Sorry for the delays in posting; at first we were feeling a little lazy (and under the weather), and then internet proved to be a difficult find in the rural parts where we’ve been hanging out for the past week or so.
At the time of the last post, I (Kathy) was feeling a little under the weather with some back pain. Took some pain killers and decided that there wasn’t much a doctor would be able to do for me other than prescribe pain killers, so we didn’t bother. Last Saturday evening, we learned by way of emergency room that I had a couple of infections that I apparently didn’t know about. I thought I might have been a bit under the weather, but certainly no symptoms like in Egypt. As we were out in the country, and doctors generally don’t work on saturday evenings, our host was kind enough to drive us to the hospital in the city. We were also very fortunate that his friend joined us, as he was able to translate things for us very well. So now we know what the inside of a Communist-era hospital looks like, and I sure hope it was a once in a lifetime glance! The standard of care was probably as good as they could give, but the facililites were certainly worse for wear – the WC was a toilet at the back of a storage closet! Not to worry, the needles were sterile (I made sure of that!). So the docs prescribed Cipro (for those counting at home, that’s the second round I’ve taken this trip!), some painkillers (presumably for the back pain), and some Vitamin C!! Yes, it has been more of a challenge finding fruit here than I would like, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I’ll get to that in a bit.
A few days later I was back to normal, thankfully. As Neil mentioned, we managed to get a car for a week; one day in to our trek, we suffered a flat tire, thankfully right at the edge of a decent-sized town. How did we manage the flat? We think by going over a small curb (which incidentally wasn’t remotely marked or signed); we suspect that the tire wasn’t fully pressurized, as it didn’t just go flat, it blew. We couldn’t figure out how the heck to use the jack, as we had never seen such an odd contraption before; we walked back into the town and found a couple of gentlemen at a tire place (not really a shop, more of a repair place?) who assisted us in changing it, then trekking all over town to replace it (we had a spare, but figure we should replace the busted one). No dice – everyone has winter tires in stock now. Another example of getting by despite the language barrier – neither men spoke English or French, and of course, we don’t speak German (I swear I’m going to fix that!). So we have the busted tire in the car, and will give the rental agency the money to replace it, as we weren’t going to spend our holiday shopping around for tires.
The driving – the roads here are absolute crap, and that’s not an exaggeration. The odd major major route is in good repair, but many of them are either being repaired or awaiting repair, in a bad way. They don’t repair roads here the way they do at home, and it’s really frustrating. Instead of ripping up a whole section at a time, they strip little itty bitty pieces, making a patchwork of potholes, for kilometres at a time, then eventually go back and fill them in. Some roads are made of concrete (!!), which are fine when they are new, but in cold climates they heave and crack, leaving ridges and drops everywhere. Combine all this with mountain passes that twist and curve and switchback, and drivers who insist on going fast no matter what the driving conditions, and drivers who are terrified of their shoulders and therefore drive in the middle of the road (even around corners!), and pass when they can’t really see…. they should turn it into an amusement park ride. Neil didn’t have as bad a time of it as I did – I’m an uncomfortable passenger at the best of times, but this really did a number on my nerves. The straight stretches weren’t so bad, and driving in the morning isn’t so bad (we have a theory that they don’t really start drinking until after 9am, so the earlier you hit the road, the better, despite a supposed 0-tolerance policy for drinking and driving). And the road signs don’t always make much sense, but the same could probably be said for driving in any foreign country. And their traffic signals are really poorly placed – on the near side of the intersection, before the stop line, so that if you actually stop at the line, you can’t see the lights. And the lights are typically only the right hand side, making them difficult for people in the left lane to see.
The food – we have determined that very few people actually eat in restaurants here, and when they do, are content with pork chops or meatball-like sausages, and fries. Every menu here, every last one, has 2/3 liquor, and if we’re lucky, 1/3 food. Many many places only sell drinks. Coffee, beer, wine, liquor, pop…. They can eat at home, but when they’re on the road? It has proven very frustrating. More than a couple of times in the past week we have spent over an hour searching for food. Including this morning (Sunday), where more than a few places in the centre of Sibiu are selling coffee and beer, but no food. Not even snacks. We have gone to a few markets (Magazin Mixt, a kind of tiny general store), where they sell water, pop, chips, soap/shampoo, etc. but nothing of any substance that doesn’t require cooking. No fruit or vegetables- you have to know where to look for them, and if you’re lucky you might pass a roadside market or fruit stand. We haven’t been so lucky. This has certainly been an interesting insight into Romanian society. We can’t get over just how much alcohol and beverages are sold, enough to keep many businesses afloat selling only that.
Onto what we’ve seen this week:
-Bear Cave – neat site, way too crowded, and tour in Romanian only
-we drove through some pretty fantastic scenery, including mountains and alpine fields; saw sheep, cattle, horses, even crows in the fields; watched the cattle coming home at night, and learned that they are actually smart enough to know where home is – as the herd made it’s way through the village, cows would turn off here and there into yards and driveways to be taken to their pen/resting spot for the night. We encountered some donkeys in the national mountain park that were allowed to roam free, and they were beautiful animals – very friendly, even seeming to look for pats and a hug. Definitely in much better shape than the donkeys we encountered in Egypt. We stayed at a hotel that also had some ostriches in a pen out back. what ugly birds!
-the villages we passed through varied from run down and ugly, to beautifully maintained with flowers along the road. Some houses were finished with colourful tiles, some very brightly coloured orange, yellow, green, pink…
Mostly we’ve been enjoying the scenery. It really is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen; we have hills and mountains, but they are brown or grey and rocky. Here everything is so green, you don’t even realize you’re in the mountains – they just feel like really big hills with hay stacks everywhere and the odd group of animals. Since words will never do it justice, check out the photos.
Congratulations if you made it this far.
Tonight we are off to Budapest, and next Saturday to Paris as we find our way home.