The last thing I did before leaving Budapest was to book my flight home from Istanbul. There have been points where I would have been ready to head home earlier, but the timing feels right now with only a little over a week to go. The train station was a few stops on the metro from the hostel. I liked the metro in Budapest because in the spots where I did have to change lines they were really close to each other, not like in London where you walk up and down all over the place to change. The carriages on one line were fairly new and the old ones on another had been refurbished. The trams were very modern and much more used than the one in Edinburgh (don’t mention the tram!). The buses were another story. Some that went by looked new, but the ones I caught were older than me and not so great. One had a standing area at the back which I thought was a good idea to encourage everyone to move down the aisle when it got full, but it didn’t work. The rail running around at rib height and the big step down right beside weren’t that friendly as the bus bounced us along. But I was on the metro now to leave.
There were a grand total of two of us in the six berth cabin on the train. My friend for the trip was on his way home from Austria for his uni break. A fellow traveller who catches the train because he likes it even though flying would be faster. He gave me a heads up about passport control that would happen in the wee hours of the morning. He only had to show his EU ID. I was basically stamped out of the EU and back in an hour later. All because Romania isn’t fully included in the Schengen visa area. The scene out the window when I woke back up was of villages whose houses were a strange mixture of falling down disrepair and shiny new or renovated. The train mostly went along a plain of fields with the woolliest sheep feeding in stubble beside their shepherd, haystacks with long poles down the centre, and a little snow in the pockets of hills at the fringes of the plain. For a few hours in Romania this was slowest train of my whole trip. I don’t know if it was the condition of the tracks or the need to timetable trains passing and single track sections.
I stopped in Sibiu to see some more of smaller places, because it was on the train route to Bucharest and because it’s in Transylvania. I got a lot of looks walking up the hill to the old town and the hostel. I decided I need to try walking around in Brisbane in the same get up to see what happens. In winter to be fair. Women in fairly conservative dress came out of a church. The two main features of the buildings in the old town are the bright colours and the eyes in the rooves. Openings in the tiles that look like eyelids which usually don’t look like they’re glassed in or even have mesh to keep the birds, bats, rodents or possums out. Although I guess the possums aren’t so much of a problem. Where the roof of a house was being repaired, the eyelids were propped open as with toothpicks.
The clock tower on the big square is open to walk up to the top and look out over the city. Red rooves and old buildings in the immediate vicinity, and more modern version of the same further away. I liked seeing the mechanics of the clock. A smallish set of cogs and levers glassed off in one room controlled the hands on the clocks on each of the four side of the tower. The walls were narrower up here and incredibly thick at the base. The wind poked itself through gaps in the gap filler around the window frames. Just off the square I got some deep fried bread with a fairly sour cheese inside. Some women walked past in full length colourful skirts, almost fluoro colours. The cold wind drove me back inside to plan the next few bits of my trip. I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to do a day trip from here to see some castles so I decided to squeeze in a stop at Brasov.
I still had a whole day in Sibiu and I felt like I needed some physical activity so I hired a bike to ride to the outdoor museum of Romanian houses and then onwards to some of the villages on that side of town. On the ride out of town I saw modern houses in the solid colours of the old town and red tiled rooves, with the saturation turned up a notch. They still had a sense of the older local style, but no eyes in the attics. I stopped to check the map and an older fellow walking his bike in the opposite direction said something to me. I think he was checking whether I needed directions, but when I couldn’t speak Romanian, Spanish or German he laughed good naturedly, shook my hand and continued on his way. Just around the corner I found a bike track going where I was.
When I asked at the hostel about hiring a bike I was told they don’t really ride in winter. Well, a small amount of ice fell before I left town, then some snow, and my toes got pretty cold, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as riding in Finland in the summer rain. Perhaps it’s usually colder here.
The open air museum has traditional houses and workshops collected from all across Romania and reassembled on site. I think there might be more to see in summer, as it was the labels mostly just said the occupation of the householder and where it came from. Wandering salesman, intellectual priest with school room below. Because they are organised by trade rather than region it was harder to see the regional differences. There are water wheels, floating water wheels, horse driven wheels, wells of different types, and windmills. A wooden church made only with saws and hatchets. And a few examples of crosses contained under small rooves with painted interiors used as road markers in the past. I also liked how the fences were made in all different ways by weaving branches.
Time was escaping. I got back on the bike and continued away from town with the bike path towards Răşinari. At the turn off for another village that I planned to go to I decided not to shorten my route just yet and to stick with the bike path. There was forest on either side and it wasn’t long before I saw a man collecting wood with his horse and cart. The bike path came to an abrupt end at a bridge about a kilometre or two short of the village, just after the last big modern house. The shoulder was mud so I held my nerve and stuck to the right on the road. Cars waited if they couldn’t pass but didn’t leave an awful lot of room. I wasn’t sure how the horses would deal with me when I overtook horse and carts. They were fine. In the village it became clear that it would have been a little rude to build a nice new bike path all the way through town when most of the roads were mud and there were few footpaths. Two boys chased after a horse on the loose. The water from Sibiu in my drink botte tasted like mud so I stepped into a local store and was met by stale cigarette smoke.
Don’t be misled by the horses, carts and mud. Or the dogs wandering around and the sheep in a muddy yard. The cars were modern and almost without exception, the buildings themselves were in very good repair, from the outside at least. Good paint jobs, good roof tiles with very few missing, an old woman washing her painted wooden door or gate. The dogs did make me slightly uneasy especially after I remembered that Romania might be a country where rabies is still a problem. I told myself that the people here lived with these dogs so they were mostly probably ok. Google said they was a road directly to the next village. I found it. The easiest part to ride on was where the water running down the track had washed away the mud and exposed rocks. A fellow carrying branches on his shoulders back to his house looked at me as if no one had ridden a bike up this path before. I gave it as far as the hairpin. Seeing more of the same around the corner, with my phone and hence map going flat and the sun making for the hills, I turned round and went back the way I came. I’d got a feel for one village, I just wouldn’t be able to compare it with its neighbours.
The ride back was pretty quick. Along the way I decided I wanted to give the bike a wash down before I took it back. It had got rather muddy and the woman when I got it had taken so much care to clean the seat and handle bars before I took it out. The hostel staff member wasn’t around so I borrowed a mop bucket and a pretty sad kitchen cloth and took the bike downstairs. I picked a spot that was already kind of muddy and set to it. When I was nearly done, the old woman in the flat downstairs came out and made it clear that I should have been doing it over a gutter in a nice clean bit of concrete so the water ran down the alley. The staff member appeared from working on his car and smoothed things over. He said she was concerned the water was going to go in under the building. I’m not sure what she thinks happens when it rains.
I thought I’d try the Transylvanian restaurant in town for some traditional food for dinner. I knew it was downstairs from the street but then the door was closed. There was noise behind so I opened it. It felt like everyone turned to look at me and that I’d stepped back into the nineties with hairdos and jackets to match. There was something else I couldn’t immediately put my finger on until I realised that the smokey haze I’d assumed was from a fire was from all the cigarettes. It was such a strange concept it took that long for me to realise. It caught in my nose and throat and drove me out to the street. No Transylvanian for dinner, sorry Vlad. Fast food it was, and meat to boot. Even the soups were meaty.