Since October 10th 2013: 137 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Beauty in so many shades
First of all you owe yourself to look closely at the finely sculptured faces of most Romanian women. You will not be disappointed.
I recently discovered that my genes are 10.3% Balkan! Perhaps that explained my great love to the region? Romania is however not a part of the balkans but Serbia is and had to go through Serbia to reach Romania from Montenegro. That was quite the adventure! It has been said that the train ride from Montenegro to Serbia exposes some of the greatest beauty across Europe so I opted for an early morning departure. The beauty part may be true but it was raining and I was tired (was working until 3am the night before) and did not see a whole lot. After several hours our train suddenly stopped somewhere before the Serbian border and did not continue for another 2-3 hours. Crossing the border didn't cause any fuzz but later in the evening we stopped again and everyone had to get out. At this point two busses were waiting for us and we all embarked hoping to reach Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, soon after. To my surprise the bus brought us to another train? Then we all continued in that one for about another hour before reaching Belgrade. I checked into a really nice hostel around midnight and had a late dinner. It was another early morning wake up the following day to catch another train heading towards the Romanian border.
I've been taking some heat lately for not visiting Hungary, Serbia and a number of other countries now. For that I just want to say that a number of countries in the Balkan and Eastern European region have already been visited throughout the beginning of the Saga. For more info go to www.onceuponasaga.dk
and have a look at 'Journey
'. I know I only spent around 26 hours in each country back then...but I hope to return again some day outside of the Saga and can surely come back some day.
Vršac is a small place on the Serbian side of the border and the last stop for my train. I'd met a few other travelers on the train and we left the station building looking for a way to reach Timisoara, which is one of the larger cities in Romania. Romania is an EU country so for one of them it was a better deal to fly home to Germany from there. Taxi drivers were ready to take us across the border to a small town in Romania from where we could buy a ticket to Timisoara. The price was €20 which I wasn't ready to pay. Instead I bargained a price to the border, which was €10, and hope to find a solution? It was in a strange way fun to walk across a border again. It's been a while and this one was set in the middle of nowhere among fertile fields under a blue sky.
Across the border it really didn't look like I would find any form of transport. Not unless I was willing to borrow a tractor. There was a truck parked on the side of the road sporting a Russian license plate and the driver simply gave me a "njet" and drove off without me. Great? I had a look at google maps and concluded that I had a 5km walk ahead of me under the baking sun. 5k is pretty long to walk with my duffel bag but doable. "Alright soldier - let's go..." I thought to myself. However it didn't take a minute before I heard a woman's voice shout: "hey! Do you need a ride?!". That was Andreea shouting at me. She is an engineer and so were Catalin and Florin who were in the car with her. Traian was also there...he's the younger brother of Andreea and was starting high school the following day. I was delighted to save my tired old legs from the 5k walk but even more delighted to hear that the car was heading all the way to Timisoara! That was an entire 60k! So thumbs up for that! Inside the car we immediately started talking and I explained about the Saga and how 'a stranger is a friend you've never met before' -it couldn't be more true.
As it turns out Timisoara is quite the impressive city and proudly represents the main social, economic and cultural center in western Romania. These 3 engineers all studied in Timisoara and afterwards got hired into the automotive industry. There are plenty of jobs for engineers in Timisoara and it's not unlikely that 14 year old Traian would be in the same path. Andreea asked where I was heading and I replied I was in my way to Bucharest. She then quickly googled a train timetable while the fields were passing by outside. "The first train leaves after 10pm tonight so you have all day in Timisoara. What do you want to do?" she said. I replied that I would leave my bags somewhere and have a look at Timisoara. That triggered more hospitality and soon thereafter I was in their apartment drinking a nice cold local beer. Andreea then cooked us a homemade meal and afterwards we all went out to have a look at Timisoara!
Timisoara is a very scenic city which does need a caring hand here and there but overall impresses. It was selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2021 and the city center is really nice! And interesting fun fact is that back in 1889 Timisoara became the first European city in Europe to have street lighting. It was actually the second in the world to have electric street lighting (behind Wabash in the USA, 1880). We walked around in the perfect summer weather, had an ice cream, walked and talked some more and finally settled down at a student hangout and enjoyed another beer and some snacks.
At the end of the day we headed back to the apartment and eventually I was given a ride to the station where I bought my ticket. It's again one of those things...imagine if I had crossed the border to Romania 5 minutes later? If that was the case then I would have never met this group of fine ambassadors for Romanian hospitality.
The train ride across the fat fish (the shape of Romania kind of looks a bit like a fish) was overnight and long. I was delighted and tired when the train rolled into Bucharest. Wifi was freely available at the station and across the city as I would later find out. In my past I worked 8 years for a Danish shipping company called Blue Water Shipping (www.bws.dk
). My last year at Blue Water was the first year for Michael Petersen who happens to be the managing director of Shipco Transport (www.shipco.dk
) in Bucharest today. He lives in Romania together with his beautiful wife Elif and as long as I was in Bucharest their home and hospitality was at my disposal. I got in touch with Michael immediately and we agreed to meet at his office in the evening. That gave me the day in Bucharest and in spite of what most of you think I should be doing I felt like pretending that I wasn't a traveling adventurer for a few hours. I headed straight for a mall where I knew there was a cinema. I enjoyed some hummus and meat at a Lebanese restaurant and then spent the next 2 hours watching the latest blockbuster with Tom Cruise. That felt like a much needed escape from reality. We are closing in on 4 years away from home and I'm having some difficulty remembering who I was when I left.
That evening I met Michael again for the first time in many years. It was good to speak Danish for a bit and later on I was enjoying a delicious meal on the balcony of their home. Elif is very charming as most Turkish women I have met are. She works as a recruiter and is very easy to talk to. I guess you need to be if you're a recruiter? :) Michael and I got to catch up on old days. It turns out that he's been following the Saga on Facebook pretty much since I left home. That's quite the adventure he has been witnessing! I was given the guest room and my own bathroom. Life doesn't get much easier than that.
The following day I was meeting Maersk Line (www.maersk.com
) in the early afternoon and afterwards headed out to see the city center. The first mentions of Bucharest found in documents are in 1459. The historical center of Bucharest has lots of impressive buildings but is "modern" with plenty of cafes, restaurants, shops and life. It is very inviting. I like listening when people speak Romanian. Contrary to what many believe, Romanian is a Romance Language (Latin based) and does not have its roots in Slavic or Russian. Romania takes its name from the Roman Empire. It used to be the Kingdom of Dacia about 20 minutes before the romans conquered the region. Today Dacia lends its name to Romanias car manufacturer and has done so since 1966. Rome was the center of The Roman Empire. As mentioned Romania took its name from there but so did the gypsies who are a nomadic people which originally came from northern India and today call themselves Roma. So just to set things straight the Roma do not come from Romania although a large group of them settled in Romania and constitute around 3% of Romanias population...so they kind of do come from Romania...but just not originally...oh...you know what I mean :)
Did you know that the mass transport system in Bucharest is the 4th largest in the world? Did you know that Romania is the source of inspiration for a book by Jules Verne? Did you know that the Romanian language dates back about 1,700 years? Did you know that the fountain pen was a Romanian invention? Did you know that the scientist who discovered insulin was Romanian (although Canadian scientists were awarded a Nobel prize for it). Did you know that the modern jet engine was invented by a Romanian? Did you know that Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) was Romanian born? Did you know that Romania is home to one of Europe's largest virgin forests? Did you know that the first ever perfect Olympic 10 was won by a Romanian gymnast? Well maybe you know some of this and maybe you didn't but at least now you know a lot more than just to reference Dracula. Dracula was by the way a fictive character in a Irish book and was loosely inspired by the Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes. That's pretty much how we view our world I think? The few countries we have heard of get something attached to their names and that sticks for a very long time.
Romania just happens to be a friendly and modern country in the European Union where you can go skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. It's a country which has countless music festivals of which some are set in nature and play music around the clock for several days nonstop. Lakes, rivers, brown bears, universities, traditions, Game of Thrones, good food and beautiful women. No really! The women here deserve an extra look. Every country in the world has beautiful men and women however the truth is that some have more. Romania happens to fall into that category but I kind of knew that. Back in 2011 I was working in Bangladesh and one of the other expats was Amelia from Romania and although she was both married and had several children she still looked like a goddess. As it turned out she was a visual ambassador.
The Romanian Red Cross (RRC) turned 141 years of age last year. Well done on the humanitarian platform! My schedule with the RRC was compact and ran from 9am to 9pm which turned out to be highly interesting but also rather exhausting. They enjoy a good reputation in Romania where the man on the street is likely to know the RRC for being people who help other people. I was fortunate to have the privilege of visiting a group of young spirited people at the CIRESARII orphanage where I received a tour of the premises and afterwards got to have a good time with the kids. It's part of the RRC in sector 5 and it's a place that makes a huge difference! I was treated like an honorary guest and was asked to sign everyone's notebooks and tell about the Saga. I would really like to come back some day. On that note we were seated at a large wooden table and everyone took turn to introduce themselves. The first two introduced themselves and followed up by saying thank you for visiting and that they hoped I would come back again. To this I responded that I hoped so too and knocked on wood to their great surprise. After having done that a few times Andra, who had been translating, stopped me and said: "in Romania knocking on wood is something you do if there is something you DON'T WANT!" Ups!! I quickly explained that where I'm from it has the opposite meaning and apologized. Culture can be a funny thing at times and sometimes tricky too :)
As the program went long we had to postpone a visit to Romanias highly unique parliament building. The following day that was remedied as I met up with Andreea of the RRC in front of the mega structure. Together we headed to the entry where we met with Michaela who works within the enormous building and has done so for the past 4 years. We were invited as guest and got to see a lot which was off the beaten path of the organized scheduled tours. The building is the largest and heaviest administrative building on the planet (used for civilian purposes) and the second largest administrative building overall, after the Pentagon. The building houses the Romanian Senate and the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, and it is also the headquarters of the Southeast European Cooperation Initiative. This thing is even 2% larger than the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt and some say it can be seen from the moon although I doubt that if we're speaking with the naked eye.
Also known as the “People’s House”, it was Nicolae Ceausescu’s attempt to redesign Bucharest by constructing a series of impressive buildings meant to prove to the world how wealthy and powerful the Socialist Republic of Romania was under his dictatorship. The constructions began in 1983 when Romania was under the communist reign and by the time of the Romanian Revolution in 1989 the building wasn’t yet finished. Only the finest materials were used and it's a real classical beauty in very fine detail. Several factories were constructed only to fabricate specifically for this! It's the kind of stuff you can get away with as a dictator. I figure the new metro ring in Copenhagen would be done by now if Denmark was a dictatorship.
I have seen many prominent castles, cathedrals, mosques and other structures in my life. The interior of the People's House lives up to a 17th century construction in my opinion. It's very impressive! I had been within the building for less than 2 hours before I found myself on a balcony overlooking the great city of Bucharest. I leaned myself forward by putting my hand on the balconies ledge and saw a pidgin fly away. Then I noticed something on my hand. Damn pidgins!!! Later on it struck me that within a few hours of visiting parliament I already had shit on my hands!! ;)
Romania begs for more time of a visitor. I figured that it might be the Eastern most country within the European Union but that turns out to be Finland. Fossils that date back around 40,000 years were discovered in Romania 15 years ago so I'm sure that people have known for a long time what I know now: Romania is a wonderful, friendly and interesting country and I fear that there is no other cure than to return again some day.