Anyway, after we
spent a leisurely hour or so producing passports and travel documents and
filling in forms in triplicate, I was officially equipped and ready to ski.
"Now, up the mountain?" I asked Sandu eagerly.
Monday," he replied. "Lift not working. You wish to practice in the
With no other
choice, I put on my skis and went over to the central park, where I tried to
practice among the children who were skiing home from school. The piste had its
hazards—I had to dodge round park benches and naked statues and once, shooting
uncontrolledly down the hill to the park gates, I collided with a bear.
Luckily, it was only a stuffed bear—the moth-eaten prop of Sinaia's village
photographer. He and the bear stood together at the park entrance, and every
now and then a vacationing Rumanian would dress up in a red silk shirt
embroidered MEXICO, don a Stetson, borrow a toy air gun and point it at the
bear to have his picture taken.
The next day,
Tuesday, dawned bright and clear. Hurrah for the Alpin Hotel! Hurrah for
skiing! Hurrah for Rumania! I bounded out of bed, impatient, excited and eager,
but my euphoria was short-lived, for I soon discovered that it was a trifle
complicated getting to the Alpin.
There was no bus;
only a small taxi fleet of locally built, open jeeps. Capitalist-style, private
transport was firmly discouraged. You went to a kiosk at the end of town and
bought a ticket, then hung about shivering for an hour or two until six other
passengers wanted to go; only then was the jeep allowed to leave. Sometimes
there were also last-minute hangers-on who stood perched on the tailboard,
clutching the chassis with frozen fingers as the machine slithered round
precipitous hairpin bends.
Up and up we
climbed, past the gingerbread villas, the painted monastery and the fantastic
castle by Charles Addams out of Hohenzollern, then through the dark,
wolf-infested forests that used to be inhabited by Rumanian Robin Hood
characters called haiduks. After six miles (in 40 minutes) we found the road
blocked completely by a stranded truck. The Alpin was still an icy mile uphill.
So we began to stagger up the rest of the mountain.
A Rumanian skier
fell into step beside me. He was a towering figure, with his pointed fur hat
adding an extra foot or so to his height and his black, fleece-lined greatcoat
sweeping grandly to his ankles. Was he going to ski in those clothes? But
luck, the road blocked," he said. "Iss happening often on this
"My first day
skiing!" I told him excitedly.
Tuesday," he said, looking grave. "In our country iss very dangerous to
begin any new things or make travels on a Tuesday. In your country,