April 13, 2016: Sudden Trip to the Balkans

It was a really gorgeous day in Baita this morning.  Getting the whole family to bed so early last night worked out well.  Everyone was up and ready early today.  Even Liesl was up before nine!  Luciana, however, got up and went back to bed and slept until noon.  She was clearly overly tired last night and needed a full twelve hours of sleep!

Dominica made the coffee and then joined me at my desk to talk about our upcoming travel plans to the Balkans.   We have had a rough idea of what we have wanted to do in mind for a while but sketched out the route and the stops today so that we could figure out how much we would need to schedule.  It is eight countries in about eight days, quite an undertaking.

After doing all of the plans and figuring out when Easter (which is the first of May here) was going to interrupt things we decided that it actually made the most sense for us to pack up and leave… today!

So a slow Wednesday turned into rather a hectic one.  Dominica had just done a load of laundry and was about to put it out on the line to dry.  That needed to be dry before we would be able to consider leaving.  And there is a lot of packing to be done, of course.  And just a lot to prep for an eight day, eight country excursion.  This is going to be crazy.  Like a smaller, but similar trip to our one in Europe in 2012.  This is a lot of countries, only one fewer than that one, in a much shorter window of eight days instead of six weeks.

So a bit of a crazy day trying to get everything ready to go and think of all of the things that need to be ready to deal with a massive travel undertaking like this.  What is funny is that while this is a bit of an epic trip, we don’t really feel like it is much of an undertaking.  Seven countries that we’ve never been to, all of which use an alphabet that we don’t know how to read, a few of which have poor road infrastructure, two language families we’ve never dealt with before and one break away republic with disputed borders.  And… who needs to plan?  Not us.  Pack some bags, jump in the car and book hotels while on the move.  Yee haw.

I had a call and was done at seven thirty, quite early for me on a Wednesday.  Dominica was all ready.  We went out to get into the car and our priest, Yakov (we don’t know how he spells it) was walking by.  I went out to inform him that we would be gone for a while so that no one would worry and he had me grab the girls because he had brand new baby piglets that were just born yesterday for us to go see!

Piglets in Romania

We went to the farm for about half an hour.  It set us back on our time table rather a bit but boy was it worth it.  None of us have seen baby piglets up close and personal before and for eleven of them to be one day old and right next door was an experience not to be missed.

So it was after eight when we piled into our little Ford Focus and hit the road.  Late but not terribly late.  A decent enough time for starting on a major adventure.  Tonight definitely starts an adventure.

It was getting pretty dark when we set off.  We only had to go a very short distance, maybe ten minutes, before we turned off of the path that we knew and were off onto new roads into a new area of Romania and off to explore yet more of Eastern Europe.

Tonight’s driving goal, which is reasonably ambitious, is to make it all of the way to Timisoara in the far west of Romania.  The estimated drive was over six hours, which is nothing small, even for daytime driving.  This was almost entirely in the dark.

Sadly, we decided to use Google Maps to give us directions rather than just looking at the map.  This would turn out to be the first of many horrific driving decisions made by Google on this trip.  Instead of taking us on easy, large highways that would have gotten us to Timisoara pretty quickly, Google sent us off into the wilderness where we took one back road after another, many were not even paved.  This is bad enough under normal conditions but we are not used to these roads, do not know the area at all and Romanian roads, especially smaller ones, are full of people, dogs and horse drawn carts which have no reflectors on them normally so they are almost impossible to see in the near total darkness, which there is a lot of as most roads have no street lights.

The drive was a very, very slow one and incredibly stressful as I had to be insanely alert looking for all kinds of things in the road and always having to deal with slow trucks and fast people trying to pass us in the darkness and unmarked railroad tracks.  It was not a trivial drive to do for a long time all at night.  During the day this would not have been nearly so bad.

It was a challenging night, but we did eventually make it out to Timisoara after passing through several areas that were new to us.  We saw very few large settlements the entire way but did go through a couple of really neat small cities before getting out to our destination.

Driving through Timisoara was a bit of a goal, even though it is a very large city, because it is the home of the world’s fastest Internet access and it is a city that we are very interested in as a potential home in Romania because it is well situated in a great location, has great Internet, is a good size, etc.

Our goal was to get through the city and find a hotel on the far side of it to get as much of the driving out of the way tonight as possible but we did not want to try to tackle the Serbian border in the middle of the night – always an important driving tip.

Just a little ways south of the city we saw what looked like a nice hotel on the side of the road, the Hotel Aurelia.  Big and sort of fancy, the kind of place that would have all night staff.  So we pulled in and everyone stayed in the car while I went into investigate the potential situation.  I managed to get a giant room with a king bed for a pretty good price and since we were willing to skip breakfast we did not have to pay for the kids at all.

The Girls at the Hotel Aurelia in Timisoara

It was about two in the morning when we crashed at the hotel.  We were very ready to be out of the car.  The hotel room was great, we were glad that we chose this place.  It was very comfortable and the girls always prefer when we have a king bed because we have the space to all snuggle together.

Oddly, this nice, modern hotel had no power available near the head of the bed so I had to connect my CPAP to the wall on the other side of the room and we had to reverse the direction in which we slept for it to all work.