(29) Roaming around Romania (part 2)
Friday 12th October
We woke up in our warm hotel drew back the curtains and had such a fright -our ‘large guard dog’ was sat at our patio door looking in! We had our breakfast and felt excited about visiting Bran castle – the ‘home of Dracula’.
The descent down towards Bran was awesome, with great views in all directions and a great reward for the climb the day before. We soon arrived in Bran and had a look around the castle. It didn’t disappoint. In 1920 the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania. In 2009 the castle was refurbished and now displays many old artifacts from that time. It is said to be the inspiration of Bram Stoker’s story of Dracula as there was a count who lived there many centuries ago called Vlad Dracula. It was stunning inside with many hiding places! We spent a good few hours looking around.
We went to the tourist market afterwards and Tim managed to find a great pair of wooly gloves which Sharon was massively jealous of. Tim of-course kept commenting on how warm his hands were…
As we continued along the road we spotted another castle on top of a hill. We decided not to visit as we had already climbed many hills and later found out that it was not as good inside as Bran castle. As we continued along the highway we discovered the French and Spanish couple we had met a week or so before and they were again fixing a puncture caused by the puncture prevention strip – we vowed never to buy one. We chatted with them for a while – they had been experiencing the same Romanian hospitality as we had and told us about a hostel that had been recommended to them in Brasov.
We arrived in Brasov to find it a large bustling city. As with Sibiu it wasn’t until we reached the centre that it started to show character. We called the hostel and they told us they had room for us but no-one was there for an hour or so. so we made ourselves comfortable in the nearest square. Tim went off to take some photos and whilst Sharon wrote some postcards she suddenly found a group of Taiwanese tourists surrounding her who were curious about the bikes. They asked if they could take photos after hearing about our trip. They were lovely and on a 3 week tour of Eastern Europe and were also loving the delights of Romania.
After an hour we arrived at the hostel only to be disappointed to find there was no kitchen and the offer on the flyer of free washing, one free beer per day and free tea and coffee no longer existed. They wanted £6 to do one load of washing! They were also reluctant for us to cook in their yard but we perservered and explained that we couldn’t afford to eat out for the duration of our stay. They finally agreed but it was freezing outside and we regretted not asking more about their facilities when we checked in.
We were joined in our dorm by a nice German chap called Thomas and fell asleep all too aware of how much we had to do on our ‘rest day’.
Saturday 13th October
We got up to have breakfast only to find that it was cheap bread and jam. There was no tea and when we asked for milk we were told there wasn’t any. Sharon spent hours hand washing all our dirty clothes including Tim’s pants while Tim made a start on the blog. We asked about the bears in the area and were told that they visit the town frequently in the evening. The town is on a migration route for the bears and no-one can expect them to go around the town. They are also attracted by food and the Romanian government introduced bear proof bins that are deeper than normal ones many years ago. The guides of ‘bear seeing’ trips often feed them for the tourists which only adds to the problem. Needless to say we resisted going bear watching. There was a bear attack on a Romanian man in the south of the mountains whilst we were there. He unfortunately died as a result of his injuries. The attack happened at 4pm and there is now discussion of a culling programme.
After lunch we decided that we should get out and see the town. Some of the buildings were stunning but we felt it had been ruined by many modern buildings. We visited the ‘narrowest street’ in Europe, we were sure however that a street in our home town of Exeter was narrower! We found somewhere cheap to eat and still felt hungry so found a bakery that sold delicious savoury pasties.
We headed back to the hostel and had a great evening chatting with Thomas who very kindly brought us a beer each and we were later joined by an Italian guy called Giancarlo. Giancarlo was travelling with his brother on their annual holiday and had previously visited Norway. It was great to reminisce.
Sunday 14th October
We got up and packed our things and went down for breakfast. We took our own milk this time! We loaded our bikes, said goodbye to the guys and got on the road. We were surprised to see it raining heavily, with it normaly only raining on our rest day we needed to have a word with the big boss as his timing was a little out 🙂 We doned our waterproofs and headed off to pick up supplies. We had been told about some Saxon villages by Ian in Sibiu so we rode into the second village called Prejemer to have a look around. We soon spotted an old fort – it was awesome and in great condition. There were dozens of small rooms that they used for storage of food and farming equipment. There was a corridor that encircled the building which was used as a line of defence as you can see from the second photo below. We spent time looking around and met some British people who lived in Bucharest. They invited us to stay with them if we passed through there but we told them we were heading further east and unfortunately didn’t have time to visit. We were grateful for the thought though. We had a snack under a tree as the rain was still falling and headed off.
We continued along the road for a while before it started to climb. At 890 metres it wasn’t long before we reached the top and descended the other side. We stopped to have a late lunch at 3pm. With a long way to go, we soon got going and found ourselves descending down into a long valley.
We reached a large lake and the road started to climb and descend alongside it. It was tough going and still raining. We finally reached a small town and picked up supplies in a shop. Sharon went in and Tim stayed with the bikes. With some drunk guys outside Tim felt uncomfortable and we decided to find somewhere further down the road to camp. We were running out of light when we spotted a small side road that looked like it might lead to a farm. We pushed our bikes up the track and were greeted by a lovely young Romanian couple called Adi and Ana. Ana spoke fluent English and told us Adi had been working as a builder in London for the past few years. She was due to join him there in a week or so. They had got married just one week before and were preparing to go to England. We asked them if we could camp in the village. Adi’s father joined in the conversation and invited us to stay in their house saying they felt it was too cold for us to camp. They told us that bears were in the area so that sealed the deal! Once again we were overwhelmed by Romanian generousity.
We spent a wonderful evening with them and were fed very well. We were shown their horse who was called Stella. She was stunning and was used as a work horse. It wasn’t long before homemade wine left over from their wedding was flowing. It was really strong and we found Tim’s Romanian and Adi’s English improved greatly! Tim found his tolerance for strong wine had weakened and so had his knees 🙂 We chatted about Romanian life and they told us the average wage for a Romanian is £150 a month. We couldn’t believe it as the food in Romania is not that much cheaper than England – fuel is also over £1 a litre. No wonder so many people still use horse and cart as a form of transport. We went to bed in a warm glow from good company and good wine.
Monday 15th October
We woke up and they made us breakfast and coffee. We took some photos of each other before saying our goodbyes.
Tim stopped to take the photo below on the edge of the village. It always amazed us how decorated these churches were even in the small villages.
We had a climb to start with but only a short one and it helped to clear our heads. The road followed the tree lined valley and on occasions would rise steeply only to fall again. We both started to feel jaded from the night before. Eventually we arrived at the turning for ‘Muddy land’ where there are Mud volcanoes. It would mean a 20 mile detour but we thought they would be interesting to see. The road there was undulating but mainly headed up and we passed through many small villages. We passed by a great open area and thought we might camp there later.
We finally arrived at ‘Muddy land’. It has only recently become a tourist site and we found oursleves alone looking around the lunar landscape. They were small but bubbled away as a result of the natural gases below and it was amusing watching them.
Now for the science bit – as the gas erupts from 3,000 metres-deep towards the surface, through the underground layers of clay and water, they push up underground salty water and mud so that they overflow through the mouths of the volcanoes, while the gas emerges as bubbles. The mud dries off at the surface, creating a relatively solid conical structure, resembling a real volcano. The mud expelled by them is cold – which suprised us, as it comes from inside the Earth’s continental crust layers, and not from the mantle.
We asked about camping at the site and they said we could for £1. We decided to camp down the road for free – we try to look after every pound! We headed back down the road and pulled our bikes over to a well. We saw a great flat spot to camp which was hidden from the road.
We cooked away from where we were going to camp and watched as 2 girls herded cattle around the valley. They headed our way at one point and past us within metres but the cows were clearly more bothered by the grass along the path than 2 smelly cycle tourists. We set up the tent and settled down to sleep.
Tuesday 16th October
We didn’t sleep that well as we kept hearing faint noises. We were still paranoid about bears. The tent was soaking in the morning but we weren’t suprised as there was a great mist in the valley. We didn’t have any milk but had a cuppa anyway and waited for the sun to dry the tent. We headed back to the main road -the going was much better in that direction.
We headed towards Bazau which was a large city to get some supplies. It felt strange to be in such a busy place having spent the night in an area that felt so remote. We picked up lunch and were suprised with how expensive it was.
We rode on for about 40 miles and stopped to have lunch next to a well. Tim did some washing as we don’t often have access to so much water and drapped his clothes over the well to dry. Whilst we were eating a lady approached us with a bowl of grapes. We hoped she didn’t mind Tim’s pants fluttering in the wind! They were delicious and made a great pudding. We packed up and rode on through some beautiful farmland enjoying the flatter roads. We were heading towards the Bulgarian border and noticed the difference in the landscape.
We noticed that many of the villages marked on the maps didn’t have any shops and were beginning to regret not buying our dinner in the town earlier. Having already ridden 65 miles and the light fading we wanted to stop soon. We arrived in a town called Gizou which was bigger than it looked on the map and fortunately found a shop, bought tuna for dinner and asked owner filled our water bag for us.
It wasn’t long before we found a spot off the road and went to put up the tent. As the sun had already set we could only just be seen from the road but we were careful with our head torches and turned them off when a car passed. This delayed the process of setting up camp but we preferred not to be seen in case we had any unwanted attention. We also discovered some mozzies – or rather they discovered us – and we were grateful for our larger tent as we could eat in the porch. We sat there with a mesh covering the door and blew raspberries at them : ) We had had a great day and were tired so slept well.
Wednesday 17th October
We woke at 7am but decided to lie in until half past. The wind had picked up in the night which meant the tent was dry.
However we did have a cross/headwind as we joined the highway which slowed our progress. We passed many horse and carts and we slowed down behind one to shelter from the wind. We stayed behind for a few minutes before passing and as we did the man gave us a melon which we enjoyed later.
We kept going until the town of Slobozia where we found a supermarket and picked up lunch and an iced bun – this habit is now entrenched into our daily routine : ) We continued south into the wind which didn’t stop trying to blow us backwards. After a couple of hours we decided to stop for a quick break and found a truckers cafe where we bought a coke and enjoyed having a break from the wind.
With 15 miles to go until the next town called Calarasi where we had decided to stop for lunch we got going. We arrived at 2.30pm having covered 40 miles and stopped for a well deserved lunch break. We discovered we had wifi and were pleased to get news from home to read over lunch. We had a message from a lady called Dina who is the cousin of a previous colleague of Sharon’s. Dina was helping us with the application of our Sudanese visa which is infamous for being difficult to obtain. She told us that we could pick it up from Istanbul where her family had contacts as oppossed to Ankara which would save us riding hundreds of miles and give us more time to see parts of Turkey we wanted to see. We were thrilled and it put us in a good mood for the last few miles of headwind. With only 5 miles to the border we rode on into the wind and discovered we needed to take a short ferry ride to cross the river Danube.
On the other side of the river we rode on wondering where the border was. We hadn’t passed through any passport control yet. We asked a chap on the side of the road and realised we were going the wrong way! We headed back and found the border crossing thinking it was strange that it wasn’t sign posted. We crossed through and changed the last of our Romanian money and found a supermarket to spend our new Bulgarian money. We bought food for dinner and went past a great recycling centre enjoying the displays of plastic art along the side of the road.
We stopped in a small village for water, climbed a long hill and found a camp spot on the side of a field. It had been a long day so we slept well knowing we had made it to country number 9!!!
Stats for Romania:
Number of miles ridden: 628 miles / 1,010 km
Metres of altitude: 8,458 metres
Total miles overall to date: 5,268 miles / 8,476 km
Total altitude to date: 59,624 metres
Next installment coming soon….