Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Missing Link: Part 3.8: Viseu de Sus to Bucharest

world-map viseu


And finally, as we draw near to the end of this travelogue, that missing link which gave it its name, is closed. It’s a satisfying feeling, linking up two very disparate places, two alien realities evolving from one to the other. That’s why I always prefer overland travel and that’s why closing this gap was always going to be so very important to me. I’d lived in Japan and knew that reality well; I’ve lived also in Greece and Bulgaria and Israel, not to mention my home, the UK. But how does one become the other, how do the pieces of the jigsaw fit together? Overland trips like this help no end and I genuinely believe that there is far more value to a trip like this than five or six jet in and jet out ones. So, the missing link is closed. Well, that missing link, though there are several more. What about joining up my journeys around South east Asia and my time living in Vietnam with China and the Japan to UK axis? Hmm… let’s get looking at those ticket prices…

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Links to all parts of the travelogue



1.1: Konotop

1.2: Chernobyl and Pripyat

1.3: Kiev

1.4: Kiev to Odessa

1.5: Odessa

1.6: Bolgrad

Moldova and Transdniestra

2.1: Bolgrad to Chisinau

2.2: Chisinau (I)

2.3: Tiraspol and Bender

2.4: Chisinau (II)


3.1: Iasi (I)

3.2: Iasi (II)

3.3: Suceava

3.4: The Painted Monasteries of Bucovina

3.5: Targu Neamt, Agapia and Sihla

3.6: Suceava to Viseu de Sus

3.7: The Mocanita and Viseu de Sus

3.8: Viseu de Sus to Bucharest

3.9: Bucharest (I)

3.10: Bucharest (II)

My Flickr Album of this trip


Journey: Vişeu de Sus to Bucharest

I took a taxi down to Vişeu de Jos and spent a couple of hours writing up my diary and ‘Interval’, the story which had formed in my mind during the stop at Fiad on the journey up.

The train back down the valley to Salva was the same rumbling blue diesel which had brought me up. I took my place in an empty compartment only to be shooed out by an annoying peasant woman who had apparently reserved a ticket for that particular seat, the only reserved ticket it seemed, on the entire train. I moved on to an adjacent compartment which was inhabited by an inebriated yokel who was most jovial and convivial and kept plying me with his homemade liquor which he drank directly from an old Coke bottle whilst cadging cigarettes off me. I christened him ‘A-ous!’ since that was what he kept on saying to me. The conductor, who found him hilarious, asked if A-ous wasn’t bothering me and whilst I assured him that I could cope with it, I also took the opportunity to enquire exactly what “A-ous!” means.

“Listen to me!” he replied.

ML147 A-ous!

The train that I boarded at Salva was a lot swisher than the one that I’d just alighted from, for it was an overnight sleeper express with deep red coaches which boasted interiors of faux wood panelling. I’d been on one of these before, back in 2003 with the Sibling, when we’d taken an overnight train from Braşov to Budapest and whilst passing through the Mediaeval villages of Transylvania had witnessed the most incredible thunderstorm erupt over the peaks of the Carpathians.

It was good to recall that trip for sometime that night whilst I was sound asleep in my bunk, the Missing Link between my Asiatic and European travels would finally be closed and a continuous line could be drawn from Toyama, my home in Japan, to my current home in Stoke-on-Trent, (or alternatively, to Luxor in Egypt, Tbilisi in Georgia or Cork in Ireland).

But the majority of that long thin line consists of three trips: the first, as I’ve already discussed, was my epic ‘Long March’ from Toyama to Moscow with the Lowlander and thence onwards with the Sibling to Bulgaria until it ended in ignominious failure in a police cell on Konotop railway station. The bit onwards from there, the last piece of the jigsaw, was of course this trip, the 2012 bridging of the gap, the Konotop to Bucharest ‘Missing Link’ but the final part of that line was that 2003 ‘Trans-Europe Express’ trip from Varna in Bulgaria to Zierikzee in the Netherlands with the Sibling again my travelling companion.

Then we had crossed over into Romania from Ruse in Bulgaria to Giurgiu on the mighty Friendship Bridge, the furthest crossing downstream over the Danube, then onwards to Bucharest where we’d stayed the night.

That was not my first trip to the Romanian capital of course; I’d flown in and out of it in 1998, (on my first-ever trip to Bulgaria; back then it was much cheaper than flying into Sofia), and checked out the Village Museum, (another skansen), the Arc d’Triumphe, (modelled after the one in Paris and built to celebrate the unification of Romania), and Ceauşescu’s much-maligned – but in my mind, rather impressive – remodelling of the south end of the city centre. So, in 2003 Bucharest was nothing new, a dusty, poverty-stricken metropolis with little of note to see save for a half-finished copy of Pyongyang.

But after Bucharest we’d taken a three-hour train journey through the impoverished villages of Wallachia and into the lush green folds of the Carpathians to Braşov. I recall chatting to a young lady in our compartment who told us that times were so hard under Ceauşescu that they were even short of bread to eat, and of a young monk who came down the corridor stopping at every compartment with a collecting tin, saving to rebuild a church, an act which far from impressed our young travelling companion who thought that there were far more pressing causes deserving of her cash.

At Braşov we were approached by locals offering us homestay rooms and, for the first time ever, I took one up. It proved to be an excellent decision since we ended up sharing an atmospheric room in the back of a traditional house near to the old city owned by a guy called Gheorghe who hoped to become a mover and shaker in the city’s embryonic backpacker trade and who turned out to be the perfect host both in terms of his knowledge and his friendliness.

ML148 The Sibling in our Braşov homestay

We both loved Braşov, the picture-postcard perfect fairy tale city of the Carpathians, surrounded by stout walls and wooded slopes. We wandered into her Black Church, across Piaţa Sfatului, (which I half-expected to fill up with porridge from the Magic Porridge Pot), along Str. Storii, one of Europe’s narrowest streets, (and is that not the Pied Piper leading the rats along it…?), and up Mt. Tampa, (where I’m sure I saw Rip van Winkle asleep under a tree).

ML149 Braşov

Braşov is a magical place and made even more so by the surreal tour offered by our host: for the princely sum of $1 we were driven to the outskirts of the new city in his Dacia where we parked up by a row of bins and then watched in amazement as wild bears descended from the woods to scavenge in those bins only metres away from the watching crowd. A unique experience indeed, although the sight of those grizzly mothers with their cute cubs did mar our enjoyment of the meal that we ate in the bear meat restaurant the next day!

But not only was Braşov incredible, so too were the places nearby. We headed out on the bus to the cheese-fest of Bran Castle, (billed as Dracula’s Castle, although in fact Vlad Ţepeş had nothing whatsoever to do with it), and the far more dramatic Râşnov Castle, (also no Dracula connections), and then on the train to the stunningly beautiful Şighişoara whose Dracula links are genuine – Vlad Ţepeş was born there – before we finally moved onwards towards Hungary on that sleeper train during that storm of storms which could only ever have occurred in the domain of the evil Count Dracula.

ML150 Râşnov Castle

ML151 Şighişoara

And so, as the night closed in, I reminisced, drank beers bought from the carriage attendant and finished off ‘Interval’ before finally switching off the light and settling down, safe in the knowledge that, when I awoke, the Missing Link would be missing no more.

 Next part: Bucharest (I)

My Flickr Album of this trip

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