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Transfagaras Pass from Cisnadaora to Corbii Mari Romania


sunny 23 °C
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1st July

Transfagaras Pass Road and down to Corbii Mari just above Bucharest.

The morning was fine in Cisnadoara when we set out, took a quick detour to photograph the poster for the "dressaj for dogs" outfit nearby, then 40 miles later we began the climb the mountain. Had driven first part but when we came to all the corkscrew bends, decided to let B take a turn. Up and up we went, first no views because of the tree cover, but eventually we reached the sparsely vegetated upper reaches. Here the views were spectacular, waterfalls, and landscape. Plus you could see all the way down the pass and who was coming uphill. B said the difference to his trip 3 years ago is amazing. The road had been improved, there were crash rails, so no need to feel toooo nervous. Coaches, motorbikes and motorhomes and a few cars. Certainly we didn't see another Brit car all the way up.

For once, and only once, have to say that Clarkson is right, this trip is certainly one you will never forget. Whether you are a driver or motor biker it offers a challenge through some fantastic scenery . However he must have had special concessions getting here, because the stop start motoring on the main routes drives me mad. You cannot drive smoothly, one minute it is 90km then you will get 2km down the road and it is 70km then few metres further 50km and then on down to 30km through a village. This exercise repeats itself ad infinitum. Having had a speeding ticket already, you just don't want to get another. Find it very very frustrating. Would be better if it was 70km and then down to 30km rather than the sequence which prevails today. The Romanian drivers play suicide runs to get past you, presumably gambling that the Police are not around, they must have been watching Jeremy!, this makes it even more nerve wracking.

Nowadays up the Transfagaran Pass there is a cable car, but it wasn't running at the time we got to the starting point, as the cloud was low, giving misty conditions down the mountainside. We stopped off at Lac Balea, and took some shots of the waterfalls. B said that the number of hotels, lodges and so on along the route were new since his previous trip when they went on the charity run to Syria.

Having reached the top, which took a good 40 minutes, the mist lifted a lot and the cable car began running but we pressed on to go down the other side. It seemed to me that it was a much longer route downhill than up, but still as serpentine. I managed to do quite a bit of that route, lots of gear changes round the hairpins and mostly enjoyable as not much coming up towards us. We found the same hotel that the men stopped at to have a break on their trip. It is in a gorgeous spot on the lower lake, very well equipped, but hardly a soul about. We had a coffee and a breather there and then set off for Corbii Mari. The lake feeds a large hydroelectricity plant and the road goes over the barrage where there is a very good vantage point.
We then set out to find our way onto the motorway at Pitiesti and whizzed down. Overshot where we should have turned off! That caused today's wild goose chase. Finally, in a little roadside shop where we asked the way, the owner dispatched his son to escort us onto the right track!

The Hotel Popasul was built before the motorway it now clings to, it must have been idyllic in the past, but the lines are really blurred now, lorries zooming past, liaisons in the car park, and travellers coming and going. The building is spotless and the rooms very well equipped, but it has that air of being out of place........ 3 gins later, so am I, never mind it is only for one night and then we are off to Veliko Tarnovo. Must say the food we had was tasty and again a bargain.

Today found storks nesting by the road and took a snap, also got good shot of the old fashioned stooks of hay today. On Transfagaran we even saw the last remnants of the winter packed ice. All in all it has been another very entertaining day.

Next morning - am afraid the one downside to this hotel, apart from being difficult of finding it, is that you either need to like the sound of lorries thundering past throughout the night, be deaf, or an insomniac who would enjoy a change from counting sheep. The lorries went past at the rate of one every 2 seconds, yes 2! This means that over 24 hours there are somewhere in the region of THIRTY FIVE TO FORTY THOUSAND LORRIES A DAY going through on their way into Europe. Presumably there is the same amount on the downward trek. No wonder the motorways are clogged throughout the continent? HS2 ? Bring it on, it would not make anywhere near as much racket. But sadly HMG doesn't seem to have freight in mind.

Breakfast was a lorry driver's dream, omelet accompanied by tomato, cheese chunks, olives, salami cucumber and rolls. I asked for jam and butter with my roll, but lost in translation, the dear girl came back with 2 rolls in a bag to take with us. Which pleased Bernie no end! Mind you, that saved a few ounces.....

Posted by Combes Caper 07:34 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

Sigishoara and Biertan Romania


sunny 26 °C
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We decided to go and visit one of the key Transylvania towns today. A distance of about 55 miles and it took around 90 minutes, despite a good bit of dual carriageway. It was lovely weather and when we arrived we were able to park in the street just below the old city. The most friendly traffic warden came up, sold us a parking ticket for 5 lei (95p approx) and that was us for hours. What a great impression for the tourist!

We explored the lanes and nooks and crannies and then headed to the Gasthouse Alte for a coffee, which was so nice Bernie had two and I had a superb fresh orange juice. After that we went to explore the old citadel. It was abuzz with tourists and there were folk dressed in Medieval garb to add to the flavour. We watch a practice joust on foot and then some axe throwing. Visited an art exhibition, mainly of ballet and ballerinas, but some landscape and abstract too.

Walking around the church we saw some really old rugs, mostly from the 17th Century, unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos, and as there was a guide in the chancel we couldn't sneak a couple of shots. Perhaps they are online. Then we climbed the clock tower, a good old stone staircase as well as wooden. The floors creaked alarmingly when we stepped into the rooms leading off, where there pieces of rug on the floor you wondered what was being covered up and whether you might disappear through a hole! The rooms held old Romanian chests, tables writing desks, pottery and other artefacts. From the top there were great views out over the town and the street scene below. We had hoped to the catch the clock doing its display, but it wasn't having any of it today.

After that we wandered back down the hill and went back to the Gasthouse for lunch. Bernie said his chicken noodle soup was the best he has had since we were in Germany in 1960's! My chicken and mushroom dish was delicious, the chicken was moist and the tatties tasted good too. Followed by apple strudle and a "noodle" cake with rum and raisins, sounds strange but it was very good to eat. Though not for the waistline.

After we left Sigishoara we went to visit Danes equestrian centre, which turned out to be an hotel with hacking out! It was packed, so we beat it. Next stop were the old fortress churches on the road to Biertran. The first one we came across was locked up. We had got back in the car and were about to leave when a Romanian car pulled up. They came over to talk and it turned out they were exploring the churches on behalf of their travel business in Bucharest. They went and found the custodian of the keys to the church and so we went in for a tour. The church originated from 1283, but over the century had been razed to the ground, rebuilt, extended, neglected and then renovated in 1991 and is now pretty neglected internally, though the exterior was ok, but the land needed trimming. There was an 18th century altar piece and a 19th century organ (which still worked), full set of pews, not terribly old, but overall an air of needing attention. Apparently there are somewhere in the region of 200 of these fortress churches in Romania and it is hard work to get the funds and enthusiasm to keep them ticking over. yet there are historical gems with each one and it would be a shame if future generations did not have the benefit of them.

There is a town on the way to Sigishoara called Copsa Mica, which used to produce lead. At the time of Ceaucescu's fall it was so contaminated that the houses were black! The population had lead poisoning and the whole place was closed down. It apparently has been removed from maps! Today, the buildings have been painted brightly and you would not know from looking what the history was. Standing tall in the valley though, is a huge chimney, which presumably used to spew out poison from its funnel.

Another thing we have learned from Romanians themselves this week, is that they have no more sympathy with Roma than we do. They say "the Roma have no idea how to work" they only beg. They are everywhere, and we have noticed that it is very rare that anyone gives them anything. Most people are quite brusque with them. Apparently in some villages which suffered population collapse during the upheavals of recent times, are now finding that Roma have taken over empty houses. House which were empty because the real owners "disappeared" or were killed.

This couple then insisted we go on to the next fortress church at Bietran. However, when we got there the opening hours had finished as it is earlier than usual on Saturday. We could have stayed for a concert and then looked around but it would have delayed us a lot. HAD we done that, as it turned out, it might have saved us from a speeding ticket. We have been careful to follow the lead of the locals vis a vis speed limits, and there had been lots of flashing headlights and we came across two sets of speed cops, so the third set took everyone by surprise. We were hauled in with about 7 others, shortly after the police erected a barrier whilst we and the others were processed so others could not slip through the net! End result was £30 fine, bum! Now, the prospect of having to stick religiously to the limits is daunting, progress is slow enough as it is, but that will make journey times even longer. Think that won't help the tourist trade one iota, given that distances are so huge. Anyway, back to base now and drowning sorrows with a nice glass of wine.

This morning 29th our lady found us a local who has a policeman friend, he is going to take Bernie to the right places tomorrow to get the fine paid. That is good news as we thought we might be spending another day chasing our tails in and out of government offices and police stations.
Heat is building now, well over 30 at the moment. Must go for a swim, not sure we will make it up the local fortress church......

Posted by Combes Caper 01:17 Archived in Romania Comments (0)



sunny 23 °C
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27th June
Having failed to negotiate our way into the centre, not once but several times due to the habit of the highways being changed, made one way, incorrect signage and so on, apparently even our hostess, after a short trip to England got lost as they had juggled the routes in that short time! So she very kindly drove us in there this morning and made arrangements to collect us this afternoon. Such a lovely gesture and it meant no hassles with driving in or finding parking, which was just as well as the place was packed and the car park area just a postage stamp size! As it was overcast we took jackets with us, wrong move as it is a great day! Huge pedestrianised central roads and squares to wander at will. Millions of coffee shops, cake shops, ice cream vendors, bars, restaurants to take your pick from. Souvenir shops same as anywhere, so hard to find just the right thing that is not too kitsch. However the multiplicity of umbrellas and tables outside the lovely buildings means that you can scarcely get a good photo of them!
There is a film festival week running at the moment and the Mare Square was furnished with about 500 seats and there was also a stage being erected. Plus there are other venues showing films in buildings around the square.
After a couple of hours strolling the streets we settled down at the Albis for lunch, huge bowls of salad, lovely focaccia bread, a beer and some wine followed by excellent coffee, all for £15.30. No incentive for self-catering there?
We got back by 3.15 and now going to a drinks party this evening where another Brit has a guest house.

Lesley, yesterday at Carrefour, I nearly had a repeat of my charades attempt in France back in '83 when we all wanted frogs legs, wanted half a kilo of prawns and the assistant had no English, I tried German, French and Dutch to no avail, so had to resort to miming!
Never had the talent and still don't, chopped my finger in two, sliced imaginary apple in half, drew line down centre of Bernie, all to no avail. In the end he resorted to getting a bag and putting prawns in until we reached the magic 500g, job done!

This evening we walked with our hostess up to the Pensione for the evening get together. That B&B can sleep up to 15 and there is a good pool and meals available if ordered. There were other guests there, some of whom opted to go to a silent film up in the woods, but as we had been out we decided to stay put with the owners. From the street there came a great deal of singing, shouting and laughing. It was a wedding processing in the village and we heard them go down the road. Apparently the custom is for the male members of families to go on a horse and cart up to the woods to get white birch branches. Armed with axes and cans of beer! When they return they erect the branches in front of the bride's house, and then the official wedding ceremony takes place with everyone following the couple to the church. Romania is a strongly Orthodox Christian and Catholic country, but I wonder if the white birch branches are from a pre-Christian pagan ceremony?

We stayed chatting and swapping notes on Romania until about 10. It seems that a lot of Brits are coming out, as well as Dutch and Germans, but if they all set up as holiday lets or B&B it will be the same as France in a few years' time and there will be an oversupply of accommodation. We also learned that bears and wolves come down to the houses in the village in the winter. The locals light fires at the back of their properties to burn overnight to scare off the wolves. They keep dogs to chase away the wild boar which also break into gardens and to endless damage. The trouble with the dogs is that there are so many roaming the streets as well as house dogs, so the village has a cacophony of barking rippling up and down the streets at every movement!

Posted by Combes Caper 01:09 Archived in Romania Comments (0)


Arad to Sibiu

sunny 21 °C
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24th June Arad to Sibiu
Our stay in Arad was brief, the long drive from Pecs deterred us from exploring the town, which is quite large. There were some attractive buildings in the old centre but our hotel was on the river away from centre. So we just stayed put and enjoyed a good meal. Our room was upgraded to one overlooking river and bridge. The trams went over bridge as well as the odd horse and cart so we had a good view of all the comings and goings.

What a trip once more on lorry logged roads, although road surface better than expected, it was once again totally inadequate for the traffic flow. Truckers heading in both directions meant you could rarely overtake and with the distances involved between centres in these Balkan countries the roads are under engineered. Even the A35 seems good by comparison, not something would ever have said before now!!! The drivers for the most part were better than we had heard, mind you there were one or two hairy moments when, on short stretches a 40 tonner would try and overtake the one in front of it!!! The other dangers on four wheels were audi and mercedes drivers, they seemed to think they literally had their wings already and were obviously keen to repeat the exercise!! Thankfully all got through ok. Hold-ups, when you come to roadworks, are a marathon delay, time to paint your nails and take some pictures, if there was something to take.

The transition from Hungary is most notable in the poverty of housing and the road system in Romania. Once off the highway, you are on unmade roads, one wonders how folk manage in the winter, let alone in wet spells, as we have seen today where surface water on the Tarmac roads was a problem.

We found our house for the week, English family have renovated it beautifully. It is down an unmade side "road' in Cisnadoara, just along the road from Cisnadie, outside Sibiu. All mod cons, and very helpful owner to direct you to things to explore.

We were saying that Romania is about where rural France was in the 60's, it has great appeal, especially to riders, the unmade roads are a gift, though not to farriers!! What is daunting is accessibility. Getting from A to B needs planning, add an hour or two onto calculations... The roads are so congested that you can't enjoy the scenery, or get onto back roads as the going there is less than 10mph. We went to Alba Iulia, started in 1009 with a beautifully reconstructed old quarter where we spent the afternoon wandering around. Grand buildings, gardens and avenues from the battle scarred past. The ramparts were enormous. We took a walk around the perimeter, a stiff wind got up and nearly lost my precious sun hat several times, at one point I began to wonder if we would be walking forever as there did not appear to be a way out, and when the wind wasn't blowing it got pretty hot! There was a music festival within the quarter last weekend, and underneath one of the outer walls there were still some musicians playing away. In another cellar, a bar and in another a shop. Parking spaces were plentiful, though there were not really many people enjoying the sights. In the town centre, just as in all the Romanian towns, the parking areas are hard to find and are mainly for locals. A neat idea is a token for locals so that they don't pay as much as visitors, though we haven't come across that system here, just parking for locals only.
Newquay is not alone in being awash with supermarkets, here in Sibiu, there is Auchan, Carrefour, Spar, Penny Market and other local brands, plus Lidl but no sign of Hofer (Aldi), so far.

Life in Romania seems much the same France or Spain, the owners needed to go and re-register the electricity account, they had to go to the main town, take deeds, tax records, birth certificates, passports, details of parents (now long gone) and bank statements. We are getting to be as bad all thanks to EU bureaucracy.

Learned that the temperature here in winter gets to -27c in winter, last winter was warm -17c. Now the temperature is forecast to reach 40c next month! No wonder the log piles are so high!

Our mission now is to find a way to explore the villages to see if we can find the old painted houses of Transylvania. Hopefully we will find our way back!

First night here we found a bistro just up the road, apart from the name on the outside it was difficult to tell that it was actually selling food and drink! Upstairs was a large tiled room with pine tables and that painted pine furniture decorated with flowers. There were quite a few people eating, some just drinking, a mix of locals and visitors. The food was classic, soups, salads and stews. Pretty good and plenty of it. Wine to boot. All for less than £20 the two of us!

Posted by Combes Caper 00:34 Archived in Romania Comments (0)


Pecs to Arad

semi-overcast 23 °C
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24th June
Well, we awoke to thunder and lightning, pouring rain and grey skies. Wondered what the trip would be like. As it turned out there was hardly any rain en route. We made pretty good time along normal roads, the quality of which surprised us as usually when you head out of the country there seems to be no need to keep the surface maintained.
The countryside we drove through in Hungary was mostly arable farmland, the views were like those in East Anglia, massive fields of wheat, maize and other crops. Most of the towns and villages we saw were ribbon development along the road, very rarely an actual village centre unless the town was much bigger. Then it had the usual commercial centres on the outskirts with a small shop centre, supermarket and church.
For our lunch break we stopped at Szegedz , in a shower of rain. Managed to make the main square and sat outside a great coffee and cake shop for a quick snack. Pity about the rain as the town looked very interesting and we would have explored more, but the parking was difficult so we could not take chances. Tried phoning the number on the parking bay to get an electronic ticket, but my Hungarian is not up to scratch!! Collected another couple of statues for the record. Bernie managed to find the kiosk to get a parking ticket, so we managed to spend an hour in the rain!

The border between Hungary and Romania we had to get a vignette, Bernie was given short shrift by the woman at the kiosk, but it only cost us 9 euros for a week's permit. My wad of paperwork gets ever larger, will need its own suitcase soon. Once into Romania we were taken aback at the quality of the road surface. When Bernie and Patrick did their charity run to Syria nearly 4 years ago, they said that Romania was so very poor and shabby and the roads potholed and crowded. Well crowded they still are, especially with trucks coming and going up to the border. For the first 4 MILES into Romania, on a single carriageway road, there was a queue of trucks waiting to get into Hungary en route to the rest of Europe. This meant that cars and vans leaving Romania had to travel down the centre of the road, squeezing in between the oncoming traffic and the queue of trucks. At least no one could go very much over 25 mph! Now wondering which crossing to choose to go back into western Europe in a couple of weeks' time.
The weather has cleared nicely this evening and we sat by the river in Arad at the Coandi Hotel, watching the world go by. Arad has trams and horses and carts mixed in with the cars and lorries - they seem to miss each other! Most of this town looks busy and the buildings are pretty much well maintained. There are quite a few large blocks of flats on the run into the town and there are two distinct centres of commerce, one fairly new and one much older with much nicer buildings. Wide boulevards with plenty of trees to shade you and the tramlines running down the centre. Cafes abound and it has the air of a Mediterranean country.

Posted by Combes Caper 00:30 Archived in Romania Comments (0)

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