3.407 km ridden in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania with a touch of Austria and Croatia.
(5.456 km in total)
Before we start, there are three extraordinary families I want to give special thanks to. I respect their need for privacy, so there will be no photos or specific details published for most of them. Respective people reading this will know immediately it's about them. Thanks again for helping me and restoring faith in humanity.
In Slovakia, Vladimir and his wife with a group of adorable children and with adventurous grandparents. That was the first time when a random car stopped near the road and someone, just like that, offered me a place to stay. Not only that, I was treated so well that it almost made me feel ashamed, I'm a simple man after all. I will try to repay that debt to them or any other person the best I can! To add more, that happened to be the only one night that I was facing the bear attack possibility. Some call it luck, some look for other reasons. I know that these people will have a special place in my heart.
Second salvation came about two weeks later in Romania. While cycling along the Danube valley I met Marius and despite language problems we got along quite well. Marius offered a place to stay in Bucarest where he normally lives and back then I didn't know how much of a life saver it will be. In Romania I used mostly wells in villages to refill my bottles with water, but not always there was a local to warn me if the source was undrinkable. The day before reaching Bucarest I got really sick, with chills, high temperature, diarrhea and no chance to close an eye for the whole night.
Also, I could not find a dry place to camp, because of the rain and the recent floods so in addition I got all my clothes and stuff wet, spilling milk inside the pannier didn't help either. By mere personal dignity I was able to ride 130 km the next day and reach Bucarest, where for FOUR DAYS Marius and his family were basically hosting a wrecked man. During this time I went with Marius to his friends birthday party and next day we cycled in Bucarest but every bit of joy was limited by pain and discomfort caused by my health condition. The best moments shared with people along with the worst health condition, but I cherish every moment because I found a piece of what I was looking for. Amazing people, thank you for all the help and good fun!
Just a moment ago I had a third such story, this time in Baia, Romania. I found a decent place to camp on the field and when all was set up I saw a truck coming my way. I asked the driver if there are no problems with me camping here one night. He answered that this is all his land and I won't sleep here... I will sleep at his home. It was my 15th day in Romania and I already was an ambassador for this country, but once again I realised that the best treasure Romania has to offer are the people with golden hearts and passion for life. Although George works from sunrise to sunset, in 35 degrees heat, he especially came back to check on this stranger camping among jackals (as it turned out later), took him to his home and offered everything there was to offer, expecting nothing in return. I will not forget. These people know no limits to the capacity of their hearts and I will not forget this.
GOOD TIME IN SERBIA (SERBIA)
Outskirts of Belgrad. After being terrified with the recklessness of the drivers I decided to find an alternative route to the town 'Pancevo' and I did. But it suddenly ended in a middle of a meadow. I backtracked a little and asked a local for further information.
Me (in poor mans mixture of Slavs languages and sign language): Dobar dan. To je bicicleta strada na Pancevo (pointing in the direction)?
Local (in English): Yes. You are going the right way.
Me: I thought so, but the grass is like this high (pointing at my hip).
Local: Have a good time in Serbia (smiling)!
I met David. After exchanging our expectations and plans we decided to go together for a while. I told him that I like to stay independent as much as I can when it comes to accomodation and food. He tried to convince me, that people love to help other people, they just need to be asked. We decided to do one camp "my way" and another one "his way". In the small village of Sumarak I was refilling bottles and sacks with water while David already started working his magic and got us an opportunity to camp in the restaurant's backyard. It was already looking promising. Once again we asked the owner if there was no problem with us camping there. "No problem at all" he answered. He waited for about another hour till it was already dark, our camp set up and approached us again, this time asking for ID and money... So we have a businessman here. It was already too late to make any sudden moves and the price was not high so we paid, but to scam people like this for such amounts is, in my opinion, the lowest trick you can pull out when dealing with travelers.
WHEN YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH (ROMANIA)
Probably you remember at least one situation when you see someone for the first time and completely misjudge him. Like "this guy is looking like a murderer, better not approach him" and then he turns out to be the coolest dude? Or when you are doing business like usual, then the customer comes in and is asking for something completely ridiculous? You try to explain it to him politely and in the simplest terms possible, but after a while it turns out that he is a complete pro and his request is valid, just one in a thousand, you just were not prepared for this and looked like a noob.
This story is more like the latter. After staying up late with Marius in Ostrova I couldn't find a proper place to sleep so I didn't sleep at all, just dozed for two hours. Then after the whole next day of cycling I really wanted something I like, like pizza for example. I was trying to reach the biggest city in the area to have to biggest choice but it turned out that I could not get to Calafat on time so I stopped in the town of Cetate. Found pizzeria there, but they had only small pizzas (they called them big) and very small pizzas (they called them medium). I found one position in the menu significantly more expensive than the rest. It turned out it was the only large pizza in the local, called "familiala" and it was in 45 cm size. After some difficult negotiations I convinced the cook to prepare any other pizza from the card, but in this size and somehow estimate the price. When the pizza was almost ready, he stepped outside again and asked me, just to be sure, if I want a takeaway. I said no, I will eat it here and now. I saw the look on his face. He thought that all of our negotiations were pointless because this reckless cyclist must have completely misunderstood what "familiala" meant. There is no way he is going to eat it alone.
But the pizza was ready and I started working on it. Slowly but surely (because I like to cherish such moments and usually update my handwritten journal at the same time) I ate the whole one and saw a bit of admiration on his face. Admiration changed to original surprise when (using already established code) I placed another order "Favolosa familiala", so pizza Favolosa in 45 cm size. He asked for confirmation so I showed him the clean plate after previous one. A couple of minutes later I was chewing second family size pizza and still I was the only client. When reaching the end, the waitress came to me and said "finished", it was more of a statement than a question, but she was coming from behind me and couldn't see what I was doing. When she saw me reading the card, she bent over (like hit in the stomach) and laughed cheerfully. I also smiled and said "Margherita familiala". This time there were no other questions or confirmation needed,
After swallowing 3 family size pizzas first clients, besides me, came. They were two man wondering if one large (or I call it small) pizza would be enough for them two, or should they order familiala size. I didn't understand much of the waitress response, but I clearly understood number 3 and familiala words. They looked at me and I just waved to them, "Yes, that was me".
RULE NUMBER ONE: Never go to Romania. You will fall in love with the views, with the climate, food and, most of all, with the people. And then what? You will never want to leave and that may become an issue. Just joking, of course. You should definitely go there. Romania has everything that popular southern countries can offer: majestic landscapes with high mountain passes and warm sea. One of the greatest European rivers with its delta. Delicious regional food eaten in the shade, when there is 35 degrees around you every day.
And Romanians seem to fit perfectly in this portrait with their balance of working and having fun. Their openness and careness for other people, not only their own, but (maybe) especially strangers. Every person I encountered had its own way of thinking about what helping others is. Some consider it a repay for God, who gives them so much every day. Others believe that it will propagate a chain of good deeds, but for all of them getting together and just hanging out with other people (once again, I repeat: even a total strangers) is fun and brings joy in their everyday life. When we came back from a birthday party I said to Marius: "You all looked like brothers and sisters to me, like one big family", He replied that most of the people from the party he saw for the second time in his life. I was shocked. To add more, they made me feel like part of their family, although I was a complete stranger and probably they didn't even know I was coming to the event.
When George prepared a toast he cut it, gave one part to me, saying "like brothers". Later on, seeing me eating everything in close proximity that was not running away and licking from the inside of the jar, he was still cutting the toasts in half, but giving me both parts. I guess it is even more than a brotherhood type of care. Often I fell bad by the way I impacted their lives. I was taken from the field, in dirty clothes and stinking tent and put to bed why my host slept on the kitchen floor! These people would give everything they had, expecting nothing in return. Now I feel like a great debtor to them and to all the unnamed, not yet met great souls of this world.
From the cyclists point of view, Romania has everything, except bike lanes. You will cycle among traffic, which is not so heavy after all, so let's say it is manageable disadvantage. North of Bucarest, every route I rode was astonishing, so I estimate that in this region they are all like this. Transfagarasan stand up to the "classic" level, but all the roads (even main) were worth checking. Trail along Danube, especially part ending in Orsova was named by me "Jurrasic Park" because it was the first association that came to my mind. Seaside with strictly turistic destinations (Vama Veche, Constanza) but also wild, village beaches. Something for everybody. There is a very flat part between Bucarest and Danube, but it did not strike me as the most interesting, you can skip this one. There are many more places worth visiting in Romania that I don't know about, but I leave them for the future, This is one of some good reasons to come back. Romania, so far the biggest surprise of this trip.