Liam Ratcatcher! 1983
Goodness, l cannot believe how long it has taken me to come to the final parts of this tale, l never intended it to take so long to pen. I can only claim ‘grogginess’ as my defence and proffer my appologies.
He may have been quite the drinker and a loud snorder, but credit to Kustov he was an early riser and always a happy soul and Liam and l had to remind ourselves of that each and every day during the five or so so days travelling around Romania. Even if at times we really didn’t want to get up at the crack of dawn! I came to learn that Liam was NOT really an early bird. I was neither an early bird or a night owl, l was just always working whatever the hours. My average day back then could easily stretch into eighteen hours, l grabbed sleep where l could and when l needed it. Those days it never mattered to me if l pulled an all nighter as l was younger and could do it.
These days an all nighter would probably finish me off, it’s bad enough just trying to keep some level of conscious ability to write long tale such as now because of all these tablets l am taking and the permanency of grogginess to my very being. However l digress ..
Liam was not keen to early rising, well not at say 5am every morning which is the time Kustov awoke us that very next day. In hindsight Liam as a snorer probably got more sleep than l did anyway, as l struggled to sleep with the two snorers combined!
Despite not being an early bird l couldn’t fault either Liam or Kustov for their chirpiness for the duration of the 5 day tour, and of the seven of us, those two seemingly were in cahoots to ensure that all of us had a good time. I can only put this down to Liam’s previous experience as a holiday rep. But also l think even Kustov learned quite a few ‘hospitality tips’ from Liam! When on the road Liam was the first to encourage us all into song. Molly, Sally, Dana and Dolly were all avid book readers and were always nose deep inbetween the pages of a ‘good book’. One expects that from the likes of librarians perhaps, but even the seasoned ‘old ladies’ were just as keen to lose themselves into someone elses’ imagination instead of looking at some of the glorious countryside.
I read all the time at home, and so the last thing l really wanted to do was become immersed into another person’s mind when Kustov was driving.[Nevermind the fact that l was ALWAYS rather concerned as he always seemed slightly tipsy!] I cursed the fact that l hadn’t taken my camera with me. I couldn’t believe l hadn’t packed it. But Liam was an avid photographer as were Sally and Dana, and after the holiday had ended they kept up to their side of the bargain and sent me quite a few photos. Alas over time and more so me entrusting the transferring of 10k’s worth of photo’s to a disc to a friend in 2011, who promptly lost the lot, l have very few photo’s of my own anymore, just my memory].
Plus strangely enough, when it came to actually taking photographs of ‘tourist attractions’ in 1983, ‘tourists’ were not always allowed to take photographs and instead were manipulated in the buying of postcards. That in itself is even more annoying. Only last spring  did l after years and years of carrying them with me, threw away nearly 5000 postcards – thinking l would never have a use for them! Why l never thought l would have a blog is quite beyond me!
The five days on the tour itself were l think way better than the five days at Mamaia beach resort, there was as mentioned the beautiful countryside and back in 1983, there wasn’t an awful amount of traffic on the roads, but some of the roads were lethal and many a time l think my heart stopped especially with Kustov at the wheel and more so, when it came to driving into the Carpathian mountain range, as much of those roads went obviously uphill. Alarmingly Kustov pronounced one day that he would not be drinking as much as ‘some of the roads can be tricky and quite dangerous if your eyes are not open properly!’
Strangely enough at hearing that little snippet, there was no song from Liam, and stranger still none of the ladies opted to read … go figure? Everyone had their eyes peeled on the driving, Kustov, the beautiful mountain scenery and the roads or more so the edge of the roads and the remarkably steep inclines they rested atop!
There were more than a few occasions when l found myself praying to any deity listening to get me to the top in one piece!! The film The Italian Job with Michael Caine and that ending with the precariousness of the minis should give you ample ideas about how it was with us in the pink campervan and Kustov’s driving and even he himself commented on one occasion of the similiarity! Which wasn’t that well received especially as we were within inches of the very rough edges of mountainous roads ourselves!
However, obviously we made it, despite the fact that Liam in his own words “Oooher, l nearly shat myself twice!!”
Transylvania was spectacular there is no other way to describe it, it is principally a historical region in the heart of Romania and of course most of us now would associate it to the likes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and vampires, Vlad Tepes and all other sorts of nasties. We visited Brasov, Peles Castle, Sinaia, Cluj – Napoca, Bran Castle, The Black Church, Sighisoara, Bistrita, the Borgo Pass, the Salt Mines of Turda and many, many more places to boot. Kustov knew how to pack in locations.
Yes we started early, yes we drove for miles, yes we were tired out at the end of each day, sometimes so tired that we only ate a little for breakfast and a little in the evenings, but we had great lunches! But the other thing about being really tired was that we were knackered at the end of each day, l think an entire town could have snored in my shared room with Kustov and Liam and l wouldn’t have cared!
We climbed stairs by the hundreds, walked for miles when not sat on our bums and had a thoroughly great time, and had the Dracula Tour been in the Carpathian Mountain range for two weeks, l think l would have wanted another two weeks to really enjoy it – that’s how good it was. We stayed in small family run inns that Kustov knew personally, either the landlord or the family or even sometimes he seemed to have a girlfriend in every town!
Romania was vibrant, and it was colourful, and l learned that colour was everything there. I loved the culture, the folklore, the people and l loved the food. I loved Romania at that time and more so the countryside. When the tour ended on that last day, l was saddened to be leaving and vowed l would return one day, which still l have yet to achieve.
On the very last day Kustov took us to a small family run traditional restaurant which as it happened he had yet another cousin who owned the establishment and we had a truly lovely meal there, but this is where l was first introduced to the famous ţuică which was a plum brandy as well as silvovitz another plum brandy!
Liam, who blatantly maintained all the way throughout the holiday that he could hold his drink [and l did beg to differ] was the first who said that he wanted to try something typically Romanian and as if by magic, two trays were brought out with 7 shot glasses a piece by a waitress in traditional dress. Kustov’s cousin said that these drinks carried a health warning and they should be sipped and not ‘thrown back like Coke!’
But Liam knew better and whilst the rest of us sipped out small glasses of the two brandies, he knocked both back in a two step motion. Perhaps it was five seconds, others said it was less, l think it was five. But Liam’s face changed dramatically in those five seconds from normal colour to a funny shade of deep purple and quickly changed to almost greenish white! There wasn’t even time for Kustov to shout “Liam NO!!” Before Liam, had this funny smile appear on his face, followed by an eerie squeal and then he fell backwards off the pews we were sitting on and he landed flat on his back … out cold!
Kustov’s reaction was hysterical, he suddenly laughed so loud that both Dolly and Dana jumped a good few inches off their own pew! Sally and Molly who were sitting beside Liam and myself giggled and then looked quite startled! “Is he dead?” Asked Sally quite alarmed as Liam still had that odd looking expression on his face and his eyes were wide open, his legs were still on the pew, his feet dangled under the table, but the rest of him was on the stone floor.
“Yes, yes he lives!!” Kustov boomed, “It is the effect of the brandy it is 80% proof here, it is enough to stop an elephant, a family recipe. You are supposed to drink it slowly till you are used to it, and even then you should never throw it back in one!! Ah Liam, he is such a funny one no?”
“Oh yes, he is totally hysterical!” I agreed as l gently sipped on my own drinks and could feel the incredible potency of their overall warming effect on my mouth, my tongue, throat and l could feel the liquid coursing its way down to my stomach!
“Should we pick him up, he has been out cold now for a good few minutes Rory?” Dana enquired.
“Nooo, he’s fine Dana, don’t worry about it, he’s good.” I answered laughing, “Liam needed to be taught that lesson l feel, he’ll probably have a double whammy hit him tonight on the toilet ha ha, bet it burns on the way back out eh Kustov?”
“Yes he will feel the effect all night, in and out, oh that is funny!!” Kustov laughed back with a huge broad smile on his face.
The reality is that it took Liam, nearly a further ten minutes to come to a point where upon he could actually sit up again! I was so enthused by these drinks that l bought two fancy leather covered bottles of them so that l could present them to my Father [which ironically, l noticed were still in his drinks cabinet the other day! He couldn’t drink more than one small glass of each, and yet after all these years they were still drinkable!?’]
When we retired for the night in that inn, Liam in fact excused himself early as he had a stonking headache, which we all did laugh about, and after a night enjoying traditional music, and another meal, when Kustov and l retired, Liam was so far out of it, he didn’t even snore!!
Tomorrow, the final part of this tale, thanks for reading.