Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The HelmetCam broke yesterday, so here's a teaser video - our bicycle entry to Budapest.
After five straight days on the road, we're taking a break day in Cluj Napoca, Romania, which for me has largely involved napping and minor Olympic swimming viewing. Romania is an interesting country, in that we know so little about it. Much has been made of the ultra-poor Romanian village which was the scene for Borat's hometown; so far, though, Romania has proven to be less poor than expected. Wi-fi is available in hotels and cafes; mobile phones are everywhere; the rumored terrible potholes don't exist. Though the drivers has proven to be far more idiotic in other countries we've visited, the police know that, and there are dozens of speed traps, rumble strips, and cautions to get people to slow down.
The most disappointing discovery of Romania is a big one -- the people. Time and time again we've met people who want to do the least work possible, who automatically say no to simple and easily fulfillable requests and only change course when word comes from above. Case in point: at a hotel where we stayed two nights ago, we asked to store the bikes indoors. We don't expect premier accomodations for out bikes, but where they wanted us to leave the bikes - outside, in a highly trafficked and unsupervised area - was highly stupid. Four consecutive people said it was impossible to do anything else, including a mean old fat hag peeling potatoes who flung her finger into my face and screamed at me. After finally getting the boss to understand that a) we wouldn't capitulate and b) we were going to be really annoying about this, they gave in and found a place for the bikes in the locked vegetable cellar. Reggie sleeps with the carrots!
I talked to an American ex-pat in our hostel this moning who'd experienced the same thing. He'd recently asked for tea with milk, which he'd been assured was impossible. He asked a second waiter for tea; when that arrived, he asked for milk, and got it. The first waiter provided the re-fill. It's all indicative of a simple mindset: don't take chances, don't think creatively, your job is never on the line, and try to get away with the least possible work. All the countries we've visited have been ex-Communist; Romania is the only one where we've seen this pervasive mindset. Not that there aren't helpful Romanians - we've found a few - but the majority we've met don't care much about helping people get what they need if it's outside the playbook.
A couple more notes:
-Transylvania - where we are now - does not as of yet boast the drastic views one would expect from a lifetime of Dracula cartoons. So far it looks like a flatter version of the Northern California coast. The cycling has not been nearly as steep as anticipated.
-We saw Wanted last night at the local cinema. Plenty of Hollywood magic was involved, and it's hyperbloody, but overall it was entertaining and interesting with some pretty cool stunts. 10 Romanian lei well spent