“An O.H. & what?”
We were laughing hysterically and Alex wasn’t quite sure what was going on.
Which was fair enough really because what we were doing was pointing randomly at potholes in pedestrian sidewalks, hanging wires and non-hard hat wearing construction workers and calling “OH&S!” to each other, then laughing because it all seemed so strange to us. We were in Bucharest, capital of Romania and lots of things were seeming strange.“Occupational Health and Safety is what is stands for” We explained to our Romanian friend, who after that got very much on the bandwagon of pointing out the various life threatening situations around the city.
Alex is a friend of ours from work and for the last 2 years has taken time out of his busy schedual to take friends on a tour of his home country, and this year, other surrounding nations as well. Alex is a Driver for Topdeck and for this trip he drove us between seven countries in his eight seater van. He was Driver, Guide, Translator, Food expert and Comedian all wrapped in to one!The first thing you have to know about Romanians is that they have incredibally warm hearts, I have made a lot of Romainian friends over my years with Topdeck and all of them have encouraged me to come to their country, to visit their homes and family and always in the invitation somewhere is the offer of some home made goulash! I was so happy to finally make good on these invitations when a week in to our time in Romania a big dinner was held in Targu Mures. But I am getting ahead of myself. For now we are in Bucharest.
The two sides to Romania –
Bucharest was an interesting city, it looked like it once might have been great but has fallen into disrepair in more recent years. Huge fountains were empty, Mosaicked floors were missing chunks and roads were potholed. Huge and impressive buildings like the Presidential Palace were still huge and intimidating, but had slightly lost their shine. In the old town, tiny churches crowded next to ancient ruins and statues of Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) and were surrounded by wine bars, cocktail lounges and gentleman’s clubs. This area was busy and was obviously the central tourist district, but without the overbearing souvenier stores and flyer wielding touters who populate most tourist spots the world over.
My favourite place we visited was the Peasant museum. Alex even managed to learn some things in there and he had heaps to tell us about the different national costumes.I only spent two nights in Bucharest before we packed up the van (including Druacula’s coffin on top) and headed up north.
The first part of the drive was through poor areas where we saw many people working with donkeys and carts and their houses that looked unfinished to my eyes. People were wearing what I would associate with gypsy costumes. Bright scarves with tassels, legs thick under many layers of socks and tights, long skirts, thick shining black plaits. Their carts on the road created frustration for Alex. Not during the daytime were they a problem he explained, but when they drive their carts at night, slow in the dark and withough any lights or reflectors. That was when accidents happened.We weren’t in this area long before we came to the edges of the Transylvanian Alps. It was October and they were glowing with Autumn leaves. The sky was clear and blue – a stark contrast to the grey and rain we had had for the first few days- and this sunshine set the precedent for the rest of the trip. Every day the cry was ‘this weather is AMAZING!’ Our aim for today was to take the Transfagarasan road across to the north of the country. On the south side of the Alps the ground was grassy and dry but as soon as we passed over to the north side we were greeted by a light covering of snow and alpine lakes. All of our group (except Alex) were Australians and New Zealanders to whom snow was still a novelty and so this was where we stopped to take pictures and to have lunch in a little restaurant on a lake.
The main reason the Transfagarasan is famous is because a few years ago Top Gear came here and named it ‘the best road in the world’. I have no idea of what rating system they are using but there is no denying that it is a spectacular road. It has many hairpin bends, steep slopes and breathtaking views. We went down slowly stopping for many pictures but one particularly flash car passed us three times on his way down, up and back down again. Obviously having fun.We spent that night in Brasov where we were met by Bogdan who was so excited to have us in his area that he took us out for dinner; ordering delicious local food on our behalf as well as a shot of hot rakia with peppercorns in it. Rakia is a fruit brandy normally between 40-50 proof, packs a punch and we were soon to find out is served with most meals. The delights of Brasov only just started there though and after dinner Alex announced that he had a surprise for us. We climbed back in to the van and sometime after 11pm arrived at a lookout point atop one of the mountains that surrounded the town. From our high vantage point we saw the lights of the town flowing like a river of stars through the dark valleys below us. On the mountain opposite us was a lit up sign replicating Hollywood (or maybe Hollywood replicated Brasov) spelling out the name of the town in bright white letters that made the scene look like it came straight from an advertisement encouraging people to visit. We surrounded Alex and enveloped him in a group hug in thanks of bringing us to this special place.
Stick around for the next installment of our Balkans road trip!