Category Archives: Romania

Constanta to Odessa 29 August – 13 September

Disks, dogs, deltas and ‘Da Svedanya’ Danube!  It’s just over 5 months since we left London and we’ve covered 9200kms.  We’re currently in Odessa, but for a variety of reasons are about 45 days behind our initial schedule predictions, and our Russian visas’ expiry date draws ever nearer!

Oh dear!  After our hard efforts to claw back time lost waiting around for a new bike in Serbia, we then lost any gains we’d made in the black hole of Constanta.  I mean black hole in a good way – it was impossible to leave.

Constanta's Grand Casino

Constanta’s Grand Casino

The campsite, a few kilometres up the coast at Mamaia, was lovely, and more pertinently, full of lovely people.  We were determined to stay just one, perhaps two nights and then leave as soon as we’d caught up on our blog, but every night it seemed we had new neighbours, all of whom were engaging and interesting, and very multicultural….Germans, Austrians, Kiwis, Poles and Romanians all proved excellent company, and far too much of a good time was had.  We’re particularly grateful to Dorin, his wife Violetta and their friend Nikolai, who is an outstanding chef.  We’d spent our fourth night in the campsite and were determined to leave in the morning, but Dorin talked us into staying for lunch, and Nikolai’s fish soup was well worth staying for….as was Dorin’s home-distilled (52% alc by volume) palinka.  So….that turned into a long afternoon of eating, drinking, swimming in the sea and then more eating and drinking, and we stayed for a fifth night.  The next morning we met up with Nikolai in Constanta and took advantage of his local knowledge and generosity as he drove us to a really nice bike shop.  Shortly after we’d entered Romania, a small but stout stick had leapt up and bent the disk of our rear brake.  It wasn’t a show-stopper, but was rubbing persistently and we wanted to get it straightened out or get a new disk.  Unfortunately, it proved too buckled to be straightened out, and the shop (not surprisingly) didn’t have a 203mm (loaded-tandem-stopping) disk in stock, but they said they’d order one for us, if we could wait a few days for it.  We were desperate to get back on the road though, so Keith sweet-talked the owner into ordering it for us and then sending it to his friend in Tulcea, where we would be arriving in a few days time.  At last we were nearly ready to leave Constanta….after taking a quick look at a beautiful Roman mosaic.

Roman Mosaic

Roman Mosaic

And even better than the mosaic were the epitaphs on huge stone blocks displayed outside the mosaic museum, and which had been translated from Roman into Romanian and English.  Here are a couple.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do.

“Salutation, passer-by! And also (salutation) to you!  You stopped, saying to yourself in your mind: who and where from is this one (who lies here)?  Listen, stranger, my homeland and my name: My place (of origin) before, was Hellada.  I was born [that means] by a mother from Athens and my father was coming from Hermione, and my name is Epiphania.  I saw many lands and sailed all over the sea, because my father, as well as my husband, were ship owners, whom, after death, I laid into the grave, with clean hands.  Really happy was my life before!  I was born among the muses and I shared the goods of wisdom.  As a woman, to women I gave much (help) to abandoned wives, being ruled by pious sentiments.  Also I much helped the one retained on the bed by suffering.  Because I well realized that mortals’ fate is not according to their piousness.

Hermogenes, the Acyrian and Tomitan, from the Oinopes tribe, full of gratitude to his wife, devoted [this monument], as remembrance.”

Funerary altar, Tomis (now Constanta), 2nd – 3rd century AD

“Andrys built this funerary monument, carved skilfully, for his deceased wife – Kyrille, to remember her outstanding wisdom she had in marriage and in life.  Devout deed was done only by the burial.  Because he knows that the memory of those who were before is flourishing for the mortals remaining.  (Also) he understood that time destroys everything, but retains this: the glory of the living and the virtue of those who are dead.”

Funerary epigram.  Tomis (now Constanta) 3rd – 4th century AD

Aren’t they good?  Anyhow, Roman epitaphs admired, all we had to do was pick up our kit from the campsite and say goodbye to the campsite dogs, who we’d developed a real bond with.  They did bark rather annoyingly through the night at intruders, but made up for it by being very playful and gentle during the day.  They also had the hilarious habit of stealing any shoes that were not placed inside your tent.  Under the flysheet was just not good enough.  I warned the other campers, but nevertheless awoke on at least two occasions to see random shoes and sandals strewn around the site, and bleary-eyed, hungover cycle-tourists trying to locate the missing half of their pair.  The boldest of the shoe-thieves was still just a pup: all soft, round belly and rolling puppy-gait.  She would follow us down to the beach and dig holes in the sand whilst we wifi’d, and would then sleep under our flysheet for the night.  There was also a shy, black, wire-haired terrier-type pup and a sandy coloured whippet-type who was the trio’s leader, and even though we never fed them, they would regularly sleep by our tent and trot along beside us as we went about our business.  It was hard to leave them.

Eventually we wrenched ourselves away and headed northwards up the Black Sea coast, past ruined castles and an old Roman port & town that had been abandoned when shifting sands made the port inaccessible.

The ancient port town of Histria.

The ancient port town of Histria.

The site was extensive and still being excavated, but we could almost hear the bustle of its hey-day as we walked through the maze-like remains of walls and foundations, deciding for our own amusement what each building’s role might have been.  Frustratingly, the curators hadn’t seen fit to explain, which is a shame, as with just a little bit of signage the place would burst into life.

Reaching Tulcea (pronounced Tuul-cha), we received a text from the Constanta bike shop to say that they couldn’t actually send the disk to Tulcea as agreed and could we come back to Constanta.  Needless to say, we said ‘no’.

At Tulcea, we had rejoined the Danube again, although it was unrecognisable from the little river we first saw in Donaueschingen.  It becomes a large delta that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to vast numbers of birds and other wildlife.  There are three main channels in the delta, and we took a ferry along the middle one to Sulina, the most easterly town in Romania, and, more importantly for us, the site of ‘kilometre zero’….the official end of the Danube.

Kilometre Zero

Kilometre Zero

You can just about make out the zero sign in the photo.  It’s on the far side of the canal above the Pino’s front saddle.  We would have liked to have cycled to the end, but there are no roads that go that far, so we had to haul the bike and baggage onto the ferry for the four hour journey.  Once in Sulina we could either return to Tulcea the next morning at 7am, after just 13 and a half hours (overnight)  in Sulina, or wait a further two days for the next ferry.  We decided to wait.

Black Sea beach life in Sulina.

Black Sea beach life in Sulina.

There’s no campsite in Sulina so we pitched on the beach with a few other tourists and made friends with the local dogs.  It was generally quite relaxing lazing on the beach with a small pack of happy hounds, but they did have one slightly annoying habit.  During the day they just milled around, doing the rounds to see who was cooking.  But come nightfall, it seemed that when a new tent arrived, one dog would be assigned to ‘guard’ it.  Your guard would sit beside your tent, leaning annoyingly on the flysheet at times, and then woof loudly (about 10cm from your ear) at any hint of an intruder, real or imagined.  This would goad all the other dogs into action and the whole pack would charge about barking until they were sure they’d seen off whatever threat they thought there was, and they’d then return to their respective tents to doze until 20 minutes later when one of them would think they’d caught scent of an intruder and the whole shebang would kick off again.  Gaaah!!!  I preferred the Constanta dogs.  Broken sleep aside, the beach was still a relaxing place to camp.  And having watched the sun set over the Atlantic coast many months ago, it was a nice counterpoint to watch the sun rise over the Black Sea.

Our trusty guard, snoozing before a night on duty.

Our trusty guard, snoozing before a night on duty.

In Sulina we celebrated the end of the Danube chapter of our trip by treating ourselves to a budget-breaking, but unmissable boat trip into the delta, which we shared with three Romanian tourists.  Our little boat nosed its way through increasingly narrow canals filled with frog-laden lilies, past marshland and reedbeds.  Then, after refuelling, our guide then steered us out into the open sea and to a newly formed sandbank where I was most uneasy as we were led from the boat and marched into a nesting area to see some chicks.  The other boat-goers were delighted but once we realised what was happening Keith and I hung back rather reluctantly and tried in our best combination of Romanian and miming to explain why we didn’t think we should be there.  At last we moved on though and on the way back to Sulina saw some pelicans, and a snake swimming in the water.

The delta was teeming with frogs.

The delta was teeming with frogs.

The Danube delta is home to the largest colony of pelicans outside Africa.

The Danube delta is home to the largest colony of pelicans outside Africa.

Take off!

Take off!

With our disk problem nagging away at us we did some research into trains and taxis from Tulcea to Constanta, and though frustrating, it would be possible for Keith to get a maxi-taxi (minibus thing) to Constanta to pick up the disk after we disembarked the ferry from Sulina….but it turned out the shop hadn’t even ordered it so we scrapped that idea and have ordered the disk (and a new rear rim as we’ve discovered some cracks in ours) from the stalwart JD Tandems who are posting it to a hostel in Sevastopol (Crimea)…..we now just have to get ourselves to Sevastopol on time and hope there isn’t another ‘Serbia/frame’ fiasco.

Getting bike parts wasn’t the only thing frustrating us.  Despite being able to see Ukraine from Sulina and Tulcea, when we finally got hold of a map (something we’d been trying to do throughout Romania) and looked into the matter properly, we discovered that you can only cross the border at Galati, a day’s ride back west from Tulcea, only to then have to ride all the way back east along the shoreline looking across at Tulcea and Sulina.

In the end we spent exactly three weeks in Romania, and loved almost every minute of it.  The royal welcome we received wherever we went was quite giddying and we spent much of each day with big smiles on our faces.  People went out of their way to help us whenever we were looking for maps, water or bike parts.  At one well-stop we were completely taken aback when a man jumped down from his cart and presented us with handfuls of plums and apples…a totally unexpected and spontaneous act of generosity.   We also really enjoyed the ease of wild camping and, of course, I adored all the stray dogs.  The only downsides were the heat and the amount of littering despite bins being placed every 20m or so along the roadside in villages.  And one particularly unpleasant incident caused me several days of impotent rage.  As we rode into a village I thought I could see a bizarre effigy hanging from a low tree, but as we drew closer I saw it was a dog, hanging loose-limbed and fly-black.  A piece of blue nylon twine was drawn around its neck.  This was no accident.  Some b*st*rd had deliberately strung it up.  Vengeful fantasies fuelled the next few days pedalling.  But I don’t want this isolated hateful incident to mar my memory of Romania, and would recommend it to anyone who likes cycling and camping….and dogs.

Eventually though, it was time to move on from Romania, and enter Ukraine…..via about 1500m of pot-holed Moldovan tarmac.  This double border crossing involves lots of waiting, exacerbated by the border guards’ well-practiced disinterest.  It took us a little over two hours to cover less than three kilometres….but I guess it could have been worse….and the guards, particularly the Ukrainian ones, looked somewhat dour so we put on our most pleasant, acquiescent faces and were patient.

We felt a little sad saying goodbye to the Danube.  Aside from our detour to Poland it had been a reassuring presence in our journey since mid-June, but it was exciting to reach Ukraine.  Although we spent a couple of weeks cycling from Lviv to Kiev in 2010, it was a completely different experience entering through a land border and this southern part of Ukraine feels very different to the western region we visited previously.  On our first trip, Ukrainian was the predominant language we encountered, with Russian only spoken by preference when we reached Kiev, but here on the Black Sea coast there is a notable Russian influence.  The adults we’ve spoken with have said, when asked, that they preferred to speak Russian, and some children we’ve met claim they cannot speak Ukrainian.  This surprised us as we understood Ukrainian to be the official  national language and the school teacher we had met on our first trip had told us that Russian was not taught in her school, only Ukrainian (with German and English as foreign languages).  But here on the coast we’ve met children who are taught both Russian and Ukrainian, and some, apparently, only Russian.

Another big difference, which feels especially apparent after three weeks of enthusiastic Romanian waves, smiles and greetings, is the way we’ve been for the most part ignored as we’ve pedalled through this part of Ukraine.  There’s been the odd toot and wave from a car driver, and we can still draw a crowd if we stop, particularly in Odessa, but we’ve ridden through entire villages and been completely blanked, people literally stare right through us with no flicker of emotion on their faces.  I don’t think it’s a sign of unfriendliness though, as whenever we’ve needed to ask for directions or water, people have been very helpful.  I think it’s just that more people are reserved here and keep their emotions to themselves.  We did however rouse one local’s emotions in a negative way when we thoughtlessly misused some water from a street-side well for rinsing a shirt when the well actually served the local houses with their drinking water requirements.  We’d done this a number of times in Romania and no-one had raised an eyebrow, but with hindsight I can understand that we should perhaps have tipped the water into a different bucket.  We apologised as best we could, to little avail and still feel quite upset about the whole incident.

A further difference has been the type of car.  In western Ukraine the roads were dominated by old Ladas & Volgas.  In the south, whilst there are still a number of old Ladas trundling around (many with jacked-up suspension, fake tiger-fur seat covers, after-market spoilers and ‘LADA’ proclaimed across the sunvisor – yay!), the majority of cars are newer and, like in Romania, include a fair amount of expensive brands, but oddly nearly no Romanian Dacias.

One thing that it isn’t different between western and southern Ukraine is the quality of the roads.  Without doubt Ukraine has the most crap roads of any country we’ve been to – both in the degree of crapness and the number of roads that are crap.  To be fair, there are some sections of good tarmac, but there are also miles and miles of pot-holes, gravel, and cracks.  Many roads see frequent HGV use and the tarmac has softened and then been pressed into huge folds by the weight of the trucks.  It’s not uncommon to see car-wide dirt trails on either side of the remnants of tarmac as drivers prefer to speed along on the dirt rather than wreck their suspension on the tarmac.  Or alternatively cars will weave across the road, picking their way as best they can on the least awful bits of tarmac.

With cars preferring the hardpacked dirt at the side of the road we had Ukraine's tarmac all to ourselves.

With cars preferring the hardpacked dirt at the side of the road we had Ukraine’s tarmac all to ourselves.

We’re currently in Odessa, which feels a very friendly and cosmopolitan place.  Unlike in the villages, people have been much more open about smiling at us, asking about the bike and taking photographs – all stuff that we like.


Budapest to Constanta 11-28 August 2011

Hurrah, hurrah, we have a working tandem and have also just reached a major milestone in our trip: while not yet at the mouth of the Danube, we have ridden all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea and are enjoying a few days of relaxation at a beachside campsite just north of Constanta.  For the stats junkies, the speedo reads just over 8400 kms (over 5000 miles).

We've ridden from the Atlantic to the Black Sea!

We’ve ridden from the Atlantic to the Black Sea!

After Keith rebuilt the tandem, we finally left Budapest late in the day on 11 August.  We didn’t particularly want to retrace the same route that we’d taken from Budapest to Novi Sad almost 3 weeks earlier, so headed out along a main road to try to put some fast kilometres in and make up some of our lost time.  This approach was certainly good for fast pedalling, but not particularly pleasant traffic-wise so the next day we headed onto quieter roads, which retraced some of our previous route until we took a turn through a nature reserve where we stopped briefly at a water management museum showing how Danube flood defences had developed.

Even when retracing our old route, familiar places offered new surprises for us:  lunching in Baja we noticed some women in traditional Hungarian costume who told us we should stay for their dance performance in the town square that afternoon.  We did, and were treated to a fine display of synchronised cushion-waving followed by some equally well-executed ‘dancing slowly whilst balancing a flask of wine on your head’.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

You can't fault a spot of traditional Hungarian cushion-dancing.

You can’t fault a spot of traditional Hungarian cushion-dancing.

However, time was pressing, so we cycled as speedily as a loaded tandem can manage across the flat flood-plains of Hungary and entered Serbia at Backi Breg, avoiding the longer, hillier route through Croatia that we’d taken the first time.  My impression of Serbian villages was greatly improved this time round as the first few did not seem as litter-strewn as the one’s we’d encountered previously, and best of all offered excellent roadside water facilities.  These were much appreciated as the weather was becoming almost unendurably hot, and slipping on a cold, wet t-shirt was delicious when the thermometer hit high 30’s (0C). These water fountains were large hexagonal structures set back from the road and offering six lovely clean sinks, each equipped with motion-sensor operated tap.  Perfect for filling bottles and washing smelly tops, but sadly they only lasted for the first few villages, after which we were back to our usual strategy of filling bottles at petrol-station toilets or asking in bars….or as a last resort buying bottled water. Keith tolerates the heat pretty well, but I wilted and was becoming quite grumpy until I remembered the fine white Egyptian cotton shawl my mum had given me a few years ago which was buried in the bottom of my pannier.  Draped over my head and shoulders and wetted regularly at water stops it gave just enough protection from the fierce, relentless sun to allow us to pedal throughout the day.  The terrain remained beautifully flat so we made good progress back to Novi Sad and at last we passed the point where our frame had broken and were heading through new territory towards Belgrade.

We’d been camping wild for a number of nights by this point so were, to be frank, in need of a wash, so it was big grins all round when we stumbled upon a beach resort on the banks of the Danube that had a series of pipes gushing fresh, cold water upwards in a fountain-like arc, for swimmers to rinse river water off with.  We washed our hair and soaped our bodies and clothes, and, afterwards, whilst watching some piglets being loaded into a rowing boat (as you do), struck up conversation with the retired captain of a Danube barge who was currently taking his grand-daughter swimming at the beach.  Despite our still-dripping wet clothes he invited us back to his home for a cup of coffee, which we gratefully accepted as Serbian coffee is delicious.  We met his daughter, who spoke good English, and enjoyed chatting to them and looking at family photos.  We had intended to leave after the coffee, but they insisted we stay for lunch too.  So, after several unsuccessful attempts to persuade them it was far too generous and absolutely unnecessary, we gave in, said a heartfelt ‘hvala vam’ and tucked into a delicious plateful of meat patties, peas in a superb buttery sauce, bread and a tomato & onion salad.  They were a wonderfully kind family, and as we left the mother pressed a large jar of home-made plum jam into our hands, despite our protestations that it wouldn’t fit in our panniers and that they’d been generous enough already.

After lunch we made our way to Belgrade and dropped down through tiny cobbled streets, glimpsing the city laid out in front of us.  It was then a pleasant ride through a riverside park to the city centre.  Unfortunately, once in the centre, the traffic, heat and noise combined with long, steep hills rather coloured my opinion of the place.  We did a quick, and for my part rather grudging, spin round the main sights, stopped for a beer and a (admittedly delicious) pliaskovice (an enormous and very tasty Serbian burger) and then headed uphill again (of course) to arrive at the only campsite in Belgrade at about 8pm…to be told we couldn’t camp there.  So, off we went up more hills in more traffic, but at least not so hot by then, until we were finally far enough out of the city to find a suitable place to camp wild.  I have to admit this did not endear me to Belgrade and I won’t be rushing back there….but perhaps I am being unfair to the place.

The next day was for me similarly disappointing: busy roads, large lorries, long climbs and, as always, the mind-frying, inescapable, scorching sun.  At last though the hills flattened out and we were back by the Danube.  The jewel of the Serbian stretch of the Danube is the Iron Gates and Djerdap National Park.  The river narrows dramatically through high white cliffs and at over 80m deep is the deepest river in the world.  The road climbed high along the cliff edge, through tunnels and under outcroppings, with dramatic views down to the river below.

The Djerdap Gorge.

Looking at Romania across the Djerdap Gorge.

We’d had a choice of riding on the Romanian or Serbian side and feel our choice of staying in Serbia was the right one as the views were outstanding and, importantly for me at least, we were on the shaded side of the gorge.  Even so, the hills were hot, hard work, but the descents and the scenery were well worth it.

This beautiful environment has been recognised as a nice place to live for millennia.  In the 1960s evidence of a 9,000 year old settlement was discovered at Lepinski Vir.  Strange, trapezoid huts, altars, burial grounds and unique sculptures were uncovered down at the river edge.  The original archaeological site was flooded when the Iron Gates dam and hydroelectric station was built, but there’s now an interactive museum showing film footage of the initial archaeological dig, numerous artefacts and sculptures, a reconstructed hut, and ‘virtual village’ tours.

The Iron Gates barrage was where we left Serbia and crossed into Romania.  Our first few Romanian kilometres were on a rather unpleasant busy road, but took us to a large town that to our delight had a Lidl, so we immediately stocked up on muesli and a few other essentials before heading off into the countryside.  I have to say, I think I’ve enjoyed Romania the most of all the countries we’ve been in so far.  It immediately had a different architectural feel to the other countries we’ve passed through, and the music from car stereos had an eastern, almost Indian, feel to it.  People seemed very pleased to see us and we felt a bit like royalty as we rolled through villages and towns being waved & smiled at, tooted cheerily by car and truck drivers, and hi-fived by children.  But what has really made Romania stand out is its intriguingly diverse range of lifestyles.

Filling our water bottles.

Filling our water bottles.

Many families still rely on a horse (or donkey) and cart for transport and appear to scratch a simple living from the land, for instance by herding goats and sheep, gathering dead sunflower stalks (for purposes unknown), scything wild grass from what appeared to be common pasture land and building their homes from bricks made by hand from mud and straw.  We were sometimes woken by carts trundling past our tent at 3am, as presumably it is easier to work in the cool of the night rather than the blistering heat of the day.  We saw all sorts of people, both in horse-drawn carts and in cars, collecting their drinking water in well-used plastic containers from roadside taps or wells, and washing clothes and carpets at communal waterpoints.  But then in contrast with this peasant lifestyle, we saw a surprising number of people driving modern western-standard cars.  Of course, there are plenty of elderly Dacia 1310’s trundling around, but what we hadn’t expected, particularly in the rural villages, were the new BMWs, Audis, Toyotas, Mercedes, Renaults etc that you would see on any western European road.  Unlike other ex-communist countries we’ve visited, the lorries in Romania are generally not old soviet-style beasts, but almost exclusively modern-looking, and the bus-service between villages and towns is provided by air-conditioned Mercedes minibuses.  We would ride through several kilometres of small scrubby fields seeing crops being harvested manually and loaded into donkey carts, then suddenly came across huge hectares being farmed with the most gigantic John Deere tractors that would be a luxury only the largest UK farms could afford.  What kind of professions do people have here who can afford S-class Mercedes and Porsche Cayennes?  How come some farmers have EU funding and shiny new equipment whilst others are scratching in the dust?  At one point we had wondered if the horse’n’carters even had a cash economy or simply lived directly off the land, but then I saw a horse and cart park up next to Penny Market (an Lidl/Aldi type supermarket but which seemed quite upmarket after miles of small, poorly stocked village shops) and the family went in to do their shopping.

At last!  A vehicle that goes slower than we do.

At last! A vehicle that goes slower than we do.

We’ve met a number of young professional Romanians with good English skills and quizzed them unashamedly on their experience of life in Romania and the impact of the change from communism to capitalism.  We got some surprising, and some not so surprising, answers.

The surprising bit was the pride with which Ceaucescu’s era was spoken of.  Although the people we spoke were only aged from 25 to perhaps mid-30’s, and would have been very young when the regime ended in ’89, they were proud of his legacy.  The fact that under Ceaucescu Romania had cleared its debts (from near bankruptcy in ’77 to a positive balance and lending to other countries in ’87) and was a major exporter (almost 90% of their produce was exported) was very important to them.  They felt that health and social care had been better under his regime too, with state-run trips for children to experience the sea or the mountains, healthier diets in schools and state-promoted exercise regimes.

They also helped us understand the wide differences in lifestyles that we’ve seen.  As the country moved from communism to capitalism, some people were lucky enough (and savvy enough) to take advantage of being in the right place at the right time, for instance the manager of a state-run collective farm, or hotel, or some other service, would be in a good position to buy that facility from the state at a very good price as the state wanted to sell and move away from communism.  Other brave and enterprising people who had not been in such an advantageous position left Romania, often illegally, immediately after the revolution and sought asylum in places like Italy, Germany and the UK.  After much hardship and difficulty, they would eventually find work and, on the wages they could make in western Europe were able to return to Romania and buy land and property.  Property values rose rapidly with some investments doubling in a month, and so it seems that the transition period immediately after communism was very good for a number of people, and certainly has helped us understand the presence of donkey carts and John Deere tractors in adjacent fields, the western-standard cars, and the relatively high prices in the hotels and beach resorts around Constanta. Nonetheless, the cost of living is a big problem for many people and apparently most families will have at least one member working abroad and sending money home, and the local Romanian salaries for jobs like doctors and teachers remain bewilderingly low compared to house prices – a surgeon might earn €200 a month, €150 for a teacher but the rent for a 1-bedroom flat in an average town is €400 a month?!  Allusions were made to the (ahem) ‘creative ways’ in which people may supplement their incomes but perhaps this blog is not the right forum for those musings…

Whatever the ethical arguments may be for different political and economic systems, rather selfishly, I’ve enjoyed cycling alongside the horse and carts far more than the cars and lorries, and wonder what the future holds for the poorest farmers’ way of life as car-ownership and foreign trade (with the associated distribution of goods in large lorries) increases.  It’s been quite unnerving in larger villages seeing speeding executive cars and huge juggernauts weaving between clip-clopping carts.  And I much prefer the semi-wild diversity of the small farm/common-land with its piecemeal mix of crops, meadow and shrubland to the vast uniformity of hectare after hectare of monoculture crop in fields you can’t see the beginning or end of.

Goatherds at dusk.

Goatherds at dusk.

We’ve enjoyed and embraced the simple life of wild camping for far longer than we ever have before – 17 days non-stop from Budapest to Constanta.  We camp behind fields of sweetcorn or sunflowers and bid the goatherds ‘Buna Ziwa’ as they lead their charges from pasture to pasture.  We’ve bathed in cool, clean rivers, dried ourselves and our clothes in the sunshine, bought juicy nectarines and tomatoes from roadside stalls, queued with the locals at waterpoints and fallen in love with every skinny, stray dog or cat that’s gazed at us (and our supper) with entreating eyes…but on the other hand, now we’ve reached Constanta we’re also enjoying being able to shower whenever we like, charge our netbook and access the internet….so perhaps modernisation isn’t an entirely bad thing.