Crossing into Romania was a breeze. I rode over the bridge that separates Bulgaria from Romania and halfway over the Danube river saw the sign welcoming me to a new country – ROMANIA!
After crossing the bridge and cycling onto Romanian soil, I then pedaled up to the Romanian customs and passport patrol booths. Without a word I handed over my passport where two men sitting inside a cramped room typed away at their computers, stamped my passport and then handed my documentation back to me. I was in!
Moments later I was being pulled over by the police. The two fat officers inside their tiny white vehicle pulled up beside me and said something to me in Romanian. I have no idea what they said.
“Do you want to see my passport?” I asked the driver.
He said something back to me while making a motion with his hands, but again, I had no idea what he was saying, so I handed him my passport anyways.
The driver eyed the passport, showed it to his fat partner in the passenger seat, flipped through the pages a bit and then handed the passport back to me. The two men said something to each other, shrugged their shoulders and returned to me with another long line of Romanian. Not understanding what the two men said, but anxious to get away from them, I just said, “Thank you” before throwing my leg back over my bicycle and pedaling off. I half expected them to stop me again, honk, or yell at me to come back. But they never did. I was free!
Romania looked exactly the way I thought it was going to look. This long row of nearly identical (but different colored) cars in the photo above pretty much sums up my expectations. But the further I went down the road, the more I began to see the landscape change.
After less than an hour inside the country I hit my first dirt/gravel road and I had no idea how long the off-road conditions would last. In the end, it took me nearly three hours to travel about 40 kilometers down the dirt and gravel road that you see in the photo below. Even though this road was bumpy and occasionally very difficult to navigate, the good thing was that it was flat and there were hardly any vehicles on the road at all.
Once the dirt/gravel road ended I found myself cycling on a very flat and smooth asphalt road. The roads in Romania are surprisingly well maintained (when they actually paved).
In a small village where the road took a sharp turn to the right I made a quick stop at a store selling ice cream out of a freezer. Completely off my bike and with my head half-way in the freezer, I heard a honk from behind me. When I looked up, I saw another Romanian police car parked just feet from where my bicycle was parked. I jumped a bit as the driver waved me over.
With two unpaid for ice creams in my hands, the driver again said something to me in Romania, which I could not understand. He made a sign with his fingers as though he wanted a paper – money perhaps? (I had been warned that the police in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine will often times stop foreign tourists and try to get money from them for no reason.) Aware of the fact that they might be looking for a bribe, I decided to play dumb. When the officer began rubbing his thumb and fingers together, I pretended to have no idea what he could be asking for. I tried to hand him my passport as I had done with the other police officers earlier in the day, but he didn’t want to see it.
Finally, I started pointing up the road in the direction I was heading. “Brasov!” I kept saying. “I’m cycling to Brasov.”
The officer seemed to be getting tired of me at this point. I couldn’t understand him and he couldn’t understand me. So again, I just said, “Thank you” before turning around, grabbing my two ice creams and going inside the shop to pay.
Inside the store I could see that the owner of the shop had been watching my altercation with the police from a tiny curtained window. The young man had a strange bug-eyed expression on his face as I entered. He seemed to be almost afraid of me. I paid the man for my ice creams, smiled and then returned to my bicycle outside. Unfortunately, the police were still there – still watching me – just sitting in their car, which was no more than a meter away from my bicycle.
Trying to ignore the policemen, I turned my back to them as I approached my bicycle, quickly put the two ice creams inside my handlebar bag, jumped on my bike and pedaled off down the road.
As I cycled down the road, I could hear the police car zip away in the opposite direction. A hundred meters down the road I took a quick look back to see if I was being followed, but the police car was gone and I was alone once again.
Autumn is clearly here and the days are getting shorter. I feel this more and more each day that I am on the road. Sometime around 6 PM I began to look for a place to sleep. But the road was flat and there were hardly any trees or bushes to hide behind. So I just kept cycling. I cycled into a small town where I stopped to get some provisions for the night at an impressive supermarket buzzing with Romanian shoppers. I locked my bicycle up outside and got a good starring at from the security guard inside the store as I walked around in my grubby bike shorts/jersey while picking out some tomatoes, lettuce, Snickers bars and water.
Back on my bike, my one and only thought was that I needed to find a place to sleep. The sun was setting and I could tell that there was a storm on the way. I needed to find a place to set up my tent… and I needed to find it fast!
After cycling through a small town I turned left onto a bumpy asphalt road and then made another sharp left up a muddy dirt road covered in trash. Pushing my bike up the steep dirt track to the top of the hill, I knew when I reached the summit that I had found what I was looking for. Before me was a large tree-covered hillside with no one around and dense green woods for as far as they eye could see. I cycled about 1 km down a rarely driven dirt road and then pushed the bike on foot a couple hundred meters back into the trees where no one passing by could easily find me. It was here that I set up my tent and unrolled my sleeping bag. Just moments later the skies grew dark and opened up in massive downpour – a rainstorm that would last for the next twenty hours and keep me trapped inside my tent for the next day-and-a-half.