Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Live From The Crossroads Motel

I was expecting snow and ice and polar bears, wasn't I? It didn't happen. I got lucky again. The evening before I set off, as I trudged to a grungy pub in Graz to say a final farewell to good mates Damian and Jo, it was sleeting a sort of miserable, icy chowder of depression. The next day, Pete and I began this gymungous journey and it managed to stay dry but a frozen wind blasted our stupid, little faces until the only option was to dive into another bar, but one that wasn't a dive this time. Then, the next day, Pete left to return to reality and the sun came out. That was over a week ago. And the sun's been out every day since. And it's forecast for the foreseeable future, as long as we only try to foresee for a few days. I'd say 'thank you, God' but He's probably busy infecting African babies with malaria or something.

But something bad has happened. As I sit here, in the most inappropriate motel in Romania (I'll come to that in a minute), glugging a glass of Transylvanian red, which appropriately looks like a cup of blood, I can't remember anything about Hungary. Well, that's not entirely true. I remember Budapest but, from what I saw, Budapest doesn't seem very representative of Hungary. I mean, it had buildings and stuff. Most of Hungary is this big, flat, featureless thing. You can't take a decent photo of a big, flat, featureless thing. It can't be done. Have you ever seen a decent photo of an absolutely massive pancake? Well, have you? No, you haven't.

So the long days of ticking off the kilometres as I passed through sparsely populated Hungarian villages, where the only human interaction was someone who looked like the big, lurchy fella from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre gurning at me from every bus stop, has added up to an indistinct memorial blob of partially flooded, very, very flat farmland. Oh, and cheap beer. If you're Hungarian, don't get me wrong. I probably chose a really rubbish route. And I'm not knocking Hungarians. I had a great chat with Robert, one of your lot, who ran a hotel in Budapest. I think. Maybe I just dreamt that conversation to fill in the gaps.

Anyway, now I'm in Romania and I have to tell you that the roads are bleedin' mental. If you look at my Romanian road map, there are basically four choices of road. There are motorways, of which there are not many and it seems no one uses them anyway. How do I know this? Because all the traffic that should be on the motorway is on the A-roads. The colour of motorways on my map is irrelevant as I can't go on them. A-roads, which are red on my map, are usually in an OK condition, except the shoulder, i.e., the bit I have to cycle on. The shoulder is full of stones and broken glass and twisted metal, so I try to keep out of that. But then the juggernauts might get me. So I go back into the shoulder. And so on. It's not perfect.

There are two other types of road. One of these is yellow on my map and appears to be a sort of B-road. I haven't found one of these yet but I'm hoping for one the day after tomorrow. And then we come to the last type of road, the really thin, little, white one. On most European maps this indicates something like a peaceful, idyllic lane. And it can mean that here too. But if instead of the map showing a really thin, little, white road, it shows a really, really thin, little, white road - and you honestly do need a magnifying glass to tell the difference - then it means an unsurfaced road, the sort of track they used to have on the 80s motocross show Kickstart, and there are loads of these. Bloody millions.

Today my destination forced me on to a purely red, A-road route. It was trucks and coaches and cars going at light speed all the way for about six hours. I'd planned to go a bit farther but, with a strong headwind, I quit early when I found a roadside motel. I felt frazzled. I thought a beer or a glass of wine might calm me down and remove the heavy goods vehicles from my nightmares. But, silly me, this motel sits right by that busy A-road. Each time a juggernaut goes past - about ten per minute on average - my walls wobble like I'm on the set of Crossroads. So  I won't get much peace. And then I discovered that the train comes past my window too. When that happens the whole room turns inside out like in that film Inception. But apparently this too shall pass and so everything's just dandy.

If you're planning a cycling holiday in Romania, may I suggest France instead. Or not cycling at all.

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