Mountain strongholds, shrouded in cloud, give way to miles of rolling farm ground, pituresque cottages that once dotted the landscape, along with toiling farmers cutting hay and tending thier livestock are no more, gone like the mist that cloaks the moutain tops. We roll off the western edge of the Carpathians, on a dizzying downward spiral thru stands of fir and spruce, only to find ourselves riding right into Gypsy central. We are cycling thru Gods creation, and know full well that we are Blessed to be able to do so. Thanyou Jesus for this chance to witness your wonderful works.
It all happens so fast that we are caught flat footed so to speak. It happened at a road side bar/cafe/quiksack type affair, which there are many of here in Romainia. A dark skinned women with raven black hair, long ornately embroidered dress and similar headscarf, walks right up too us before we even dismount our bikes and wipe sweat off…….moneta……..moneta, she keeps on saying while holding out her hand. Well, we know right away what “moneta” is and why shes asking, but holding her hand out like that, what the heck could that mean. I ponder the begging spectakle before me, a little stupified. I work thru my mental lexicon of Chinese Sign language phrases that come to mind……….a quart of oil, why the heck does she want a quart of oil???
The begging as we quickly found out, takes place everywhere and by every age. Here is a little of what we learned thus far as it pertains to Gypsies. Watch the women, they are much more brazen than the men. Gypsies have 4 arms and 4 hands, ( God origninally intended them to be fruit pickers…… but as humans are…..they heard pocket pickers ) they only ever show 2, but believe me, quick as a wink those other 2 come out to lift the valuables of the bewildered and unsuspecting. Within the Gypsie culture it is considered to be beneath them to work a regular job, they prefer to barter and trade thier way thru life. Hence, they line the road with family members selling fruit and vegetables, buckets of wild berries and the like. The little kids just walk right up and tell you they want money, the older teenagers are a little more street polished will begin by telling you they have no job, hence they need money. The women, walk right up with a huge pearly smile, often shake your hand and even give you a hug (I noticed they learn quickly, they only hug a biker once), very often with a small child in tow………moneta……moneta. Now, should you fail to pass over the requested sheckles……then what they say afterwards in a tongue I do not speak…….well, it doesn’t sound real nice. One gypsy will relay to the next that you didn’t aid them in thier financial woes, they begin sort of a group heckle. Sounding similar to 4 guinea hens out in the yard carrying on. This process breaks down the tourist into a quivering bowl of giving. Had very little effect on me, being Captain of the Hard Hearted Club……just ask my friend Pete, or my Pastor.
The countryside rolls, with tiny slow moving rivulets of water snaking and meandering in the lowest valleys. The hillsides are often planted in corn and sorghums, many times the southern exposures of hillsides are planted in apples. The creek banks are full of wild plum, raspberries and corcavase which are what we call saskatoons. Men work the fields, while women are out picking berries. There are many horse drawn vehicles in this region, and we have seen our first draft sized horses being used. Very common to see a wagon heading out with several men and thier scythes, and women with picking pails. By noon or a little later berries will have been brought to town, where a younger family member busies themselves selling the hand picked goods to cars passing by. Heck, I even noticed two partially dressed men on bikes buying berries and then ice cream during the heat of the day.
One place that we can discern a real change in economy, is in that of the housing and barn yards in this region. The houses here as a whole, all need a little repair. Gone are the abundant flower beds. The ornate baryards of the more northerly Romania, traveling south you see more purely utilitarian back yards. Trim on the houses amounts to paint if that. Ornate brick work chimneys have fell by the wayside as simple metal chimneys take thier place. Fences of made of ornate wooden slats, or complex hand forged iron, give in to iether nothing or very rustic railing. Up north it was common to see a newer Audi or Mercedez parked in theback yard along with a work wagon and maybe even a small tractor. Now, you seldom see a car parked in the same yard as a wagon is parked.
Within the last blog post I mention P&I had the chance to meet Alexander, a judge/advocat from up north. Anyways, one of the points he made was that as you progress south thru Romania it gets progressively poorer. I would have to say that it certainly seems to be that way, as seen from the seat of my bicycle at 15 miles per hour. Stopping your bike to take a photograph around here can bring on unwelcome results. A simple tired horse standing next to the road can be an image, but 5 or 6 men sot you and come out demanding “moneta” for the reason that it is there horse. I am sure that one man owns the horse and wagon, but all 6 men are demanding thier share as if I am United Nations or something. A shot of a cute kid can bring on 3 grandmothers in headscarves, all demanding money. It only takes a few of these incidents and you leave your camera in the camera bag.
Even though the countryside is rolling, there tends to be more valley and ridge type climbs in this region. Unlike, say riding thru Moldova, where it was iether up or down all day long. Here, you start a climb for several miles in length, make 8 or 10 big switchbacks at 7-10 percent, crest out, and drop off the other side in similar fashion. The roads, we are traveling on, are “E” marked roads. These are very good, with some shoulder too get off on, which always makes you feel a little safer. They canbe alittle bjsier than one may like, but droppingdown to an “A” marked road almost always mens rough gravel at best, and sometimes nothing more than a dirt track.
We have actually been riding a little harder than we need too. For no good reason. We both hate sitting around at the tent in the evening, so we usually dont quit riding till about 7pm. We have been hitting the70 to 80 miles a day mark. As a result, it may put us into Bucharest earlier than we want. So, we are calculating some alternative routes so as to see some extra stuff. We are currently in Sighsoara ( pronounced -Siggy-shwara). This is the birthplace of Vlad Dracul. Also known as Vlad the impaler, famous for yes, impaling his captives on wooden stakes while they were alive. Nominated twice by the Nobel folks for “Nice guy of the year”, fortunatley for them, he never won it. Vlad, is the character behind the story of “Count Dracula”, made famous by Irish born writer, Bram Stoker.
Sighsoara, a Unesco funded city,with buildings and landmark fortifications dating back to the early 1100,s. Cobble stone streets still line the downtown old city region. The multistory houses, are all built connected to one another, known as “birgmier” construction…..gosh, I hope Ihave that spelled correctly. If you get looking around, very view of the houses are actually built as we would call square. There are alot of corner angles well above or below a true 90. It
renders a downtown street edge that is unusually disconnected, with some portions protruding and others receding. Both interesting and different from what we have grown up with here in the States. There are 14 medievil wall towers within the Sighsoara fortress, each tower built and also maintained by a benefactor Guild of the day. For instance, the most famous being the Watchmakers Tower. So the Guild system, on one hand meant that your occupation was somewhat protected from outside competition, it also came with a cost as we see here. And I am sure those costs would have been exorbatent in thier day, which was approx 1425.
Its a bright sunny day here today, kind of a nice break.we have had about 4 days steady of grey leaden skies, carrying with them the constant threat of rain. Tomorrow, we start the day with a climb out of the treelined geographical bowl that Sighsoara is located within, and we will be headed for Brasov.