Tag Archives: border

Preparation and Liftoff

We spent the first 2 weeks of January getting ready to depart.  Actually, we scrambled to complete what we needed to while making time to spend with family and friends.  Why is it that regardless of the amount of time we have to prepare for a journey, the last few weeks are always crazy?  Why do we always leave exhausted?

We outfitted our motorhome with the essentials, working off an inventory of the S&M Motel that we compiled before leaving Europe.  Diane bought those items that she could from charity stores (pots, utensils, cups, etc.)  We retrieved what we could from our storage locker, but were restricted to items in the first 10 feet due an impenetrable maze of interlocking furniture and persistent wet weather.  We frequented dollar stores to find storage containers, wine glasses, and other odds and ends.  We bought one set of sheets and a comforter from our niece Dara’s shop.

We loaded our motorhome in the driveway of Diane’s brother Wayne’s house, where we had stayed during our intermission back in Canada (in the house, not in the driveway).

RV that appears to be deep in the snow

Snowed in!

White RV in a driveway with snow on the ground

It’s not as deep as it looks!

Basically, we tried to get the essentials before leaving home, but left the non-critical and more expensive items to acquire in the United States along the way, hopefully at a lower cost.

We had planned to leave on January 14th, but stayed an extra day to support a friend.  We had our last early morning coffee with our sister-in-law Tania, and began our final packing and preparations.  We wanted to get on the road as early as possible, but as usual, things were taking longer than planned.  We switched from careful packing to a stuff-and-go strategy.  I really didn’t want to still be there when Tania got home from work!  We finally got going around 2:30 PM and went first to our storage locker to drop some things off, then to our house to pick up some mail, and finally to a bike store in Langley to buy a cover for the bikes on our rear bike rack.  It turned out that in order to install the cover we had to remove both the bikes and the rack.  And so it was that I found myself kneeling in a parking lot at 5 PM in the dark under a light drizzle, wondering if we’d ever get on the road.

With the dark gray bike cover on, we found that our license plate and tail lights were completely hidden.  We couldn’t do anything about this safety hazard (and guaranteed ticket generator) at the time, but apparently we thought that yelling at each other in the parking lot might help.  We did drive to The Unique World of Princess Auto to buy a reflective safety triangle, similar to what was on the back of the S&M Motel, then I went back in to the store to buy some duct tape to attach it.  I mistakenly bought camouflage duct tape, and the irony of attaching a high-visibility reflector with camouflage tape was not lost on me.

At 7 PM we crossed the border into the United States.  I thought there was a good chance we’d be stopped there because our license plate and tail lights weren’t visible.  Fortunately the cameras at the border that read license plates are at the front.  We crossed successfully, and drove south on I-5 for a couple of hours, stopping at the Walmart in Lynnwood where I’d stayed a couple of weeks earlier.  It was late, and our RV was still winterized, so we went out for dinner to the 13th Avenue Pub & Eatery for our first greasy, delicious American meal (Philly cheese steaks and beer!)

Romania — We’re not in Kansas any more…

We approached the Romanian frontier at a small crossing in the east of Hungary.  Ours was the only car visible as we approached the remote border post in the dusk of late afternoon.  A man in a green uniform was smoking and put his cigarette down on the curb as we approached.  The country of registration of most European vehicles is indicated on the license plate, so it was obvious that we weren’t from around here.  Two other men in green appeared.  They flipped through our passports and our vehicle registration.  One asked, in surprisingly good English, “Do you have any special baggages?”  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant or how to answer so I smiled, shook my head, and said, “Nothing special”.  They were handing us back our passports and the English speaker said, “Enjoy your stay in Romania”, when he noticed that we were from Canada.  Up to this point they had assumed that we, like our camper van, were from England.  This was apparently an issue.

All three men disappeared for a very long time.  We sat there with the engine off, waiting.  Ours was the only vehicle there.  We could hear the crickets chirping, but after what seemed like an eternity, they re-appeared with our passports and let us pass.  The English speaker said, “Welcome to Romania”.  Romania recently joined the European Union, but it is not yet part of the Schengen Area, the zone of 26 European countries that share a common customs and immigration boundary.  So we needed to receive passport stamps to leave the Schengen and to enter Romania.  I don’t think that many Canadians pass through this lonely border crossing.  I am thankful yet again for the fact that Canadians are welcomed into so many countries.  We bear one of the best passports for international travel.

As soon as we arrived in the first Romanian village we noticed a big difference from Hungary.  Things were visibly poorer and less developed.  The roads were paved, but full of holes or patched and bumpy.  The few cars we saw were small, old, and in poor condition.  There were as many horse-drawn wagons on the road as cars.  We passed a man using a pitchfork to load his wagon with fresh grass cut from the roadside using a scythe.  It felt like we had gone back about a hundred years.

Horse drawn wagon on road with wheels, rubber tires, white horse

Horse-drawn wagon on roadway (Photo Credit: Diane)

The houses were simple and some had outbuildings made of wattle-and-daub.  There were open ditches in town and no sidewalks or landscaping.  The ground in front of the small homes was just mud.  The children were playing in the street.  A popular toy for the boys appeared to be a whip.  Definitely not child safe.

Three children running toward the car wearing pants and jackets

Romanian children playing in the street

The few adults we saw had dark, weathered complexions.  Some women sat in front of their homes wearing kerchiefs and house smocks.

Romanian woman walking beside road wearing skirt and aprom

Rural Romanian woman walking beside road (Photo credit: Diane)

Several times we had to slow to pass small herds of cattle in the streets as they were being brought in from the fields.  Each group was being prodded by a man with a whip, usually accompanied by a boy.

Cows walking on the street. Picture taken through windshield of the RV.

Cows in the street!  (Photo credit: Diane)

As we passed, everyone stared at us.  It felt like we had been teleported back to a village in (rural Africa, India, or Nepal).  Suddenly we were curiosities again, instantly recognizable as being outsiders.  I had expected to encounter this somewhere in Central/Eastern Europe, thinking perhaps it might have occurred earlier in Poland or Hungary, but they were both more developed and more frequented by tourists.  In rural Romania our large vehicle and our light skin colour make us stand out.

Patrick driving RV with cows visible outside the windows

Dodging Cows!  (Photo credit: Diane)

There were not many shops and none were open.  Eventually we arrived at a gas station, hoping to buy a vignette.  There were no cars there, but there was a person filling plastic containers with fuel.  They didn’t sell vignettes.  Surprisingly, we did find a bank machine and were able to get some Romanian lei (pronounced ‘lay’).  I had to walk through the mud to get to it.

We headed for the only campground in this part of the country.  It is operated by a non-profit foundation led by a Dutch couple that takes in battered women and their families.  They are glad to see us and asked about our journey, seeming almost surprised that we had made it.  There is only 1 other camper here.