We arrive in Braşov on a Sunday, which is never a good idea. Everything’s closed and it’s a while before we find an internet cafe and look for couchsurfers and anything else of interest. There’s not much going on and once again we find ourselves playing the part of tourists, getting over-charged and walking around with glazed eyes trying to take everything in. There’s a black church, a narrow street (they think it’s the narrowest in Europe, but it’s not), a Hollywood-style “Braşov” sign high up on the mountain – which, by the way, is right in the middle of the city.
It’s two days before we even manage to get in touch with A, a friend of a friend of Pete’s and our only prior contact in Romania. He’s known to Pete through activist channels and turns out to be a security-paranoid anarcho-syndicalist who comes to meet us in full anarcho-black attire, despite the blazing sun. Unfortunately, he’s also one of those people who thinks he’s right about everything and won’t let you do anything for yourself. Im sure he’s only trying to be helpful, but he’s really very pushy about it and I end up feeling I’m unable to make decisions for myself.
We’ve also been in touch with a man at Kászonszék Ecovillage Initiative and although it’s a fair way back up north again – almost as far as the Rainbow site – we decide our time will be better spent there meeting the people setting up Transylvania’s (first?) ecovillage than playing tourist and being shepherded about by A here in Braşov.
It’s a long drive up and we’re beginning to question our sanity at coming so far for a short meeting, but we meet the man, Áron, that I’ve been emailing. He’s a very nice and thoroughly interesting character with lots of ideas and plans, many of which are pinned up on the walls of the modest room from which he runs his business as an architect. Áron shows us his portfolio: designs and drawings of traditional Hungarian houses, some of which he has drawn from villages where they are due to be demolished. “This one is destroyed now”, he says of a few. He’s drawn them in architecture design form, but with the crumbling walls showing in the line drawings. It gives an interesting impression that I really like. Then we get down to business. Áron talks about his travels around various different communities and projects in Europe, much like Pete and I are doing now. He has a slide show of some of them. Then he talks about his ideas, plans for the future and dreams of establishing a sustainable ecovillage here in this traditional Hungarian village of Kászon. Actually, it’s more like a Transition Initiative than what I would consider to be a typical Ecovillage, as he wants to transition an established community and not start a new one. It becomes clear as he’s speaking that this really is the beginning. He’s cagey when asked how many are involved and I imagine it’s just Áron and his wife at the moment. Still, although not much has been set up, Pete and I are both impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of this man Áron and we both come away feeling inspired.
For some reason we agreed to give A a lift to Bucharest. Normally I would be overjoyed at the rare opportunity to pay off some off my hitching karma and reduce the amount of traffic in the world, but somehow A seems to have a habit of trying to control everything. First he tries to dictate what time we leave in the morning, then when I mention that I’d like to stop for coffee he calls up his friend who lives in a city on the way and orders him to bring a flask of coffee to a point where we will meet him. This he does in Romanian so that we have no idea what he’s done until it’s too late and we take a detour into the centre of the city to meet this poor boy who’s got – not a flask of coffee, but a bottle of water for us. Um.. great, thanks! Ok, so I realise A is just trying to be nice, but it’s the way he does it – infuriating.
We arrive in Bucharest. The first thing we notice: it’s hot. It’s as much as we can manage to drop A off in the centre and navigate through the busy, smoggy streets in Princess, our metal oven on wheels, to the jungle of large Soviet-style tower blocks where our CS host lives on the East side of the city. Alexandra lives on the 6th floor, where we all sit, melting into sofas and discussing politics (she’s a vegan socialist, for reference) until it’s cool enough to venture out into the evening air.
Bucharest is not a beautiful city, but it is very green. There seem to be as many trees as towerblocks, at least so far.
I’ve never enjoyed a punk gig before. Alexandra is a bit of a party animal and after our obligatory political debate (the finer points of difference between socialism and anarchism) we head out to watch Dead Ceausescus. It’s a great show. The band really know how to work the crowd – leave them waiting then pump them full of energy, plenty of posturing and comical multimedia use of communist era footage of Ceauşescu, old national anthems, costumes, etc. A mosh pit develops instantly as soon as the band begin and I quickly step back and back and back as it widens out and more people dive in.
I’ve been intending to go to some museums, but it’s just so bloody hot. By the time I feel capable of doing anything much it’s usually getting into evening, the museums are shut and the dogs are out. I laughed the first time I read a warning about the dogs, but it’s all true. There are somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 stray dogs in the capital (or 1 million if you believe Wikitravel). They roam around in packs, and are hungry and hostile, which to be fair is unsurprising given the lives they lead. I didn’t take this at all seriously until Pete and I were chased and barked at all over the city while out riding our bikes in the evening. They are bloody terrifying. Almost everyone I spoke to had been attacked by dogs at least once.
The other thing the wikis (Couchsurfing Wiki, Wikitravel, Wikipedia) warn you about are the tricksters, pickpockets, gypsies and homeless children – all of which you are to avoid. Wikitravel is particularly good for a laugh on these issues (see dog link above), especially the parts about not attempting to bribe a policeman and to avoid the gypsy area because “there is nothing of interest there”.
There are also many good things in Bucharest and the Biblioteca Alternativa is one of them. It has two sets of bookshelves -rather modest for a library, yet manages to contain an enormous number of books I want to read so that I keep jumping between them and don’t get a lot of reading done. They have events in the library too. This week is Spanish Civil war week and we manage to make it to a showing of Land and Freedom, an excellent film which they even put into English subtitles just for us.
A Friend Arrives
Rhiannon is here! Strange the way one can seemingly go anywhere in the world and still run into a friend. Neither of us has a phone and we’re both quite chaotic creatures, but somehow we manage to meet up. Rhiannon is a loveable Geordie pixie, one of those that’s always popping up in unlikely places. Still, I can’t believe she’s here. “What are you doing here?!” I ask. “Oh, I don’t really know. I just thought I might go to Bucharest” “But how did you get here?” “I got the bus.” “From Newcastle?” “Yeah.” Wow!
It’s so nice to have a friend. Well, ok, I’m traveling with Pete who is one of my best friends and we’re staying with Alexandra, who has become a friend, but it’s nice to have a friend from back home. I show Rhiannon the library and the punk bar. We get very wet, escape from dogs and discuss our disgust at people’s attitudes toward “gypsies”. She’s been having her own adventures after being rescued from her slightly misjudged plan of sleeping rough in a park in Bucharest by some well meaning strangers, who were thoroughly lovely apart from the Roma issue. What’s wrong with everyone?
Before leaving Bucharest I hand down to Rhiannon the wisdom I have gathered during my Romanian adventures and tips for vegan survival: Mandy brand pate vegetal, salami biscuit – which I never did find, Zakuska and the immortal words “Mancare de Post“.