20 June – Not too far to go today – destination Sibiu. We managed to go on the motorway for a short distance, but then it ran out and we were stuck with the heavy traffic that leaves you no option but to trail along in a queue as passing opportunities are few and far between, mainly because there is no break in the oncoming traffic. Can’t believe how many trucks there are on the roads. I have to take back my initial observation that Romania was a poor relation to Hungary – in fact it seems much more prosperous – the houses and surrounding properties are of a much higher standard and apart from Arad the cities are also bustling and much more westernised. There is still very much a mix of the old and the new, with the rural areas still coming into the modern age of mechanisation. On the whole the driving is quite good, but there is the odd crazy overtaking on blind bends which makes you heart miss a beat or two. Found our accommodation very easily, and with parking in the garage underneath the building it was a good base.
21 June – Way too hot to venture into a city for walking around so opted to visit the open air historical museum which was a good choice. Set in 93 acres in the Dumbrava forest just a few kms out of the city, it had houses which had been bought in from all over the country from all different walks of life – potters, millers, wheelwright, peasant farmers etc. and laid out in separate areas.
Several exhibitions along the way including a good array of fruit presses and another of local types of carts. In the middle of the complex was a traditional restaurant so we had a good feed there before finishing off our wander past the windmills and little farming areas.
22 June – Left our DaVinci residence after two very comfortable nights. The main roads (equivalent to our State Highways) are well-engineered but as Romania is slowly getting its infrastructure into place, if there isn’t a motorway you are subjected to end to end trucks and this was the case as we had to head off towards Bucharest. Fortunately it was only a short stretch this time, then we were on to a country road to take across to Curtea de Arges. Slow going, in that the road surface was not so good and a lot of villages but a very pretty drive. We were into a much more rural area, still a lot of horses pulling carts and manual work being done in the fields. There are tractors doing some of the hay cutting, but it seems that the hay is still picked up by hand and first dried in little conical stacks before being transported to the farmers hay barns.
OSH would have a field day in this country – people riding atop the piles of loose hay as it is taken back to the farms (with one very incongruous sight – a women sitting up there chatting away on her cellphone). Made it to our next lovely accommodation where we have finally got the views from our rooms as promised. Very nice setup with a bar downstairs and rooms on the next two levels,super clean and good wifi.
Walked down into the town and ventured into the Monastery gardens which were a real surprise. The main church was built in the 1500’s and what a work of art inside. Lavishly painted on the walls, ceilings and right in the top of the domes. The last King and Queen of Romania were buried in the church – the Queen being Marie, Princess of Scotland – Queen Victoria’s granddaughter. Nice gardens surrounded the entire monastery which is still in use today.
23 June – A full day of motoring today on Ceaușescu’s Folly a road renown as one of Europe’s most exciting roads. From Curtea de Arges we first had 70kms of slow winding road as we followed the contours of a large hydro lake before we finally got into the road itself. What a magnificent piece of engineering climbing up to just over 2,000m with continuous steep hairpins and long s-bends winding up the side of the mountain and down the other side.
Built mainly by military forces, the road had a high financial and human cost. Work was carried out in an alpine climate, at an elevation of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), using roughly six million kilograms (5,900 long tons; 6,600 short tons) of dynamite, and employing junior military personnel who were untrained in blasting techniques. Many workers died; official records state that only 40 soldiers lost their lives, but unofficial estimates by workers put the number in the hundreds.
The road itself was easy to drive, no long drop offs as you went from bend to bend, plenty wide enough but you could only average about 40kph – which was fine as it gave you plenty of time to admire the views.
It is on the list of bikies must do’s and we saw bikes from many nations tackling the curves, including three very serous looking trike conglomerations from Hungary.
The interesting bit of the road was about 40km long, crossing over the Carpathian mountains. The road had only opened four days ago for the summer and just the day before there had been a serious rockfall just before the tunnel at the top. It is a bit hairy going through the areas of potential rockfalls as some of the rock faces do look incredibly precarious and about to let go at any moment. Having both had a drive on this masterpiece we stopped off for a picnic lunch on the way down – it looked a good spot, signposted as a picnic area but as soon as we stopped we realised it was a private area with four grotty caravans parked and some little tables. Immediately the little man came up to tell us we would have to pay (depending on how long we were stopping) and would we like to stay the night in one of the caravans. He turned out to be quite knowledgeable and a we did have a good conversation with him. When it came time to go he wanted 100lei (which is more than we pay for a room for the night) so all he got from us was 10 lei and that was really more than enough.
After leaving home at 10am we got back to base just after 4pm – in time for a nice cold beer and a light snack of cheese, biscuits and cherries for our dinner.
24 June – Only a relatively short distance (on the map) of 135km to go but the going was very slow. We first headed out for about 50km on a secondary road which was full of pot holes and patched road (I hate to think what the suspension will be like when we finish our trip) through a fairly flat valley and then we joined up with the main road hoping for an improvement. It was slightly better and was through some of the prettiest scenery we have had yet – up and down through mountain valleys with little villages dotted along the way. The alpine meadows very lush and saw our first herd of cows (about 40) all with bells on and managed by a single cowherd who was happily chatting away on his cellphone. All along the way there were little shacks with local produce for sale – lower down fruit and veges, as we climbed further up it was honey, cheeses and dried meats. You could even buy mountain dog puppies from guys sitting on the road. Plenty of manual labour was being employed in the fields in this area – scything the hay by hand, tilling the land etc.
The style of building has changed – houses have little turrets on their roofs and instead of the brick and plaster have seen some wooden clad houses as well. We had only one visit planned on the route which was Bran Castle (more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle). Not quite the fairly tale looking castle but impressively built on a pice of rock. We are now coming into tourist season and boy was it busy, we just had to follow along in a queue for the entire walk around inside.
The castle had been gifted to the Romanian Royal Family in the 20’s to use as one of their many residences. It would have been a nightmare to live in with loads of narrow staircases to get from area to area, the rooms were all fairly compact but comfortable. Had enough of the crowds so settled for an ice-cream in the local park before heading to Brasov. Quite stop start trip along the flat valley as road works were in progress – the enterprising locals were out in force at each traffic stop trying to sell strawberries or raspberries. Brasov itself was another pleasant surprise – it is a lovely city, by far the best we have seen yet. Our hotel was about 10 mins walk from the centre with a lovely open square surrounded by interesting buildings and quaint streets plus of course the obligatory church or four. A little classic car show was happening in the square which was creating quite a bit of interest.
Travelling through the countryside is like going through Americas bible belt with at least one massive church in every town. We again managed to be provided with “views” from our little balcony – overlooking a smaller square and out to the hills beyond. Found a delectable coffee and pastry shop for a brief interlude before heading back for another nail-biting Americas Cup session.
25 June – Sunday today and a lot cooler, so it was join the locals and just promenade around the city. We took the recommended route around the city walls, first along the base of the Tampa mountain then down into the town and around the other side. With that done, it was into the nice old town centre with its pedestrian streets and the main square. The main street was lined with tables, chairs and umbrellas in the middle so that you could partake of the local cafe/restaurant culture – we were forced to sit down and have crepes and a drink while we watched the world go by.
The Romanians are a real mixed bunch – from the very swarthy to the very light-skinned. Have only seen one Roma (gypsy) so far – a woman begging with her children but we have figured they must have a very good welfare system here as there are no street bums and at most we have seen about three old women begging all outside of churches. The Roma only make up 1% of the population – they must have all moved to bordering countries where they are much more obvious. Romania feels very safe, no threatening looking people lurking in their cities and just ordinary people going about their daily lives everywhere. No real language problems as English is widely spoken and if not the language has latin roots so many words are distinguishable. Dined in a small Italian restaurant before heading back for the obligatory AC session.
26 June – Heading towards the coast today but first it was up through a couple of mountain villages which were very much holiday destinations judging by all the little touro stalls on the side of the road. Quite impressive views of some very dominating rocky mountains as we wound through the valley and then it was out onto the plains again. 200kms of very flat agricultural plains – more commercialised with much larger paddocks and more mechanised but there were still the odd horse nd cart trying to compete on the busy road with big trucks whizzing by. The style of housing has changed markedly – mainly single story homes with tin roofs as opposed to tiles, the towns were not very inspiring and I did wonder what our next stop was going to produce but it turns out that Amara is a little lakeside tourist resort (and if you rely on google translate for info – then it is famed for its sludge!). Our hotel had been built with funding from the EU and local govt. in a bid to promote tourism in the region.
Nice and clean and half the price of Brasov without dropping too much in comfort. The heat wave is continuing to follow us around with temps heading up in the mid 30’s plus humidity so not conducive to a lot of walking around. They had a restaurant on site serving “International” cuisine – I chose Shanghai chicken – not sure which part of the chicken was from Shanghai but it was about 10 little tenderloins deep fried (no sauces, no rice) and if it wasn’t for the salad ordered as an extra it would have been a very dry argument. Bob had grilled trout which was probably the better bet. Finished our meal just on time to hear the final AC race and poor Jimmy Spithill’s defeat. What a great effort by our guys and really nice to be able to stick it Oracle.
27 June – Mostly agricultural scenery today with one little bit of forest for a change. In that forest there happened to be loads of beehives – but more interesting were the mobile hives in trucks. They obviously just move around to follow the flowers as they come into bloom and probably don’t have to pay for the privilege as they just park up in public parking spots. Crossed over the Danube via a toll bridge and then it was into the huge expanse of the Danube Delta and a little village at the end of the road to stay at a nice Pensiune. In this area we have noticed many storks nests atop power poles still with chick/s and their parents. Many of the houses now are sporting thatched roofs – with reeds readily available from the delta this makes a sensible altenative to steel and tiles.
28 June – Today’s treat was a boat trip out on the Danube Delta. We had chanced upon a local guide who offered a reasonable deal so agreed on a duration and were duly picked late afternoon to embark on our exploration. Five minutes into the trip a huge thunderstorm was bearing down on us, so it was quickly out at the first available stop and into a bar to shelter for nearly an hour until the rain passed. With the storm out of the way we then proceeded – first crossed over the Danube river and into one of the arms before hitting a series of little canals and trails through the delta.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and a great spotter of the wildlife as he motored us about in his small outboard driven boat. The bird life was quite varied with egrets, storks, cormorants, ibis, heron and even pelicans. We ventured into a couple of lakes the first lined with water lilies around its edges and then through a very narrow passage out into a larger lake, this one covered quite comprehensively in a float planting – bit like a the leaves of a pineapple plant. Both of the lakes very quite shallow and had extremely weedy bottoms which was creating a bit of a problem for his outboard – at one stage I had visions of us stuck out in the middle of nowhere as it did seem to stutter for while until he finally managed to clear the prop.
There are villages in the delta area which can only be reached by boat – they one we passed used to be a fishing village but had been turned into a little tourist area but didn’t look very appealing. We also passed by one of Ceaușescu hunting lodges – it turns out that he decided one day that he wanted to have this lodge for himself and in the middle of the night turfed out all of the tourists who were staying there. Our guide’s mother had to go in the next day to clean up and she told him that the people had had to leave so quickly that most of their possessions were left behind. The overriding feeling as you motor around is one of decay – both from the smell of the very dank water that pervades the whole of the delta and the abandoned buildings and projects. During Ceaușescu’s reign he had a lot of the delta drained to make more farming land and that changed the landscape dramatically. Also hard to imagine as we puttered around in hot humid temps that most of the waterways freeze over in the winter including the lakes and the Danube itself.
29 June – Stinking hot day again with a drive over very hot plains to boot so it was nice to arrive at our destination of Focsani and break the monotony. Not much to see along the way except cornfields, sunflowers and wheat with the odd little rural town thrown in. The last town we came through had a series of little tables outside of the houses with plastic bottles filled with homemade wine for sale – needless to say we passed on buying them.