As with any country, there is good stuff and bad stuff in Romania. On the plus side we have Dracula’s birthplace, the painted monasteries of Southern Bucovina and the beguiling bear- and lynx-infested Carpathian mountains. On the minus side we have inexplicable puncture wounds to the neck, rabies-ridden dogs…and the roads. Despite EU membership, resurfacing on the trunk routes leaves rather a lot to be desired. In fact, one would be perfectly within one’s rights to describe them as fucked.
Not only are they spine-rearrangingly dreadful, the traffic is hazardous too. The ubiquitous horse and cart – as prevalent as the bicycle in the Netherlands – vies with wobbling cyclists (unlit at night) and hunched figures carrying agricultural implements. Throw packs of mangy, multi-teeted stray dogs into the mix, and twenty-nine AC/DC trailers have got their work cut out. Essentially we’re on an obstacle course to Bucharest. ‘The dogs were culled with poison years ago, like in Spain,’ says Captain Birdseye. ‘They used to leave loads of them dead at the side of the road and go round with a truck to pick them up later.’
Well, the dogs are back. As we cross the Danube into Romania at Giurgiu, the road is littered with them, listless brutes in poor condition. They barely flinch as our tyres roll past their paws. No, I’m still talking about the hounds, not Namibian. He is guarding the trucks while I avoid an aggressive salesman peddling machetes next to a police checkpoint. How on earth would I take a fifteen-inch blade through UK Customs, I try explaining to deaf ears.
The sulphurous, nostril-filling odour here is nothing to do with Namibian’s egg sandwich, he assures me. Bulgaria’s industrial zone is just across the river, ironically depleting human energy with noxious fumes while creating the very energy that humans crave. And besides, Namibian, with his loveable flaws at least as large as his virtues, proudly announces that he has had two poos this morning. News, indeed.
What a great venue for AC/DC to play a gig: outside the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest. Beneath its imperious gaze, forklifts are bringing in pallets loaded with beer kegs while crew scurry about with cables. Namibian immediately dashes off to the local production office, returning with AC/DC passes for our windscreens. ‘It’ll help if we’re stopped by the police again,’ he tells me, pseudo-omnisciently. He’s right, I hate to admit. Coppers do indeed waver when they see this rectangular piece of all-powerful, almost omnipotent piece of cardboard. They tend to wave us through the checkpoints, on the absurd premise that surely a rock and roll tour wouldn’t be carrying illicit substances.
Accompanying Namibian this morning is another reprobate, blackguard and cur, Cockney Russell. He has the voice of a common villain, affronting the ears of sensitive weeds like myself. Now Russ is an easygoing, live-for-the-moment sort of guy, and spouts aphorisms to that end. ‘We’re here for a good time, not a long time,’ he says for the umpteenth time. One need not necessarily infer from this that he is the Fastest Ejaculator in Great Yarmouth.
Narrowly avoiding a forklift, I take a look inside the Palace, the second largest building in the world. A gargantuan edifice, it boasts 1000 rooms over fourteen levels. A photocopied list of rules is thrust into my hand upon entry: ‘It is Mandatory to Keep Clean!’ reads one regulation. ‘It is compulsory to wear the badge at sight!’ reads another. And one is not to ‘violate the legal access norms’ by straggling or purposefully sneaking away from the tour group. They’re awfully serious here, exchanging the casual visitor’s passport for a dog tag on a chain. I feel like a Marine.
365,000 square metres are certainly not to be sniffed at. If you were you to sniff disparagingly however, at the profligate consumption of energy and materials, then know this: there is no air conditioning in the building, and the materials are sourced from within Romania’s borders. Silk tapestries, oak panels hacked from Transylvanian forests, the mind-boggling one million cubic metres of marble: all are domestic products, harking one’s mind back to those heady, pre-globalisation days before supermarket shelves were stocked with an overwhelming choice of equatorial fruits. They used what was available.
Cleverly, small holes have been bored into the ceilings, thus acting as an economical and effective air supply. Entering the Ceremony Hall, a commodious room nineteen metres high in which I could fit four of my local theatres and several trucks, the group gasps collectively. And we rush to the window. The balcony offers a perfect view of the AC/DC stage. Oh goody, as though I haven’t already seen enough of it. I keep quiet, and my laminate well hidden, while tourists murmur about the chances of getting tickets to the show. Well, that’s the end of the tour. Despite being inside for an hour, we’ve still only seen approximately five per cent of the Palace..