The topography of the land flattened and the appearance of the people had already started to change as Ed approached the border. Hungarian H-plates crowded in from seemingly nowhere and then the main road ended and through the deserted border and into the quiet, leafy Hungary Ed went. The slow speed limits were immediately apparent although the oncoming drivers helpfully flashed their headlights to indicate police speed traps where ever they occured.
To keep Ed company, a convoy of BMWs with blacked-out windows kept the cross-country speed as high as sensible. Ed was planning to stay to the south of Budapest and kept the GPS pointing south east whenever possible. He saw a petrol station with a “Vignettes” sign and decided to stop to investigate the road tax situation for motorbikes. Having pulled over it was not apparent where he should go and once inside the nearest store a policeman points Ed to a newsagents where the woman inside said, “Motos? No”. Fine by Ed. On his way out he stopped at the cashpoint for some florints and realising that all the good roads seemed to be turning north for Budapest he looked for south-eastern campsites in the GPS and noticed one still 33 miles away. It was 6pm already but worth the risk of driving into the evening to find somewhere suitable.
What is not worth the risk is exceeding the 40kph limits in the villages as an Audi driver discovered having overtaken Ed into a small village only to see the police waiting patiently in a turning. The limits really slow the progress but everyone sticks religiously to them and so did Ed. When the Aucost Holiday Park did finally materialise it was quiet and deserted with only three other campervans. It was 10 euros for the night and completely knackered Ed agreeds to the price without hesitation. In no time at all the tent was pitched but they didn’t have any food or an open bar so dinner ended up consisting of apple, crisps and snickers bar. Progress so far: GPS indicates 1200miles with Romania in sight within the coming day.
Saturday saw an early start for Ed. The owner of the campsite gave Ed a free bottle of water as he went to pay and wished him a safe journey. Good progress ensued through Hungary although Ed had skipped breakfast promising himself a big lunch once some miles had been done. Before he knew it he was back on the motorway again with nowhere to stop for food. Realising that he was nearing the Romanian border he decided to stop to fill up with some of his remaining Hungarian cash. The grateful owner of the quiet petrol station was animated and asked lots of questions about the journey, even managing to crack a joke using only two words – English and Istanbul, which Ed was not able to follow but which the owner found hillarious and repeated over and over.
The Romanian border was getting close but before Ed crossed it he noticed a sign for a Tesco supermarket and decided to stock-up. To the shoppers that day it must have seemed strange to be sharing the aisles with a hungry cyberman pushing his trolley around like the Stig from BBC’s TopGear. An indulgence of fruits, cheese and bread followed and before long Ed’s levels were sufficiently topped-up again to continue the journey.
Back on the road again, the routes began to clog more and more with lorries heading towards the Romanian border. Ed stopped beforehand to fill up his flexible, emergency fuel bladder in order to use up his last florints. He figured that a reserve of fuel would be a good option for Romania seeing as he didn’t yet have any local currency or know whether they would accept Visa cards, and he was accutely aware that there were still many miles to go before bed. Passport checks, a bit of heckling from the money changers and a stop by the road tax office – “Vignette, moto?” No? Just checking.. and then he was back out on the open road once more.
The roads were painfully slow with No Overtake signs on every bend. In Ed’s new convoy the windows of the cars were just as black but the models had become BMW and Mercedes of a whole generation earlier than the previous country. The architecture of this area of Romania raised a smile as it occured to Ed that The Adams Family (TV show not Dan’s family) could have lived comfortably in any of the houses by this stretch of road. Ed passed two campsites but figured optimistically that it was too early to stop and that there would be others along soon. Ed was aiming for a campsite that Dan had stayed at previously however, practically out of time to get there that day, Ed reached for google maps to search for some new options. As Ed thumbed his Blackberry a sad dog joined him with pleading eyes which Ed gave a peanut M&M to. The dog appeared wary but pleased anyway and limped off when Ed restarted the bike to execute his new plan. One option was called Camping Si Cabanute, near the main road but on closer inspecation it was undergoing indefinite renovations, much like everything else Ed had seen in Romania.
Cutting it fine for turning around to go to Dan’s waypoint instead before dark, Ed saw a lake, Lake Cincis, on the map with a collection of campsites and being only a matter of miles as the crow flies, he decided to cut across country to reach them. Dark clouds hung menacingly in the sky and the road was decaying and potholed. A number of developments of houses with strange roofs lined the road at one point but seemed deserted and Ed was in too much of a hurry to investigate. As he arrived in town his heart sank.
Hunedoara was clearly a town with a marvelous past. A large open square with some large communist-era buildings overlooking it. A huge area of thiving industrial development lies in the shadow of the Cincis dam but now lies mostly in ruins. It contains what used to be the second largest steel works in Romania before it closed and half the population lost their jobs. The view from where Ed was sitting was grim. The paint continued to peel from everything, children loitered and the buildings looked crumbled and rusted. Ed took a wrong turn looking or the lake and found himself in an area of wasteland where he became aware of just how conspicuous he must have appeared. A moment of panic pursuaded Ed to retrace his steps to the main square and with no one around to ask, he was about to give up when at the last minute found a road heading out of town in right direction which provided a much needed boost.
Timing its moment to perfection, the Blackberry then crashed! Low battery as Ed later discovered. With no mapping to follow Ed had to rely on the occassional rusty sign to find his way to the lake. Less than half an hour later Ed emerged from the valley up onto the hills around the lake. Selecting the first campsite he came across, Campsite Madalina, he immediately realised that he had happened upon a private party. The partygoers were mainly youngsters and the volume of the music echoed around the peaceful lake which Ed could now see was stunning. The owner agreed a price of 15Lev and whilst Ed was starting to unpack he put the remaining fuel from emergency bladder into the main tank, where it was less likely to be stolen, and gave the Blackberry a quick charge. On closer inspection the Blackberry showed that the actual campsite that Ed had been aiming for was nearby and feeling that the all night music was going to be too much to bear, Ed packed and took off around the edge of the lake a little further to an even more beautiful campsite down on the shore. The 8lev price was a bonus! With the tent installed on the grass near the shore, Ed could still hear the party on the hill from the other campsite as he drifted off to sleep!
Day5 – Sunday. The dawn chorus greeted Ed as he awoke and upon unziping his tent he could see more of the lake from the night before.
The previous evening, Ed had decided that it would be worth trying to reach Bulgaria while the weather was good and that would mean a very long day on the road but worth it. Annoyingly he had also lost another hour to the time zone making it +2hr GMT – a fact that not all of his electronic devices could agree on. Ed packed up, sorry to be leaving the wonderful campsite, and drove back past the town which in daylight looked just as run-down but a lot less threatening.
The little bike carried Ed across the open plains of Romania and through the winding roads to the north of Bucharesti. Spots of rain appeared on Ed’s visor and he stopped at a service station to put on his waterproof overjacket, in case of a proper downpour, and turn up his heated jacket liner. The roads were still slow but improved towards Bucarest as expected. Ed skirted the the city and continued into the hilly passes, which were now greasy and wet from the rain. At one point a sharp, six lane hairpin needed to be negotiated and even on the motorbike Ed had to take it at a very slow speed on the slippery offroad tyres.
The weather deteriorated, becoming very wet and windy. Ed stopped for fuel and another sad looking dog approached warily. Ed’s brunch consisted of sheltering to the side of the petrol station while eating his sandwich but feeling sorry for the dog, which was even wetter than Ed, he left it a bit of his sandwich, which it appreciated.
The weather began to improve towards the border and Ed put the last few levs of money into his tank as fuel. All that remained was to drive over the bridge and 5 minutes later he was into Bulgaria and the strangely comforting familiarity of cyrillic signposts. Pressed for time and with no obvious currency sellers in sight, he decided to keep going but within 40miles he remembered that the fuel he had added in Romania didn’t quite fill his tank so would not allow him to reach the campsite, Sakkar Hills Camping, on a single tank. This problem was short lived as within a few miles he had found a petrol station that accepted visa cards (as do most of the Petrol and OMV stations, for the record) so the tank was brimmed and his wheels resumed turning once again.
The enormity of the distance he needed to cover was playing on his mind. He had been driving all day and still had more than 150miles to the campsite and only 4hours daylight. With a suitable motorway network this would not have been a problem but Bulgarians seem to drive even more slowly than those north of the border and there are many more No Overtaking signs than Romania (if that’s possible). Ed chose to pick up the pace but still kept to the limits in the towns. Initially the road conditions were good but before long the heavens opened and the visibility worsened. Ed was starting to get worried about police and radar traps – there were no other cars now and he still had miles to go which made him an easy target.
Signs for Harmanli, the closest town to the campsite, eventually started to appear. By now it was really wet and in Ed’s haste he missed a turn and ended up doing an illegal u-turn. Slippery cobble stones and potholes were proving a real challenge even on a lightweight dirtbike. Just when Ed thought he was home and dry, having reached the GPS point which he’d been given, he could see no buildings or signs anywhere. Was the waypoint correctly entered into the GPS? Was Ed now miles from where he’d meant to be? The rain was pouring so a quick call to Dan in Turkey managed to text him some directions and sure enough the missed turning was located.
Ed arrived to meet Matt, the owner of the campsite, who kindly offered him an appartment instead. Wet and relieved, Ed dried-off just in time for Matt to call by and invite him over to the neighbours for rakia (local spirit) and a bite to eat which Ed gratefully accepted. At one point, Matt nipped-out to run a few errands leaving Ed (and his basic russian vocabulary) with the family but everyone seemed to be getting on just fine courtesy of the rakia and “google translate” on the internet.
Ed had made it. 2100miles across Europe in 5 days and even beat the Carnet document from the RAC which had sent to the campsite via DHL! Now the journey really begins.