Onwards along mainly bumpy, dusty and often holy roads. As I often do I go too far and have to come back on a big road with lots of fast traffic. Back in Cluj I stop at the first roundabout for internet access and I'm in luck. I've never had so many possible connection points in one place. I have a rapid exchange of emails with Mesut in Alanya, who has kindly ordered some parts for me and is checking out availability of a tyre. I sit on my bike on the footpath for about 2 h and update two trip reports until my bike battery goes flat, making the power supply go wobbly which in turn causes Windows to crash. Amazing, this internet. Even more amazing the kindness of people who don't even know me.
2/10 I have slept badly that night. Not only do the neighbourhood dogs all start barking at the slightest sound I make, but one neighbour across the road has the music going full noise until the wee small hours. There is life under my tent: the moles are pushing up their hills right under me and beside me. Then there are rustling noises and movements under the floor, I guess mice. In the morning a German couple in a Landcruiser camper come over and report that it has rained heavily further South, past Sibiu. I hadn't noticed... The area there should be really interesting, totally backward. I pack up and trundle South along back roads. No food or accommodation for miles, until I pass Rimetea Monastery (completely rebuilt, everything brand spanking new).
For the rest of the afternoon I think I try out the mountainbike route on the map to a nearby monastery. I turn off the main road where another village is signposted, traverse it and at the other side ask an old farmer, who confirms that this is the right way. Wrong. For the second creek crossing I have to rearrange the stones, drop the bike twice and finally, after less that two km I get stuck in a steep muddy and stony section. Very slowly I have to reverse manhandle the bike down the rut, before I can drag it around. I am sweating from exertion. The bike is too heavy for this unfit man. When I stop in another village later on to cool off and have a drink the owner of the farm in front of which I have stopped chances out and starts talking in French with me. He introduces himself as Jean and fills my tankbag with apples and pears, then his son Katilin joins us, an engineering student speaking good English. More talking, he gives me a topographical map of the area and points out that I wasn't on the right track to the monastery.
3/10 I call Alex and again he wants me to stay with him in Cluj, but I know he's far too busy. It seems he can't even find the time to go for a ride, so I think I'm making the right decision to stay here. Must not abuse people's hospitality. In any case, the pension is wonderful. Only problem is, there is nowhere to eat around here. I climb the mountain range opposite and find it very clearly marked, but extremely steep. Well worth it for the views, though, despite the haze. I'm afraid, the pics are again no good. I was planning to go for a ride to the valley of the monasteries (the road I didn't find yesterday), but a migraine takes up the rest of the day.
4/10 The morning is strangely warm and clear, with some wind. I wonder whether this is Foehn. I find the road to Ramet without problems, it's even signposted. Strange, as I ride down into the valley towards the turn-off it gets colder and I end up in fog. It soon clears and gives way to a warm clear day as the road winds its way up into the mountains.
Funny how I get alternating warm and cool air currents. On the way out I can't find any of the places the guide mentioned where one can supposedly eat, except for the Cabana, but the lady there just shakes her head. I get all the way back into the town of Turus. After a good meal I think the lady is trying to rip me off big time. I don't get a docket and I pay 161 Lei, which she generously rounds up to 170. Now, 1 Euro is about 3.5 New Lei, equal to 35000 Old Lei. So, am I paying 45 EUR for this at a roadside restaurant? Things are further complicated by the fact that old and new Lei are in simultaneous circulation. I hand over a 1 Million note and get 830 change. Confused? I was... I tried to get her to explain, but she just kept showing me on her calculator that 1 Million has 6 zeros (I couldn't possibly know that now, could I?) and then she substracts 170 and gets 999830. Oh well, that doesn't make sense, so she just clears it again and punches in more numbers until she gets 830, which is what I got in change, or so she says. I can make it 83... Still confused, I thank her and wander into the bank next door to check the exchange rate, just to make sure I didn't get diddled when I changed the money at the border and that life here wasn't horribly more expensive than I thought. The nice lady in the bank offered to go upstairs to clear it up, but when I told her what I paid and what I got back she could explain it all: the restaurant lady had quoted the price in old Lei, but in thousands, which is what people apparently do for convenience sake. So, we now have THREE concurrent currencies in Romania: New Lei, Old Lei and "Virtual" Old lei, which is a thousand old Lei. Ouf!
Next stop Internet and I learn to my horror that Linda on arrival in Indonesia had her bike impounded by police. She's not the first one. It seems that Indonesian police think that if locals aren't allowed big bikes than foreigner shouldn't be, either. Looks like I'm going to have to scratch that one off my itinerary. Check out Linda's trip on the link above. On the way back to the pension I stop off at Jean's chicken yard to return the map that I don't need any more. Just before my village I pass a wooden tailgate lying on the road, then a rusty shovel. I stop to remove it from the road lest it gets flattened and plant it visibly on the side. A few hundred m down the road a tractor driver coming the other way tries to flag me down. Not speaking the lingo I decline. He will recover his belongings anyway. Then I pass the lone wooden trailer - minus tailgate. Later Alex phones to say goodbye. I sit down in the garden to eat my dinner and one could enjoy the mild evening in this quiet village, with the moon rising over the mountain range and a few thin clouds passing in front of it, if - it wasn't for the annoying habit of Romanians to keep dogs in their yards, lots of them. All day and night there is an almost continuous cacophony of dogs barking and yapping away and the people couldn't care less. Like they don't care about their environment. There is rubbish everywhere, not so much in the villages themselves, but along roads and trails and particularly in waterways and where people spend time, like picnic spots and nature reserves. Images of India keep passing through my mind.
5/10 It rains a little before I get up, but breakfast is in the garden again. It sure is cloudy, though. As the clapped-out old bus chugs and rumbles past in a cloud of dust a thought crosses my mind again: there are children on the road and animals. The poor road condition forces drivers to go slow. So, progress is that we build nice, smooth wide roads through towns and villages so people can drive fast in comfort. We then have to put in speed bumps, traffic lights, radar traps and traffic cops to slow the traffic down again. But once every family has a car there is no more room for children and animals and other slow moving items on the road. Are we crazy, or what?
Highway 7c, and it hasn't even rained yet.
Eventually I get to yet another half-empty hydro lake and strike it lucky: there is a road house, the young manager speaks good English and yes, I can eat here. Two Austrian BMW bikes pull up and we have the usual conversations that bikers in strange places have. They tell me that apparently there are no pensions in or near Sibiu that they could find and they had to spend 70 EUR for a hotel room. Bummer, this is my next destination. After they leave I have a long conversation with the manager, mainly about politics and economics. The more often I have these sorts of conversations the more I realise that, rightly or wrongly, most of today's global problems get squarely blamed on the US. I battle further along the road, which turns to hardish mud in places. Then I hit another good highwayand turn East over a pass. In the next valley one pension after another. Bummer, it's too early to stop and too far from Sibiu. I know I'm going to regret this and I do: I end up in an expensive motel by a busy main highway. Still, it's a lot less expensive at 15 EUR than what the Austrians paid.
6/10 After a bad nights' sleep I wake to rain, the first in over a month. I ride to Hermannstadt (Sibiu) and walk around the town for half an hour in the rain in all my bike gear. That way I stay almost dry, except for my bum and feet, where the water had already gotten in. There are lots of old buildings in various stages of (dis)repair and some of the back streets are still nice with the round stone paving, but the town is a big construction site with many buildings being restored and the streets get "proper" paving. I'm sure it's welcome by the locals, but it's loosing its charme, plus the tourist shops are making the usual appearance. Oh well, that's progress. I'm glad I came to Romania now and didn't wait for a few more years. I move on further North to Mediasch. When I stop after a turn to check the map a car with München number plates stops and I meet Kurt, who takes me to his bike business. It's amazing what he has built in a few years from nothing. He claims to run the first and the biggest bike import in the country. He normally lives in München and does most of his deals over the net, buying used bikes all over Germany and shipping them home by the truck load. He also has a workshop and says he can help any biker broken down. (Update 2011: his web site has disappeared. Archive is here.)
7/10 Some blue sky in the morning and apart from some cloud later it becomes fine again. Mahdokht and Sylvain have a disagreement with the lady who runs the place over the price. They were quoted 24 EUR per night, but the lady uses a poor conversion rate for Lei and they end up paying in Euro. I'm in the same boat now, but at least now I know what I have to pay. At breakfast time a German guy from Saarlouis joins us and tells that he's just starting a firewood business here, exporting the wood to Germany. He brought a whole truckload of machinery with him, but has only been here 4 weeks. Good luck to him. Quick look around the fortified church. It looks more impressive from a distance. Close up you can see that it's crumbling in places. Inside there is a strange musty smell. The inscriptions are all in German or Latin. With the bike unloaded I ride mainly reasonable backroads to Schäßburg (Sighişoara). On the way I get flagged down on a dirt road intersection and give a man a lift. Strangely, after two km he wants to stop and wants me to write down my address. Then he starts asking for money! He wasn't hitchhiking at all, he was begging and not interested in going to the next village. Weird, in a place like that where there is almost no traffic.
In the evening I wander around the village a bit and talk to a couple of the locals.
8/10 Another foggy day and I ride South to the famous and often recommended Transfăgărăşan road. I take it that this is Romania's only alpine pass and I have been told that it was one of Ceaucescu's megalomaniac projects, the road being quite unnecessary, as only a few dozen km to the West a river passes through (or around, don't know) the Făgăraş Mountains and naturally, a road follows it. Alex said that I probably wouldn't want to cross the pass, the Northern side being the interesting one, but when I get there the Northern side is completely in fog and cloud and I don't see a thing, except for a few minutes near the top, where the clouds clear. At the top is a pay car park and it being Sunday they are doing good business, despite there being nothing to see but cloud. People and souvenir stands everywhere, then through the tunnel and on the other side - great views (but overcast and still bloody cold). Once I get down into the valley the road surface deteriorates back to RO standard, i.e. poor, and I quickly start to understand what Alex meant: there is a large hydro lake and the road twists and turns along the shore and I take ages to reach the next town, Campolung, where I want to turn off to Kronstadt (Braşov). Turning off, however, turns out to be not so easy, as there are no signs in the direction I travel. "Lung" probably means long in Romanian; I ask directions near the end of the town and get sent back 6 km. This is still in the same small town! From there the road is good fun, initially good and twisting and turning, up and down, but generally climbing until the scenery resembles Switzerland a little, or is it Slovenia? I have to stop for road works: there is a piece of road simply missing and a front-end loader is filling the depression with earth, precisely directed by the big boss, recognisable by his fancy jacket and air of authority. I decline to wait half an hour to then have to ride through soft dirt and pass over the pasture, to the amusement of all the bystanders. There are pensions everywhere, but when I finally stop to make enquiries I am shocked by the European prices they are demanding here. Eventually, an old and very friendly lady drops her price a bit and I get the choice of the room. It's Sunday night, the place must have been full and hasn't been cleaned up yet. The price agreed upon, the lady breaks out in hectic activity, cleaning and arranging, helped by several other old ladies, who magically appear. Nobody speaks anything but Romanian, but we are having some fun conversations anyway. The landlady tells me that she has a daughter in Besançon who speaks 4 languages and is studying there.
9/10 I wake up early and go out in the dark. Clear sky and almost full moon, but it's freezing cold. Apparently this place is at 1100 m altitude. I quickly get to Kronstadt and find a town centre full with nice old buildings, but it's very touristy already and the place is one big construction site. Upon the Austrian bikers' recommendation I take the Eastern route towards Bucureşti. Now, this road is a bikers' dream road, brand new tar seal all the way, almost no settlements, nothing but nice smooth bends, twisting its way over a mountain pass or two. No radar, either, as opposed to the main E routes. Not that I go that fast, anyway. The hills are covered in forest, which is now showing beautiful autumn colours. The whole thing is only slightly spoiled by the fact that trucks are not allowed on the Western route, probably because it's a bit steeper, so I often sit behind smoke belching trucks, one hairpin bend after another... I pass the last pension and think that I'll regret it, and I do: when I turn off the main road to head East towards the coast there is nothing any more and I end up having to search the entire town of Buzău in the dark for a hotel. Romanians tend to hide things, probably a habit learnt under the Ceaucescu regime, and hotels, bars and some shops are no exception. One hotel is full (!), the second looks very expensive and I end up in the third, still too expensive for my liking, but, well... When the receptionist hands me the remote for the aircon I ask her whether she expects a heat wave tonight. Did I mention it was cold?
10/10 From Buzau on the terrain is flat as a pancake and I just ride, only stopping for a few photos and to eat. For a little while I'm able to follow the Danube/Dunarea river. Its valley seems to contain the only forest in the entire plains.
In Medgidia I spot a brand new Plus supermarket. Great, perhaps the last possibility to buy a few things that I might not be able to get further East. They are still putting the finishing touches on the carpark, etc., but a worker opens the door for me. As I make my way towards the filled shelves I am informed, to my great surprise, that it's not open yet, tomorrow. Bummer, but 100 m further there is a Penny Market. Where the German army failed German traders are winning...
11/10 Another fine day dawns, but there is a strong Northerly wind blowing. Valentin, the owners' son, presents me with a farewell souvenir from Romania, so to speak: a very nice saucer to hang on the wall. I am touched and I certainly didn't expect it. I say my farewells, spend my last Lei at the petrol pump and I'm off to the nearby border at Vama Veche. In my rear view mirror there is Romania and blue sky, in front of me dark, threatening clouds and Bulgaria.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip through Romania and I urge everyone to visit it soon, as in a short while it will have changed and become another EU-country. This will certainly benefit many Romanians, but I'm afraid that in the process it will loose some of its charme.