Like floodwater that breaks the river banks, the Danube Cycleway spits you out onto the floodplain of Romania without any signs or waymarks to guide you. You are on your own, passing from one village to another, on an elevated ridge well set back from the Danube. It is so different to the rest of the route where you had the sense of being on a mission; on a path with a purpose.
Having covered the 96km to the next village offering accommodation, I now appreciate why it is in such short supply. The route follows through villages that are based entirely on agriculture and there is no industry that I could see. All the traffic is local, there is little if any through traffic. The Romanians could teach the Irish a thing or two about ribbon development, for one village merges into the next, with houses lining the road for miles. And everywhere, people sitting in the shade of a fruit tree alone just watching the world go by, or chatting with their neighbours. I suspect at this time of the year the life of the community is an act, played out on the street.
The landscape through which I travelled was unremarkable, miles upon miles of land planted with sunflowers, wheat and corn. I could see little else in the fields, yet this is the heart of melon growing country, and trailer loads of watermelons were being carted around. Melons were being sold from stalls and the back of cars all along the road. Some of the larger stalls also sold potatoes and tomatoes.
It was meagre picking in terms of wildlife, but it was lovely to see so many White Stork nests on the electricity poles in the villages. In places, every second or third pole had a nest with chicks; usually two or three chicks but some had five. And judging from the noise, each nest also harboured a colony of House Sparrows. In the fields Crested Larks have replaced the Skylark, and the Corn Bunting’s little rattly song can be heard. Every now and again Red-footed Falcons fly past, and I saw my first Hoopoe of the trip.
Today was a long day covering 150km. Arriving in Corabia I was deighted to see a ‘Hotel’ sign on a large, freshly painted building. I pulled in and two in their late twenties were sitting in the yard having a cigarette; there was nothing unusual about that for just about everyone smokes here. I asked could I have a room for the night, resulting in the woman jumping to her feet with joy. ‘Yes, of course, do you like our town’? We moved into a small, bare reception area, and I filled out the necessary paperwork. While doing this there seemed to be a discussion about numbers- I assumed it was them deciding on which room to give me. The fellow took a key and hurried upstairs. The woman said the rate was 75 lei, was that alright? Yes, I said, handing her a 100 lei note. This stumped her entirely for she had no money, a strange response for someone in the hotel business. Calling her companion who came scurrying back down the stairs, he was sent off on his bike for change.
I unpacked, by which time the fellow arrived back with change. He insisted on carrying my paniers up the stairs. I followed with the click, click, click of my cleats on the marble stairs. Down the corridor, click, cluck, click, passing identical rooms with the doors opened wide, all painted white with two single beds, and a set of towels neatly folded on each. Around the corner, more click, click, click echoing along the empty corridor, until we reached my room, number 13.
I showered and readied myself to go out. I noticed I didn’t have a key for the room so at the reception I asked for a key, to which he took the key for the room 13 hook and showed it to me; it was as bent as a fish hook! No scope for superstition here then, as I’ll do fine without a key. Clearly the influence of the School of Hotel Management in Shannon has not extended its reach to Corabia, or perhaps it is just that these Romanians have a quirky sense of humour.