My visits to Cluj are always a pleasure, notwithstanding the need to get up at five o’clock in the morning to catch an early Wizz Air flight. However, as I prepared for my last visit, there was an extra dimension to my anticipation.
If you have been following Nick Hunt’s journey on his blog and the occasional updates here, you will know that he arrived in Romania in early April and was making good but steady progress in the Mures valley visiting some of the houses that Paddy had stayed in, including Istvan’s kastely. As I prepared for my visit it became clear that there was a chance that Nick and I might meet up in Cluj as he, like Paddy, had decided to complete the ‘Transylvanian Loop’ by motor; getting lifts from people he had met or just hitch-hiking.
As the last week of April arrived Nick was staying at the house of a Romanian philanthropist in Turgu Mures. We corresponded and Nick told me that he would be getting a lift to Cluj on the Monday, the day of my arrival. I was able to arrange some accommodation for him through a colleague at work and suggested that we meet at the Hotel Continental (aka the New York) in the main square in Cluj after I had finished work.
This, therefore, is how we managed to meet after five months and, for Nick, over 1,300 miles of walking. He arrived at the Continental looking slightly bemused, carrying his quite small rucksack, sporting a well-developed beard, and wearing the most battered pair of walking boots I have seen for a long time (they are his original pair and a recently ‘serviced’ by a cobbler in Turgu Mures). Despite our pleading the security guard at the locked hotel would not let us in, and any thought of having a cocktail diminished.
Later we had a few beers and some food whilst talking about his journey. He is clearly enjoying it all and making daily discoveries. Whilst he is following Paddy’s route, and this provides an inspiration and an anchor, it is clearly very much his own expedition which he will tell in his own words in the book which will be published by Arcadia, possibly in 2013. Whilst Nick has as yet no definitive structure for the book he is making comprehensive notes every day and being very careful to guard his notebooks! From what he told me I think it will be enjoyable, and having read some of the longer pieces on his blog it will be well written and easy to read.
I asked Nick if he was missing home. Only his girlfriend, he replied, and they keep in regular contact via email. Perhaps the biggest difference between his journey and that of Paddy is the ability to keep in touch using modern communications including the essential mobile phone. A striking comment that Nick made was that whilst the first part of the journey through Germany was to a degree well planned, the further east he has gone he has had to make arrangements for accommodation as he has gone along bringing a higher degree of spontaneity. “It is as if there are dark places on the map ahead of me that gradually illuminate the further I proceed, becoming brighter and more defined as each day passes.”
Nick is now somewhere in the heart of the Carpathians on his way to Baie Herculaneum and the Danube. We joked that he must take care to avoid the bears and wolves in the mountains and he promised he would keep a good look out. In two to three months his journey will end and I asked him how he will return home. He answered, after a long pause, that he does not know, but he is sure that he cannot just jump on a plane and return to London in one day, even mentioning the possibility of walking around the Black Sea. There was a certain wistfulness in his eyes as he answered, and it struck me that this may be the hardest part of the journey; giving it up and returning to what we call reality.
An eye for detail and the memory of the Hotel New York in Cluj