Friday, June 5, 2015

Bucharest by night

Roxy driving us through Bucharest, rather quicker than we would have done... :-)

Bucharest was a planned stop. We wanted to visit Roxy, who we had met in Norway when she was slithering through the muddiest roadworks ever, on a Honda Hornet with road tyres... Tough cookie! Mike and Rox 'clicked' from day one, so when we had to get some visas organised somewhere along the road, we tried to combine the two. Before you start, yes it is easier to get them from your home country but totally impossible when you haven't been in your home country for almost 3 years...

3... 2... 1... Go!
Bucharest is a strange place. It's not overly big and with a population of about 2 million not overly crowded either. Yet the traffic chaos is worse than Sydney, which has double the population. Part of the problem is the Bucharisti's style of driving and particularly parking... the latter is done everywhere! Add to that roadworks galore and potholes the size of motorcycle wheels and the average day on the road in Bucharest becomes quite interesting. We're not city people but found Bucharest quite ok.

Roxy and Theo took us to the old centre at night, arguably the best time to go to Bucharest. Suddenly the traffic jams are gone, the roads are wide and open and the street fighter bikes take over! The old centre with it's many restaurants and music sounds so much better than the rattling Dacia taxi diesels during the day :-) Talking about taxi's... they are probably the ones to look out for. So far we have been ok with them but they do show an interesting way of driving. The worst from a bike point of view are the pedestrians however. They cross the road whenever they want to, don't seem to give a toss about the traffic lights and just cross...

Ok, ok I know it has perhaps nothing to do with this post but we saw it in Bucharest...
We were surprised about this until we heard the heavy fines given to drivers when they hit a pedestrian... No wonder everyone slams on the brakes when a pedestrian crosses the road! All you can hope is that you can brake hard enough... and the person behind you can do too!
In the meantime it turned out obtaining a visa for Russia in Bucharest was not an option as we weren't Romanian residents... We had asked about this before we went there and had been told by the Russian Embassies in both The Hague and Bucharest that this would be no problem. Now we were here it suddenly was. We checked Russian Embassies further along our route and found them the same in Greece and Turkey. No visa unless you are a local resident. The Consulate in Georgia didn't reply but we have been told it is possible there. We could not send our passports to our own 'home' Russian Embassy for a visa either, but we were required to fly up and down there for a visa...! Rather an expensive option.
At the same time we didn't want to put everything on a 'should be possible' basis and wanted a plan B. Looking at the map we found two: One was through Iran, which is an expensive visa, take a long time to obtain and would require us to go through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which meant more visas. A second option would be a boat from Baku to Aktau.

With Theo and Roxy in Bucharest
The boat is expensive and doesn't really have a schedule... but it seemed the only real alternative. This 'decision' was made at 1.30 in the morning... a couple of hours later Roxy offered to drive us through the centre of Bucharest to the Azerbaijan Embassy.... where a very friendly man told us we couldn't apply for one as we needed a hotel reservation in Azerbaijan before we could file the application...! Roxy whispered that we should go outside for a minute... eh? I'm not really sure what happened back there but 5 minutes later she gave us two application forms to fill in...! We paid the 35 Euro fee and were told it would take 6-10 days. We still needed the hotel reservation, but she was on top of that too.

As luck would have it we had met Cristian, editor from Romania's Pe Motoare magazine, the day before. He has written and published a very good article about us and called a friend who had done part of the trip we wanted to do. This is how we met Theo, who came over straight away, showed us his photos and had a lot of information on Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. As the northern part of Georgia was still an area with a lot of tension they both suggested that even if we would get the Russian visas somehow, to enter Russia via Azerbaijan. Theo knew a hotel where we could get the visa support letter and before we knew it Roxy was on the phone to Azerbaijan, sorting it all out...! 

Romanian cooking lessons
It was another fine example of the time honoured phrase 'it doesn't matter what you know, it's who you know'. We couldn't have done it without Theo and Cristian, and we certainly couldn't have done it without Roxy! We now had a way through to Kazakhstan, all that was left was the visa for China but as our passports were now with the Azerbaijan Embassy, we had to wait for their return. 

All we could do now was wait. Roxy had also decided it was time for us to learn some Romanian... not just a difficult language to learn but also to pronounce! While all this was going on, we also did a few other things. Like an oil change on the bikes and Mike learned a couple of Romanian recipes. The day after we loaded the bikes up and left for some of the amazing sights in Romania: the Transfăgărășan pass, the Transalpina, into Transylvania and the Moldoveanu region... which will be in upcoming posts. The sad thing with the visa problem is that we had actually been looking forward to Russia, we wanted to have a look at this country, its customs and meeting its people. We had planned a much longer stay there which is why we asked for a tourist visa first. The visa officer laughed and said that would never happen... The Azerbaijan visa turned out not to be so easy in the end. We were promised 6-10 working days but it took considerably longer as Azerbaijan hosts a sporting event this year which has swamped their system with visa requests... The Azerbaijan Consul was sympathetic and apologetic about what happened and allowed us to take our passports tooth Chinese embassy while he waited for the required documents from Baku. The China visa was easy. Just 3 days is all it took. It took us 17 working days to get the Azerbaijan visa... but we were lucky as after our visa was issued the processing time went up even further!