I let the hand brake off and set off out of the driveway.
Suddenly the rear of the car lifted and then bumped back down as if I had run something over. Having no idea what was going on I got out again to check and there sitting in the driveway behind the car was a laptop bag which contained both of our laptops and all of the peripheral bits and pieces. I picked the bag up and pushed it into one last remaining tiny gap in the back, "I'll check it when we get to Mums"
I found out later that both were destroyed, although we did manage to retrieve the most important stuff that we needed from Ali's laptop.
Then we left hoping that this was our one disaster for the trip and that it wasn't a portent of things to come. I said a little prayer to that effect as we passed out of the gateway onto the High Street and turned southwards.It felt to me like we had been packing for weeks. There were still a few bits and pieces around to be boxed and packed but I really had just wanted to get going.
The top box on the car was full, the back seat of the car was packed with cases and boxes and our German Shepherd Florica had leapt happily into the relative luxury of the only real space remaining in the back of the car behind her dog guard.
The car was an eight year old Suzuki Grand Vitara, bought especially for this trip and for our future life in Romania, and particularly for the winter that was already on its way. We raised the money to buy it by selling both of our cars through WeBuyAnyCar and pooling the cash to get the best left-hand drive car we could afford.
With Florica barking happily in the back we strapped ourselves in, closed our doors and set off.
We had a journey of about 1400 miles ahead of us, overnighting first at my parents house in Kent before getting the train through the tunnel early the following morning.
We had done the journey across Europe on a few occasions, the last one with a hired van to take the first of our larger possessions over to our house in the lovely little village that was to become our home for good.
The remainder of our larger things had already gone to be stored in my parents garage and the plan was that I would be back within a few months to collect it all. The truth is though that half of it is still there over 9 years later.
No looking back, no regrets, whatever was to come would come, but it was a chance of a totally fresh new start in life and an opportunity we would never get if we stayed in Britain.
The corporate life had moved on and left us behind, or if the truth is told we had both outgrown it. Neither of us had any regrets about leaving that behind, no longer having to endure the shear nastiness that we had been forced to endure over the previous couple of years. What had once been a great life had become dominated by small minded jumped up little shop boys and evil minded older colleagues who were intent on gaining revenge for some imagined past 'wrongs' they perceived were done to them.
Enough was enough.
After spending about six months as a housewife while I finished off my time with Sainsburys Alison had found a job.
A simple web search for Project Management roles in Romania had come up with a job description that described Ali to a T. We knew from the first moment of reading it that it would be Alis job even before she applied and we both took it as another sign that our future lives were meant to be in Romania. The job was for one of the worlds largest volunteering companies, Global Vision International, and they wanted an experienced Project Manager fluent in both English and Romanian to set up new projects for them in Romania.and that's what we were setting off to do. It seemed like another sign that it was the thing we were meant to do too. The salary was based on Romanian norms, not English (i.e not very much) but it was sufficient to get us started in our new life in the house that Ali already owned and had greatly extended and improved (But it still needed a lot of work)
This later picture of Suzi Q in the driveway gives some idea of how much work was needed.
The night spent at my parents house was a small piece of much needed relaxation before our trip, although our departure in the morning was a little emotional.
After that the journey was pretty uneventful. It is a total of 24 hours driving time, with breaks taken as best as we could sitting in our seats. Thankfully the portion through France was short, into boring Belgium (Sorry, but from the motorways it is boring and when we did try to visit for a short stay, it was closed)
Then a brief sojourn in The Netherlands before the long trek through Germany.
Florica was surprisingly quiet in the back, her normal habit in the car was to bark at anything or anyone who came within 20 feet of us, but she was silent in the back, so quiet that we had to stop a few times to get her out of the car and check that she was OK.
She peed on Belgium, she pooed on Germany, refused anything to eat and drank only a little, all she wanted to do was get back into the car. It was almost as if she was impatient to get the journey over too.
(When we were unloading the car a couple of days later, we found that she had managed to drag the seat belts through a gap at each side of the rear seats and was happily laying there gnawing at them. They cost 350 Euros to replace, so they were pretty expensive dog chews! To add insult to injury we found out later that they weren't considered necessary in Romania so we didn't need to replace them to pass the Romanian equivalent of an MOT after all)
As the journey continued on into Eastern Germany the countryside surrounding the Autobahn became much more attractive and that is the area around which you can start to relax into the journey and just let the kilometres roll by.
Though Austria, skirting Vienna and then on into Hungary.
In those days the motorway ran out not far South of Budapest and the rest of the journey, still about 450 kilometres, would be on single carriageway roads. If you got caught up behind lorries the best thing to was just sit behind them and relax, but you have to keep a wary eye open for the local drivers and their crazy overtaking manoeuvres, which often just look suicidal and they appear to have no qualms about side swiping an unsuspecting motorist out of the way if they need to swerve in to avoid oncoming traffic.
Passing through the villages as you approach the Romanian border you used to be greeted by an amazingly beautiful sight, the residents of all of the villages had brightly coloured stalls out at the side of the road selling whatever fruit and vegetables they had grown. Everything looked so fresh and clean and the colours were amazing, so much nicer than a supermarket display and I know it all tasted much better too.
We arrived at the border at Nadlac, thankfully there was only a short queue of traffic before we finally crossed over into Romania. Unusually the Hungarian and Romanian border guards were standing together. They were easily distinguishable. The Hungarian guard was young, his uniform well fitting and well pressed and he had an easy smile as he checked each passport and briefly surveyed the interior of the vehicles passing through. The Romanian border guard on the other hand was older, looked tired, or maybe hungover, his uniform hung loosely from him looking as if it hadn't seen an iron for weeks and he just looked bored with the whole repetitive procedure.
When it was our turn I pulled up alongside these two and the Hungarian immediately said "Hello".
(It has never ceased to amaze me that we Brits are apparently immediately recognizable, and our car had a French number plate too)
I handed 3 passports out through the open window to the Hungarian. He looked them all over and then handed them to the Romanian who looked at mine, then Ali's and then he looked at Floricas.
"Whats this?" he exclaimed waving Floricas rabies passport around in the air as he spoke.
The Hungarian border guard explained what it was quietly and patiently whilst pointing at the still quiet Florica in the back and then the Romanian almost threw all three back through the window whilst saying loudly,
"As if we haven't got enough dogs in Romania!", then with an expansive sweep of his arms in the general direction of travel he shouted "Good luck!" and we passed on our way.
Finally, we were in Romania, still about 250 slow kilometres to go before we reached our new home, but the journey had been relatively easy and we were just glad that it was nearly over.
It took about another 3 hours before we arrived in the village, thanks to all of the freight vehicle on the road and when we drove into the village we got our first surprise, The main road, which had always just been a dirt track had been covered with tarmac.
Another 100 metres and we were outside our house with a couple of interested locals staring at this strange car and its' even stranger occupants. Even though they seemed to half recognize Ali, not quite being able to place where from though. She had been away for about three years.
Ali climbed out of the car and opened the gates to be welcomed by our Romanian dog, Joli, who had been cared for by neighbours.
(Her story can be found in my very first Blog from 2012)
I drove the car in and Ali closed the gates. Joli was dancing all around Ali, and all around the car, so happy to see us. I climbed out of the car, stiff from the journey but pleased to be able to straighten up again. Joli was still dancing and, at last, Florica was yapping excitedly in the back of the car.
We had no idea about how the two dogs would react to each other but there was no other way to find out than just to open the back door. Florica immediately leapt out and she and Joli just ran off chasing each other around the large garden, Joli easily taking the lead in the gallop with Florica trying very hard to keep up or cut her off at the corners, tails wagging furiously as they very quickly got to know each other. From that moment on they were the best of friends.
So here we were starting our new life. October 2009 with a very cold Romanian winter fast approaching and no idea how we were going to keep warm, but we were here at last and it really did feel like home.