Today was going to be a long stage, lunch stop in Giurgiu after 90km and bed for the night in Oltenita at around 150km. With temperatures to hit the low 30s,I made sure to lather myself in sun block. The early part of the day took me across the floodplain of two rivers that are tributaries of the Danube, wide flat expanses of grassland, which was the first significant change to the landscape in days. These grasslands are grazed by sheep and goats, and in places cattle. The kind of grazing practised here is extensive, with shepherds accompanying their roaming animals. Extensive grazing of this kind usually brings great benefits to nature – it is called High Nature Value farming- and you can understand how it is a way of life that is dying out. Seeing the shepherds with only a straw hat, staff and bottle of water, out all day in the baking sun, makes you appreciate how tough a life this is, and is a way of life that you would have to be born into. Mind you, what a Romanian shepherd makes of a pale, lycra- clad man killing himself cycling across the open countryside in the baking heat for no good reason, I suppose I’ll never know.
There was an exposed sand bank along the road with maybe 100 or so nest holes. Bee-eaters were flying around,stiff-winged, showing off their green and yellow plumage. And in the middle of them, flashes of electric blue from about half a dozen Rollers, birds about the size of Jackdaws. Absolutely beautiful birds that were nesting in the sandbank too. Not much wildlife to distract me these last few days, so this was a delightful find.
I took numerous breaks during the day to drink and get into the shade for a while. At one small bar where I was having a bottle of beer, a man in his forties sat down beside me. Not having a single word of a common language was not going to stop him finding out what I was doing in the vicinity. With plenty of loud talk from him and sign language from me, I was able to tell him I was from Ireland and that I flew to Stuttgart. And that I was cycling down the Danube- making downhill gestures with my hand. He began to get the gist of it and you could see he was kind of impressed. Then we got to the countries I cycled through, him repeating the names to make sure he understood; Germania- da, Austria – da, Slovacia – da, Ungaria – da, Croaţia -da, Serbia- da, România – da. Now he was dead impressed! When I showed him I had done all this in 27 days, he shook his head in disbelief. Then, as if to make some kind of sense of it all to himself, he pointed to his wedding ring, shaking his head saying ‘Nu’?. I peeled back my cycling glove to expose my wedding ring, nodding my head ‘Da’. He had heard enough. He shook my hand, said something to me and left. He may have said ‘you lucky man, you have a wonderful wife’. However I suspect his words were directed at his own wife and they may not have been entirely words of fulsome praise.
The afternoon’s cycle was a 70km slog in the heat taking me through one village after another. I found the going difficult in the heat, and the body is definitely getting tired. Was delighted to reach my accommodation for the night. Had a beer with a German businessman who was also staying there; it was nice to chat with someone, or so I thought!. He was involved in the textile industry and was in Romania for three weeks. Well, all he did was give out about everything, and how shit Romania was- the people, the hotels, the service… He was not a fan of Angela Merkel for letting in all those refugees, and players of Turkish descent shouldn’t play for the German Football team. And on it went… I ended up with a pain in the arse- not from 3,000km of cycling but from listening to him moan on for an hour. Now he is a man, I thought, who should learn the guitar, let his hair grow, and head off with his frying pan for a few months.