I met Diana a few years ago on the internet through some common friends. I followed with a lot of interest the tour of Romania she made by bicycle last year and invited her to tell us more about this. Here’s what I found out.
Diana, tell us a little about your childhood. What did you dream to become when you were little?
I was born and I grew up in Turda, Cluj County, where I lived until I left for college. In primary school I wanted to become a teacher like most of the girls at that time, after which I decided to become a veterinarian. I loved the animals because I spent most of my holidays at my grandparents in the countryside in Ceanu Mare where I learned to work the land and take care of the animals.
One of the brightest memories I have from my childhood is how my grandmother used to give me fresh milk. After we brought the cow from the hill, our grandmother milked it and gave us that fresh milk. Ah, how creamy and tasty it was! I later learned that it’s not healthy to drink it. At that time, however, I did not know that and it seemed delicious to me.
“I did not have a bicycle in my childhood. So I learned to ride using adult bikes. I remember putting my foot under that horizontal bar so I could reach the pedals”.
How did your love for cycling begin?
I did not have a bicycle in my childhood. So I learned to ride using the bikes of other people, usually adults. I remember putting my foot under that horizontal bar so I could reach the pedals. I had my first bicycle only at the age of 24. On 24th when I turned 24, I received my first bike from my sister as a birthday gift. It was love at first sight.
I’ve always been into sports. I finished a sports high school where I practiced different sports: athletics, handball, volleyball, and athletics. This is where I learned an important lesson that helped me many times in my life. There is a dead point when running long distances. If you manage to pass it, your feet start running “by themselves”. I always stopped there, before that dead point. In high school I learned to overcome this limit.
“On the 24th when I turned 24, I received my first bike from my sister as a birthday gift. It was love at first sight”.
Initially, I wanted to go to the faculty of sports, but I changed my mind in the last minute. I took several options into consideration and eventually went to the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, the Psycho-pedagogy Department, which prepares specialists who work with people with disabilities.
I met some very nice people at admissions that directed me to psycho-pedagogy, and that somehow encouraged me to go this way, especially given the fact that I had a 10 at the BAC graduation exam in psychology. During my studies I did a more in-depth specialization in psychotherapy, and in parallel with the master’s studies I did a formation in systemic couple and family psychotherapy.
How popular and accepted is psychology in Romania?
Romanians do not really go to the psychologist because they make a confusion between the psychologist, the psychiatrist and the psychotherapist. These professions are under the same roof, but they are different. Unfortunately, few make the difference between them. Moreover, many people believe that going to a psychologist is bad.
“Romanians do not really go to the psychologist because they make A confusion between the psychologist, the psychiatrist and the psychotherapist. Many people believe that going to a psychologist is bad”.
It is very difficult to work as a psychotherapist in Romania. Romanian couples do not come to therapy: out of fear, because of previous unsuccessful experiences, because of lack of information, lack of money etc. At the same time people are always frustrated. If it rains, we want sunshine. If it’s winter, we long for the summer. When it’s summer, it’s too hot. If it’s free, it’s not of good quality. If it’s expensive – it’s too expensive. Nothing’s okay. Romanians simply don’t know how to enjoy the moment and what they have.
After graduating from the Masters I started working at the “Clujul are suflet” (“Cluj has a soul”) youth center: initially as a socio-educational animator, which gave me the opportunity to do some non-formal education courses, and then I also took the position of psycho-pedagogue.
“People are always frustrated. If it rains, we want sunshine. If it’s winter, we long for the summer. When it’s summer, it’s too hot. Romanians simply don’t know how to enjoy what they have”.
I organized personal development and social integration courses for teenagers, hiking, trips, we used to go to the theater and visit the city. After 4 beautiful years spent at “Cluj has a soul” I was a coordinator at a private children’s center that helped students with further training and studies for school.
How did you come up with the idea of making the tour of Romania by bicycle?
The idea came suddenly and spontaneously. I just realized at some point that I wanted to do something for myself, something different from what I had done before. Initially I wanted to go make the tour with a friend as part of his project. Unfortunately, that project did not materialize, so I decided to go alone.
“The idea came suddenly and spontaneously. I realized at some point that I wanted to do something for myself, something different from what I had done before”.
I love the idea from the very beginning and nobody could get it out of my head. My mother tried very hard to persuade me to look for a job, but I was stuck on this idea of making a bicycle trip and did not hear or see anything else.
At that time I was doing volunteer work at the “Smile” center where I regularly held a support group for people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. During those meetings they shared the problems they were facing and received advice or solutions from the other members of the group.
“There are around 10,000 people diagnosed with this disease in Romania and only 2 specialized medical centers. Unfortunately, these people are simply ignored by the system”.
Multiple sclerosis is an incurable disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, which affects the ability of the nervous system to communicate, producing a wide range of symptoms: physical, mental, and sometimes psychological disabilities.
Unfortunately, the people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in Romania are simply ignored by the system. There is nobody to do anything for them, and no one offers psychological counseling or advice to follow a treatment that can help them have an easier life. There are around 10,000 people diagnosed with this disease in Romania and only 2 specialized medical centers: in Alba and Oradea.
When I decided to make the tour of Romania, I thought it would be nice to meet other similar communities in the country, to see what their needs are and try to help them with what I can. So I quickly wrote a project and started looking for sponsorships. This is how my personal project has become a public one with a social character.
What was the route you followed and how many kilometers did you make in total?
My trip lasted for almost two months. I left on July 4th and returned on the 2nd of September. The distance I made is 3235 km. I started from Cluj-Napoca and passed through Oradea – Satu-Mare – Baia Mare – Târgu-Lăpuş – Bistriţa – Vatra Dornei. In Broşteni, the village where the writer Ion Creangă spent his childhoold, I got sick and I had to spend two days in bed.
In Bicaz I met another cyclist with whom I traveled for a week. We went to Iasi, then down to Galati where I took the ferry over the Danube, I arrived in Constanta and because it was relatively close, I decided to go to the city Varna in Bulgaria. Then I headed for Bucharest, Curtea de Argeş, Râmnicu Vâlcea, Târgu Jiu, Drobeta Turnul Severin and to Timişoara.
I stayed one or more days in every city in order to meet with the community of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I used couchsurfing and warmshowers a lot – these are international online portals where you can request for accommodation, and people can offer that for free. I also slept a lot in the tent.
turulromanieipebicicleta.wordpress.com is the blog where I’ve documented some of my travel experiences and adventures, as well as on this Facebook page. I used the Strava mobile app to track the route.
Were you afraid to travel alone?
I was not afraid and I had no problems on the route. Generally speaking, the people I met were open and very helpful. I felt in danger once or twice when I slept in the tent outside inhabited areas and not because of people.
There was this night when I camped on the bank of Golovita lake. At some point I started hearing some strange sounds in the grass. I was too afraid to go out and see where they were coming from, so I put plugs in my ears. I told myself that if I was to be eaten by an animal, I don’t want to hear it. There I met a German who was traveling by bicycle through the country and doing climbing.
“I met many good people, people who helped me, who received me in their homes and treated me like family”.
What are your conclusions after this trip and how do you think it helped you?
I met many good people, people with multiple sclerosis who do not let themselves down and continue their lives as they can, also people who received me in their homes and gave me food and treated me like family.
In Tulcea a guy took me out of the street and offered accommodation, in Oradea someone gave me his sleeping bag and another borrowed me a tent that was much easier to carry. People really helped me, and I’ve had the chance to meet only good people in my way.
“People admired my courage, but I think that anyone can do this if they wanted it hard enough and if they were willing to get out of the comfort zone”.
In the village of Lăţunaş near Timişoara I was hosted by a family where I ate the best cabbage soup in my life and I also received a jar with honey. The best breakfast I had was improvised: blackberries from the woods, muesli from the luggage and cream bought from the kitchen of the pension where I slept.
Besides that, I’ve discovered many lovely places. Generally speaking, my purpose was not to beat a record during the trip, I biked in my rhythm and tried to enjoy the ride, to discover as many beautiful places as possible.
I did not want publicity around this project, especially because it was a spontaneous initiative organized in a very short time. When I returned to Cluj-Napoca, people met me very nicely and I was very moved. People admired my courage, but I think that anyone can do this if they wanted it hard enough and if they were willing to get out of the comfort zone.