There were only three of us staying at Camping Vasskert last night. There was a German campervan and a small tent with some relative youngsters, who we had overheard having difficulty with the campsite owner as they arrived because they did not speak Romanian or German. They did however speak English. So when I bumped into one of them this morning I asked his nationality and it turned out they were all French. I asked him what they were going to do today and an older man standing by his side said they were going to see wild bears!
It turned out that the older man was a Romanian guide. We had a bit of a conversation about bears and other wildlife in Romania and he told me that Romania had the highest concentration of brown bears in Europe other than Russia. The chances of seeing a bear with him he claimed was better than 99% on any given day between May and October.
This is the problem with having concentrated on the Greek Peloponnese and Norway on this trip and treated everything in between as less important. As a result we have a hopeless inadequate Lonely Planet covering the whole of Eastern Europe, so we don’t have the sort of detailed information about each country which would have told us bear spotting was possible in Romania. It’s a shame, because I suspect the Romanian guide would be considerably cheaper than what we are going to pay for a similar experience in Finland. If anyone is interested in bear spotting in Romania contact me via the blog and I have the guide’s business card.
Today was a day of driving. 140 miles in 5 hours. Slow driving. Some days driving is a chore, but not today. Romania continued to reveal some of its beautiful secrets through Basil’s panoramic windscreen.
As we drove north the landscape became even more rural. I might say almost bucolic. Driving into the northeast of Romania is like going back 70 or more years in Britain. We saw few tractors but scores of horse drawn vehicles. Virtually all the agricultural work was being carried out by hand. Crops weeded by hoe. Pastures of grass and wild flowers cut by cythe and then gathered and stacked by hand. Not a bale in sight. Many of the women dressed in traditional gathered colourful skirts, loose fitting highly decorated tops and hair pulled back by equally bright headscarves.
The villages were likewise full of interest for a jaded westerner. Always neat and mostly well maintained but the houses unlike anything else we have seen. A mixture of wood and brick, with roofs of either clay tile, tin or even wood. Few of the houses are in anyway plain. They are as a minimum brightly painted, but often also with elaborate adornments such as wooden carved balconies.
The scenery was equally captivating becoming more mountainous as we moved north. In many ways it looked alpine with forests interspersed with lush patches of pasture and small plots of hand tended crops, but it is like the alps before mechanisation. It is some of the most beautiful countryside we have seen in Europe.
No doubt life is physically hard for people living off the land in this way and they surely have little in the way of what we would see as the comforts of life in Britain. But in reality are the people we have seen today living a traditional small scale farming life less happy than their contemporaries in the richer European countries living in cities, working 50 or more hours a week for “the man”. I don’t know and I’ve got no way of finding out. I’m probably guilty, like many before me, of romanticising a bygone rural age. Perhaps the fact that many young Romanians have flocked to Britain and elsewhere in Europe for work once Romania joined the European Union tells me all I need to know. But I hope not.
*Photographs today courtesy of Sarah and her iPhone through Basil’s fly spattered windscreen!