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Romania...and on to Bulgaria.

Here I am in Bucharest, I flew in on a small 48 seater aircraft made in Brazil, quite an uneventful flight, a very small aircraft and very small amount of space in the seats.

Must be looking old, a young lady of about 20 stood up to offer me her seat on the bus out to the plane, it is interesting this would not happened in New Zealand, nice to be an area where people still have the old-fashioned manners even if I do not appreciate it when it is applied to me.

Luggage seemed to take for ever to arrive, and when it finally arrived I went out through the nothing to declare door, the airport was almost packed full of people, I saw older person holding my name up, and it turned out to be my guide for next 10 days.

My guide is 74 years old, so he is seen everything happened in Romania from the Second World War till today. He said Romania, as far as he is concerned, is not progressing fast enough, but from what he tells me, a lot of people are having a problem with capitalism and the new technology.

Went to the travel office and I paid the balance of the fee, some 95 million of the local currency, they tell me next year they are going to knock four zeros off the currency which is not a bad idea. After paying out the millions we went off to the hotel which was a rather nice modern hotel, close to the railway station, and then we went for a walk through the city, I hate large cities, they all look the same, and Bucharest is no different.

I saw the building from which Ceausescu spoke from before he departed by helicopter from the roof of the building, a lot of recent history is happened around this area.

I found a bank and withdrew 4 million of the local currency which is about  250 so we interesting to see how far it goes. We have a good walk around the city, waste of time taking my camera, however I did discover that when I fell in Poland I had knocked off the control fascia of the speed and programmers setting, it however still works and does not take much to work out what it is on.

Tonight, there was a six piece band playing in the restaurant, it consisted of a violin which was fantastic, clarinet, panpipes, Zalaphone, electric guitar and base. They played all sorts of fantastic tunes including some old Russian ones, and were taking requests from people!

Saturday 3 July Bucharest
It rained through the night that looked like it was going to be a clear day, Alex collected me and we went for drive through the city, had the trousers I bought and Poland altered, then went for a walk and were halfway to our destination when the skies opened, Alex ran on ahead, and I made the decisions to shelter under a tree, which would in fine if it was a passing shower, but it turned to be deluge and more and more water passed through the tree until I was getting soaked, so with nothing to lose, I started running back towards the car and some shelter, and in time I found shelter, I did not have an dry piece of clothing on me, and the shoes were soaking.

Eventually the rain stopped, Alex came back towards the car, and drove me back to the hotel, where I stripped totally, found I was totally wet through, as if I had had a shower, so hung everything up to dry, put dry clothes on and waited until two o'clock for Alex to collect me.

We then went looking for dry shoes, new shoes of course, found nothing that would fit, then started looking for a heating pad to help with my sore back, which either must be a chill or a strain, and now my neck is getting sore again like it did last year, about the same time, it would seem that I'm getting a little old for this nomadic life.

So I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel, tomorrow we head out for 10 days, I'll leave my large suitcase here, and carry the necessities in a small suitcase, and re-evaluate the situation on my return.

Before I went for dinner tonight I went for walk towards the railway station, I was just turning around when a Romanian approached me and started trying to make conversation, he kept on asking me where from, I would not answer and pretended I did not understand, I just moving away when two well built men in plainclothes swooped on us grabbed hold of him. They Flashed Identity Cards at Us Both and asked for our identity cards, I said mine was back of my hotel, they were happy with that

They asked me had he been offering me heroin, they grabbed his wallet, pulled some money out of it and asked me if it was mine, they asked me to see inside my wallet, at that point I want to see his identity card again, it looked real, so I said over here, he came over here, looked at my wallet, I pulled out one note and he looked at it, asked me if I had dollars or euros, and that point he was happy and told me not to change money on the street, thanked me very much, and they disappeared, I did not look to see what happened to my friend! I just walked on….

They had that nice orchestra playing again tonight the music was good for food was good, if it stays like that through the trip and will be good.

I had a sweet tonight with my food, I did not know what it was so I asked the waitress was it any good, she said oh yes! she says, but ladies have to stay slim, it is an interesting mindset the eastern European women have.

Is interesting the types of markets that the French have gone after and have made significant inroads into that market. They put up a strong presence here in Romania, they had a strong presence in Pakistan, it becomes rather obvious with these strong business ties to marginal countries why they so often sit on the fence in politics.

Sunday 4 July Sibiu
The two men that were posing as tourist police last night, after I thought about it overnight, I realised it could have been a scam, it's very simple to make up laminated card that looks official, no tourist would know what a proper card looked like, possibly my saving grace was that I had no euros or dollars in the local money, interesting thought.

I packed my small silver suitcase to take with me and left my large suitcase at the hotel, a much better way to travel, I may have to forget the white shirt and bowtie so I can travel lighter!

Alex was that the hotel to collect me and 8.30 and we set off on day one of the tour visiting monasteries, palaces, until we reached our current location at Sibiu said to be the finest mediaeval city in Romania.

Is very interesting the number of horses and wagons that we started seeing the moment we got to the outskirts of Bucharest, and we saw them on a very regular basis all day. It seems to be the major transport for majority of the people with cars being an unaffordable price.

We saw quite a lot of gypsies on our travels, and where ever they were there were tourists, they were there begging, showing their deformities so they could make some money. I saw a woman with six fingers, (don't ask me how that happened) I seen several people with 1 foot chopped off, I believe this is deliberate to make themselves more susceptible to collecting money. Very small children were in on the act, rubbing their stomach as if they were hungry, while all the time asking for money.

At the restaurant I saw one little old lady going round the table is trying to sell some sunflower seeds, she was unsuccessful at that, but very successful in raising people sympathy and collected a little bit of money, the gypsies could learn from her!

The main church of Romania is of course the Orthodox, they have their own branch, if that is the correct word, with their own Bishop, if that is the correct term, and their churches are different to the Russian Orthodox that have the onion domes. They have some extremely old churches which are very interesting to look at particular one realises their age.

We drove up a valley beside a river through this gap in the two major ranges of mountains, both that rose to 2 to 3000 metres, and we have ended up in the province of Transylvania, yes I am on the lookout for Dracula and his Kin.

Monday 5 July Sighisoara
An eventful day visited some older Saxon churches at Crit, Saschiz, Viscri, the latter was in an isolated village from which almost all of the Saxons have now gone back to Germany. I been wanting to visit the Saxon villages for about seven to 10 years, I have in my mind from an article that I read that they were wooden and rather unique, however Alex my guide knows of no village like that, none of the Saxon villages I've so far visited are what I would call unique, just little villages built in what I would call a Romanian style, Alex assures me it is a Saxons style, perhaps when I get into the Romanian countryside with Romanian villages built out of wood this may be what was blended into the article.

My back was better late this afternoon, I will see what it is like in the morning.

No connection to the Internet tonight, and from what Alex tells me that may be the same again tomorrow night, is interesting thing one now has to specify that one requires the hotel with the telephone in the room that will allow an Internet connection. It is interesting how the world moves on.

Tuesday 6 July Sighetu Maratiei
Today we drove up to the Ukrainian border in on the way visited several old wooden churches and saw very many wooden houses built out of solid wood, and there were some wonderful photographs had I been able to walk properly. I most disappointed in all the photographs I'm missing, but I guess that is life.

For the record we've visited Bogdan Voda, Leud wooden church, Rozavlea wooden church, and a brand-new one built in the old style at Botiza.

The town that we are in had a major prison for the intellectuals during the Soviet times. Evidently there were kept in isolation for their full prison term, or until the amnesty in 1968.

Wednesday 7 July Sucevita
Today was a drive through massive fir forests and the accompanying large-scale logging operations. It was a very remote area in relation to the capital, and as we drove through these villages you could not help but get the feeling that as long as it did not affect them, the outside world did not exist.

It almost appeared as if all women over 40 were wearing black, no longer have a need for their bra, and were all of a similar body shape. No trips to the gym for these people, a work out is in the fields hoeing potatoes, raking grass or some other daily chore was always waiting to be done.

I guess if you are brought up in this environment, and your expectations are limited to the village your lot is a happy one.

We stopped at a local shop, as it was past mealtime and I thought that a ice cream may hold my hunger off, the shop was a total disaster with stuff stacked everywhere, but Alex said a couple of words in his longo and I had a choice of about five different ice creams, she knew where everything was, in the way she was patting my arm, I wondered whether I was going to get out of the shop safely!


to top right....

See Map of Romania Tour


From bottom left

There were three young attractive girls out the front I guess about 16+ years of age, dressed as Western girls, very well-dressed, and I assumed they were waiting for a bus. I questioned Alex later about what job opportunities were therefore that age group of girls. He said if they get up at 5 a.m. they can catch a bus to the next town where they may get a job in an office, he said but those girls were working for pleasure, I said pleasure? He says yes pleasure, I sad you mean prostitute, he said yes, they were waiting for some rich tourists to come along and pay some money. Thinking about it afterwards it did not quite add up but I guess if he was wrong on those girls he may be right on many others.

Today was another trip looking at monasteries, this time, painted ones, the outside of the entire building was painted with religious scenes, supposedly done about the 16th century. They both had a good group of tourists visiting them, and the hordes of souvenir sellers in and around the car park.

It is rather beautiful driving through all of the forests, very European in their look, I guess if you have the same trees all forests look the same.

I had booked the tour for three star hotels where they existed, and this evening was offered a room in a house, with a bathroom on the other side of the lounge. That did not take very long to walk out of and so the alternative was a three star hotel in a city 30 kilometres away. A good alternative.

Going through the villages occasionally a saw an old woman badly crippled with osteoporosis, they were managing to walk around, but I guess it's a matter of necessity. Another observation on village life, is that I guess you live in the village for a lifetime, all of your friends are there, when the children marry, there's a chance they will start living in your house, so I guess it is a lifetime's occupation, unlike the West when your children leave home you have to start another life!

Another thought is that when a member of the family dies, after the funeral the remaining partner does not go home to an empty house, but returns to the house with the rest of the family so they are not left by themselves. And we call our way progress.

We received a complimentary glass of wine last night at dinner, so this hotel will have the advantage of me remembering that glass of wine for as long as my memory lasts, Alex described it as peasant wine, I described it as ghastly. The hotel chain is a Romanian owned chain, which has been formed in recent years and the standard of service is approaching that of the West, they still have some peculiar ex-Soviet thinking that I guess that will change in time.

Romania has reasonably extensive oil deposits and large fields of natural gas, however they still import some natural gas from Russia via pipeline, they use the natural gas for heating, Alex was telling me during Soviet times that in the winter when it got to 25° below, there would be no natural gas, no explanation, no complaints, and you had to try to buy electric heaters, and electricity was very expensive, so most of your rooms were freezing cold. Some apartment blocks had central heating, but the water in it, froze which of course destroyed the central heating.

Here is an interesting question for you which country is larger in land mass, Romania or New Zealand?

In Campulung Moldovenesc (a city) we visited a Woodworking museum, they have wooden objects of every sort, think of something, and at some time in this area they made it out of wood….. OK no TV sets! But you know what I mean.

Drove up to Siret by the Ukraine border, just farming scenery, today drove again thro just farming scenery. The whole country outside the city's is one large peasant farm, with the whole family from very young to very old working in the field, either hoeing the vegetables, or raking in bringing in the hay.

Horse and cart's are the common means of transport right throughout the country, there's a reasonable number of bicycles, but if you're going anywhere I think it would be by public transport. There is a locally produced Renault, the one that was produced in the West about 30 years ago, you see them everywhere, of course with the end of the Soviet system, Renault have come in and taken over the factory and now producing a slightly more up-to-date version. I'm being driven round the country in a little bit better version of the Renault, this one is built in Turkey.

High heel shoe report, Romania, I regret to advise that the majority of Ladies wear neither bras nor high heels. This of course does give some interesting sights!

Housing, in the major cities you have many of what I call the Russian apartments, ranging from decrepit to quite modern. There is lots of building going on everywhere, again of course in the cities. If you're in the countryside, you of course are working on the land, you will be living close to the land you're working on, if you are another forested area, there's a fairly good chance your house will be built out of solid 6 inch timber logs, with the corners slotted so the whole house is built without nails. There of course are many other houses of other types of construction, but they all have one thing in common, no running water, no bath, no washing machine, no dishwasher!

There is however a well out on the street, spaced every third house apart, so you won't have to walk very far to get your bucket of water. The well heads are well maintained, some even have a special pendulum system for sending the bucket down the well in bringing it up full.

If you have sheep or cattle, at least two members of the family will go out every day and watch the animals eat, and make sure none get lost. From what I can gather there's a tremendous amount of public land and this is where you take your animals for grazing and naturally with no fences you need to be there with them.

Tonight I am staying in a two star hotel, Alex is in the one star section, the reason my section is two star is that was recently renovated, I feel that in 1923 would have been a good guess as to the data renovation.

Of course with such modern renovation, I cannot get an Internet connection at the hotel, so I walked along the Internet cafe, and paid $.20c for 15 minutes!

Quite a few of the cities that we have visited do what I call as the continental stroll every evening between us of five and nine, where everybody is reasonably well-dressed and strolls up and down the main streets of town.

Romania of course is known for gypsies, and probably Hungary has the same branding, they are not at all liked in Romania, where ever there are tourists you'll see gypsies. Evidently all of their begging works otherwise they would have stopped doing this, I tell them what I think in English, which is just as well that they do not understand me.

Saturday 10 July from Brasov
Today we headed back to Bucharest totally uneventful, two more castles to cross off the list, back to the hotel I had started from, back in the same room.

Back to the same restaurant for my evening meal, and while walking over there was real electrical storm taking place in the sky was as black as coal, I debated as to whether to go back and get my umbrella, but carried on. About 15 minutes after sitting in the restaurant there was real violent hailstorm with hail the size of peas, fortunately there was rain in between all this so was no sheet of hail being built up like a sheet of ice.

Fortunately it was over before I went back to the hotel, but I was aware of it raining throughout the night.

Sunday saw me being collected to go to Bulgaria, uneventful drive to the border, when I was almost there I realised my visa for Romania was only a single entry visa which means in Sofia I'll have to hunt out the Romania Embassy and get another visa to return to collect my suitcase and flight onto the next destination.

I was told that to go through border control probably would take an hour but only took 15 minutes, and I was on the road to the first stop which was uneventful, the two hours plus driving time to Veliko Tarnovo, a location that we spend three nights at, we passed no villages and I had no temptation to stop at all. It will have to get better than this.

Talking to the young 24-year-old in the bar, he hopes to become a politician, has doing the necessary university degrees for this, he raised eyebrows when he asked me why I had a Romanian showing me Bulgaria. After today's experiences I am beginning to ask myself the same question.

It looks like it is going to be the same old series of castles and monasteries that I've been seeing throughout the trip, going from country to country like I am, I think I am reaching saturation point with the normal tourist sights, and I may be better just to go to country, go to one location and spent two to three weeks there instead of doing what I'm doing.

So if I carry on with my current thinking this will be the last around the world in 80 Days epic that I do, so will be the last year of my travel newsletters!

My guide for Bulgaria is a history school teacher, what have I done to deserve this, ….but why are most guides stupid people? ….or is that a prerequisite?

Selectour of Bucharest arranged for me to be in this town of Veliko Tarnovo for three nights, that is 2 1/2 days of sightseeing with program sufficient for half a day. So after arrival last night we went out to this typical Bulgarian village, except it was now occupied by politicians and the rich with the appropriate trimmings, a type of village or area you can find anywhere in the world where the rich like to be together.

This morning we went to a monastery, which was in this village, another hundred metres on from where we were, so here we are driving out to see one monastery in one direction, coming back to this village which is in a different direction to see another monastery, and then going back the first direction to see a village which supposed to be typical of what people live in, and if is, I wonder where the poor people are that I've heard are in Bulgaria.

There's a great rivalry between Bulgaria in Romania, my Romanian guide tells me that Bulgaria is much more backward in Romania, yet I'm not seen it in the housing or transport.

While I was watching on sky television what Romania has to do to join the EEC, and one of the points was to clean up the corruption which is pretty strong in Romania. My guide tells me that Bulgaria is full of corruption.

The guy I met last night who is going to be a politician tells me that Bulgarians are looking to the future and living it, whereas Romanians are dwelling on the past and feeling sorry for themselves.

So here I am in this town for three nights, with no sightseeing left to do, not much else to see here, the tour company had basically said "stiff", I told the driver tomorrow we are going to Sofia has over to him to organise it, so we will see what happens.

One other major problems with tour companies, like Selectours of Bucharest, is that you tell them you want to go to Bulgaria for 10 days, and they only have tours for say six days, you run the risk of them padding it out because they charge by the day, and you find yourself with a one hour program for the day and the rest of the day is free, my guide disappeared totally this afternoon, I hope he had a good day!

And of course they wanted cash up front, and just try and get any refund!

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