The first hours in Romania are not easy. We are trying to pass through endless kilometers of road works. It’s not just swinging traffic and unexpectedly deep holes. It’s also about speeding kamikaze trucks and poorly marked dangerous sections of the road. Provided we can survive it, everything is gonna be fine.
I’m glad that in the end this industrialized landscape ends. A hilly terrain appears on the horizon and with it comes hope for more interesting experiences. We enter Apuseni Parcul Natural.
Apuseni Parcul Natural
First of all, there is a great choice homemade-style cuisine in local restaurants as we are passing by highland villages surrounded by green pastures. In this extremely fertile part of the country the shepherds and farmers have a much easier life. This is a dream-like place for all kinds of sheep, cows and horses to be and joyfully graze on fresh green grass. The surrounding of each village looks a bit different from the previous one, but their common feature is an idyllic vibe that is emanating naturally thus pacing their slow life.
Our yellow bus occasionally arouses the sensation and surprise of the people who at this time of year are busy with stacking hay.
We also visit two caves in the park. Firstly Peștera Poarta lui Ionele, a smaller and more easily accessible one. Then Peştera Scărişoara, a much deeper and more mysterious one. Thanks to the persistently low temperature throughout the year we can see the remains of the glacier in the interior of the cave. Both caves are natural habitat to bats and both have been labeled by local authorities as a national miracle of nature.
We are moving into Romania towards Transalpina Road. In the meantime we are try to find a spot to spend the night and we end up in a random little town called Skaliste. That’s another place where life has slowed down. Children play on the street and run around, some babushkas (‘elderly ladies’) gossip and knit while men sit on the bench, talk and joke aloud sipping a bottle of Ciucaş, a local beer with a deer in the logo.
We arrive to Transfagarasan in the morning. This route is also known as ‘Ceaușescu’s Folly’ or simly DN7C. It is very characteristic and easily recognized as it is extremely winding and dotted with sharp turns. It is 90 km long and runs along numerous lakes through the passes at an altitude of nearly 2000 m. Back in the days of some substantial military importance, today it is not only a road linking Transylvania and Wallachia but also an interesting place and one of the main attractions in Romania.
Supposedly. At the time of our arrival there is zero visibility so we cannot se anything. Patience, apparently, is a key.
After some waiting, the fog starts to ease off. Increasingly more sharp curves emerge. The road looks so winding and extremely twisted that it is hard to believe that these types of structures actually do exist and that it was humans who came up with the idea of creating it.
In the roadside bar we stop for “Dracula’s two-course meal”. The food name speaks for itself. Soon to our table are served following specialties: slices of thick pork skin, some strange cheese, mamalga (national meal made of flour or corn groats), grilled meat, egg, onion and some other stuff. This is a high-calorie and energy efficient dish. For a dessert the waiter recommends donuts with jam and whipped cream. Finally a decent and complete dinner.
Craiului Piatra National Park
We add some distance and change the driving directions a bit to avoid driving on national roads again (after some previous experiences). In front of us there is Parcul National Piatra Craiului. We pay 2 lei (about €0.50) for entry. We also get acquainted with the warnings about how to behave in the presence of a bear.
Rule #1: Do not grill!
Rule #2: Keep silence.
We ride calmly and look around for the bears. Will we see them here in a moment? Time and excitement disappear when around the corner we find out that many Romanian families feast in the park and apparently don’t follow the key rules. They are grilling, dancing and turn up their own music loud enough to overcome their neighbour’s. We are driving a couple of kilometers deeper in the park. There is the same thing: big bonfires, tons of food, feasting and grilling. Where did the bears go?
Well, it turns out that the local songs and the sound of accordion are not exactly in the bear’s taste. We walk around and watch it all. At some point we are helpless so we decide to follow the crowd. Unfortunately we don’t have an accordion this time, but we start to heat up a grill :-)
Next to us are about five other camps. Everyone is competing in having the loudest music possible. Locals bring loose wood to their bonfires and when there is no more left, they just go into the forest with headlamps and axes to get some more from the protected area of national park. Some of the parties last well into the night and in the morning there are new families coming to take over and start again. That’s how things are going on here.
I’m impressed by their ability to unpack and pack the camp. The locals need just 5 minutes to move from the state of the car with their bundles on the roof to a state of bonfire, playing music and dancing. It’s faster than my T1 zone during triathlon.
We are following the Dracula
Bran Castle. The first two thoughts: Where is Dracula and where did all the tourists come from? To warn others, consider whether you really want to stand in line and push yourself through this rather not-exciting experience. Since we have already arrived to Bran we may try to endure it, although we are considering just going away. Finally, we visit the castle – maybe just out of the temptation to hear some of the legends that are linked to this notable historical site. After all it is still quite an interesting place. It is just that crowds of people play down a bit the overall impression. Therefore, after a little quiz let’s move on. Can you find a common element in all three pictures?
Yes of course, it’s red tiles.
We visit less crowded antique citadel in Rasnov.
Time to eat something. Looking for a restaurant in the main square we get a chance to see the festival of folk dances from Eastern Europe.
Do Romanians speak English? Some do, but you can’t be too optimistic about it. Even in the tourist town you may have a problem ordering a pizza. It’s hard to talk even the simplest way if you are a bit off the track, in the area where we usually stay. Russian does not work either, but luckily the language of gestures works everywhere and it’s quite reliable.
We reach the village of Viscri, which for some reason has become popular with tourists. Perhaps the magnets are both picturesque location and inhabitants living in the traditional way. There are several cyclists and a large French camper with satellite. It is a interesting view to combine it with a herd of cattle passing through.
We get caught by the rain in Sighisoara. The torture museum we had a plan to visit is unfortunately closed. In return we visit the historic part of the city and walk along the cobbled streets.
At this point I would like to definitely recommend visiting one of the local bakeries specialized in pretzel-shaped pastries with pudding filling served in different flavors.
On the way to Bistrita, we observe an interesting situation: Some locals are repacking a lot of stuff along the road.
This involves, among other things, moving mattresses from one car to another. There are also two refrigerators, a baby bouncing on the pile of loose objects and some construction objects with loose wires, all of them waiting for their final destination. We are making some similar repacking break and move on.
Bistrita is a well-maintained academic city. We enjoy it quite a lot as we walk along the historic pedestrianized promenade with restaurants, or as we stroll elegantly trimmed city park. All the streets are clean. Here and there you may spot some interesting sculptures.
Province of Maramures
We are heading off the main road towards Bogdan Voda. The province of Maramures begins. Houses are becoming a bit older, nearly of them wooden. There are more horse carts pulling hay and families sitting on the top. Every now and then there is a babushka sitting on bench next to a wooden fence so she can watch closely and attentively for every activity around her house. Some locals are resting while most of them are quite busy. They carry rhubarb on their back or dry grass for hay using some characteristic wooden structures.
In Barsana we visit a complex of wooden churches. Following the road we accidentally come across Romanian wedding. The ceremony takes place in village of Calinesti.
The guest list is very long. Most of them are traditionally dressed up which adds the wedding special uniqueness. Notably, most distinctive are colorfully dressed bridesmaids. All of them wearing very special outfit. There is orchestra playing life music and some drinks going around to make this vibrant event even more lively.
Right next to the wooden chapel there is an open-air antique building museum. There are inventions such as traditional river bath (looking like a jacuzzi), a mill, an alcohol distillery and few more interesting exhibits.
At the end of our Romanian episode we arrive at Sapanta. A small town located just off the Ukrainian border. This is undoubtedly one of the top highlights in Maramures. First of all, the town has a very interesting wooden architecture. It is a home to the tallest wooden church in the world – notably towering 78 meters.
“Merry Cemetery” is yet one more reason to attract visitors. As we enter the peculiar cemetery a bell-ringer starts his ritual and rhythmically pulls and pushes three powerful bells belonging to the bell-tower. This makes my eardrums almost burst. Despite this slight inconvenience, we walk around the cemetery and observe individual inscriptions. The walk between the graves is like visiting a museum full of life-like stories with a sense of humor. Judging by the illustrations I assume the stories are funny and metaphorical. This is an artistic and poetic approach to summarize different scenes of one’s life in an informal illustrative way as opposed to traditional obituaries.
However weird may it sound, we fall asleep by the merry cemetery, then we wake up and move towards the Romanian-Ukrainian border.