With last night’s drive having been cut a bit short, we hit the road early this morning. We needed to get clear back to Oradea over slow Romanian roads and we had at least a couple of stops we wanted to make along the way.
Right out of the gate, our route took us off the main highway, winding along the tall hills between mountain villages. It is hay cutting season here, and people were out in droves, walking to their fields carrying their farm equipment, cutting down hay with scythes, and one guy was perched on top of his twelve foot tall haystack. I’m still not sure how he got up there.
For a nice change, we had blue skies stretched with incoming storm clouds. We stopped incessantly to gaze across the beautiful fields and meadows and to observe the harvest. It was such a beautiful morning.
Before we’d even been driving an hour, we came to the Barsana monastery, famous for its beautiful wooden churches. We were expecting a repeat of yesterday: tour buses, entrance fees, and not nearly enough space to walk around and enjoy, so we were surprised when we were the only people parked in front of the gates. We walked right in and had the whole place practically to ourselves.
The nuns were busy watering the hives of flowering red pots and tending to the carpets and the gardens while we meandered slowly, enjoying the vibrant blue morning. The place was draped with wild flowers along every path and the tall wooden churches left us gazing straight up.
Before we’d quite had our fill of the place, white, flat clouds slid in ushering in a storm that hit us a short while later. Our golden photo moment was gone, and it was time for us to hit the road.
The roads were still not good, and Ben kept at the usual game of trying to avoid all the potholes without swerving into oncoming traffic or getting rear ended by the people behind us. As we went, our massive pile of gear in the back seat rattled and crunched. I thought of my dad, an impeccable packer, annoyed by even the smallest squeak by a car loaded up for a road trip, and tried to laugh off the stress that hearing all our our belongings crash against each other was causing me. With roads this bad and so much stuff crammed into a Panda, the clanging was simply unavoidable.
Another hour or two of driving led us through the usual slew of busy villages with people all out walking along their way. The pace of life here is so different from everything we’re used to and I just can’t get over the old women visiting in the streets and communities that come together to help each other cut and dry their hay. Romania is such a fascinating place.
Then, we saw another sign about a monastery we hadn’t heard of, and just for an excuse to get out and stretch, we took a small detour into the forest to check it out. This one was under construction with even less going on than Barsana but the dark grey storm clouds and the quaint wooded setting won us over all the same. A little while later, a big bus full of teenagers arrived and with the addition of a bunch of giggling adolescents to the scene, we made our departure.
Finally, we hit the road for good, making real progress to Oradea. We meant to stop at the Merry Cemetery, a burial place in which humorous inscriptions are supposedly written on the grave markers but we apparently missed it. Instead, we sped on through wooded passes eventually giving way to rolling hills of farmland. Just this morning we’d been traveling through villages brimming with nostalgic tradition and four hours later, we were back to modern civilization in Oradea. I was a sad to be back.
It took us roughly three rounds of driving in circles before we finally found the place we intended to stay. The endless one way streets in a city are a much bigger issue when you’re driving instead of riding, and I was getting kind of stressed from the task of navigating us through the maze moving at the fast pace of traffic.
The guesthouse was a few blocks from the rental car return, theoretically allowing us to unpack our gear tonight and easily return the car in the morning before heading out of town on bikes. Unfortunately, the guesthouse was full, which is the first time we’ve ever had that problem on this trip. I tried a nearby hotel we’d seen on our loops through town, and it was full as well.
By now, I was getting tired and most of all I wanted to be out of the bustle of the city. We drove to the rental return station and decided we’d just return the car tonight and ride ourselves to a campground outside of town. The bad news was that because this hadn’t been the plan, our stuff wasn’t even sort of packed. Clothing was strewn about the backseat, the groceries were still in their sacks, and none of our camping gear was in panniers.
Then, we also realized we hadn’t put gas in the car. We had one hour before the car rental location closed, so hurriedly we sped out of town until we found a gas station, filled up, and then, in the parking lot, packed up our stuff as best we could while the gas station attendant stared at us. Then, we took another run through the busy city traffic back to the rental location. Feeling a little like we were in the amazing race, my nerves were a bit frazzled.
With thirty minutes until closing, we began unloading our bikes in pieces onto the curb, when the rental guy came out to “help” us. He wasn’t at all helpful with our big mess, though he was impressed by our bikes, and then he began inspecting the car very carefully.
“The car is very dirty,” he informed me as he walked around and around it. “Uh, yeah,” I thought, “we’ve bee driving in Romania on dirt roads with pot holes that are a foot deep and its been raining for three straight days.” I kept my mouth shut and just nodded. Finally, he seemed to give the car a pass and drove it away, leaving us to reassemble our stuff on the side of the road.
Twenty minutes later and almost completely ready to go, I went to inflate the tires of the bikes. The stem of one of my tubes was already kind of damaged and as soon as I attached the pump to it, it came completely off, ruining the tube entirely. Not at all surprised, but not really thrilled about this turn of events, I began the process of changing it while Ben finished packing the bikes. Still, our last hour had rattled me a little bit and my hands shook as I completed the task I’ve done dozens of times.
Unimpressed with my slowness, Ben took over the task while I got back to loading up at which point I soon noticed that one of the screws to my rear rack had fallen out and gone missing. We don’t have any spares, so we had to deliberate a bit about which one of the screws from our equipment could be sacrificed in order to cover the crucial missing piece. All of this makeshift bike maintenance is driving me insane.
Finally, we got all our gear cobbled together enough to complete a dusty ride out of town to a strangely deserted campground. Upon arrival, we dumped out all our stuff onto the grass and began repacking, actually attempting to adhere to an organizational scheme. It is good to be back on bikes. We head to Hungary tomorrow!