(28) Roaming around Romania (part 1)
Thursday 4th October
We woke up at the camp site tired and remembed we were in Romania! Country number 8 ye!y We had really enjoyed Hungary and all the people we had met, but needing to move on we stuck our head out of the tent to see the ground outside was wet but with a blue sky and the sun coming up it was going to be a nice day. With a country we had been looking forward to we were excited about what lay ahead. We had an easy breakfast and got on the road. With the road surface noticeably worse since the border and the terrain hilly, the going was tough but the scenery and the friendly people more than made up for it. People would wave and beep their horns as they passed us. We stopped in the small town of Celca for lunch and found a nice grassy area. There was a natural spring where everyone was filling their water bottles. Upon seeing this we emptied our bottles and refilled them only to find it was sulphur water and smelt foul. We managed to drink some by holding our breath – it’s supposedly good for your insides!
We saw many horse and carts like this as we rode through Romania
As we continued, our path crossed with an Australian cyclist who had ridden from Austraila. His name was Dom and he had been on the road for over a year. He was heading to Hungary where his journey was finishing, so was near the end. He told us he had really enjoyed his trip and wasn’t looking forward to finding a job and having to settle into a ‘normal’ routine once he had finished. We chatted for a while and then rode on and arrived in Beius where we met another couple of cycle tourists who were riding in Europe for 4 months. They were in the process of mending a puncture caused by a puncture protection strip. We chatted for a while comparing routes and headed on to find a camp spot.
We soon arrived at the small village of Lunca where we would turn off and start our first big climb. We didn’t want to start climbing so late in the day so we looked around for a place to stay. The first couple pointed us in the direction of a hotel but not having the funds for hotels we needed to be able to camp for free. As we chatted about our options a man called Virgil (aka Ge Ge) approached us and asked if he could help. We said all we needed was a flat piece of ground for the night and did he know anyone in the village who would let us camp? He said we could camp in his garden! Thrilled, we rode the short distance to his house to meet his wife and son Nicolara and Andrei. He then told us he had to go to work but would be back in the morning. Being left with his wife and son at a moments notice felt a little strange and very trusting on their part. We were very grateful and they made us feel so at home.
They were a very lovely family and spoke very good English. We were shown to the garden where we would pitch our tent. Nicolara said we could use their shower to wash which was great as it had been a long day. They also had a large vegetable patch to which we could help ourselves. There were tomatoes, peppers, onions, chillis, grapes, apples and even pears .We were in heaven.
Their lovely home and garden
As we cooked on the lawn outside our tent we chatted with them and made them a cup of English tea and stewed pears. Needless to say we went to bed feeling clean, full and happy.
Friday 5th October
We woke up early but had missed saying goodbye to Nicolara and Andrei as they had already left but Ge Ge was now home and invited us in for breakfast. We quickly packed most of our things but left the tent out in the sun to dry fully. We spent the next couple of hours being fed breakfast -we had a delicious omlette- looking at photo albums and chatting about Romanian life. It was really nice just relaxing and spending time with Ge Ge. We had to start the mountain climb though so finished packing up and said our thanks and waved goodbye.
Ge Ge picking some apples to help us with our onward journey
We rode down the road a few hundred metres and turned off to start the climb. It was easy going at first but after about 5 miles the mountains rose in front of us and the inevitable climb commenced. As we climbed, we passed through old villages and ways of life that looked like thay hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. The scenery grew more stunning and after 20 miles we reached the top at 1,220 metres only stopping to have lunch on the way up. We started the long gradual descent which wound its way through the mountains into deep gorges wondering if we would find our way out then to appear in to a wide valley 35 miles later.
We arrived in an industrial town with the sun setting. It didn’t look great for camping so we rode on out of town trying to find a safe spot when a man approached us with his 3 kids in tow and asked if we needed help. We said we were looking for somewhere to pitch our tent for the night to which he pointed to a field down a bank to our left. He went to ask the owner, a lady called Andrea who said it was fine but she would have to move her goats and sheep. Once this was done, she went home saying she would be back later. We were cooking dinner when she arrived back with her husband and mother-in-law and we showed them on our map where we had been. They looked shocked and gave us some apples and goats milk. With the temperature dropping they left us to pack up. As they left, Andrea’s mum-in-law blew kisses at us. Andrea told us she was worried about us sleeping in a tent in the cold but we assured her we would be fine – we were more worried about bears but had been told they were further up in the mountains . We cleared our things away, covered the bikes with a green tarp and headed to bed.
Saturday 6th October
It was one of the coldest nights we had had since the North Cape but with our thermals on and our wooly hats on our heads we were cosy enough. We woke to a nice day and dried our tent while having a relaxing breakfast. With another climb ahead we felt tired but being at around 500 metres we were already half way up. Andrea arrived with her husband and were suprised to see us still having breakfast but it did give us a chance to chat with them about life in the valley. They were both unemployed, they told us there were no jobs and they survived by keeping a few goats and sheep. There is gold in the mountains and a couple of years ago a Canadian mining company set up camp there with the intention of starting to mine. The Romanian government however are not sure that mining the area is a good idea. There is the dilema of potentially destroying a stunning area of natural beauty verses creating many jobs for local people. We asked Andrea what she thought and she told us that they were excited about the prospect of work but also were nervous about the effect on the environment.
Sharon with Andrea’s husband and Andrea with one of their goats (they chose the prettiest one especially for the photo)
We said our goodbyes and headed on up the hill through some awesome autumnal scenery passing men and horses pulling timber out of the forest.
Hitching a lift
Peeking out at the cycle tourists passing
The gradient was good and we soon reached the summit and started the 30 mile gradual descent down the valley stopping in the town of Zlatna next to a weird water feature. It was a stange town that looked like it was an abandoned building project that they had spent a lot of money on but only in certain areas and then had given up.
We continued down the valley to Alba Lulia and met 2 German girls called Olli and Carola who were hitching up the valley. Carola was a medical student on a placement in Romania and Olli was visiting her. They were on their way to some caves that we had passed earlier. It was nice to chat to them for a while. We rode on and picked up tea but with the sun setting we needed to get out to the other side of town. With a few failed attempts at finding a campspot we were finally directed to a field on the edge of town. It wasn’t the best spot as the ground was bumpy but it would do. We covered the bikes and with the temperature dropping once again we cooked tea and went to bed.
Sunday 7th October
We both slept well and felt pleased we only had 40 miles until Sibiu where we were going to have a rest day. We got up early and packed up. With the sun up and clear skies we could feel it was going to be a hot day. We soon rode the 7 miles to Sebes where we picked up lunch.
Enjoying the good weather
We joined the busy highway. Even though it was Sunday there were many trucks on the road. It was busier than we thought as on the map it showed a motorway but it was still under construction and the road we were on was the only one to Sibiu. We were surprised to find that there was no speed limit in the villages and the trucks powered on through with us hot on their tales…
We stopped for a quick break from the heat to have a cuppa. We found a great spot under some trees and 2 curious boys came over to see when we were doing, They watched wide eyed as Tim lit the stove and told us they were 9 and 10 years old. They asked us about our bikes. As we packed up and started to head off, they asked us for money. We said no- Tim starting asking them for money which they found funny!
We continued along the busy highway and after 30 miles we passed through a pretty village and found a quiet spot to have lunch .We unpacked our food bag and got the kettle on, only to find that there was a guard dog nearby. He continuously barked at us and only stopped when we sang ‘Take That’ to him. Just as we started to pack things away the dog got bored and probably fed up with our singing, retreated to his kennel.
We made our way back to the highway and climbed gradually to Sibiu. At first the town didn’t look much but with some perseverance we found the old city which was stunning and were pleased we had made the effort. We were approached by 2 German girls who asked us about our trip and it turned out they knew the German girl we had met the day before who was hitch hiking. They were meeting up that evening. We headed out of town to a cheap hostel and found ourselves in a run-down part of town. We turned into a quiet street and were greeted by Hans the Dutch owner of the hostel and a English chap from Kent called Ian who was a keen cyclist. We spent the evening relaxing in the lovely hostel, chatting to Ian about the world, bikes, the world of bikes, cycle racing and bikes. He shared with us his knowledge of where to find cheap beer and we were set for the evening – result ; )
Monday 8th October
We woke up in our 8 bed dorm which we had to ourselves – this was lucky as we do tend to spread our stuff out. We spent time catching up on emails, skyping and writing the blog. Whilst we chatting to Tim’s step-Dad Fred we discovered that we had lost an hour when we crossed the border without realising! By 3pm we decided to head out into the town. It was nice to look around and we discovered little cobbled streets that looked like they hadn’t changed for decades.
The more we looked the more we found. It started to get dark and we headed back to the hostel. We needed an early night as the following day were planning to ride the Transfagarasan highway – if you haven’t heard of it, put it into google images or type in ‘Top Gear Romania’ and you will see what an amazing road it is. Ian had ridden a week earlier and told us it was amazing!
Tuesday 9th October
With a long day ahead and losing that precious hour we got ready to leave. We said goodbye to Ian and Hans and got on the road with blue skies and it was going to be a nice day. We found the highway out of town and the air was cold but we knew it was going to warm up as we had clear skies. We rode along the highway and after a while the Carpathian mountains appeared to our right. They were stunning and we couldn’t believe we were going to cross them. Tim was ahead of Sharon and she noticed him pull up in front of a new truck with a crew cab and a man stood outside. The man was looking towards some European Buffalo in a field and had waved to Tim as he passed. Tim was convinced that the man was David Attenborugh. As we argued about who was going over to speak to him, he got in the crew cab and was driven off. We couldn’t see him very well as he passed so we will never know!
We got to the turn for the mountains, had a quick snack in preparation for the climb and headed along the road which started off flat around midday. The gradient remained steady and the temperature slowly rose.
The foothills of the mountains
We climbed through the trees which now and again parted to reveal the valley below. We finally got above the tree line and the mountain road presented itself in front of us. It was truly awesome and we felt like ants in a giant quarry! The road weaved its way up – a ribbon of black tarmac. During our ascent car drivers would beep their horns and give us the thumbs up which helped us along.
The highway is 60 miles long in total and was constructed between 1970 and 1974 as a strategic military route. It was built mainly by military forces and used roughly 6 million kilos of dynamite. It is reported that 40 soldiers lost their lives during its construction.
The road below
It was tough going but we finally reached the summit at 4.15pm at the altitude of 2,065 metres. The temperature had dropped to 2 degrees and the roads were icy so we had to take great care with our heavy bikes. We took some quick pictures at the top and Tim discovered a stall with honey! We must have looked freezing because the stall holder offered us a free shot of liquer which we gratefully received.
Feeling cold at the top
With all our warm clothes on for the descent we started down the other side. With most of it in the shade we were both feeling the cold. Tim’s hands were freezing and we were both starting to shiver hard. We rode passed a hotel and stopped. We decided to see how much it was as a night out in the cold it could have been a very uncomfortable night. It turned out to be £20 for a room and we soon found ourselves warming up in a hot bath. We lit our petrol stove on the balcony for a cup of tea – this was ‘glamping’ at its best! We went downstairs for some dinner and enjoyed chatting to Vallie the guy who ran the hotel. We asked Vallie if there were bears in the area. He said ‘not really at this time of year’ and went on to tell us that he hadn’t seen one for about ‘a week’…He told us that there were some campers near to the hotel in the summer and a bear had approached their tent but the hotel dogs sent it away. We slept well in a very comfortable bed with the bears locked outside.
Wednesday 10th October
We woke at 8.15 tired and aching after our long climb the day before. We hadn’t realised how much the climb and the cold had taken it out of us. We were glad to wake up in a comfy bed but with 40 miles until the next town which was down in the valley we had to get going. We got a brew on the go on the balcony, packed our things, had breakfast and headed down the valley. It was a great run to start with until we came to a lake where the road climbed and fell making us really tired. We finally came to a dam wall where we decided to have lunch – it was a very impressive structure. Sharon took some pictures of herself in a mirrored door as the mountains behind were stunning, only to find minutes later a policeman coming out laughing. He nodded at us as we ate our lunch. We packed up and headed on down the valley which wasn’t as easy as we first thought from looking at the map due to the undulating roads and poor road surface.
We reached the town of Curtea de Arges at just before 4pm which was a busy industrial town. We tracked down a Lidl and brought tea for the evening. While Sharon was shopping, Tim did some much needed maintenance on the bikes. We made our way back up through town to join the road to Brasov and found it wasn’t as flat as we had been told. With the day getting late and the views getting more spectacular with the evening light, we climbed and descended through pretty villages until we reached the small town of Dominesti where we picked up water and rode on to find a camp spot. We spotted a track that left the highway and led up to a small farm. After what felt like a long climb up a stony track we arrived at the farm to be greeted by the farmer. We showed them where we had come from and indicated that we needed somewhere to camp. They were more than happy and gave us a bag of plums. We set our tent in amazing scenery and cooked our tea. Still nervous about bears we cooked away from the tent and left our food on our bikes away from the tent.
A fantastic camp spot
Thursday 11th October
We woke to the sound of a shepherd herding his sheep. It didn’t take long to pack up and get on our way. With a long hill to climb we needed to get on our way. The road climbed and descended until we reached the beautiful town of Campulung. It had a lot going on and was a nice town. From then on, the scenery got more and more beautiful and we passed through old German villages with pretty houses , deep gorges and high cliffs – it was stunning riding. We went through our 5,000 miles mark and played with a very cute ‘up and coming’ sheep dog puppy.
Stunning riding – we passed many cows on the road
We have heard many stories about the dogs of Romania and Sharon was so nervous about them chasing us. We even have sticks especially to protect ourselves. They often chase us down the road bearing their teeth but we found that if we stop they are really friendly and come running wagging their tails. It is really sad as many of them survive from rubbish bags and tourists feeding them. As many of them are not owned by anyone, they are not neutered and they just keep breeding.
After Campulung we continued to climb with the stunning scenery getting better and better and we headed into the mountains with renewed energy in our legs. We continued to climb and descend which was frustrating but the views kept our spirits up. Car drivers continued to beep and wave and one family stopped to say hello. They were on holdiay from Bucharest and we chatted about our trip. They took the photo below and gave us some apples to help is on our way.
Tired but enjoying the stunning views
We finally reached the summit at 1,290 metres where we stopped for a quick snack. A guy pulled over in his car and handed us apples and energy gels. He was from Slovenia and told us he sold marquees in Romania. He asked us if we were cycling through Slovenia as we could stay with him at his home, we thanked him and told him unfortunately we weren’t – we are always stunned by the kindness of complete strangers.
At the top of the summit
As the sun started to set, we started to descend the other side of the mountain range only to be engulfed in fog and a quick drop in the temperature. As we were well and truly within bear country and the home of Dracula we decided to seek out a hotel. We found one after about 5 miles and asked how much a room was. It was £14 for a room and the lady showed us a ground floor room that was big enough for our bikes to be put inside. It had a table and chairs outside so we could cook and a stunning view down into a steep sided valley. We cooked dinner and discovered we had our own guard dog – a beautiful Alsatian who stayed with us and was much more concerned about what we were cooking rather than ‘guarding’. We ‘rewarded’ him with some left over pasta. We climbed into our king size bed which was almost as big as our tent and fell asleep, excited about our pending visit to Dracula’s castle the following day.
Next installment coming soon….