girlfriend Delia who works on a project to promote nature friendly agriculture. Our time in Piatra-Neamt definitely wouldn’t have been so great without such a nice company. We are so thankful to all of you guys 🙂
JP: Talking to locals, you hear sometimes some incredible stories like this one: The cement factory in Bicaz is actually shipping cement to Italy to some resellers. As Romania seems to have a law encouraging international trade, the cement sent to Italy becomes cheaper in Italy than in Romania, so some local Romanian companies import the Romanian made cement from Italy. In simpler terms, this means that the cement is shipped to Italy and sent back in Romania, which is totally insane… But this is not all, some people told us they heard the same stories about fruits and vegetables transiting out and in Romania! Is it necessary to remind that trucks generates pollution, often smash humans and animals on the road, make dreadful noise, and overall use a lot of resources (from the petrol to fuel them to all the material needed to build them which too often end up trashed in nature). I’m quite convinced that we can decrease the truck traffic by 80% or more… How? Well, trucks should not be used to carry tomatoes from Spain to Netherlands when tomatoes can grow in Netherlands so let’s boycott everything which is unnecessarily imported. Lots of people already do it, let’s make it a bigger movement. It’s as simple as this 😉
Tina: Again and again travelling makes you realize that no matter where, important is with whom. After a couple of weeks on the road, it’s usually not a hot shower nor a comfortable bed that you miss the most but your friends…
Leaving Piatra-Neamt, we decide to have a look at an organic food shop that Dalia recommended to us. There we found some delicious bread and cheese 🙂
We are cycling to a city called Roman following a pretty wide road, some drivers are driving so fast that we just jump from the road to the verge. We leave for good the Carpathians that we followed more or less from the Czech Republic and head to a flatter land. We can admire a wonderful sunset behind us and soon the night is here. We don’t want to risk our lives cycling on such a road at night, so we decide to ask some people if we can set up our tent in their garden.
Cycling here and there in a village, we hope to come across somebody. We first meet two men who were about to leave to Piatra-Neamt, then we see a woman arriving home. Once again we use our magic letter and it works! When Violeta reads that we cycled from France and from the Czech Republic, she smiles and says “Bravo!” looking truly amazed, then she invites us to her home and suggests we can sleep in the house but we prefer to sleep in the garden.
After we pitch the tent, we meet the husband of Violeta and his son Vlad. Vlad is only 16 years old but he is very interested in our travel and asks us a lot of questions. He speaks some English so he translates our travel stories for the whole family. Everybody seems to enjoy our company and anecdotes with sincere curiosity. They invite us for dinner and once more the food is simple but delicious, vegetables and fruits from their garden and a huge bowl of about 5 kilos of local cheese!
Their dog will be guarding our tent for the whole night 🙂
In the morning they offer us a bag of the sweetest tomatoes you can imagine and another bag full of cheese… not counting the grape that we refused!
Back on the road, we decide to take small roads through villages to avoid as much as possible to cycle on the hazardous main roads. Taking small roads often promises a lot more adventure and more beautiful landscape.
After 70 kilometres we to refill our bottles in a well and eat some biscuits in front of a nearby shop. After she sees our bikes, the shop seller offers us two glasses of coke while an elderly woman tries to tell us something we can’t understand… 10 minutes later we understand what was her point. There is no more asphalt! The road we are following is even too small to be on our map, we only have couple of names of villages written on a paper. In the next village we are surrounded by a group of gypsy kids. We shake a lot of hands and ask them if there is any asphalt soon on the way to Iasi:
“What’s your name?”
“Elvis! My name is Elvis! “
“Ok Elvis, do you know if there is long before the asphalt comes back?”
“Oh, very long!”
We cycle on a rocky trail past shepherds and their flocks of sheep in beautiful rolling green hills, overtaking horse-drawn cart driven by men wearing local straw hats. Women are sitting on hay-carts and waving at us with beautiful smiles. This area is very rural and people are so friendly and welcoming. In the villages, a lot of colourful clothes are drying by the road (we’ve read that in Romani culture, people keep the habit of their ancestors from India who washed their clothes every day because of dust and humid whether. In the morning, men put on a white fresh shirt and kids don’t mind getting dirty during the day knowing that the clothes will be washed anyway).
On top of a hill we cycle in the middle of a herd of goats, then enjoy a beautiful view on the plain to Iasi. We are so happy to be here and witness this life, read such happiness on the faces of the kids who run after us in the villages shouting joyfully “Hello! Hello!”.
By the the time we get back to the main road, it’s already dark. Despite the fact we have already cycled about a hundred kilometres today, we keep on cycling to Iasi because Anca is waiting for us 🙂
JP: Fortunately, the main road to Iasi is very wide. We cycle the last 20 kilometres, constantly checking our rear view mirror, ready to jump out of the road in case some reckless driver would come too close to us. I curse many times at cars passing by at crazy speed, some of them probably close to 180 km/h, overtaking other cars no matter what is coming in the opposite direction (they expect that the slower car will leave enough space for them to pass and cross fingers). One car even overtook another one by the right in front of us, not talking of those overtaking us to turn right just few metres in front of our front wheel… We were relieved when we saw the sign 60, but actually nobody seems to care :-/
That evening we meet Anca and her boyfriend Mehdy at Piata Unirii, a large square with a fountain in the centre of Iasi. Anca hosts us in the room of her brother who just left Romania to climb the Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
With Anca and her friends we discover the alternative night life of Iasi, the biggest city in Romania after Bucharest. Meeting good people is what makes our travel so enriching and in these regard, the few days we spent in Iasi were wonderful. Anca is the founder of a local NGO promoting ethical-ecological-sustainable way of life (Mai bine). Talking to her and to her friends was the most inspiring and motivating experience of our travel so far. We share with Anca the same values, and we think highly of her work and respect that she invests so much of her time and her energy to fight for a better world.
JP: I can’t believe my ears when Anca shares with me her interest about degrowth and mention the name of Pierre Rabhi. Pierre Rabhi is an agro-ecologist born in Algeria, a truly wise man who understood long ago the environmental crisis we are facing and presents interesting alternatives. I advise anybody to read his books or even watch his interviews on the net (probably only in French).
With Medhy, the boyfriend of Anca, I also had a lot to discuss. Medhy is as crazy about music as I am so we could talk for hours…
Anca told us about Palas – a huge newly built complex of malls and cafés right in the centre of Iasi, just behind the magnificent palace of Stephan cel Mare (Stephan the Great). Only ten years ago, there used to be a green park with trees where people could go to relax, but since the town sold the place for a ridiculous price of 50 euro per square metre to some heartless promoter, there’s only shiny neon-lit shops where people now spend the money they don’t have for things they don’t need…
Tina: Our non-consumerist way of travelling and refusing kindly to put everything we buy into a plastic bag – and not only one, they give you straight three of them! you know, just in case…; well, all of this seems just like a drop in the ocean when we come to a place like Palas. It’d been weeks I was desperately looking for a yoghurt of a local brand which wasn’t bought by Danone or an other big company. I finally found one in Piatra-Neamt, but seriously, folks, is that really how we imagined a fairer world some years ago? Populations eating junk food, big corporations swallowing all the small businesses and all our money ending in the pockets of a few very rich people while the majority is becoming poorer and poorer?!
In Iasi we repaired our beloved bikes at a friend of Anca. We got everything checked on both bikes for the price of a beer. We didn’t expect the mechanicals to speak such good English and be so friendly but hey, we are in Romania 🙂
We could write much much more about how nice was our time in Iasi it but we are running out of time now 😉
Leaving Iasi isn’t really easy, especially with a wrong map…
We finally find Stefan, a young man who saw us on the street and is wishing to help us. He invites us to his home to check on the internet the best way to head out of town. He also tells us that we probably won’t be able to cross to the Republic of Moldova by bicycle at this border crossing. We quickly check if there are any other border crossing nearby but this is the only one in the area so we will give it a try.
We spend our last night in Romania in a field, couple of kilometres before the border crossing. Some animal is watching us in the night while we are cooking. The steps sound as a deer but the silhouette looks different. It is not a wild pig because they are so smelly that we would notice them… Whatever it was, it went away and we are once more sleeping under the stars without tent…
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