Leaving Dobrogea, the Black Sea, and Danube Delta behind, I cross the new Cernavoda Bridge and head for the highway. Two things are burning a bit of anxiety in me. First, I’m nearly out of gas. My reserve light popped on as I rode to Rasova this morning. My best calculation is I have about 30-40 kilometers before I’m out. The girls at Rasova told me there is a gas station on the highway just before the toll station about 40 kilometers.
Can I make it to the gas station before I run out of gas?
Then there is the toll. I don’t have any Romanian currency, the lei. I’ve been in Romania three days now but used my credit card for every transaction—a few meals, coffee, and accommodation. Will they accept my credit card at the toll? Will there be an ATM at the gas station? Nobody at Rasova knows. So I motor on.
I’ve been in tougher situations. I could run the toll and then risk getting busted down the road. I could please ignorant to the officers operating the station. If I run out of gas, this is a major highway, so I’m sure a good Samaritan will pass by.
I hope I don’t have to resort to any of those things.
There’s one more issue. The clouds are darker ahead. I thought I dodged a bullet this morning by holding up at the winery while the rain poured. It looks like more rain ahead. I decide for all the above possibilities, it’s best to ride the highway rather than the back roads. I need to get the hotel on the outskirts of Bucharest before nightfall.
As I head west, I am light on my throttle, trying to conserve and use minimal fuel as possible. With that amber “low fuel” light glaring at me and the ominous clouds ahead, I keep shifting my seating position. I’m tense as I watch the odometer climb, converting miles to kilometers, I’ve got about 24 miles before the fuel runs out.
At twenty miles and no sign of the gas station, I’m calm but worried. Then another five miles. Okay, I’m at the end. I expect the engine to putter out and stall. I’m going about 40 miles an hour. Other cars are whipping past me, doing 70 or 80. The skies are blacker ahead. That’s when I see it, the toll booth.
Wait! They told me the gas station was before the toll booth. Am I on the wrong road? Shit. I’ve got no cash. I see lanes for electronic tolls and one lane with an attendant. I’m not too fond of toll booths on the motorcycle. It’s an ordeal to pull your gloves off, pull out change, and pay. Then the gloves go back on. All the while, cars pile up behind me. Here at my first Romanian toll, I never have to stop. The attendant waves me through.
What?! No toll. I guess it’s like Colombia, where motorcycles ride free. There is no other explanation. I’m relieved, at least partly. I’m still running this motorcycle on fumes. But five minutes later, I see the gas station. It’s after the toll. I hope I roll in before puttering out. I’m riding slower now. Just trying to squeeze another kilometer out of my fuel tank. I make it. Phew.
Pulling to the pumps, I realize that for the first time in Eastern Europe, Romania has self-serve gas pumps. But when I try to use my credit card, the pump asks for a PIN. I remember this issue when riding in Norway and Finland two years ago. European credit cards all have PIN codes, US credit cards do not. So I try my ATM card, it has a PIN, but it doesn’t work.
I go into the convenience store. There is a huge line, at least fifteen people. So I wait. More people come in behind me. Wow, I cannot believe how busy it is here. The cashier doesn’t speak English, so she yells over to the other cashier who tells me to wait, he’ll help me.
After they check out everyone in the line, the cashier walks with me to the pump, sticks a card in, and punches some numbers on the keypad. I fill the tank, and inside I use my credit card to pay. A bit of along ordeal. However, now I have peace of mind and a full tank of gas.
The peace of mind lasts for about twenty minutes until I ride into an aggressive rainstorm. I throttle back and ride slower. But other drivers here don’t appreciate the concept of safe distance and ride up on my ass. It’s nerve-racking, and I’m tense, squirming in my seat again.
The rain lasts about forty minutes. I never stopped to put on my rain gear, so I’m sopping wet. That’s okay. My GPS guides me through north Bucharest, forcing me to do a couple of u-turns but gets me to the Briston Hotel, where Zoe reserved a room for me.
Just after I finish registering, I see a familiar face walk into the lobby. It’s Leone, the Italian viticulture consultant I met a few hours ago during lunch at Rasova Winery. We agree to meet later for dinner in the hotel restaurant, where we share a bottle of wine and more motorcycle stories. Tomorrow he heads to Timisoara, where he’s consulting with another winery. He’s got an early 6 AM flight tomorrow.
For me, tomorrow I’ll ride about three hours to Dragasani, just northwest of Bucharest. I’ll meet Oliver Bauer, who makes wine for Prince Stirby and his own Bauer label.