17 septembrie 2011

From Corfu to Wien: Eastern Europe by car. 4th part: Romania

Well, I have no intention to give very many details on how to drive from Corfu Island to Vienna, crossing Northern Greece from West to East, Bulgaria from South to North, Romania from South to West, and Hungary from East to West. However, I feel that it might be interesting to underline some peculiar features of driving this way, which shows common Eastern features, and might be useful particularly for Western European travelers. Also, Greek, Romanians, Bulgarians, and Hungarians may see what they have in common and what makes the little, but important differences. In the end of the series, I will underline a couple of nice Eastern futures, which provide to be better off than in the West.

Please note that the following include only my personal, non-systematic observations, and should be treated as such, not as a scientific truth. At their best, the beneath comments are an “educated guess”. (Remember that I am a sociologist :)!)

Part 4: Romania

Romania is a country with virtually no highways. There is this guy, a politician, former captain in the commercial navy, who was and is influential in the Romanian Ministry of Transportation. It seems that EU granted money for building highways in the mid-1990s, but Romanians did not managed to build almost nothing. In the same time, using same kind of financing, Hungarians and Greeks managed to set up a nice road infrastructure. For his efficient management, the former minister of transportation was elected president of the country. Now he has a second term. Recently, he advised some foreign potential investors, to visit the country by helicopter, not by car.

Since regular people cannot afford a helicopter, let get back to our road driving. Romanians love to have the road crossing their localities, and insist that their villages and even small towns are splat in two different, not communicating parts, due to the national road which makes the separation. The only highways that you find on your way to West is 100 kilometer long. This makes 1/8 of your driving through Romania. The rest is national road, crossing localities, as I have mentioned.

There are three exceptions: Bucharest is the first, but here the ring is a nightmare, where you have to survive in the dust, permanent traffic jams, and the gases of the trucks intensively using the only available lane. Very new rings are available around Piteşti and Sibiu. (the only older ring seems to be around Ploieşti, once the main European oil field, intensively exploited by British and Americans, and later on by Germans, during WW2; however, your road does not goes through Ploieşti anyway :() More, if finding the way around Sofia is difficult, finding the way around Bucharest is a sort of nightmare. I would say that it is easier to get though the city, which is also time consuming.

This permanent crossing trough locality has the advantage that let you admire beautiful girls, women and men, probably the best richness of the country. The asphalt is, somehow surprisingly, of better quality than in Bulgaria or in Greece, but if you dare to get out of the main road, the impression might change.

There are definitely fewer prostitutes than in Bulgaria, but they still represent a reality, particularly on Valea Oltului and West of Sibiu, in Transylvania. In the Southern part of the country, the toilets are of better quality than in Greece or Bulgaria. Most of the oil stations belonging to Petrom, OMV, Rompetrol, Mol, Lukoil, Agip etc. are of good quality, but I would advise to avoid no name brands. On the other hand, I would suggest refueling in Sibiu. Later on, the Western you drive, the lower the quality.

Horse-powered carts are to be found on the road, like in Bulgaria. However, this time they share the road with a quite heavy traffic, and you should expect to experience several kilometers-long traffic jams. Expect, for instance, from Piteşti to Râmnicu Vâlcea, to be part of a 50 kilometer long column heading North with some constant 50-60 kilometer per hour. The same may repeat between Sibiu and Sebeş, for the same distance.

Older and newer Mercedes and BMW cars populate the roads. Avoid them! As in Bulgaria, they are a good sign of aggressive driving.

Like Greeks, Romanians have an interesting announcement on the electric road signs (however, do not imagine that there are very many such signs!). This time it warns to “Fasten your seat belt”. Another country, another bad habit to combat!

Previous post in the series: Crossing Danube. Next one: Hungary.
The whole series (6 posts) is available here.

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