Its not all about Dracula

21st September 2018 |

These days every time I get on a bike it’s like a new lease of life. Always, before I hoist my leg over the saddle (and hoist is the right word)  there is that small tremor of nervousness. Will it be OK? Will I still feel in command? And then the relief of finding that Yes, it feels good. I still belong here.

This time it happened in the streets of Bucharest, outside Mihai’s Pub. Who’s Mihai? It’s complicated. First there were Alex and his partner, Catalina, two incredibly nice young Romanians, who invited me and Elspeth Beard to a festival of adventure travel in the capital of Romania. I have been to Romania before when I was trying to find out where my grandfather once lived. That was a long story and you can read about it in The Gypsy in Me, but I never went to Bucharest. People said it’s not worth the trouble. There’s nothing left of the old city, they said. Ceausescu tore it all down. But here was an opportunity to see for myself, and when opportunity knocks I generally open the door. So here I am in Bucharest and it’s not true. There is still plenty of the old city left, and it’s easy to summon up the feeling of a city that was once compared with Paris, and was always at the crossroads of history, buffeted on all sides by Turks, Russians, Nazis, you name it.

Alex and Catalina  – with fish on the Danube


We had a wonderful time at the festival. Alex and Catalina put a huge amount of time and energy into creating it. Elspeth gave them all a tremendous show, and I learned from her that it’s safer to ride as a woman than a man because, as she says, women can pretend to be men, but it’s hard for a man to pretend to be a woman. [I’M JOKING. RESTRAIN YOURSELVES].

So now I am in a big argument with  Mihai who says old Bucharest has all gone. Mihai is a tall, very handsome, extremely likable man of Russian extraction who’s a  friend of Alex and owns a pub. Actually Mihai is a press photographer and this used to be his office, but where there were once twenty newspapers in Bucharest there are now two, jobs were scarce and the man who owned the building wanted to sell it. So Mihai and his friend decided to buy it and turn it into a pub. I don’t know why. That’s how things happen. They were determined to make it as much like a London pub as possible, and Mihai was very anxious to get my opinion.


Mihai outside his pub. He rides a Ural with sidecar

“Do you have draft beer?” I asked, and went inside to look. Yes, he does, but it’s a newfangled steel tube affair foisted on him by Heinecken and you can’t look over the top of it. I frowned, and Mihai promised to get proper beer pumps on the counter as soon as possible. Otherwise I’d give it five stars. The counter looks very authentic, and has all the right gubbins above it. There’s a very pretty barmaid and, even better,  there’s a London bus parked outside. Why, you may ask? Because, in a stroke of genius, they found one lurking in the streets of Bucharest. They brought it to the festival. and when the show was over a chosen few came back here in it. To get it here they had to hoist some power lines into the air, and the bus had to be driven in reverse. And so, after a lifetime with London buses, this is the first time I have ever been in one going backwards.

Here’s a bit of old Bucharest . . . .

We went back to the pub next day and across the street were parked two brand new BMWs, one for Elspeth and one for me Since age goes before beauty I got to choose first. There was a low boxer with a traditional tank, but it’s too cramped for me so I got on the keyless 700 GS with the fancy screen, and there was that little nervous twitch, but by the time I got to the end of the street I had that wonderful feeling again and  was back on top of the world. We rode out to the country and I have to admit a lot of the city really is crap – monster Soviet style buildings with bits falling off them – but it’s all fascinating to a visitor. And once out of the city we’re on a lake in a great terraced restaurant with soup and fish and the lovely atmosphere of people enjoying themselves.

. . .  and a fantastic sculpture in the centre

If there’s another festival next year I advise you to go. They have very good beer, and excellent wine of all sorts.The country offers quite amazing opportunities for riding and  sight-seeing, from the Danube delta to the old haunts of Vlad the Impaler, the painted monasteries,  and great mountain scenery. But the best thing about it is the people, and they all seem to speak English. If you’d like to know more send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with Alex.