Before looking back on Romania, we should mention our final night in Serbia. When reading blogs by other cycle tourists, the Negotin camping and guesthouse kept being mentioned as the place to be. And rightly so! An oasis of calm and an incredibly friendly host. We stayed in the permanent tent with mattresses for the same price as pitching our own tent and enjoyed the fluffy towels and being able to put a wash on! It’s going to be hard for any other campsite to live up to it! Negotin itself is another buzzy Serbian town, and we enjoyed a cheeky beer on the bustling high street with locals laughing with us at our brown legs/white feet tanlines.
The next day we cycled into Bulgaria and shortly afterwards into Romania. It was a bit of a stressful cycle, with busy roads at the border crossing and headwinds in scorching sun.
Romania immediately felt very different and markedly poorer. Horse and carts joined us on potholed roads and old people sat in the sun on benches outside their low, crumbling houses gave nods of recognition and waves. There suddenly seemed to be lots of dogs trotting around but luckily all minding their own business and not too many attempting to chase us!
We knew were going to have to wild camp, as there were no campsites or hotels/hostels for 160miles. Once it got to late afternoon, we started to ask in a few schools and police stations, and eventually were happily told we could camp outside what was possibly a town hall. We suspected that we got the thumbs up from a random local with no authority, so we quickly pitched our tent behind some old pallets and metal fencing. We noticed we were being watched from the bushes… by a motheaten dog. Given his stumpy spiky tail we (or rather, Verity) named him Bogbrush and decided to give him some bread as payment for bodyguard protection. It worked! Bogbrush lay outside our tent all night, giving the occassional low growl when people walked past or came to use what appeared to be the town water tap.
The next few days in Romania followed a similar pattern of hot sun, headwinds and high-fives to friendly Romani children. In the villages, the locals seem very house proud, sweeping the earth outside their homes and beautiful allotments, and yet once we leave a village there are soon piles of rubbish and people happily jettison their litter out of car windows. As we have travelled east there have been donkeys instead of horses pulling the carts and more goats and turkeys eating piles of corn on the sides of the road, who knew Romanian turkey was such a thing? The children have been the cheeriest on the trip so far and cycling through villages in the early morning or at lunchtime has been great fun.
Keen to see another side of Romania, on our rest day we took a minibus just an hour north to Bucharest. It felt like we had travelled to a completely different country: being back in a city with grand architecture, seeing big shops like Zara and H&M and rows of cafes full of Romanian, German and French voices.
We had lunch in the Old Town which has a number of beautiful old buildings and some hidden ornate churches. We had lunch in a “traditional” restaurant, however having seen rural Romania over last few days it felt very Disney and unauthentic. That said, we enjoyed being tourists for the day and a much needed day off the saddle. And don’t get us wrong… we love cured meats, delicatessen cheeses, strong coffee and filament light bulbs hanging from rustic driftwood. We really do. It’s definitely nice to come to when your bottom is saddle sore, your legs are tired from 8 days on the trot and you need to use the WiFi to upload a riveting blog post.
The contrast between touristy city and rural villages reminds us why we love cycle touring, you get to really see the complete picture of a country (it just takes a really long time). You get to meet locals and gain a sense of their character, not just whizz by them in a car (if you see them at all). You get to see some of the rural parts that cover the majority of a country’s land mass and are often the most ‘different’ area. We are fully aware that due to our speed, there is so much if these countries that we don’t see, and Romania in particular brings that to light. We are a far cry from bears, forest mountains and Dracula’s castles having only skimmed the southern border.
We now have a week’s cycle through our final European country, Bulgaria, before catching a cargo ship across the Black Sea. We are not sure what to expect, or what delicacies to try, so if anyone has some tips, please let us know!