What was that thing I used to say to try to sound worldly back in my twenties? I don’t just travel for the place but for the people. And it’s true but no more so than in Romania. Is there a connection between poorer countries and how hospitable they are? I’m sure I can’t be so crude with my generalisations but more often than not in parts of Greece, India, Nicaragua and here I’ve just been met with kindness and genuine warmth. I don’t want to leave. I’m half in love with Romania and half in love with a Romanian.
It’s been yet another whistle stop tour. How I like to pack it in. The older I get the more I wonder how this independent enforced ‘lost ness’ will be my constant. Don’t want a wife. Don’t want kids. Not right now anyway. 5 nights has been minimal and I really need to come back in the Summer. I’ve been saying that about places siince that fateful interrailing trip when I was 17. And then not going back but to here I must.
Bucharest is a rare old mix of Parisian beauty, Orthodox churches, Communist greyness and a bit of sleaze. And the gardens are beautiful. My first night was spent in the heart of old town surrounded by banging bass lines and bars where it’s normal for young men and women to have a drink while a girl in bondage gear gyrates above their heads. Reminded me of Amsterdam’s red light district. Knowing I wouldn’t get to sleep with the techno just yards away, I did the rounds. Bit disappointing. Tacky. Only one good bar which felt like a punk/dive bar the likes of which you might have once got in London but nowadays only find in Europe. Struck for the first time by the cheapness.
Went on a great free walking tour the following day. Not only is it much nicer having someone tell you about history / sites, but that person brings their own experience to it and it’s a great way to meet people. Ok, I enjoy travelling alone but sometimes I can’t bear the loneliness.
Next stop Braşov. The star that burns the brightest. The trains here look like they’re relics of the communist era. Great big hulks of metal with faded furniture, filthy glass and shit stained toilet seats. I’m not kidding. I counted 4 out of 4. They are also 3rd world slow. We’re travelling through a town right now where we’re being overtaken by all the cars. I guess we must be doing less than 40. Ah, it’s Sinaia. Another good place for skiing apparently.
So arrived in Braşov about 8.30 having got on the wrong train! Stayed in a wonderful studio which was in the back of what seemed to be an old stable block. Lots of wood. Stable’s probably not right. It’s just the traditional style of building in Transylvania where they have big long houses made of wood.
Checked in and immediately went out. Tempted by a transgression that has played on my mind for years. Walked almost an hour to meet following Google maps. She invited me up to her room at the top of her house demanding all the time I kept quiet, pressing her index finger next to those perfect unsmiling lips. I am sure her parents were downstairs. She immediately asked for the money and then there was a ridiculous and rather terse exchange where neither of us could understand the other and she mentioned alcohol a few times about me and I mentioned rob a few times about her. Thankfully the original intention of our rendezvous didn’t happen and I got all my money back after mentioning the police.
Amazingly found a party just around the corner in an old warehouse – just the sort of place I liked to frequent in the early nineties although there were about 30 people there. That’s probably a person for every 30 square metres. It was some sort of political event organised by fairly young guys in a buildup to the next election in 2020. But it seemed like a good excuse for a party. Chatted to a lovely woman about it before hailing a cab back into town.
Already well on my way by this stage so indulged in the old cocktail of subs/DJ mix. Leaving my building, bumped into a young crew of guys drinking and smoking outside my door so offered them and got chatting. They were all students at Braşov university. Went out somewhere.
They were so enthused, I guess in the way you are when you’re 19/20 years old and also because I guess it’s quite rare to have a UK solo traveller in their midst and also (lest I forget) they want to practise their English which ‘most people under 45’ do so my most recent and last host – Bogdan – assures me.
They were so engaging but obviously one was more. Luana. What is wrong with me? She’s 19 years old. But unlike England she was prepared to chat with me openly in front of her friends. They invited me back to a friend’s house somewhere. I had that lovely sense of no sense. Of time, and place. In a whirl. Just the faces and personalities around me. God, isn’t that it? That’s all it boils down to isn’t it? If you were given the death penalty tomorrow that’s what you’d want. A few faces. A few thoughts. And oblivion. It’s coming to us all, darling.
After years of venting some spleen about social media perhaps I’m now starting to enjoy it.
OMG! I am such a try hard. And a manther ; but hopef not a kwazey 😜 1.
Luana came to meet me on my last day. She walked across the square in Braşov to where I was sitting by the fountain, her black DMs glinting in the sun. It’s not lust. But it is an admiration. Is it also a fascination, a yearning for lost youth. It was enough just to have her company. Her sweetness. Her kindness. She brought me homemade zacusca and palinca made by her grandmother – this was the reason she gave for wanting to meet. Old world hospitality. Although I try and persuade myself otherwise.
Like all Romanians she has a mixed heritage. We know so little about so much of Romania’s past. She said she didn’t care. She told me one one grandparent had been Russian and another Moldavian.
I have a photo of us together at the white tower with the snow covered roofs of Braşov behind us. We both smile into the sun, the town hall’s spire nestled between us, my arm tentatively around her. I’m slightly squinting into the sun. My skin is the same colour as my eyes. Slightly pink. Like Dracula. The eyes, not the skin.
Her pale skin is made even more translucent by the light. Her eyes are the palest green I’ve ever seen and the sunlight seems to shine through them like through pools in a stream. Her feline features. Her straw blonde hair. Her pixie nose. A picture. I smile and she slightly, almost imperceptibly, sticks the tip of her tongue out. It’s her eyes that smile. For me it’s my heart.
I thought of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his fascination with the Romanians and how well looked after he was. Where are all those aristocratic families that he encountered now? Lost in the annals of time? I know some have returned like Count Kalnoky in Mimasoa. He is slowly redeveloping his family home and he has guesthouses that help pay for it. They are in the traditional Transylvanian style. It’s also where Prince Charles owns a place. It was just too far to go this time but next time..