...cus Eastern Europe is definitely a Man, a Mister
So, Istanbul left us twirling and spinning like Stojko and/or Boitano, and we were off to Bulgaria, that most fiendish of all ex-USSR satellites, the one that even applied to Moscow to become a Soviet Replubic in 1968...
With Sean Foget strong-manning the wheel, and the rest of us working on our seatbelt tans, the Hajji crossed the border under the whimsical voice-massages of one Freddie Mercury, that man of men who has one billion imposters roaming the streets and bazaars and rooftops and sewers of India.
The Hajji Crew Doing What it Does Best
Our first night brought us to Burgas, a beach-side town that throbs with jellyfish and Swedish tourists. We made parking on a bluff that overlooked a majestic sandy beach, majestic like Charlemagne who longed to make Aachen the capital of Europe, majestic like the Blue Jays of the early 90s. We spent two nights at this glory hole, swimming in the Black Sea, rinsing in a hotel's pool, peeing in said hotel's bathroom...and pool. (The bathroom also acted as a shower for our female companions, Ren and Neala.)
Ren Navigating the roads of Bulgaria
From Burgas, the Hajji chartered us to a bigger party city, one by the name of Varna. We declined the party, however, as it was composed mainly of swinging chubby central European couples, and opted instead for a charming beach-side camp site. Varna made us sweat and sway, and we soaked up every minute. A large restaurant owner adopted us and we became David Banda to his Madonna. A pool and tiny smelt fish entertained us for two more days, before it was high time to evacuate Bulgaria, and make for higher ground: the Carpathian Mountains of Romania.
The Dinner Crew in Varna
Romania saw the Hajji enter her at sunset. The crew, at this point six strong, (Ren, Ben, Cous, Neala, Sean and Morgan), was gleeful and giddy at the prospect of spending time in the home of a mythical vampire and of a perfect gymnast. Bucharest saw us breeze by, a town in which a local man told us to forget Romania, for "There is nothing here." We were staunch like the rock of Gibraltar, like a drunk Korean man who has been told to get off the police car, and we stayed the course, steady towards somewhere.
That fateful first night, we took a berth along the side of a highway, a dock that most would overlook: the parking lot of a Carrefour. For those ignorant and blissful North Americans reading, Carrefour is the French version of Wal-Mart, and it dots the European roadscape. Their lot did us more than well, and by the morning, after stocking Hajji with cheap beer and stocking our bellies with cheap eggs, we hit the road, muffler-smoking all the way to Bran.
The city/town/hamlet/tourist-soaked polis of Bran, Romania, is a study in how a novel can change the fate and face of a place. In 1897, Bram Stoker set his novel Dracula in the town, and it has been victim to the runoff of tourism ever since. Guilty, we drove in, and Ren and I, (Cous), saw the legendary castle up close...and what a beaut. Enough of this though...
From Bran, we drove to Sighisoara, the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, (coincidentally the inspiration for Dracula). Another darling town in Eastern Europe, with an ancient old town set within ancient walls, inhabitated by ancient Romanians. We spent a day and night there, parked Hajji in a farmer's cornfield, made due with the rugged ground, and awoke to a man asking what we were doing there. We told him that we would soon be on our way, and he said it was no problem, we could stay there a month if we needed. We told him "We don't need anything from you , old man." And we were on our way to another dulcet day of daytripping in Sighisoara.
Cous Reading at Our Beautiful Cornfield Campsite in Romania
It was that very same afternoon, as we were conversing with some folks from Vancouver outside Hajji, that a fine, young, robust and vital and vibrant man happened to pass us by, and, upon seeing Hajj, whispered "Rock on!" I, (with hearing aids cranked), replied "Right on man" and he stopped in his tracks. "Where you going?" was asked of him, and he responded that he was simply walking this way, with no destination in mind. "Well, there's room in our van..." And that is how we came to know John, our Turkish/American pal who you might remember from our post of August 23rd, ´The Hajji Diary´. He hopped in and we drove to yet another deserted field in the foothills of Romania. We drank beer, Morgan and John stoked fire, and we devised another delicious derivation of delightful delectables from Hajji's inner sanctuary, (kitchen). In the morning, no man visited us. We awoke and sauntered like self-satisfied conquerors down to the stream to bathe, to wash dishes and bodies in the water. Soaped in crevices and crannies, it was back to Hajji to make for Budapest and Sziget. Tear down the tent, gather our everlasting garbage, and pile in. Sziget here we come!!! And the Hajji fails us.
Her usual pre-ignition anthem flooded our ears, "buh-buh-bounce, buh-buh-bounce, buh-buh-bounce", until we realized that we had most probably flooded her engine with over-zealous key-turning and pedal-revving. She would not start. A problem descended upon us. Immediately, however, the crew responded with positivity, and all jumped out ready to push-start the doll we call Hajji. The dirt road was flat and muddy, not desirable conditions for a push-start, but we tried...oh lord we tried. After a handful of unsuccess, Ren took a bike and made for the highway to commandeer a jumper car. She returned minutes later with a massive industrial vehicle made for clipping branches that obscure road signs...sans jumpers. The Romanians who drove her left to gather some cables, and we continued to push...up and down and up the road. It was on the last push, (obviously), that Foget popped her clutch, talked to her smoothly, and she rolled over and purred like only she can do. The scare was out of us, the road was before us, and Sziget lay ahead.
An old man we picked up for 5km in Romania...he gave us 5 lei...check XE.com for conversions
The photos we posted here are just a few of the delights which Neala Kelly, a Hajji voyager from Istanbul to Vienna, produced along the way. We are so happy when people bring cameras in the Hajji and document the wonders she contains (it is an added bonus when they know how to use them and share the photos they produce!). Here are the links to Nealas facebook albums of Bulgaria and Romania photos (worth checking out!!!)