Axis of Evil (part 1) - Ukraine,Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Transdniester travel blog

Rasnov Castle

Peles Castle

Sinaia Monastery

Refueling Stop

September 22, 2008 Monday

I returned to the main highway after catching a final glimpse of Rasnov Castle. The highway makes its way down the Prahova River Valley and before long you arrive at Sinaia, home to Peles Castle and the Sinaia Orthodox Monastery. I had a quick look around the monastery and then headed up to the castle.

Peles Castle is more a manor house than a castle that was constructed in the late 1800's to serve as the king's summer residence. Construction spanned a period of 40 years and the king died a few months after it was completed. The structure incorporates a variety of architectural styles, the exterior being largely German - Renaissance. Being a Monday the inside was closed and, to have a walk around the exterior, you had to park 400 meters down the hill and walk up a steep grade.

I had neither the time or inclination to undertake this walk but I wanted to at least have glimpse of the exterior. Thus, I drove up the service road which brings you to a smaller parking lot directly below. Much to the consternation of the police officers, I double parked and jumped out to a few photos. The officers rightly concluded that I wasn't going to leave until I got my photos and left me in peace for about two minutes.

This concluded my planned Romania itinerary so I made my way to Bucharest airport.

I have only two regrets about my Romania visit. First, I drove in a big clockwise circle around Wallachia and Transylvania. My Lonely Planet guidebook was written in counter-clockwise sequence which resulted in me being in a constant state of disorientation during my travels. Second, during my 10 days in Romania, I only had about 10 hours of sunshine. I suspect the country's remarkable sites would have been even more spectacular under clear blue skies. On the other hand, perhaps the dark brooding skies I experienced more accurately reflect the soul of the country.

When I landed in Bucharest two weeks ago I saw a two hotel complexes from the air on the edge of the airport. I decided on the spot that this was where I would stay my final night in Romania.

I arrived near the Bucharest airport from Bran about 1600 and located the two hotels right off of the main highway. I opted for the three-star over the four-star because the cheaper one was still a tad over $100/night.

After checking in to the Confort Hotel I headed over to the airport with the idea of turning in my rental car and taking hotel shuttle to the airport the next morning. I also wanted to inform them of the damage to the car.

There was Hertz representative in the parking lot when I dropped of the car. He looked at my paperwork and said that I had the appropriate insurance to cover the damage. All I needed, he said, was to provide them with a copy of the accident report that he hoped I had filed with the police. When I told him I didn’t report it because it did not involve another vehicle, he said I needed to go to the local police station and file a report. He gave me general directions on how to get there. After two stops for subsequent directions in the nearby township I was in the station and found a shift officer who spoke nearly flawless English.

He informed me that I could not file a report myself because English meant nothing in their legal system. He said I needed to bring a person to the airport who could speak and write both Romanian and English and have them write the report in my behalf. I suggested that since he spoke such good English that the two of us could handle it. He said this was impossible and sent me on my way. He asked if the damage had occurred earlier in the day. I said that it had probably happened two or three days ago. He gave me a Miranda like warning saying that if I said any more, he might have to throw me in the clink as accidents had to be reported within 24 hours.

I returned to the airport. The Hertz attendant was no longer in the parking lot so I went inside to the Hertz counter. I explained the problems to representative and she summoned her manager, a pert, smartly dressed lady in her 30’s. She sympathized with my quandary and made several calls to try to find someone to go with me but nothing worked out even though I assured her that I would handsomely reward someone to accompany me.

She final suggested that I go back to the hotel and make the same offer to the Bell Captain. She said that it was essential that I lie when filling out the report. I had to say in the report that someone sideswiped the car while it was parked, not that I had scraped the door against the lamppost as was the case. Further, she said the report should say that the damaged occurred in the hotel parking lot this very day when I was not in the car.

The person staffing the Bell Captain position at the hotel was Tony, a 24 year old of slight build but with alert features. Sensing a big payday, he made arrangements for someone to cover for him and we were off to the police station. He cringed at the way I drove a stick shift saying that he had just acquired a 1999 BMW from Germany for 6,000 euros and that if he drove it like I was driving my little Ford Focus, it would be in the junkyard within days.

Tony had just graduated from college. Jobs, he said, were not hard to come by; good jobs were. Tony was not an expert fixer and struggled to fill out the accident report. Fortunately, the duty officer was helpful in answering his questions and we had nearly completed the report. However, Tony had one more question when the duty officer got tied up on another matter. We sat 40 minutes at the table awaiting the officer’s return. It turned out that what he needed was the VIN # (vehicle identification number). When I pulled the rental agreement from the glove box, I failed to notice the black CD size zippered case that way in the back of the box that included the registration data.

The three of us made our way outside to the car. I still wasn’t sure what we were looking for and had forgotten all about this little black case. We found it and soon the report was complete.

The duty officer reviewed the report, suggested some minor changes and then ceremoniously stamped it with his seal. He told me to put the accident report in the little black case and give it all to the Hertz people the next day.

Tony and I gleefully returned to the hotel. I let him drive back to the hotel and he drove like the idiot drivers I had been cursing all week as I traveled around Romania. He weaved in and out of traffic, accelerated wildly and left me feeling like Princess Diana must have felt moments before her death.

When we disembarked the car in the hotel parking lot, I picked up my camera bag from the car floor and got out of the car. I reached back in to get the little black case but there was no little black case to be found. We searched the car. We emptied my camera bag. We searched the car again. Not a trace.

We both recalled me having the case as I entered the car to leave the police station. We concluded that as I closed the door, the case must have somehow fallen onto the pavement of the police station parking lot. There was another wild ride back to the police station. We searched the parking lot with a flashlight. We checked with the duty officer to see if someone had turned it in. Not a trace.

There was a third wild ride back to the hotel. Tony was sure it must be on the pavement of the hotel parking lot. When we arrived at the hotel’s parking lot gate, the attendant and Tony had a conversation. Tony broke into a smile. I had indeed managed to drop it from the camera bag the first time we returned to the hotel. Someone had found it and turned it in. As we entered the lobby I gave him a 100 lei note ($40) which clearly pleased him.

Tony went to the lobby office to retrieve the case. It wasn’t there. He made hurried trips to the restaurant, the parking lot and God knows where else always coming back empty but assuring me that he would have it momentarily.

He left once again and came back. He said that the person who found it still had it and wanted to give it to me personally. However, the finder had gone on break and was nowhere to be found. Tony sent me to my room and said he would bring the man to me as soon as he located him.

He said that the man wanted to give it to me personally in hopes that I would give him a sizeable reward. Tony said I should not give him too much. I asked if $5 would be enough. He said he thought it would take a little more to make the man happy. I left it at that.

Twenty minutes later there was a knock on my door. Tony ushered in a tall, lean young man who had on a waiter’s uniform. He addressed me unabashedly holding up the black case at a distance. In broken English he said words to affect that, “Sir, you probably will not be able to go very far without this.” I mumbled concurrence, thanked him for his integrity and extended a $5 and $10 bill, both new and crisp. He accepted my offer without further negotiation which probably means I gave him $5 more than necessary.

It was now nearly 9 PM. The 4 ½ hour horror story had a happy ending and I was only $55 the poorer.

The next time you are in Romania and get in a jam, just sent me an e-mail and I will forward you Tony’s cell phone number.

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