Turn Left Three Times

One of my personal maxims is Turn Left Three Times.

Tom Stoppard wrote eloquently about this in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

“A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until — “My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

While I could just be guilty of avoiding the hedonic treadmill, or having a novelty bias, I think it’s true that too many people observing something extraordinary makes it ordinary. If a place is popular, unfortunately it’s probably also over-run and commercialized. And I don’t really like crowds.

So: when I’m trying to choose a direction, I almost always choose the road less traveled. It’s not always actually left, but it’s usually right.

This maxim was born on a road trip through eastern Europe. Our goal was to reach the Black Sea, and at the time we were passing through Romania. As with any other country, if you turn “right” in Romania, you end up in Bucharest. There’s no way to start there anyhow since it’s in the middle (unless you fly in, and we were driving), and so we first arrived in Oradea, having entered from Hungary, just to the west.

Oradea was a nightmare. Blackened walls and gaping windows lined the streets. The locals shambled and the sky seemed darker than it should have been at 4pm. Our turned left, against the advice of our guidebook, and found ourselves on a fairly decent highway heading east towards the interior of the country. We didn’t want to go to far in that direction though, as we would miss too much of the country.

We didn’t have much of a map. I think we had a screen shot of some section of Google Maps, taken before we lost cellular coverage crossing the border. Luckily one of us thought to take that screen shot – a perfect example of being informed but not perfectly informed. We were looking for a place to stay for the night – and some dinner. We turned left and joined a wedding feast, with the stench of raw sewage wafting up from brown trickle below the hotel. They served us sheep’s balls, as I recall. It was getting darker.

We were looking for a village, not a hotel with a wedding party. We chose a smaller road. Up a ridge, past a dam, and the road seemed to end. Well, the pavement ended – and we continued. We found another old hotel, seemingly deserted, a neon sign still flickering above the entryway (I am not making this up!) We went inside! Deserted, but clearly inhabited.

Now it was really getting dark. We only had one choice: carry on. We were descending again, down into a friendly-looking valley. I said to my friend: we will come to a village, we will see a yellow sign, that will lead us to an agriturismo (a sort of farm-stay situation), we will stay there – and they will serve us dinner. Five minutes later, as darkness fell, we came into a small village, we saw a yellow sign that led us to a charming little farmhouse, they welcomed us happily, fed us, and we slept well.