Winston Churchill: "If you're going through hell, keep going"
Ok, so 'hell' may be a bit melodramatic, and Romania's actually a wonderful place, but  today's weather-related ordeals have been the worst yet by far - so indulge me. We're currently holed up in a hotel in a little town called Calafat, and I'm sat behind the reception desk with a glass of wine and a fag (my first since London - you're allowed to smoke indoors here!). I keep getting bugged by guests asking for stuff in Romanian, but this is the only way I could get on the internet and the staff have kindly let me hang out here for the evening.
Romania has been exciting. It has the slightly wild vibe of a frontier, and feels like the beginning of a slow and subtle transition from Europe into Asia. The slow speed of bike travel seems like the perfect way to experiance this. I first sensed the change in a Serbian border town called Kovin, before we crossed into Romania. What it was, is hard to describe but the smell of woodsmoke hung in the air, and people were out on the streets, playing and chatting. It was rough round the edges but charming and full of character, like places I've been further afield, outside Europe. The scenery after Kovin also took a turn to the wild side. The heavily farmed plains that we'd cycled through since Hungary disintegrated into rolling heathland with patches of woods. Tall forest covered hills loomed up in the background, marking the edge of the most dramatic section of the Danube, known as the Danube Gorge. It certainly has proved to be a gorge-ous place to cycle (sorry, please keep reading, no more puns I promise). Having been in Romania for a few days, it's evidently not as affluent as most of Europe, and it's retained a lot of tradition and old world charm. Lots of people still use scythes and pitchforks in the fields, and travel on the roads in horse drawn wagons. It's very reminiscent of old Transylvanian vampire tales.
Another thing about Romania which is not quite so charming, are the nasty snarling bastard little dogs which are everywhere, and unfortunately can run faster than I can pedal. This was a bit terrifying at first but I now relish my encounters with the in a sadistic kind of way. They're not at all like the strays of India and South East Asia which are either too malnourished to put up a fight, or have long ago been beaten into submission by the locals. The dogs here aren't huge, but they do have some serious chutzpah, and they all seem to have unresolved vendettas against cyclists. We crossed the border into Romania with Ben and Kristian (our Canadian friend we met in Germany who we've reunited with for a few days) and had heard a few rather unpleasant shaggy dog stories from other cyclists. Feeling apprehensive (or in Emily's case, hysterical with fear), I asked the border control guy what we should do if we ran into any agressive ones. He just laughed in a really evil way, and shouted "PEDAL!". This wasn't particularly comforting. I had been told by other people that the best plan was to get off the bike and face the dog head on which normally puts them off chasing you. Throwing stones was another option, and placating them with biscuits (a favourite tactic of Ben's) seemed like another sensible possibility. With no definitive answer, we would have to try our luck and hopefully not find out the hard way.
We'd barely been in Romania for 10 minutes, and were cycling along a road with thick bush on either side when Kristian jokingly let out a dog whistle. Emily screamed at him.....but it was too late. Away in the distance, somewhere through the bushes we heard barking. But it wasn't like the excited barking of normal dogs in England that are 'just playing'. It was more...frenzied. For a couple of seconds we rode on, desperately hoping it would come to nothing, and then three white dogs about the size of small alsatians burst out the bushes on the other side of the road looking like they wanted to kill us. One managed to charge across the road but a car was coming by in the opposite direction between us and the dogs, the other two had to check their runs and were almost hit by the car which broke suddenly. This seemed to subdue them but the one that got across turned it's attention to me who was riding at the back, and was growling and viciously snapping at my heels. There was no way I could outrun it and I was too petrified to do anything other than keep cycling and pray it wouldn't actually bite me. I got away, but cycling on was the wrong choice. We've now learnt from trial and error that getting off the bike (and shouting at them if need be) is the best course of action. This ends the chase which calms them down a bit, and they also seem to suddenly realise you're a human and not some kind of strange bike-creature. They then leave you alone most of the time. Best of all though when road conditions permit, is when you're going downhill and can outrun them. On one occassion I was riding ahead of Emily and Ben and about five dogs bolted out of a garden as I went past and gave chase like a pack of greyhounds after the little electronic rabbit thing. I cruised down the hill whooping at them and left Ben and Emily to deal with them after I'd riled them up. Hillarious for me, not so fun for them!
Anyway, back to my previously mentioned day from hell. Quite a lot of people who email mention they're jealous of our trip so I thought I'd give you a run down of today, so you're aware of the downsides before you get too jealous...
Our Worst Day So Far
The alarm went of at 7.30am. We haven't seen the sun in four days now and bad weather has meant that camping has been out of the question (at least for softies like us) so were in a B&B last night, as we've been for the last three nights. We (me, Emily, and Ben) got up early because we got a special deal by agreeing with the girl in charge that we'd get out by 8.30am before the B&B owner came to work (presumably allowing her to clean the room and pocket the cash). Looking out the window, our hearts sank as we saw it was another wet and windy morning. This one looked even more ominous than the last few though, and far too dark to be 7.30 already. We couldn't stay to ride out the storm because of our deal with the girl so  we decided to push on - as advised by the wise words of Winston Churchill. There was no food to be had at the B&B (so I suppose it was just a B, and not a B&B, strictly apeaking) and the only supplies we had left were some sachets of instant soup so we had them, hoping to stop for a proper breakfast when we got to the next town.
We hit the road, and it felt freezing, despite being dressed up in four layers including a fleece and rain jacket. I had caught the weather forecast on telly and saw that the little pocket of Romania we were in was six degrees Celsius colder than the rest of the country due to a low pressure system sitting over us. Calafat was about 85km away but with a biting 34km/h headwind (I checked this online now), it would be a long slog to get here. However, the road surface was good, we wouldn't need to do any tricky route finding, and there were lots of villages en route where we could hopefully stop to warm up, so we were confident.
We got to the first large village after an hour and looked for somewhere to get out of the rain which was getting heavier. There was only am alcohol bar (which was open for business by 10am!) and a little grocery store, but we wanted something hot and somewhere to get out the rain so we carried on. Stopping to cook grocery store food on the stove was out of the question. In the next village we found exactly the same thing. No cafe, restaurant or any other local amenities. Just booze, and some essentials in a little convenience store. The streets were deserted so there was no hope of getting rescued by a kindly local. We were hungry now and reluctantly settled for whatever we could find in the convenience store. The store was obviously long overdue a delivery of stock, but we found some crisps and cereal bars, and the lady let us into a room next door which turned out to be a makeshift bar, and we ate our breakfast in there with some coffees she made for us.
Back on the road, we carried on hoping that a few larger villages on the map may have proper food on offer for lunch. They didn't. The area seemed very poor and I guess there just isn't enough of a market for restaurants and cafes. The weather was becoming worse and worse as we cycled into sheets of driving hail and rain for what seemed like ages. I'm sure we'll see worse weather in the future but we were totally unprepared on this occasion. I have very lightweight shoes and fingerless gloves and I was losing feeling in my fingers and toes. Lorries were also coming by regularly, kicking up a swirling mist of water from the road that manages to soak the few bits of me that the rain couldn't get to. As they come from behind at speed, the initial blast of air pushes you out toward the edge of the road. As you correct to avoid being sent into a ditch, the turbulent air coming back in behind the lorry as it goes past, sucks you back toward the centre of the road and you have to correct again to avoid going into the traffic.
Eventually we gave up on cooked lunch and stopped at a petrol station. The forecourt had been inundated and was submerged in water so we sailed through on the bikes to the little shop that was now marooned in the middle. It was much like petrol stations at home and we stood inside, drenched, eating the unsatisfactory snacks that were on offer (biscuits, chocolate, more crisps). It took a good half an hour - just standing despondently, eating in the shop - before the petrol station became more depressing than the situation outside. Hopping back on the bikes, we had about another 30km to Calafat and were resigned now to the reality that there would be no hotels or dinner until we got there, so we just plodded on. The weather didn't get any better.
The real tragedy was not that we had to put up with crappy food and horrid weather. It was that we've missed out on so much of this beautiful and friendly country. All the locals are shut away indoors, the villages look like ghost towns, and the scenery is reduced to a barren grey wasteland by the shrouds of rain and mist. I bet it's a different story when the sun's out. It looks like it'll be another identical day tomorrow so we're staying put, but then it's going to brighten up according to the Met Office. I can't wait to see sunshine again!!
Right, I'm being bitten by a mosquito, and am tired, so going to bed.
Stats so far:
Days on the road: 37 (31 cycling, 6 rest days)
Kilometers: 2486
Average Milage per day: 80km
% of total distance done: 13.8%
Camping nights: 13 (9 campsites, 4 wild camping!)
B&B / other non-camping nights: 24
Punctures: 1
Longest day / Shortest day: 123km / 44km