--Thursday 29 April 99--(Continued)
A Road Trip in Romania
Between Sibiu and Resita and again between Resita and Carancebes we had
the use of a car and a driver. The need was purely practical, for there
was no practical public transportation between these points.
Driving any distance in a country that has less than 100 km (60 miles)
of divided highway has its own special risks. The countryside is inhabited
by peasants who travel in horse drawn wagons and unspecified others who
are in no rush to get where they are going. And did I mention the trucks?
Getting from here to there in a reasonable period of time means pulling
out from behind a truck and then accelerating to pass and then decelerating
to fit in behind the slow car only a little ahead of the truck because
another car has pulled into your lane to pass a horse drawn cart which
will not yield a centimeter of space regardless. The passing cars blink
their lights and tap their horns but it serves little purpose: the horses
pulling carts, the peasants crossing the street, the gaggle of geese crossing
the road, the herds of sheep and cows wandering down the middle of the
way affect a complete deafness engendered by having been beeped and blinked
at all their lives by countless others from the big city who are also
in some inexplicable rush.
For the daring driver (this is an established profession in Romania) this
is better than any video game: the centimeter between bumpers, the milliseconds
available for passing are the real thing. For the front seat passenger
the ride is just as real with the added excitement of no control over
the process. Did I mention that airbags haven't caught on here yet?
The train ride from Caransebes to Bucharest began badly when we discovered
that our compartment was occupied by an old peasant lady who spread over
two seats and refused to acknowledge our existence. We had purchased only
six of the eight seats in our second class compartment and the owners
of the other two seats boarded with us. We made do and the train quickly
pulled out of the station with all of us and a large number of high school
students from who knows where and going to where we knew not.
The students were most mannerly. They clogged the passageway of the train,
chain smoked cigarettes, flirted with each other, drank heavily (and I
don't mean soda water) and sang loud, rousing choruses from traditional
songs. Otherwise they left us alone entirely.
The train headed south through the hills and valleys of the Banat. We
could no longer see the snow capped Carpathians but the low hills frequently
had very steep sides and covering carpets of trees. From one valley filled
with farms and fruit trees we passed to another through a tunnel and caught
the view of more hills, farm land and fruit trees. Yet another tunnel
continued the pattern.
As we pulled into a stop at a town called Baile Herculana I started sneezing
suddenly and the pain in my sternum was so strong that I had to brace
it with my hand. "This is a famous health spa," Irina cheerfully
informed me. It figures that I should spaz out just from being near a
I survived the close encounter with health and on we went. A short time
later we reached the Danube near Orsova and I rushed to the window to
see if Serbian paramilitary units were crossing the river to take me captive
and display me on what reminded of Serbian TV. I was sure Mother would
As it was, I saw nothing crossing the river. The Danube at this point
is wide with a slow, graceful movement, the most gentlemanly of rivers.
From here it flows this way between Romania and Serbia and then becomes
the border between Romania and Bulgaria. As it nears the Black Sea it
runs into a row of hills that deflects it north, away from its shortest
route. Then the Danube is entirely within Romania until it turns east
once more. As it progresses it continues to slacken its pace becoming
ever statelier until its epicene gentlemanliness oozes into the largest
wild estuary in Europe. In its swamps and bogs and water soaked soils,
birds from Asia, Africa and Europe come to raise their young and feed
on rich river and sea food.
At Drobeta-Turnu Severin we continued east while the Danube made a U-turn
and headed west for a while before it finally headed south and east. The
train ran along the butt ends of the hills until we reached Filiasi (pronounced
"Filiash"). After that the hills decreased in height and the
valleys extended their length and width until Craiova. After that we were
in the vast Danubian plain again, rich, fertile and flat but not dull
for it was Spring and everything was growing. Off in the distance ahead
I could see a line of poplars edging an unseen road at neat intervals.
As my eye followed the line to the horizon, like a perspective line the
trees grew progressively smaller until I could not distinguish them from
the growing plants.
On the other side of the train, a giant square a thousand meters on edge
of pure dandelion-yellow seemingly rushed towards us. Set in a matrix
of rich green hay, the yellow blossoms of rapita looked like a bee's idea
of heaven. And then it flew by and was gone.
A field of rapita as seen
from a speeding train.
During the last hour before Bucharest, we turned
off the light and watched a thunderstorm off to the left. There were streaks
of lightening going from clouds to the ground and from cloud to cloud
(I saw two horizontal ones positioned one over the other) and sheet lightening
that backlit the clouds and seemed like bombs going off. Irina spoke my
words and remarked how we thought of the TV images of the nightly bombing
It was raining when we arrived in Bucharest, fourteen hours after arising.
It was a long day of travel.