a toddler at the spa…

…isn’t something that’s really recommended. You know that, right?

I once read in a Czech article that you could take your baby to sauna – particular conditions required – but the last time I tried Juley just went inside and let out a scream. (Perhaps next time he should just avoid touching the floor with his feet.)

Anyway, we’re in Romania and there’s a spa town nearby where we’re going to stop. We don’t have to dip Juley in the water but we just ought to show him the things we enjoy.

Lukáš is actually the one who got me hooked on thermal baths. When I recall the beginning of our relationship, there’s always the same picture emerging in my mind: we’re at Rupite and Lukáš, dressed in black outdoor clothes (black outdoor clothes are the outfit that suits him the most, I think) is walking in the mist of the little thermal lake, camera in his hands, humming FSB’s “Obicham te dotuk” (“I love you by this very place”). That was before we said “I love you” to each other which was actually something I did first. (I was afraid so I waited for the song we were listening on the computer to end first and then I said it. I don’t really remember which the song was but I’m almost a hundred percent sure it was by Ostava.)

Aaaaaanyway!

He took me to Rupite, to the Rhodope Mountains and wherenot around Bulgaria so that we could go to spa. Something more, he was the one to discover “the free outdoor spa centre” at the Burgas salt lakes, ten kilometres away from where I had spent my whole life! Yes, I’m ashamed. But it could’ve been worse – it could’ve been that I didn’t like the baths. The truth is, though, there’s nothing nicer for me than soaking in hot water. I’m even way better than him in terms of endurance.

So when he tells me there’s a famous spa town in Banat, I immediately agree that we should stop there.

Of course, in our typical style, night will fall while we’re still on the road and today we’ve decided to stay in a campsite.

On our way there we stop to take a look at a sight which seemed like taken out from the Fellowship of the Ring in the photos (the Argonath statues for the geeky readers of this blog). In reality though it looks like a 21-century creation. The thing below is a photo (you don’t say) so make your own judgement:

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I won’t let you wonder. That’s Decebalus – the last king of Dacia – who fought against Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to keep the independence of his territory (Wikipedia). The sculpture was built between 1994 and 2004 and its 42,9 metres make it Europe’s tallest rock relief. The river, of course, is the Danube and the location – off the city of Orșova.

We’ll always remember Decebalus because of the face Juley made when he saw him. This one:

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From this moment on, everytime we say “Decebalus” to him, he’ll be making it. (After the holiday he forgot about it but ever since I started dealing with the photos because of the blog, he’s been often asking to see Decebalus and, upon seeing him, he likes making the same face.)

This time we’re really driving deep into the night and it takes us an awful lot of time to find a quiet camping place in two brimming campsites full of loud groups of people. Eventually, next to one of the terribly loud campsites we find another, a quiet one, and decide to stay there at once. It’s way past midnight.

We’re in an area that’s called 7 Izvoare (7 Springs). All three campsites bear this name which is a bit confusing. The area is very close to Băile Herculane or “Hercules’s Baths”. According to a local legend, Hercules himself stopped in this town to have some rest and restore his body and mind. We’re going there tomorrow and now we’re just going to sleep. Although no one’s making noise here, someone will be snoring all night long from the neighbouring tent.

No matter which of the three 7 Izvoare campsites I mean, I can describe the following: low prices, no hot water, squat toilets, hoards of people. It’s clear which of the first three characteristics defines the last one. Although nothing can replace the best camping spot ever-ever-ever, I’m glad we slept here and not somewhere by the road.

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Breakfast at the campsite.

Trivial as it may sound, God bless the IKEA high-chair. We use a Czech-made vintage wooden chair at home but this wonderful demountable piece of solid plastic (I hope it won’t end up in the ocean one day) is just the perfect road trip essential. That’s why we bought it. The alternative was to let Juley eat on the ground, sitting over squashed tomatoes which isn’t the greatest tragedy on earth but it’s highly undesirable with no laundry machine nearby.

(By the way, we already did laundry once, using natural soap and spring water.)

After breakfast we go to the neighbouring pool where we take a hot mineral water shower.

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The water in the pool isn’t really clean and the slide isn’t working but we didn’t have particularly big expectations anyway. In short, we’re good. There’s a small children’s pool where Juley hangs around but, as a whole, ever since we hit the road he’s begun to seriously hate bathing. “It must be a period,” I think at that time.

“It was a period,” I can say now.

I don’t even enter the pool. I’m glad I took a shower. Juley benevolently falls asleep in the stroller and I sunbathe and read Jesper Juul. Then we go back to the campsite, eat the usual shopska salad for lunch and then go to take a look at Băile Herculane.

Driving out of 7 Izvoare, we come upon a curious mineral spring under the very road.

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Lukáš adores such type of places. He adores their “mini-culture”. His negatives and picture folders in the computer are filled with elderly people soaking in mineral water.

Băile Herculane is a town best described with the phrase “former glory”. As a feel, its entire architecure can be summed up by the photo below:

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This bridge over the river (Cerna) is in bad condition, unfortunately, and you can’t go across it.

However, Băile Herculane isn’t a ghost town either. It’s August now and it’s full of tourists, mainly, if not exclusively, Romanians. We’re the only ones carrying cameras and babies, everyone else here means business, the business being soaking in mineral water.

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The beach under one of the socialist-style hotels. The mineral spring is right under the concrete, its hot waters emptying in the river. The forrested hill on the other bank creates an “eye-saving” contrast with the hotel and the cracked panels. I guess there are people who’d pity or laugh at these people but I like them. They surely know how to use life’s lemons to make lemonade.

The concrete bank follows the hotel and goes on, leading to a second spring:

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Whoever feels too hot up there can go down and soak in the river which must be pleasantly warm at this spot. I say “must” because we have no swimming suits (why the hell don’t we have swimming suits?) and so we can’t check if that’s true. Besides, I need to be looking after Juley who’s hanging around and about while everyone’s warning me not to let him touch the water because it’s over fifty degrees hot. Up at this place there’s a bed where a person is offering massage. In the shade of the trees it’s nothing short of wonderful. Here are a few more exposed film photos:

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After the springs we go to the railway station where Lukáš wants to take a photo of an arriving train. We wait for about forty minutes and, somehow, in the end we miss it. Juley is tired, of course, and probably thinks we’re losers.

Then we get in the car and go back to the Danube where we should decide what to do. Lukáš would rather drive through Romania to reach the sea while I’d rather go through Bulgaria. A family feud ensues which gets solved by the Romanian police. Namely, they pull us over for a minor violation. We get away with punishment, surely because of the fact I look the policeman straight in the eye and fully cooperate while we converse in English. However, we are well aware of the ways of the Romanian police, kind-hearted as they may look at first glance – they normally contact the next police car up the road, giving them the violators’ license plate number. And so it’s clear – we’re going to Bulgaria.

It’s already dark (naturally) when we pass the border at the Iron Gates bridge. The shortest way to Bulgaria goes through Serbia. Somewhere around midnight – our favourite time of passing or arriving at important places – we go through the Bregovo Border Cross Point.

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An ID card check, a change of language on the road signs, familiar town names. Back to the place that is and isn’t my home.

Just 500 more kilometres to the sea!

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All digital photographs are by Lukáš, apart from the ones he’s in.

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