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  • Jamie Shannon

Romania and following the Danube

I cycled south west today, closing in on the Serbian border. It was a hard climb in the morning but I was afforded really nice views at the top, looking over to Serbia in the distance.

In the first village I came too, I stopped beforehand to pick up a stick I could use for the dogs. As I approached tentatively, I couldn’t hear any barking and thankfully all was silent. This is the way I like it.

I knew I had a huge climb ahead of me as the terrain looked really mountainous on my map and so I stopped for a big hearty bowl of porridge and banana to get some energy in me. Soon after, I started the ascent and must say that, I actually didn’t find it very difficult. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting used to it or perhaps it’s because it’s still early in the morning and thus not too hot – who knows? It did go on forever though – snaking its way around the mountains. Strays were everywhere but they all seemed too uninterested in me or too sleepy to pay me much attention. I did feel safer with my stick too. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about this earlier.

I continued to peddle very slowly, inching myself up to the summit and where I eventually found some picnic tables and a place to relax, drink some coffee, eat some food, dry my tent and read my book. I do like my rest stops.

Well, if the road up to the summit was in a pretty dreadful state, then the road going down was super smooth tarmac thus for a change, I was able to fly down the other side and enjoy it to its fullest. It was pretty fu**ing great If I do say so myself. Twenty minutes later, I was confronted with what I had been aiming for the past four days; the mighty Danube, flowing endlessly through the landscape. An amazing sight.

In the town of Moldova Noua, I found a supermarket where I stocked up on enough food and drink for three days. As I was about to find the border with Serbia and would spend the next couple of days transiting that country and a little of Bulgaria too before coming back into Romania, I didn’t want to get more money out in different currency if I didn’t have.

What! Where is this boat that would take me across the Danube and out of here!?

I wandered around town but could find no border crossing anywhere. I asked lots of people but everyone said there was no boat across to the other side of the river. This was not good. If I couldn’t find a border crossing here, I would have to take a huge detour of about 100 km’s around the Danube in Romania. The whole point of coming south west down here was to cut across Serbia and Bulgaria and in the process have a couple of dog free days. This was not happening.

After much thought, I just cycled on. What else could I do apart from commandeering a boat of my own. I just couldn’t fathom why there was a border crossing on my map but there wasn’t here. Perhaps it’s just closed now.

To add insult to injury, as I now cycled east around the Danube, the wind picked up ferociously which made every turn of the pedals a nightmare. I was cycling at about 5 km’s an hour and I was using all my energy just to do this. I cursed and cursed my way through the next few km’s. I just wanted an easy day but it was just not forthcoming it seemed.

Cycle touring through Romania and along the Danube. It's incredible

On the plus side, the views were just incredible. The Danube is absolutely massive here and looked more like an inland sea than a river. As I cycled east, both sides rose up and the river flowed through this huge gorge. It was quite breath-taking really and with the cliffs on both sides creating some relief from the wind, my mood improved again.

A little later, I saw a bar by the side of the road and so pulled over to use the internet to check how far I still had to go and of course charge everything up. It was about 70 cents for a litre of beer. I drank two and listened to some crazy Romanian pop song on repeat for about an hour and a half.

I continued around the river, stopping an hour later to have some lunch whereupon a guy pulled over, and after telling him where I had come from, having my cup filled with yet more beer. He said drink some and I’ll fill it up again but I declined as I still had to cycle a little more. Must stay sober Jamie!

The cliffs around me closed in even more and I found myself with nothing but the river on one side and the cliff face on my left. There was no possibility of camping here and as dark clouds loomed overhead I thought it was best to ask someone to camp on their land. Every so often there would be a tiny bit of land jutting out into the water with a house or two perched there.

At one of these I rolled my bike down and asked a lady If I could camp on the grass on the other side to which she replied I could. A little further on, I found the perfect spot but I was being watch by two huge dogs. With a small river running between the two pieces of land, I began putting my sandals on to wade across it to the other side and out of the dogs territory. Just as I was about to enter the water, the lady came over again and beckoned me over to her house.

Her husband who had been fishing and having seen me about to cross the water, must have told her my predicament.

Anyway. To cut a long story short, they were incredibly nice people. They put a camp bed in their kitchen for me and let me sleep there. After phoning her son who was able to translate, she even cooked me dinner which consisted of soup, pork, cheese, tomatoes, peppers and of course bread. She even fried the fish which her husband had caught earlier. It was lovely and I had a proper roof over my head. More Palinka followed though and this was like rocket fuel. I just could not thank them enough, I really couldn’t.

We had a lovely fresh breakfast in the morning with views across to Serbia. It doesn’t get much better than that.

When all my stuff was back on the bike, a man came over in his tractor followed by more dogs to which he just threw rocks at. Good to know. Just as we were about to say goodbye, the man, Meartya, insisted he drive me 50km’s on to the next city at the end of this vast river. I didn’t know whether or not to accept his kind offering as I had done everything by bicycle up to this point and it would be a shame to take a car now. On the other hand, I had added an extra 100km's to my trip and so, I reluctantly accepted. Perhaps I might still get a rest day.

With the bike on top, we headed off and after an hour, we were in the city. It was a shame looking out the window as this stretch of road was probably the most beautiful I had seen in a long time. It really did look like something from New Zealand. I always compare things to NZ.

When it was time for me to depart, he gave me a proper stick for the dogs which was very handy. I was now without a helmet though as I had left it at their cabin. I might need that cycling into Istanbul.

Things had changed somewhat in the last couple of days; the drivers weren’t so reckless. Perhaps it was just in the north. In any case, I spent the rest of the day cycling south east towards the border with Bulgaria.

I met a few people along the way and the scenery was quite nice too. I had some huge hills to climb in 40 degree heat which was just terrible but then the downhills provided some respite from this heat too.

As I was nearing the border, and with only small villages along the road now, I quickly realised I needed to spend my remaining Romanian Leu but I was simply struggling to do this. I was actually struggling to spend my money. I bought ice cream, orange juice and just about anything I might need including baby wipes but I still had money left. I had only got 35 euros out five days previously too.

I elected to cycle into the early evening, which in retrospect was a bad idea. It was just so cool that I couldn’t resist it. As I cycled on, the villages didn’t end and I found myself cycling through them with every child saying hello to me. It was pitch black. Everyone was staring at me as I passed and dogs were chasing me left, right and centre. I was beginning to panic.

By the time I had found an entrance to a field, I couldn’t see a thing and had to put my tent up in darkness. I went to sleep, shattered and with howling dogs in every direction but thoughts of Bulgaria occupying my mind.

I had enjoyed Romania, don’t get me wrong but the drivers of the north, bad roads and stray dogs had just made the last five days too hard. On the other hand, the people were just fantastic and I was offered help wherever I went.

As I cycled the last 4 km’s towards the Danube the next day, I saw a boy on his bike closing in on me. As he cycled past, he started taking selfies on his phone of us which was a little strange. Strange things are beginning to happen.

When I arrived at the border and having passed through, I got back on my bike to cycle the short distance to the boat. Out popped another dog. Jesus. I had cleared customs and passport control and yet I was still being chased. Unreal. I waved my stick and bashed it on the floor. The dog receded from view.

Looking across the river, I noticed the entire Bulgarian side was just one long cliff face and I knew I had an immense climb on my hands.

To Bulgaria!

Off the boat, I began my accent. It was just silly. Far too steep in this kind of weather and when I finally reached the top, I began panting heavily in the middle of the road. A man came out of his house with fresh water for me and then took me by the arm into his garden where he almost shoved my head under his water tap to cool me down. He wouldn’t let me leave without me drinking about 5 cups of water too. That was a nice introduction to the country.

I took really small roads that undulated a lot along the Danube but which offered incredible views across to Romania. I did about 20km’s before I spent about 40 minutes pushing my bike up an almighty hill and where I decided to call it a day.

As if in order to welcome me to the country, I found the most amazing place to camp high up on the cliffs where I watched the sun set over Romania and the Danube. There were no dogs or insects and I was able to eat my dinner in peace outside of my tent and with this most incredible of views to accompany me. It was truly awe inspiring and kind of difficult to put into words. My camera had died and so I used my laptop to take a picture. It’s not a great one but it does give you an idea of how it was. It was a great way to end five exhausting and mentally challenging few days.

Now I must leave Veliko Tarnovo.

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