Day four Update

I appologize in advance for the appearance and grammar and spelling mistakes. I’m emailing this entry in as I cannot figure out how to sign into the administrator site from someone else’s computer.

In a nut, it’s been tough. Driving from Iasi to Bucharest took three hours longer than planned due to yet another snow storm that hit as I left town. It took me three hours to do the first 100km. Snow drifts were taller than the car and high winds were relocating those drifts back onto the highway faster than the plows could remove it. There were numerous car/buses/semis in the ditches. It was high tension driving all the way and the second worst all-around long distance drive of my entire life.

I don’t think I will ever be able to like Bucharest, no matter what the occassion or how I get into town. To start, signage is ridiculously bad. Sorry, if you want to find a hotel, a Pizza Hut or a Xerox place, there are signs carefully directing you every 30 metres or so. If you want to find, say, the main train station or the airport, too bad. Inconceivably, there isn’t a single sign for the train station anywhere in the city. There are two signs for the airport, but these don’t start until you are way out of the city, about 2km from the effing place by which time it’s a foregone conclusion that you’re on the right track. I was lost nearly every minute that i was in the car in Bucharest, even with two locals in the car to direct me. It’s just hell. Even something as simple as getting out of the city was made fantastically difficult. In a possible effort to lighten trafic on the main drags of the city, they post the signs directing you out of the city through a rat maze of back streets and unlikely alleys. They only put up a sign once every 12 blocks or so, meaning you have no way to know that you’re on the right track after following the last sign down a rutted street with abandoned cars.

Bucharest is like a Las Vegas casino, they make it so easy for you to get in, but impossible to leave, possibly in the hopes that you give up and spend more money at an over-priced, nasty hotel. I was in Bucharest to visit my co-author Robert. Robert gets to write about Bucharest in the book, thank the All Mighty. Though Robert won’t go as far as to say Buchrest rivals Prague or Budapest, he’s been able to find small, subjective things to like about the city. Even things that would piss normal people off, like militant waiters or dirty buildings that once may have looked nice. This is a skill that Roert has in abundance and I have not at all and I am very envious. We had dinner (with a few friends of mine) and breakfast, talking shop fast and furious the whole time. I learned quite a bit and was hungry for more, but I had to hit the road and, well, I suppose he has his work cut out for him finding things to like in that hellhole of a city.

I’ve slogged through a number of cities since, with varying degrees of success and frustration. The biggest disaster since the snow storm was when I had the honor to drive on one of the nicest highways in Romania. Straight, flat, pristine… Unfortunately, I was thrust onto it as soon as I left the border town I was visiting and was on my way before I could visit a gas station. I had a quarter tank of gas and I wanted to fill up before too long. As it turns out, this highway has no turn offs, no U-turn opportunities and no gas stations for over 100km. I was totally trapped. As I watched the gas needle dip lower and lower I squinted for any lights off in the distance (it was snowing and dark by this point).

Finally after 75km, I ran out of gas. I was in the middle of nowhere. I pulled out my emergency 2 litre bottle of gas, emptied it into the tank, struggled to re-start the car (Dacia engines do not like to be run dry and they will let you know about it the next time you try to start the car) and set out, praying for luck. Well, when you’re me and desperate, luck just isn’t part of the equation, ever. After another 20km, I was out of gas again. It was almost 8:00PM, snowing heavily and I was on a highway with no towns, turns or exits. I thought it was a mirage at first, but suddenly I was sure I saw lights in the distance. I grabbed the two litre bottle and hoofed it for the lights. Car swooped past me the entire time. I waved my arms and bottle to get people to stop, but no one stopped. I was passed by an ambulance and a police car among dozens of other vehicles. I was starting to get upset as I had screeched to a halt to pick up much less desperate hitchhikers a dozen times in recent weeks and here no one would stop for my sorry ass. After about 1km, I happened on an emergency contact point. One of those things where you press the button and a guy comes on and asks the nature of your emergency. Well I leaned on that button for five minutes and no one came to my aid. The thing was probably never connected to a receiving end in the first place. Soon after I gave up on the emergency booth, a guy stopped and picked me up and drove me the last kilometre to the gas station. Yes, after sweating it out for 100km, I ran out of gas 2km short of the gas station. Welcome to my life. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned lack of exits on this highway, the very nice man couldn’t drive me back to my car without being forced to drive another 100km before getting a chance to turn  round.

Long story short, I ran back to the car, BARELY got it started before killing the battery and got back into Bucharest two hours late.

It’s stuff like this that makes me wanna just quit this gig and retreat to a cave in the mountains and live a hermit’s life, surviving on nuts and berries and moonshine. Anyway, a good nights sleep and I was on my way again.

After only four days, I’ve gone through one cold, three nights of fitful sleep in overpriced, loud dodgy hotels, zero decent meals and 17 hissy fits. The good news is that tonight I am in a nice small town with cheap, wonderful accommodations and restaurants with sweet people and a good bed. I plan to sleep for 13 hours then head for the REAL Dracula’s castle at Poienari at dawn.

More updates as to my misery in a few days.

By the way, if you’re still wondering, I wouldn’t give up all this nightmarish stuff for a confortable, well-paying job back at the bank for anything. At least I can still say that, though ask me again in June.

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