Apart from the megaloman palace of dictator Ceausescu, Bucharest has little to offer to the average tourist. The largest building in Europe is built on a hilltop and has 12 floors and 8 underground nine floors. It contains 2000 rooms. A whole district had to cede for its construction.
I park my loyal folding bike next to the tourist gate and wait for the signal of the next English tour. Yesterday I reserved a ticket by phone, but at the end it was not necessary because the number of visitors on this day did not exceed the maximum. The security measures are extensive. Hand in your passport, body scan and, if necessary, body search and luggage scan, as is usual at airports. The interesting tour takes more than an hour, but unfortunately the guide does not have a microphone so that in the enormous chambers much of the story is lost. Certainly when you separate yourself to take pictures without too many people in the foreground. Frequently I get behind and have to search for my group. I realise that this is one of the reasons why I hate group travels. Nowadays, the huge building is used for the parliament and hall rental for congresses and parties. The tourist will only see a small section. It would definitely take a day.
An Triumphal Arch and the interesting 18th century Stavropoleos church are worth a visit. However, if 3 busloads of tourists invade the terrain, I think it’s time to explore the recent history of Bucharest.
On Revolution Square, one remembers the overthrow of the regime of Ceausescu. A monument is erected at the site where thousands of demonstrators gathered in 1989 and where Ceausescu from the balcony of the Senate building still tried to keep the people in control. Together with his wife, he escaped there by helicopter but was soon caught and executed.
The monument of the Revolution is already in decline. It crumbles on all sides, is not kept clean and weeds grow between the stones. A sad observation, in my opinion.
When you are talking about Transylvania, many people will think of a world-famous Count who loves to drink blood. I never got into it but now I read that it’s a novel by the Irish writer Bram Stoker. Dracula’s famous castle is located at Bran, south of Brasov. Stoker got his inspiration by one Vlad III who impaled his opponents on poles like a suckling pig. He lived in the 15th century and may have spent some days in this castle fleeing for the Turks and Tatars. In fact, this most unusual castle was built at the end of the 14th century to protect the important Bran Pass against the Turks. In the early 20th century, it was used as a summer residence by King Michael and Queen Marie, who were deposed in 1947.
Nevertheless, the route to the castle is flanked by souvenir shops with Dracula trash. My arrival is at the right time. It is heavily cloudy, with occasional rainfall. The castle built on a hilltop is covered by mist. SPOOKY !!
The Carpathians in Ukraine have raised my interest. It is a beautiful mountain range with wooded slopes and scenic villages. On the Romanian side, beautiful winding roads lead through the forests of the Carpathians to Bukovina, in the northeast of Romania. It borders on Moldova and Ukraine. This area is characterized by the many painted monasteries. Many are walled because in that time, in the 15th and 16th century, the area was beleaguered by the Turks. The exterior of the churches is completely painted with biblical representations to give the illiterate a better understanding of the Biblical texts. So I visit a lot of monasteries, such as the monasteries of Humor, Voronet, Putna, Sucevita and Moldovita.
Not yet tired of all those monastery visits I proceed to the western part of the Romanian Carpathians. I do not want to skip the Maramures wooden churches either. I love the environment and culture. The drive from the eastern to the western part of the Carpathians is not far at all, but I take all the time to explore everything on my way. Anyway, the condition of the road does not allow me to travel fast. Half-way I stay at Vladimir’s. A camp of my heart. A grassy field, very limited amenities, but a huge hospitality. There are a number of camper cars. Vladimir likes to have a lot of people around him. He likes cooking and likes to prepare an authentic Roman dish for more than 10 people. The wine is free and the cozy atmosphere is in proportion. During a bike ride through the mountains I fall off my bike and get a muscle rupture in my back. Please, don’t let me sneeze or cough the coming two weeks because it feels like a dagger stab. But fortunately everything is going to be normal again. Coughing and sneezing are back to normal
Maramures is considered to be the most traditional area of Romania. The wooden churches, often from the 14th century, are to be seen mostly in the Izei valley. The interior of the wooden churches contains beautiful old paintings. Just look at Barsana, Rozavlea and especially Botiza where I find a beautiful campsite just in front of the entrance of the church in this sleepy village.
I hear that in this part of Romania the number of processions is high. At the end of June it is Saint Paul’s turn. The villagers adorn themselves in their traditional clothes and follow the priest to a cross several tens of meters outside the church. The priest holds a long sermon, there is singing, and the girls wearing the banners flirt with the boys. Funny to see. They have little interest in what the priest has to say, but they simply participate because the procession belongs to the tradition of the village. Afterwards, the priest blesses the cross and the attendees with the well-known wet brush. A good reason to clean my camera lens again.
As I drive south, I realize that the seasons are changing fast. The farmers are working hard to mow the grass, often with a scythe and stack them on the sheafs. Large machine mowers are busy mowing the wheat fields. They leave behind a bare yellow field. The air is full of dust and the giant machines regularly block the narrow country roads, on their way to the next mowing job. It is also the time of the sunflowers. Many acres are sown with these flowers and give the landscape a beautiful yellow color. In the omnipresent stork nests, the young already undertake flight attempts to leave the nest within a couple of days .
Close to my intended camping site in Timisoara, my navigation system makes me follow a strange route, through a residential area. In itself nothing wrong with it. Just check left and right to avoid hitting parked cars or other objects, but after my visit there will be some houses without electricity or phone connection because the navigation lady warns for low bridges, but not for low hanging cables, sometimes hung as garlands across the streets. The residents responded only resigned. Probably habituation.
Timisoara is the big town in the southwest of Romania. Here in 1989 the revolt against Ceausescu began when a critical pastor was forced to move to a small village because he had too much influence on the population. The demonstration began cautiously, but expanded quickly until thousands of people gathered in front of the church after which the army was ordered to shoot at the demonstrators, causing many deaths. The revolution then spread rapidly over the country with the expulsion of the Ceausescu regime as a result. I visit the permanent exhibition of the 1989 Revolution to research the events of those days. I still remember this period because I then learned the news of Ceausescu’s death through big headlines in the newspapers in the bus in Santiago de Chile while traveling through South America.
With tension, I stand before the Roman-Serbian border with the reminder of the debacle of the Ukrainian border in my head.
But everything is going allright. Just a short look in the camper and a lot of kindness. I notice that many Serbs speak English well. Easy for the communication. Within half an hour I’m on the way through Serbia via Novi Sad to Belgrade.
In Belgrade I find a small campsite. The owner also has a camper rental and a garage for camper construction. While talking I tell my concerns about the cover of my rooftent. In 15 months of travelling it has had a lot of collisions with branches (and even cables). The result is cracks in the composite shell. Leakage will be the next step within a short time. He introduces me to a manufacturer of plastic tiles. Unfortunately, he can not help me in the short term. After 10 minutes he comes to me and tells me that a friend of his, who has a plastic sanitary company, probably can help me quickly. Together we drive to this friend and after inspection of the tent he concludes that he can do the job in one day. In detail, he explains the process steps. Various layers of polyester are laid over and finally covered with a hard coating. That night I can sleep in the truck in his field. This time not in the rooftent, because otherwise, under the influence of the fumes, I’m still asleep, but in the camper itself.The result is very satisfactory. Let the branches come now.
My visit to Serbia is short. I now limit myself to the northern part. Later I come back for the southern part
The border crossing with Bosnia and Herzegovina goes very smooth.
I’m immediately confronted with the super slim minarets of mosques. Inherited from the Ottomans in bygone times. It seems to me that the prayer call is hardly noticeable. This time I am not awakened at 4 o’clock by the muezzin who has his speakers at volume 10, as in other Muslim countries.
Travelling through the country, I experience the population as pleasant. But concealed, the differences between Serves, Croats and Bosniaks are still present. You sometimes see Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian flags. There are a lot of abandoned houses with many bullet holes. If you look at the beautiful surroundings you can not believe it. It looks so peaceful.
Via Jajce I travel to the Croatian border where I have my first rafting experience on the Una (or Sava) river. Although the river is not as wild as in spring, it is especially the waterfalls that make the trip an experience.
Just across the border, in Croatia, I visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park. An extensive area with turquoise lakes and waterfalls. The entrance fee is quite high, but it is worth it. The lakes and waterfalls are connected by footpaths and plankwalks. There are free electric boatconnections across the lakes and also a free shuttle to the main hubs. You need a full day and start early, because from 10 o’clock the area will be crowded with tourists. My trip through Croatia takes place in high season, the holiday season in Europe.
The planning for coming weeks will look something like this: After a tour around Slovenia, I will return to Croatia. Starting in Istria and southwards along the coast towards Dubrovnik, I’ll take a detour to southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Mostar and Sarajevo, especially, are on my list. Then cross to the southern part of Serbia where there is also a lot of beautiful things to see. Thereafter, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia follow. In short, the zig-zag route continues in the same way.