I exited the Schengen zone into Romania with 2 days to spare. Never much of a rule breaker, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d understood the ‘90 days in the Schengen Zone’ rule correctly. While living in the UK I had made many short trips into Europe, but I decided that I would start counting the 90 days from when I entered France on my bike. I’d done my research, I felt like this seemed logical so I plastered on some fake confidence and got ready to repeat the rule book back to them. The man at the booth asked me several times ‘Schengen visa’, and I explained with full confidence ‘I don’t need a visa for stays under 90 days’ and pointed out the entry stamp for France almost three months earlier. He wasn’t happy with this and went from person to person seeking second and third opinions. My case was eventually escalated to another lady who again asked about a visa and I explained how I’d been living in the UK on a working visa and that I’d dated my 90 days from entry into France after my UK working visa expired. She looked at me for a split second and asked how long I intended to stay in Romania for, I responded ‘no more than 30 days’. Content with that she promptly handed me back my passport and wished me a pleasant stay in Romania. I don’t think many non-European visitors pass through this northern border, so they weren’t really sure about the rules.
I had been really looking forward to visiting Romania and as I was now out of the Schengen Zone, I had a full 30 days that I could spend there. It didn’t take long to experience Romanian hospitality. On my first day cycling in Romania I stopped beside a church in the shade for a break. An old man passing by started asking me something but I explained I didn’t understand, so he ran over to a house across the street as if to fetch someone to translate. I was a bit confused but he returned with a man who said he was the priest from the church. The old man had thought I wanted to see inside the church so he found the priest to give me a tour. I wasn’t really interested in the church but felt a bit bad so I accepted the tour, and feigned interest. The priest offered me a place to camp for the night beside the church and explained they’d had travellers seek refuge at the church before, but as it was barely 11 am I declined. He did pack me off with a couple of big bottles of water though which was much appreciated.
That evening I had decided to camp at a picnic spot not far from the road. I thought I would make use of the picnic tables for dinner and then disappear into the forest behind to find a hidden camping spot. Some locals arrived not long after I’d begun cooking my basic one pot meal. They were preparing a goulash over the fire and had cracked open some wine, it wasn’t long before they offered me some wine and invited me to join them. I was pretty tired from consecutive nights bad sleep but it was an offer I really couldn’t refuse. Within a short while car loads of extended family had arrived and it was obvious this was not going to be a quiet gathering.
The party raged on into the night and I knew it was going to become difficult to sneak off to find somewhere to camp. Eventually some of the women from the group suggested that I come back and sleep at their house. They lived back along the road about 5km and had several spare rooms in what is now their holiday house. I was a little tempted by this offer, I might finally be able to catch up on some sleep. However I wasn’t too keen on cycling back to their place after several wines, in the dark. Not a problem, ‘put the bike in the van!’ they said. I made sure the driver of the van wasn’t anyone who’d been downing wine all evening before I agreed to this. None of the women spoke English but when we arrived at their place they ushered me around showing me the spare room where I could sleep and the bathroom to have a shower, and then handed me some pyjamas. They’d been telling me all evening that I could borrow some clothes, even after I explained multiple times that I had clothes (I think they were confused as to why I was wearing really smelly clothes and assumed I had no clothes). Not long after my head hit the pillow I awoke confused, the bedroom light was blinding me, I was sure I had turned it off. So I switched the light off and went back to sleep. Only to wake again with the light blazing once again. I realised the light switch was faulty and kept turning itself back on. I was utterly exhausted by now so I slammed a pillow over my face and tried to ignore the light. In the morning the ladies were all up drinking coffee and chain smoking the first handful of cigarettes for the day. It was a cool, drizzley day so I made my apologies and left as quickly as possible to cover some distance before my ever growing fatigue kicked in.
The day continued to drizzle and I wasn’t feeling too happy about camping in muddy field, so I thought I’d try simply asking someone if there was somewhere I could camp. Other cyclists I’d met had recommended asking farmers for permission to camp in fields or beside rural homes but I hadn’t tried this technique as of yet. I was of course, now in rural Romania where guesthouses or formal campgrounds were few and far between. I stopped in a small town and wandered into the local grocery store, I had typed into google translate ‘Hello I’m looking for somewhere dry to sleep in my tent tonight’ and showed a lady behind the counter. She immediately snapped into action, chattering away in Romanian. This felt like it was progressing in a positive direction, then she walked outside to where a bunch of local men were drinking and appeared to ask them ‘this young lady is looking for somewhere to camp, anyone know where she can go?’. I cringed internally, I particularly didn’t want the local men who’d been drinking all afternoon to know that I was looking to camp somewhere. My prospects improved when the lady jumped on the phone to someone them waved for me to follow her across the road to the town hall. Behind the town hall was a wood shed and a long drop toilet and she indicated I could put my tent there and that if I had any problems she’d be at the shop (at least that’s my understanding of what she said). I was rather pleased with this, made myself comfortable and finally managed to catch up on some sleep.
Camping in Romania wasn’t always so straight forward however, and I had finally begun to encounter the cyclists arch nemesis – dogs.
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