Another day, and another unsoarable day. Yesterday’s weather system refused to clear and the morning revealed gloomy, overcast skies. The contest organizers clung to hope through a bit past 10am, pushing the briefing back to 11am. They cancelled the day for both classes at 10:30am. The team once again went sightseeing.
The first order of business was to get the team radio working. A little past noon, and it was working splendidly. Noah, the team Ninja did a great job of getting the coaxial cable up to the roof of the house and hooked onto the antenna. We now have a very effective ground station at US Team headquarters!
In the afternoon, the team split ways. John and JP stuck around to catch up on his work, the crews headed to the famous Szeged hot springs. Noah put out feelers yesterday to go to Romania. This morning I asked him if he was really serious. He said for sure, that he had some familial roots in a town 1.5 hours away and wanted to visit it. I said I was totally game to go!
Only in Europe could you just decide on a whim to go to another country.
We had a very nice little road trip and a very pleasant conversation along the way. We share a lot more in common in thought and outlook than would seem to most on first inspection. And we took a lot of interest in the landscape and country around us.
Romania is distinctly poorer than Hungary. The houses are considerably more rundown. Some people still use donkey-drawn carts for transportation. The rural areas have very few services; a gas station here or there and an occasional mart or a pharmacy to buy some basic supplies. It is readily apparent that Romania is the poorest country in the EU.
That said, there are trends toward improvement. The European Union clearly invested in improving the roads. There were signs of new industry, especially near the larger cities. Otherwise, the economy is clearly still driven by agriculture and considerably lags behind.
After walking around in a village, we headed to Timisoara. This is Romania’s third largest city, with a population around 150,000. Central Europe has been the site of dozens of wars, resulting in this region being ruled by many empires at one time or another. Dacia, Rome, Ottomans, and Austria-Hungary just to name a few. Every group indelibly left a mark of their presence here. Not all of it is obvious, but the placement of the cities, architecture, culture, language and more is a product of all of these influences.
In more recent times, Romania left the Austro-Hungarian empire in the wave of new countries established after World War I. Following WWII, it became absorbed in the Eastern Bloc as a communist state. Nicolae Ceaușescu, a particularly notorious and brutal dictator ruled this land for almost 35 years, through 1989. He set himself apart from other Eastern Bloc dictators by being the contrarian to USSR policies and rule. This earned him support from the West, who propped up his regime in exchange for him being a thorn in Moscow’s side. Things worked out relatively well for Romania through the early to mid 70s. However, thanks to the collapse in oil prices and massive debt taken by the government to fund heavy industry, Romania nearly defaulted.
The solution in the 80s included severe austerity measures to pay back the loans. This led to chronic shortages in food, healthcare, electricity, fuel and many other essentials to basic survival. Winters were brutal. Imports were almost non-existent. This was coupled with an oppressive regime built around the personality cult of Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was every bit as bad as North Korea.
In 1989, Romania paid off all of its debts. At the same time, the Romanian people were buoyed by the excitement of freedom as the eastern regimes started to fall, one-by-one. They were exhausted and fed up from the years of economic mismanagement and lack of rights. In December and within several days, the people revolted en masse. What started in Timisoara with strikes and protests led to mass demonstrations in all the cities in Romania. During a political rally in Bucharest where Nicolae Ceaușescu tried to rally his supporters, they instead became an angry mob that openly denounced the regime!
Within three days, he and his wife attempted to flee the country and were instead found, tried in a show-trial and executed. During these several days, the country descended into anarchy. Around 1500-3000 people died in the only violent revolution that took place in 1989.
In Timisoara, they had a museum dedicated to the 1989 Romanian Revolution in an old army barracks. Noah and I stopped by and watched a documentary as to how it all unfolded. The proprietor spoke decent English and told us a bit about his own experiences. He was a veterinarian, who joined the mass protests and subsequently got shot in the femur. Upon becoming disabled, he decided to dedicate his life to documenting and memorializing the events that occurred in 1989. He spoke strongly about the need for peace, both within and without. He was a very interesting character and made a strong impression on both of us.
Later we explored the city. The city center was surprisingly well-kept. Clean streets, European boulevards and squares. It looked considerably more genuine than most places I have been to in western Europe. This is a place that hardly sees any tourists; the people restored their city to look this way because they take pride in their country. This was beautiful to see.
A nice Romanian dinner and we headed back to Hungary. We took a more northerly route, passing by Arad. The Carpathian Mountains opened up in the distance, over beautiful pastures and fields. We thought this would be a wonderful place to fly.
The border was surprisingly backed up. Evidently among the border police there was a shift change and the cars did not move an inch for a good 30 minutes. They checked the automobile documents, along with opening each car’s baggage compartment. This was an unusual experience as most borders in the European Union don’t have passport control and such thorough checks.
We got back at 8pm after a thoroughly satisfying day, watching the sun set in a hazy, but considerably clearer sky. Tomorrow looks eminently soarable and we are very much looking forward to flying. There is a good stretch of weather for at least several days. Let the flying begin!