Veliko Tarnovo to Bucharest : The Sunflowers

Ruse Travel Blog

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Romanian sunflower fields 1

As I sit on the early mini-bus, chuntering along the road from Veliko Tarnovo north to the Bulgarian border city of Rousse (Ruse) I gaze, lazy-eyed out of the grubby window pane, fields of green cob stalks and wild grasses and turned, dried brown earth zipping past me.  Still they stand, but seeming to head in the opposite direction.  When all at once the landscape explodes in a profusion of yellow and gold.  A crowd, an endless host of sunflowers are suddenly rushing past me.  Stretching like a gilt-embroidered carpet, threaded with the suns very rays all the way to the visible horizon line.  The sun itself is already on high and beating the best shades of fire from their countless flame-like petals.  They turn their heads in obedience to Nature‘s laws.

Crossing the Danube to Romania.
  It’s quite a sight.  A beautiful sight.  Almost too bright for weary eyes.

But today will not be a good day despite this early morning cheer.  No, today, in short is my first unadulterated failure in the art of journey-making.  A logistical write-off.  One to forget.  And, as it will later in the day, my thoughts at the time recognise this as an almost apt reflection of my mood today.  ’I feel crummy, therefore crummy things are more likely to keep happening’.  Nagging doubts.  Small forms of unhappiness and travel malaise maybe.  The sunflowers sadly do little to lift my humour. 

So, it being a bit of an ‘off day’ I thought I may as well take the opportunity to do a little spot of self-analysis at this stage in my voyage du Monde.  Let’s take a look at the state of play.

Border Bridge Bars
  To see if we can spot any hairline cracks; any minor symptoms of travel-decay.  A snap shot; a scuffed, blurred and dog-eared sepia Polaroid of the mileage-worn traveller.

But first the failure.  I step off the bus in Rousse.  Nowhere yet to stay.  I refer to The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern Europe [see yesterday’s entry for explanation] but unfortunately it doesn‘t have a section on Rousse.  I make a few enquiries about options for when I need onward transport to Bucharest.  Where to stay here though?  No kindly old ladies proposing cheap private rooms as in Veliko Tarnovo.  No probs.  I trudge into town and do have vague knowledge of one emergency option, the uninspiring sounding and expensive ( 16 - 20 Euros although apparently cheapest) The English Guesthouse.

Tanks on trains on the Bulgaria/ Romania border.

It’s devilishly hot today which is unfortunate as after sweating my ass off around town for nearly 3 hours with no map and a 70 litre backpack and a 15 litre day bag I am just about ready to throw my sweat’n’ tears drenched towel into the ring.  It’s f**king hopeless here! (Or maybe I’m hopeless?) I have the address of The English Guesthouse (all other options have proven waaaaaaay more expensive!), I even come across a directional sign post for it at some point, but after asking 15 different, all very helpful locals, for refinements on which way to find it, it still has not presented itself!  Unbelievable!  All phones in this city are card operated only.  “Baba Tonka Street?… oh this way”.  “Baba Tonka Street?… oh that way”.  “Baba Tonka Street?… ah, you mean back that-a-way!“.

  And so on and on and Ariston.  I am being sent in circles here.  In elipses.  In squares.  In eternal Mobius strips of confusion and repetition.  “Haven’t I been here before?”.  Like ten frickin’ times!!!  A hiding to nothing.  Roads to nowhere.  A wild frickin’ guest house chase.  I give up.

Yes, you heard me!  “I GIVE UP!”.  For the first time in memory.  I just give Rousse the big ol’ “Oh f**k it and f**k off!”.  I’ll see you another time.  This is the longest I have ever had to trudge with the full weight of my possessions.  A fact that when reunited momentarily with the Danube - creating here as it does the natural border between Bulgaria and Romania - I am tempted just to chuck it all in the flowing brown waters.

  But, Rousse really doesn’t matter.  This part of my journey is so unstructured and unplanned, there is no plan, so moving on just really don’t make a diff.  Besides, in three sweat-saturated hours of frustration one upshot is I’ve seen most of the flippin’ place anyways.  Even if I hadn’t intended to.  It’s nice.  “You should go there sometime”.  Maybe.  Who cares.  Not me.  Not today.

So I haul my ass, bag and heavy black mood all the way to the train station and buy a ticket straight on through to Bucharest.  A two hour wait.  Grafitti on the side of a stationary train carriage declares 'The crowd, the world & the grave [...] step aside for the man who knows where he is going'.  But where am I going?  Reading, eating junk chocolate for the first time since I don’t know when and thoughts along the lines of “Why?” and “What’s it’s all for?” beginning to creep out from the corners of my mind.

Stevie in a not-at-all-feigned-for-camera moment of pensiveness ;D
  First failure.  First doubts.  What’s it all about Captain?  The defences are being momentarily weakened.  It started last night I think.  The usual top three questions from co-travellers.  “So you travelling alone?… really!”, “Don’t you get lonely?” and “So how long are ya gonna be travelling?”.  Water dripping on stone.  These are wearing me a bit now.  Probably has something to do with what I call ‘Gravitational Pull’.  The call of home.  It being so geographically close right now.

Like those scenes in teen-shows or bad soap operas (are there any good ones?) where the director needs to visualise the central character thinking; succumbing to memories; confusions; doubts; guilt; remorse; regret or any combination of the above a circular orbit; a halo of disembodied heads of friends, loved ones and strangers are circulating in my mind.

The Sunflowers 1
  “So how long have you been travelling?” they ask … My aunty Di‘s head appears “Missing you!  Sending you lots of hugs down the phone!” “Are you travelling on your own?!… really?!” … My nan’s head appears “So when are you coming back then?” “I told you already nan““It’s a long time!” “Yes nan”  …   “Don’t you get lonely?” “Well not really ‘cos… ‘cos… 'cos?” … My sister’s head appears “It’s strange not having you around” …  The whole babbling crowd “So how long? … how long? … how?”.
The Sunflowers 2
The heads rotate.  My mind spins.  The sentences begin to meld maybe. “So how long - have you been lonely?”  Well I really didn‘t realise that … “Are you - coming home?” Well yes, sure, some day I… I‘m not so sure I’m sure what Home is anymore.  Nan’s head comes back around “So when are you coming back then?”.  “I told you already nan…”.  Not yet.  Not yet.  Not quite yet.

And the mind wanders down the path of least resistance to its inclinations and least appeal.  The one bestrewn with shadows and negativity today.  I’m tired, sweaty, smelly and unshaven.

Romanian sunflower fields 2
  I need a haircut.  The laces on my trek-trainers have been shredding and shedding their outer skin for a while so it looks like I hold my shoes together with bits of spring.  The inner heel linings on both went ages ago and so rub, chafe and cut ceaselessly into my ankles right now.  My toes seem to draw straws daily to see who’s turn it is, left and right, to blister anew requiring constant plasterfication.  I’m thinking of applying to Compeed to sponsor the remainder of my journey.  I’d wear my trek-sandals but after 12 years (yep, count ‘em!) service they seem finally to have succumbed to some strange form of terminal travel putrefaction.  It don’t matter how many times I run ‘em through a washer, it smells permanently like I have two trek-tastic turds grafted to the soles of my feet with Velkro… so I wear my shoes.
'Pylon Skies'
  And blister some more.

I dunno what it is.  Just an ‘off day’ as they say.  Come on, there’ve only been one or two in over 10 months travel.  To be expected.  But it feels a little more entrenched right now.  The “What’s it all about?” kinda doubt.  Gravitational Pull.  Am I a Lonely Plonker?  Wandering lonely as a clown.  Maybe it’s just ‘cos I’m sleep walking through Europe?  Familiar territory.  Still bummed at Iran’s refusal?  I dunno.  I think I need to get to Istanbul pronto and get my travel - and my travel-writing - mojo back.  This mood will prevail off and on for the best part of a week actually.  A walking tourism coma.  Am I wasting my time, money and heart?  I know I’m not.  But sometimes ya just feel blue.

Blue skies vaulted high above.  Three passport checks later and the train is trundling and my heart is grumbling but I’m on my way to Romania.  Crossing the bridge over the Danube that marks the border.  Fields of green cob stalks and wild grasses and turned, dried brown earth zipping past me again.  Romanian soils and land this time though.  White clouds in those blue skies hang in the way that forces the sun to throw veritable lazer-beams of light through their petticoats down onto the landscape from where they attempt to conceal him.  And fields of gold…

‘One thousand and one yellow sunflower heads begin to dance in front of me.  Oh dear!’

… yes fields of gold as here again in an attempt to save my mood, a crowd, a host of golden sunflowers have congregated in vast hordes to smile at me with all their glittering worth.


‘I’m knitting with only one needle, Unravelling fast it’s true…’

Rows and rows and fields and fields of them.  Smiling.  Smiling.  Smiling.  One of my Aunty’s favourite flowers.  “Missing you!  Sending you lots of hugs down the phone!”.  Smiling always smiling.  Trying to lift my mood. But…

‘It finally happened…’

Arrival in Bucharest.  Even less idea of where I can stay than earlier.  What do I do?  Two monstrously sized currency notes from the ATM force me into McDonald’s where I have to purchase some McPoison just to break ‘em down.  But in this final act of fatality for the day I am saved.

Afterword : fear not my TB pals, all is well and sun-shiney with Stevie once more at the time of writing :))))
  Sat wincing through my Mc-Probably-Chicken-in-a-Former-Life Sandwich I spy a guy sat at a table with a large book sporting the tell-tale black tabs on its pages indicating a Lonely Planet Guide.

‘OhYes, it finally happened…’

I unashamedly accost this poor Ozzie and beg to borrow his Guide for 3 minutes.  I show him my Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern Europe in return.  I furiously scribble down a couple of Bucharest hostels and addresses.  Struggle through the usual pains of getting your head around yet another new public transport system and find my way eventually - and just as the heavens open (yes, reflecting my mood as I mused earlier, Romania brings me rains) - to the Central Hostel (formerly The Villa Helga) which has about as much atmosphere as a city morgue.  Which again, seems fitting for today.

‘…I’m slightly sad.  Just very slightly sad.’ *

* After ‘I’m Going Slightly Mad’ by Queen.

Stevie_Wes says:
Cheers Sensai - the right and eloquent word in the right time and place as always. Totally digging your understanding of the travel experience. It's all quite new to me. Yep, I have the internal dialogue, the internal 'Jukebox of my Mind', the internal writer, madman, dreamer... the lot! All 6 of my travel personas ('twitch twitch') keep me company when human proximity is lacking or undesired :) And my TB pals, more than all, keep me on the straight and narrow though curiously bendy road around the globe.
Posted on: Jul 15, 2009
globalodyssey says:
i have been there, emotionally, but me and my best friend, my camera, look around and try to center and do the be here now thing which is transitory anyway and remember how fast this life is moving forward and thus try to grab and glean, to pull some nuggets of joy beauty meaning from the exhaustion.
like me, i suspect that you and your interior voice are really good friends and companions and manage to keep up an entertaining dialogue...
Posted on: Jul 15, 2009
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Romanian sunflower fields 1
Romanian sunflower fields 1
Crossing the Danube to Romania.
Crossing the Danube to Romania.
Border Bridge Bars
Border Bridge Bars
Tanks on trains on the Bulgaria/ R…
Tanks on trains on the Bulgaria/ …
Stevie in a not-at-all-feigned-for…
Stevie in a not-at-all-feigned-fo…
The Sunflowers 1
The Sunflowers 1
The Sunflowers 2
The Sunflowers 2
Romanian sunflower fields 2
Romanian sunflower fields 2
Pylon Skies
'Pylon Skies'
Afterword : fear not my TB pals, a…
Afterword : fear not my TB pals, …
photo by: Biedjee