Entering Romania

After an hour circling Budapest trying to find the superhighway, we drove east across dry plains to the border with Romania. Clouds piled up behind the line of security stations. My friend Loren, his head bare, sniffling and coughing, drank water from a 1.5 liter supermarket bottle, and with each swallow I thought: How. Can. He. Drink. So. Much. Fucking. Water? After the border crossing we drove into the city of Cluj and stopped at the central square, curious. I had never seen such a dark place—blackness smeared the buildings. What was it? Soot? I didn’t know. We drove on. 

Having left Strasbourg with only a large-scale map of Europe, we had little detail on Romania, and it was the least developed country we visited. Always the geographer, I looked for clues. Was there a more alive place somewhere nearby? We stopped for lunch, crashing a country wedding which smelled quite clearly of sewage. Long hours in the car were nothing new on this trip, but it never occurred to me to get out of the car to walk, run, or just to stretch my legs. The cramped cabin of the Peugeot 207 was not my ideal environment. Enacting one of my maxims—turn left three times—I ordered Loren to leave the highway and turn onto a small, unmarked road leading up a ridge. Quickly we found ourselves in deep forest, without much to guide our next move. Just like the early computer game Adventure, “a maze of twisty passages, all alike”. Again I chose left. The road narrowed and the sun was setting. 

We came upon a large building, perhaps a hotel? It seemed abandoned, but there were some lights on and the entrance was passable, although partly destroyed. We explored for a few minutes, wandering expectantly around the dining hall, but found only dust and shuffling ghosts. A strange and again a dirty place. Finally, as darkness overtook us, following a heavily potholed dirt road into a valley, I spotted a small yellow sign. Romanian is a language much like Italian, which I can read even at a distance. Agriturismo. All of our left turns had finally borne fruit: a sane little village with a creek and a church, and a farmhouse with rooms to let and dinner on the table.