Crossing into Romania….and a whole new time zone

16 September 2018

We left Belgrade in warm sunshine and had a relatively easy ride out of the city along a cycle path heading north, until it completely stopped – just like that – a dead end along the side of a busy road…what to do next?? So the next part of our morning was carrying bikes down steps, pushing along dirt tracks and eventually getting ourselves back on roads that would take us towards the Romanian border.  The cycling from here was pretty boring in terms of landscape.  We saw a lot of this….

Not a lot to report other than Nigel being offered (and drinking!) some local hooch offered to him by a friendly local who pulled up on his bicycle while we were packing our shopping away. The hooch was in a plastic water bottle, so Nigel initially assumed it was in fact water (or so he says…)! We also saw a huge flock of starlings darting around like a shoal of fish, which Nigel tells me is a “murmuration”, and that helped break up the monotony of the landscape on the afternoon journey.

We had no end destination in mind other than as near to the border as possible, so when we reached Kovacica we decided to investigate some accommodation while sitting coffee bar listening to radio station called “Shit Raadio”, which wasn’t as bad as the name suggests! After a few attempts we eventually found somewhere about 8km away, so off we went. And what a find! The accommodation was a set of bungalows around a series of man-made lakes, which are generally used by fishermen – and it also had the only restaurant within a 20km radius so we were also covered for our evening meal.

Despite the fact that there was a huge private party (which we found out later was for a 2-year old) the restaurant was still open, so we had the most ginormous platter of meat to share…2 chicken breasts, 2 pork chops, 2 gammon steaks, 4 kebab rolls, chips and salad…and with drinks it came to the princely sum of £12! Breakfast was a lardy but delicious plate of fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes and feta cheese.  There was a fishing tournament going on (who knew such things existed?!)  and just as we were sitting down to breakfast we saw one of the fisherman who had done an all-nighter haul in a huge catch, looking very pleased with himself.

Our route on Saturday morning took us through some lovely little villages, which were all bustling with activity, and it was only after lunch that we realised how near we were the Romanian border …we hadn’t actually expected to get there until Sunday! But with 25km to go we spent the last of our Serbian Dinar and off we went.

We haven’t mentioned this previously, but Serbia has by far been the dirtiest country in terms of dumped rubbish and fly-tipping.  And depressingly, most of the rubbish is glass and plastic and be easily recycled.  A few miles from the Romanian border we came across the worst we had seen on our trip…which was not a nice lasting impression of what was otherwise a lovely trip.

And so we reached the border…the Serbian policeman at the exit point was really friendly, chatty and  interested in our bikes and our cycling…Mr Romania on the other hand was slightly grumpier and a bit of a jobsworth…asking Nigel to take off his helmet and confirm his passport details ….it was beard discrimination!! But off we went into country 14, full of the usual excitement and trepidation that we get when entering a new country.

Our first observation was that they were an hour ahead of Serbia and the rest of Central Europe so it was already 4.15pm so we needed to get money and accommodation sorted.  ATMs are not as plentiful here as everywhere else we have been, so although we could buy water at a shop on contactless, we had no Romanian currency to pay for accommodation.  Booking.com was showing no accommodation locally but Google maps threw up a castle in a rural location called Rudna that was 6.5 km away,  and as the only other option was a campsite about 30km away we opted for that. We got there but when we went to open the gate, there were lots of BIG pigs wandering around and it didn’t look like it was open for business, so we decided to leave it and look at wild camping. That idea was scuppered when we realised that the road and fields nearby obviously had a pig endemic as they were everywhere, so we decided it was the “be brave” approach and ask someone if we could camp.  We stopped at the first house and had kids laugh at us when we asked if they spoke English, but undeterred we cycled off and stopped further up the road where we had seen a group of guys around a car earlier.  They were gone, but we saw people coming out of a house nearby so we approached them – and bingo! Armed with Google translate and some pigeon English on their part, they got what we were looking for and mentioned the castle. When we said we had been there, the mother of the family said she would come with us to help…so back to the castle we went, with an extra cyclist in tow. She went straight in the gate passed the roaming pigs and straight into the most surreal farmyard experience ever.  The “ castle” was actually a a very rundown scary-looking large housewith about 10 dogs, 10 cats and kittens, scary pigs, chickens, goats, a donkey all roaming around …it was all going on in a very overwhelming way.

The owner was in the field milking a goat but our new cyclist friend told her our story and she came to meet us.  Part of me was hoping she didn’t do accommodation but there was nowhere to camp there without being disturbed but all the animals, so I decided that this wasn’t the time to be judgemental and at least see what was on offer.  She called her daughter on Skype to speak English to me, and when I heard them speak German together things just got easier! Maria the host was originally from the area but had lived in Cologne for 35 years before moving back, so having lived there myself we immediately had a connection. She had basic accommodation available  with evening meal and breakfast, it was cheap as chips – and even better, we could pay in Euros! It certainly wasn’t luxurious and our room hummed with the sound of mosquitos and a hummingbird hawk moth, but the evening meal, all sourced from the farm, was delicious (including the maggot in Nigel’s peppers!), Maria was a fantastic and friendly host and the beds were comfortable.

Getting up in the morning was a bit of an effort having lost an hour with the time difference, but fuelled with a farm breakfast we said our goodbyes and we were off.  As well as boring flat roads, today we had a full on headwind, which made things difficult.  We passed through lots of villages with very little to see, but having heard horror stories about Romanian drivers we were pleasantly surprised that the drivers weren’t as bad as we feared – and the roads are in pretty good shape as well! The final 15km into Timisoara was all on a lovely cycle path by the side of the Bega river, so it was all very easy.  Timisoara is the third biggest city in Romania, was the first mainland European city and only second in the world after New York to be lit by electric street lamps in 1884,  was the first Romanian city to be be non-communist in 1989 and will be the European city of culture on 2021.

It is also a lovely city, with unusual baroque architecture and we decided to push the boat out and have the daily menu lunch in the main square.  Fantastic food – and like the Serbs they like their meat – so we had a nice relaxing couple of hours chillingly put and taking shade from the the 32 degree heat.  The final part of the day was unfortunately on a busy road,  but our knack of cycling out from the edge of the road seems to work as it forces drivers to slow down before they pass us, so it wasn’t too hairy.  Destination for the night was in Buzais and we arrived around 5pm for a lazy evening.

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