Monday, November 20, 2017

Greetings from Ruse

The golden leaves covering the riverside poplars when I began at the Danube delta have nearly all blown off in the three weeks I've been walking.  Some rainy days, but mostly pleasant for walking.  Birds, mostly, keep me company along the tracks and small roads I find, but also some wild pigs and many stray (and very timid) small dogs.  

Pilgrim life suits me well, as everyone knows by now, and I'm delighted walking in the day and finding people in the evenings.  My routine is set - if there's a Catholic church, it's there I approach first, if not, an Orthodox church; or monastery - and there are plenty, and those of all sizes and age - but if there's no church to offer a lone pilgrim hospitality in Romania, I strive to meet the mayor.  Town/village halls all seem to have basic accommodation perfect for a pilgrim and a staff happy to entertain a visitor.  My arrival has prompted little parties many nights so I can meet various residents and try many local specialties - cheese, chicken dishes, lamb, rabbit, and plenty of river fish along the Danube, of course.

Last Saturday, I was walking out from a rather isolated and quite primative monastery named Adancata - which I later found out means something like 'muddy valley' and could not have more appropriately been named.  Many horse carts loaded with baskets of vegetables passed me by from behind, always with a cordial exchange of greetings.  One cart slowed to a walking pace and the wife of the couple gestured that I hop up on the pile of hay where a pig lay behind her and her husband for a lift.  I declined politely, enjoying the walk and wanting to take a sidetrip to St Andrew's Cave (he slept there, the sign says).  Many hours later, the couple again passed me from in front, empty of the pig and baskets of vegetables.  Pulling to a walking pace again, the wife leaned out and handed me a loaf of white bread.  Such a sweet exchange we had that afternoon, though very few words spoken between us.

People are universally surprised to find a winter pilgrim to begin with, but one walking upstream along the Danube seems to be the novelty.  Plenty of Germans come downstream, it's been reported to me, by canoe or bicycle, but only in summertime, and they camp in groups.  I've been compelled - to my shame - to rely more on my very poor Italian language than any other, but I've equally been able to use German, French and Spanish far more often than English... (I've got to make an effort to improve my Italian grammar...learn from my weakness fellow pilgrims!)

After a worthy visit to Bucharest's old town, I've endured a very long, narrow, and high bridge crossing over the Danube into the touristic Bulgarian city Ruse.  Even in the rain, it too is a worthy visit - so adorable these old city centers are, culturally their own gems.  I can imagine the river cruise ships stopping daily in summer to unload hundreds of tourists for a few hours.  I'm perfectly happy as a winter pilgrim.  I've also been enjoying the many Roman ruins, mostly reflecting the third century efforts under Emperor Trajan.  I've found these near towns and well marked with information signs, but also quite isolated on bluffs with hardly an access road to alert tourists they exist.  Pilgrim land is full of surprises.

I'm having a terrific pilgrim time - still, there can't be a happier pilgrim anywhere.  I plan to return to the Romanian side of the river to continue my walk upstream.  I'll keep an eye out for another chance to update.  Happy day!



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