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South to north Romania and borders of Ukraine

all seasons in one day 26 °C
View Grandfolks Grand Tour on Combes Caper's travel map.

e have JULY 7TH and 8TH to 10th
The first part of the day went well, we reached Sigishoara for lunch, and went to the Austrian Gasthof again. Took another walk around the citadel and hoped to find the lace butterfly for Susan. However, the stall wasn't anywhere to be found, so we pressed on to Targu Mures. Even more rural up here, and lots more painted churches and houses, but very poor outside the towns. Many horses with carts on the road, they are still making hay. Some lovely mountain scenery and we loved the towns of Predeal and Sinaia and stopped off in Sigishoara again.
Targu Mures, did not tickle our fancy so we decided to go on to Rhegin. A much smaller place, but no hotels could we find. SOOOOOO on we went, this time to Bistrita. On the way, we called in at a couple of places, one the room was so small and hot that couldn't bear the thought in 30c heat. Another, allegedly a holiday resort!, the grand dining room was all set up for a wedding (at least that is what I think, as there was a box with a slot in it and a picture of young couple), the place was sparkling, but there was no one around! The search for somewhere to stay was quite tiring as we were about 7 hours on the road and nothing offering itself up. So eventually we arrived in Bistrita.
Bistrita is at the foot of the Carpathian mountains. We found ourselves a decent place to stay for a couple of days to explore the surrounding area. Must say the roads up here were good, although one section was very popular with the Police, but the drivers warned each other this time. The first hotel we stopped by, this being the first time I had not booked ahead, was very swish, but they wanted top dollar and would not negotiate. We went round the corner where there were 3 more hotels. The Codrisor, the receptionist was so helpful. When I said we would stay for 2 nights she upgraded us to a suite with a terrace and views over the park. It is a bit dated, but all mod cons, a spa bath and so on, exorbitant price of £40 with breakfast per night!! The winner is the staff, as always eh?
Then we trundled through the large park, with cycleway for cyclists and skateboards and roller bladers, another path for pedestrians, actually there are two, one upper and one lower! A wonderful restaurant with acres of outdoor seating called Crama Veche, where we had a crispy base pizza, drinks and coffee. What struck us was that the vast majority of customers were under 30. No swearing, no shouting, and all the children with parents were peaceful and into their food. When we left there it was well after dark and there were still loads of people cycling, running and smooching in the park! Quite a lot of work is going on in this area to renovate buildings and installing new drainage and water and gas mains, but we are so impressed.
Today at breakfast we met an English woman whose husband works out here. She has been coming out here with him for one month off one month home for several years. They are due to retire and she hopes to get to do what we are doing. She said that buying here is as fraught with problems as Spain and France, you never quite know whom you are buying from , or whether what you think you are buying is quite what it seems! But she loves Romania and is looking forward to the next stage of their plans, to come out here for longer spells and explore as we are.
Thankfully, she has suggested a routing for getting to Hungary and visiting a wonderful, yet another wonderful, area of Romania, Maramures. Then we are heading on down to Eger in Hungary, and HORSES, near Eger there is a great Lippizaner stud, and apparently Bull's Blood wine is grown there too, years since that was the in thing?
8th July
Today after our breakfast chat, we set out to explore the town. Baking again, lovely bakeries, just as well we had eaten. There is a lot of work going on in town, with pedestrianisation of the streets, along with cobbles being laid and new drains and service pipes. You have to pick your way, but it will be great when it is finished.
Later we went out on the road to travel through the Burkau Valley. Stopped off in one or two of the villages, though it is difficult to explore them as the roads, or rather tracks, are so narrow that you cannot park up and explore and they do not run to village squares. There is so much to take in and we hope that the pictures capture some of it. Then we went on up the pass for a spectacular drive, through a very alpine area and the buildings so traditional. The tourist board must really get to grips with stops for photo shoots! I saw a mobile shepherd's hut, which was brightly painted and on one side there were brightly coloured panels forming a pattern, but there was no way you could get a shot at it. We went right up to the top of the pass, the views were endless and the weather perfect. Not much traffic about either, other than the horse and cart traffic collecting the hay.
I spotted a sign to Colibita National Park, so decided we would go there, on the return journey. As I was in the driver's seat I turned off, real unmade road, stones flying everywhere, mutterings about suitable tyres, suspension etc. , but it was great. Potholes and all, past Transylvania cottages, farmsteads, haymaking, horses and carts for 3km. Then we came to a super lake, around which there have been some modern dacha type villas erected. But what a setting, pine trees all around and no one for miles. Satellite dishes in abundance?! , so think they're not toooo cut off. The trip reminded me a bit of the road to you Lesley, but there were more neighbours around along the route.
Bernie said I passed one lorry where the passenger had his head in his hands! Surely not my driving?
We came to a village right at the bottom of the roadway. You need to turn the clock back 200 years to imagine the scene really, the small wooden houses, with the animal sheds close by and no machinery to speak of. The horse is the power house and the family transport. Sadly, now that Romania has joined the EU, it probably won't be at all the same in another 20 years or even 10. Can thoroughly recommend a visit sooner rather than later.
As always, the return trip seemed a lot easier than the outward one, though it took another 30 minutes to get back to the main road. Managed to steer clear of speeding fines en route and now back to base getting ready for the evening's adventures.
The swimming pool in the park next door to the hotel was absolutely packed early evening. It is a fair old size and all ages were having a great time.
We walked into town in the warm evening air to Crama Veche beside the park. Ate our meal and just about finished when a thunderstorm cropped up. Down came the rain and the thunder and lightning were deafening. As all the tables are outdoors under canopies, an awful lot of people scooted off. Being Brits, we stuck it out, but opted to have the gas burner lit to keep us warm. The temperature must have dropped 15 c in the meantime. Water was pouring off everywhere and in some areas the paving was about an inch deep in water. Eventually it subsided and we managed to walk back through the park. Shame as normally this restaurant is busy until late and the park is a hive of activity with walkers, and cyclists etc.
Have booked ahead for our next two stops, not making that mistake again in a hurry!
The overnight rain has filled the river running past the hotel, and we hear it has caused grief around and about with flooding. The rumbles went on for quite a time, as well as the chants when Germany scored a goal!
The drive up to Sighetu M was through lovely countryside, yet again, we are getting a good dose of mountains and trees. The road was pretty good all the way, with only one village which was suffering the after effects of drainage works, lovely trenches left raw across the road. Entering Marmures, which is the name of the county, was like going through a border, the road became rough and rickety for quite a few kilometres. The whole nature of the countryside changed too, owing to the hilly landscape and the lack of machinery to farm with. Managed to get quite a few shots of various style of old houses. It was misty but warm and the rain let off early on. Good job we only set ourselves 100 miles today as it took 3 hours to do that bit.
We thought we had landed up in a bad quarter of town when we got to Sighetu, the street does not look good and when we went round a corner looking for the guest house it got even worse. Although we had the right road, we couldn't find the house, so had to ask in a shop. Low and behold, we had past it several times. Squeaky clean and brand new! Great place and good food, plus the added bonus of a restaurant on site. However, they need a clear sign at the end of the street and on the front as am sure some folk would have just given up!
After lunch we walked into town and looked around. Went to the Prison Museum which tells the story of incarceration, executions, and trumped up charges by the communists after 1944 to 1990. The first thing which hit me was that so many women were rounded up during that time. The conditions were abysmal, as you can imagine. Writers, artists, as well as anti communists all suffered. The poets would tap out their poems in morse code and it would be passed around the prison like that. There were many prisons around Romania and people were taken to the Gulags in Russia for forced labour too. Looking at all the pictures and seeing the faces of the despots of Eastern Europe brought the Cold War back to life. It gives you a shiver when you think this town is only a stone's throw from Ukraine. And what is Russia at there? Playing the same old dirty game. It would be dreadful if the old regime were allowed to re-surface. In the "garden" of the prison building there are two memorials, on built down underground with access via a spiral walkway, along the walls of the walkway are etched the names of the hundreds of thousands who suffered imprisonment, deportation and execution. In another part of the garden is a group of figures representing those captured, a very moving scene, walking straight towards an impenetrable wall. The wall that ideology seeks to rebuild even now.
We came away profoundly moved by this museum, have bought a small translation if anyone would care to borrow it when we get home. We were going to go to another memorial site outside the town this evening, but thunder and lightning are with us again, so will do that tomorrow.
Tonight Bernie had a splendid dish of pork, coated in potato batter and pan fried, moist and good flavour. It was accompanied by sour cream with garlic and onion and a "small" salad. Small in these parts is generous. Mine was perch with grilled vegetables, also delicious. The puddings were totally calorie loaded. Chocolate teacup filled with cream and blackcurrants and a berry icecream on top of roasted banana topped with cream, both of us envisaged British portions, we still can't get used to thinking LARGE.
Today's visit was to the Happy Cemetery about 15km up the road. Hardly the thing you would think for a holiday excursion. It is quite an amazing sight, all the headstones are gaily painted wooden uprights with a dedication to the departed. The pictures on them show their favourite pastime, or job or passion. We couldn't find anyone to translate the inscriptions, but gather that they can be down right, blunt truth! Which is why it is called the Happy Cemetery. The pictures mostly depict either the female or male preoccupations, including cooking, spinning, car accidents, war and so on. The village was established in 1300's, but these headstones seem to date from the early 20th century, the pictorial inscriptions take away the pain of parting and keep memories of those who have passed away alive and kicking. It has certainly attracted the crowds and the church there is able to pay for major restoration project out of the fees at the cemetery gates.
We followed this up with a visit to a monastery just down the road. Usual story though, the distances on the signposts were anything but accurate. Have come to the conclusion that when the Romanians put up signposts the distances and the accuracy will depend on the numbers available to hand when doing the boards! This monastery is also having major facelift. The monastery was started in the medieval period, beautiful old timberwork, massive the beams and the staircase was solid oak cut out of ONE trunk! Inside the chapel the lovely domed ceilings and lots of icons on the walls. A nun was in charge, and as soon as you stepped out of the car, her voice was loud and clear, inviting you to step inside....
Once we had done the monastery justice we headed back to town. Feeling peckish we stopped by at a coffee shop near our lodgings and had coffee and cake. Though Bernie's pastries turned out to have salt cheese in the middle. Oh, and you couldn't buy just 1 you got them by weight! Need another walk now.
Sun is shining today and we hope to sit out for dinner tonight, then we will be on our way to Hungary in the morning.
Had a little snack in garden after a stroll around town, to work off the earlier excesses, so now wtucked into beautiful carpaccio and toasts with beer and wine, sunny afternoon and soft music; stupendous. Just needed a pool and some friends to join us? The hospitality here is sublime. Shall be sad to leave in the morning, though Hungary is great too.
Everywhere you go you see mountains of wood piled up outside people's houses and businesses. It is for the winter fires, at the Pensiune some poor chap has been trying to shift a mountain of it all day long. No wonder they are so slim and fit. We asked about the winter, like ours, the severity of cold can vary widely. Most winters the snow appears in December up on the hills, but the town stays pretty clear, and in the warm sunshine it can be nice. The rain recently, is not characteristic, same us ours!
Interestingly, Romanians are not too confident about joining the EU, their view is that prices of essentials are rising, but their wages are not. It is the politicians who are keener on the EU, they stand to gain much more! Haven't we heard that before? Remember when we joined, the purchase tax went up when it became VAT by about double? Since which, nothing ever went down, did it?

Posted by Combes Caper 12:44 Archived in Romania

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