Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 321: Into Transylvania

Looking to find the cheapest possible flights, I turned to the internet. I was heading for Cluj Napoca International Airport, so I looked at the map and found it in Northern Romania. The flights were all from Gatwick Airport but were all far too rich for my wallet. I played around with the arrival times and dates. Finally I found what I was looking for. A £200 return flight with Malev Air. I’d never heard of them, but I’d never heard of Cluj Napoca either. The fact that both of those names have just been highlighted with red squiggly lines suggests that they‘re also something of a mystery to Microsoft .... mai pen rai

The drawback with finding the cheapest possible flight, is arriving at Cluj Napoka International Airport at the worst possible time, 3:00am. I should have arrived earlier, but the tiny propeller driven plane from Budapest, with the outside toilet and too many fat blokes onboard, had struggled to make progress against the wind. Arriving anytime after dark at Cluj Napoca International Airport should not appear on any sane persons 'To Do' list. There is nothing really wrong with the Airport, there just isn’t an awful lot of it. Still, only eight hours to kill before my bike arrives, and I’ve certainly slept in worse places.

Dawn arrives about two hours after landing, and with it has come the sunshine and heat. Why had I thought that Romania would be cold? Hell, I’d even expected Romania to only be available in Black & White. Come to think about it, I wasn't even sure the Transylvania existed. Too many old arty movies and too little research again.

It’s 11:00am and my bike has arrived. It’s a BMW 650GS with a nasty habit of stalling in traffic and wearing a well-shagged front tyre. I’ve ridden far worse and as somebody else is paying for it, I wont complain. I'm told that it's only a temporary bike and that I'll get to select another at the first hotel. I follow Alain, the ‘Transylvania Live’ tour guide, towards the first nights hotel in the city of Turda. It’s pronounced "Turdt" and in the interests of accuracy and not taking the piss, I ask for clarification on the spelling.

It’s 2:00pm when we arrive at the hotel in Turda. I check in at reception and change a few Euros into Romanian Lei. They hand me the key to a deluxe double room and ask me when I expect Tassaneeya to arrive. Oops! Clearly they didn’t get the eMail that I forgot to send them. Anyway, the hotel is clean, with soft beds and cheap beer. I meet Chris and Glen, two Australian journalists from Cycle Torque and their respective wives, Kerry and Sue. There’s an option to ride into the local valley but I've had too little sleep and my new bed is far too inviting. I wave them farewell and then hide from the burning sun in my room. An hour later and I’ve been woken by an amazing noise. It sounds to me like a cow pissing on a concrete floor, but it’s hailstones. In the space of an hour the day’s heat has vanished and the rain is falling as frozen spheres the size of golf balls. I fear for my new Australian chums, but as the hail turns to snow, and then to torrential rain, I just silently thank the discomfort of Cluj Napoca Airport for forcing me to decline the optional ride-out.

Dinner is served to four wet Australians, one well rested Brit and the team from Transylvania Live. They're a fun lot and putting all of us to shame, their English is perfect. Suitably fortified with some of the nicest beer that I’ve ever quaffed, we're then shown a theatrical demonstration on how to kill a zombie, "The Ritual Killing of the Living Dead". For those of you who are interested, they seem to favour the traditional wooden steak through the heart method. Here in Transylvania, they don’t call them ’Zombies’ they’re known as "Strigoi". It’s really quite fascinating but if I do encounter any Strigoi here in Transylvania then just like Shaun back in England …. “I’ll just head down to the Winchester and wait until it all blows over“.

The floods have vanished and the morning is hot and sunny. Just like at all of the best swingers parties that I’ve never attended, bike keys are drawn from a hat. I’m the winner, a BMW 1200 GS. But don’t worry, I swap it for a yellow 650 version and thus give myself an immediate excuse if I'm ever holding up the party.

Dakar Duck is attached to the right-hand mirror of my new bike. It's a charm for good luck and a constant reminder that I should be riding mostly on the right side of the road. A cheerful lecture on Romanian Road Rules is ignored and then the fun part begins ……. mai pen rai

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