Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bucharest - Brasov - Cluj with the Hayes-Sherman Family

We rose early in the Casa Victor and met at seven for breakfast, hoping for an early departure. Riding with me to Cluj were Fulbrighter Nancy Sherman and her husband and son, Pat Hayes and Evan Sherman-Hayes, who hail from Peoria, Illinois, where Nancy teaches counseling at Bradley University. As they are living in Oradea, Cluj was right on their way back from orientation, and like me, they wanted to see as much of Romania as possible, so preferred a drive by a new route to a train ride back the way they had come. But our planned departure at 7:30 became 8:30 when we went to check out.

A new girl was on the counter. It was her first morning at the hotel. I told her I owed 98 Lei. She ran my card, and presented me with a bill for 143 Lei for charges above room rent (rent was covered by the Fulbright Commission). I again explained that I should owe about 98 Lei, for two dinners totalling 83 Lei, and for three bottles of water from the minibar, at 5 Lei each. (The Lei is currently about $0.40 US.) The poor girl looked at my record, and saw that someone had entered a water at 50 lei. She had already charged my card with 143 Lei, and had no idea how to undo the transaction, which had taken some twenty minutes as she talked continuously with her boss over the telephone. Finally, another employee arrived, and told her to give me 45 lei in cash, and have me sign the charge slip, which I gladly did, once I had the change. Then Nancy went in to check out. Her bill took at least as long to straighten out. So much for an early start. By the way, the hotel's computer program was running in MS-DOS. I recognized the old DOS graphics. Whether we encountered honest errors or an attempt to rip us off, we will never know.

We loaded Brasov (pronounced "Brashoff") into the GPS and got away about an hour late, heading first toward the famous oil and gas center, Ploesti, a place I had always wanted to visit. (But as we were late, we did not look for any historical monuments there.) Bucharest's touted traffic had apparently left town Friday night, for the streets were as good as empty, and we made excellent time out of the city. But when they all left, they must have gone north to the mountains, for the roads through the ski towns one sees before Brasov were bumper-to-bumper, stop and go. But this was not all bad, as they are quite charming villages, with the architecture in the "Romanian Alpine" style. Truly spectacular cliffs and hanging valleys already filled with snow appear above the towns. Pat Hayes openend the sunroof of the BMW, and tried to get some mountain views as we crept through these towns. I hope he will send me a good one or two to post for you to see. (Pat and Nancy also tried to get snapshots of the Roma in their wagons as we drove by. If any of those turn out, Pat and Nancy, please send me a couple of them, too.)

Coming down into Brasov (which was the childhood home of Roxana (ne. Dima) Wright, my new Plymouth State University colleague), I was again reminded of the drive down into Rutland from Killington, Vermont. Brasov is built on relatively flat land, and is a bustling city of considerable size, right at the base of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. It appeared clean and modern. I look forward to returning to meet the Dima family, so that I can tell them how glad I was that we were able to lure their daughter to teach with us at PSU.

At Brashov, our traffic problems ended. E60 (AKA Route 1) is an excellent two-lane highway that makes a fast (90 Km/Hr limit, 100+ Km indicated cruising speed) trip of it from Brasov to Cluj, across a beautiful part of Transylania, dotted with many villages of varying ethnicity. One of them has a cave 7 Km in length, from which the children of Hamlin are said to have reappeared, after being led away from that Saxony town by the Pied Piper. Legend goes on to say that these children became the ancesters of the Saxons of Transylvania. Another town we passed through is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes ("Tepesh"), who was to become legendary as Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian king who stood off the Turks for some time, and whose bloodthirsty tactics spawned the Dracula stories.

Most upsetting event of the day was Nancy's attempt to use her ATM card at one of the larger towns west of Brasov. The machine aske dher to renter her PIN. When she did, it declared her PIN invalid, and swalloed her card. The family had used their cash, and were depending on that card, which was backed at home by her Fulbright grant money, for al their financial needs in Romania. And it was Saturday afternoon. And the "Customer Service" phone number listed on the machine didn't work. We sat awhile and brainstormed what to do, and as we did Pat reached into a pocket and produced Nancy's ATM card. She had lost his to the machine. How they had been switched, no one knew, but it was serendipity, indeed, that the problem solved itself so easily.

Along the way I learned that 13-year old Evan has inherited a collection of WWI and WWII airplane models from his grandfather, who passed away some 18 months ago. He has them all over his Illinois bedroom, and has been reading up on the WWII planes. (Does that sound like someone you know, my brothers?) Needless to say, I really came to like that lad. I recommended he read Paul Brickhill's great story of RAF W/C Douglas Bader's life, "Reach for the Sky." That book meant a lot to me at abou Evan's age, and my son Alex read it a few years ago and agreed it was a good one.

After a trip to Cluj's new Julius Mall for a fast-food dinner and a successful search for oatmeal at the Hipermarket, (Romanian name of oatmeal is ovaz, and Romanians, even store clerks, stare blankly when you ask for either oatmeal or porridge), I took my new friends to the gara, to catch the last tren to Oradea (0-RAD'-e-ah), some three hours to the west.

More secure now about tomorow's breakfast, I am off to a well-earned rest.

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