I had been working since December 2016 on an itinerary for a tour in Romania, and after some interactions with Maria Danescu, our provider for the motorcycles from Romania Motorcycle Tours, it seemed to be ready.
Shmil and Louiza, our usual partners on tours since 2012, were not available this year. Shmil had just bought a motorcycle in Germany, like I did in 2015, and was up to other adventures, getting to the NordKapp in Norway. So, until May it seemed that Lilly and me would do the trip alone, but in May I was suddenly contacted by Eitan and Anat, who were with us in the Pyrenees in 2014 and in Greece in 2015, asking to join. So we were in 4, two motorcycles, and expecting a lot of fun.
Doing international trips in motorcycles is somehow like a drug - after you begin doing it, you can't stop. Stay two much time without doing it and you will surely get some kind of abstinence crisis. And I was surely already at this phase. Israel is a very small country, how many times can one visit the same places?
D Day arrived, and that was the 30th of June. We met Eitan and Anat at the airport, but travelled in different flights. Reason is that I used my mileage from Star Alliance, so there weren't direct flights available. We did a flight with Austrian, via Vienna, while Anat and Eitan travelled with El Al directly to Bucharest.
I invite you to read this article on the trip, to click the picture galleries to see the pictures in full size, and to see the video at the end of the article.
The next morning we woke up early to receive the bikes. Maria came herself to receive us and deliver the bikes. I already knew her from Facebook, where she seemed to be an impressive person, but her personality comes much more to life when you meet her in person. Motorcycling is usually a male world, and it it refreshing to meet a woman who is a motorcyclist, and who made a business out of that. Respect!
The Slanic Prahova Salt Mine is a fantastic place, even difficult to explain. The first thing you do is to go into a van, which takes you into the mountain. Then, for some 15 minutes, you continue travelling inside the mountain with the van, which takes you 254 meters deep down under the surface. All the time you see other vans coming back, showing that there are a lot of people and much transportation.
The first moment that you go into the main pavilion is a breathtaking experience.
We didn't have much in mind to stop and see, but did it the longer way, via Praid Pass. On the way we stopped in the Praid Salt Mine, but when we saw that actually it was the same concept as the one in Slanic, we decided that one of them was enough. So instead, we arrived earlier to Sighisoara (around 14:30), and had more time to rest before going out for a walk in the old city.
Sighisoara is a beautiful old town, with a new city being built around it. Again, our hotel (the Korona) was walking distance from the old town, so we walked to there and in there, and didn't give up a ride on a horse-car. In the evening, we took a dinner in one of the restaurants at the main plaza of the old city, at the balcony at street level.
But destiny didn't want it to be like this. We woke up to heavy rain, which was with us all the way. Together with that, the road from Sighisoara to Fagaras was in TERRIBLE state of conservation - it was difficult to find the road in between all the potholes. The trip took forever. We arrived to Bran around 14:30, after a very difficult trip under rain, in which I even questioned if I was still in the age to do such things.
We arrived to the hotel (the Hilden Lodge and Restaurant, a beautiful hotel which looks more like its in Switzerland than in Romania), and after a quick conversation, Eitan, Anat, Lily and me decided unanimously that we would give up on continuing to Sinaia under the rain and instead spend the evening in Bran.
We took a taxi to the center of Bran (yes, this time we couldn't walk and had no will at all to ride under the rain) and it left us near the Dracula Castle. Bran's center is very small, around 100 meters, and there is almost nothing to do besides some 30 souvenir shops and 8-10 restaurants. But it is nice to walk there and look at everything, and at the end we sat at a cafe to have some evening coffee. After some more walking, we bought some Kurtos to take to the hotel, some drinks, and then travelled back to the hotel and had a Kurtos meal there. Yummy!
It was even more fun than usual, because rain would spoil our destination of this day: the TRANSFAGARASAN road.
If you are talking about Romania, the Transfagarasan is the culprit of all motorcycling activities in the country; something like the Stelvio Pass in Italy, or the Tail of the Dragon in the US. A road in which you go up the mountains in one side, down on the other... but not completely down, since from there on for most of our trip we would be in the Carpathians.
The Transfăgărășan (trans [over, across] + Făgăraș) or DN7C, also known as Ceaușescu's Folly, is a paved mountain road crossing the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. It has national-road ranking and is the second-highest paved road in the country after the Transalpina. It starts near the village of Bascov, near Pitești, and stretches 90 kilometres (56 mi) to the crossroad between the DN1 and Sibiu, between the highest peaks in the country, Moldoveanu and Negoiu. The road, built in the early 1970s as a strategic military route, connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia.
The Transfăgărășan was constructed between 1970 and 1974 during the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu as a response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union.Ceaușescu wanted to ensure quick military access across the mountains in case of a Soviet invasion. At the time, Romania already had several strategic mountain passes through the Southern Carpathians, whether inherited from the pre-communist era (the DN1 and the high-pass DN67C) or built during the initial years of the Communist regime (the DN66). These passes, however, were mainly through river valleys, and would be easy for the Soviets to block and attack. Ceauşescu therefore ordered the construction of a road across the Făgăraş Mountains, which divide northwestern and southern Romania.
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 was officially opened on 20 September 1974, although work, particularly paving of the roadbed, continued until 1980.
At the road you can find mainly motorcycles; the number of cars is small comparing to motorcycles, or at least it was on the day we travelled. You can find all kinds of riders, despite the fact that the road is mostly fit for experienced riders. It does have those serpentine, low speed curves, but in most of the way what one will find is medium speed curves that will have him alternating speeds between 60 and 20 Km/h. Some of the curves are tricky because you are about to find gravel immediately after them.
After some 45 Km, we got to the Vidraru Dam
Well, I could go on and on about this, but it is not the purpose of this article. After Vidraru Dam, 50 Km more of road, curves and forest, and you arrive to Balea Lake
Bâlea Lake (Romanian: Lacul Bâlea or Bâlea Lac, pronounced [ˈbɨle̯a]) is a glacier lake situated at 2,034 m of altitude in the Făgăraș Mountains, in central Romania, in Cârțișoara, Sibiu County. There are two chalets opened all the year round, a meteorological station and a mountain rescue (Salvamont) station. It is accessible by car on the Transfăgărășan road during the summer, and the rest of the year by a cable car from the "Bâlea Cascadă" chalet.
In 2006, the first ice hotel in Eastern Europe was built in the vicinity of the lake.
After about 45 minutes, in which we also ate an improvised lunch, we continued North to the direction of the Balea Cascade, and continued the road until our next destination: Sibiu.
There is no discussion that the Transfagarasan was one of the heights (in all meanings of the word) of our trip and motorcycle experience in Romania. This is a road in which one understands what is the freedom in motorcycling, the brotherhood between motorcyclists, and get an answer for the question: "why after riding such a road you will never enjoy travelling in cars anymore"...
And then came Sibiu - our first point of rest, with one day free for enjoying the city.
Sibiu is a very lively city, fun to visit. We were at the Continental Forum hotel, again, 2 minutes walk from the old town, and two minutes in the other direction to the center of the new city. The hotel has also a simple Spa, with sauna, hydro-massage, and the ability to set time for massages. We arrived at 18:00, so we still had time to go to the spa, have a shower and go out to have some dinner in the old town.
Next morning was spent visiting part of the new town, and in the beginning of the afternoon we were already in the old town again. There was a bicycle competition there that day, so we had one more attraction to follow... we can say we were very lucky.
I guess that the pictures below and the big smiles in our faces show a little of the atmosphere in Sibiu. And most of all, the beautiful pictures of the old town and of the sunset there.
We left Sibiu in the early morning (early for us), about 9 AM, heading to Sebes. This time we came out of our regular behaviour, and took the fast road to Sebes, in order to save time for the Transalpina. Until Sebes, the way was easy, a wide road, 130 Km/h, After 60 Km we were there, and it was time to stop and have something to drink. Yes, this is the way it goes with these geriatric tours - every hour or hour-and-a-half it is time for a stop and something to drink or eat.
The fact is that I have no complaints about these frequent stops. They are good not only for straightening the legs and the body, but also for making some contact with local population of those small towns. It is a life experience which is different of anything that we may have. So I happily do them.
Leaving the cafe at Sebes, it was time to begin the Transalpina road.
The Transalpina or DN67C located in the Parâng Mountains group, in the Southern Carpathians of Romania, is one of the highest roads of the Carpathian Mountains. It connects Novaci, south of Parâng Mountains, to Sebeş in the north.
It is said[by whom?] that the road was built under King Carol II and rebuilt during World War II by German troops and it is called The King's Road by the locals. Also a story has it that Nicolae Ceauşescu had the Transfăgărășan Road (DN7C) built during the communist regime just to surpass the Transalpina.
The road has its highest point at the Urdele Pass, where the elevation is 2,145m above sea level. Given the high altitude, the road is closed during the cold months of the year. Works began in 2007 in order to transform this spectacular road into a modern highway (148 km), allowing a rapid transit between Oltenia and Transylvania.
Rânca, a newly developed resort, is located towards the south end of the Transalpina road.
Since there were no attractions, I was wishing for a quiet rest day in Ranca... just to sit at my balcony at the hotel and watch the mountains. But destiny (or should I say Anat and Lily) didn't want it to be this way. They decided that Eitan and me should go up the bikes and take them for a visit at Targu Jiu, 60 Km from there. So we went down the other side of the Transalpina, visited Targu Jiu, stopped in the way back at a supermarket in Novaci, and back to the hotel. It was a Friday, so we did the prays for the entrance of the Sabath. We definitely went to sleep early on that day.
The road is a road through the mountains, twisty and challenging, and very beautiful to travel. In the middle of the road we suddenly see things that only a national part can offer: little (and not so little) cascades, valleys, rivers, etc. The view is beautiful and you just can't stop looking around. The twists in the road make it interesting to ride. I just didn't want it to finish, a road like this brings interest to riding... or to life... but then, what is life after you lost interest in it?
At some point you arrive to Bigar waterfall... so beautiful !!! We had to stop there for some time, and we took the oportunity to have lunch.
Did I say that the road until Oravita was our challenge for that day? Well, that was what I thought. It turned out that the biggest challenge was still to come: road 571 from the junction with road 57 to Sasca Montana. But that was a different kind of challenge. Again, this was a whole that entitled you to a certificate as "best rider in the world" if you manage to do it from beginning to end without falling into any of the giant potholes there were there.
Well, we managed to conquer road 571 and come out in peace, and our destination was the hotel ROCKER's INN.That's a very interesting thematic hotel, literally at the middle of nothing !!! I can't imagine who had the idea to put a sophisticated hotel in such a place, all designed according to Rock'n Roll and its styles.
At the hotel we met Phil, a 18-year-old guy who managed the hotel. Phil was a 18-year-old youngster, who wishes to study hotel management and was working there for the summer. He was the heart of the hotel: he was in the reception for check-in and check-out, he took decisions regarding rooms, he was the waiter, he was in the kitchen with the staff. He knew how to be sympathetic to the guests and also to the crew. As a result, everybody liked him among the guests, and all the staff of the hotel respected and consulted him for everything.
That evening we went for a walk in Sasca Montana, looking for a minimarket, since we were told by Phil that the group that was at the hotel ate dinner early and finished all the food, leaving beans at the only option for dinner. We found a very small place at the center which sold some cheeses and pastramis that we could eat for dinner. We walked back looking at the old buildings sitting at the side of the only road in town... these looked like old communist buildings, probably from the time of Ceaucescu. They gave the city a dark and sad look... and I thought, it's a pity they are still around. It would be better to put them down and sustitute them by more modern content.
Next day was the day to visit the Beusnita National Park. It took us some time to find the way for the motorcycles to get to the park, but after some asking here and there we were pointed to the road to Potoc that should continue to the park.
The road went through beautiful green fields. Its width permitted one vehicle only, and when another vehicle came in the other direction, someone had to stop at the roadside. With motorcycles, everything was easier.
At the entry to the park, a guard directed us to a gravel road that went at the riverside... well, finally some off-road riding to do in this trip. Not that there weren't some roads which felt like off-road, but really off-road, this was the first.
We travelled with this little road for some 10-15 minutes until we got to a parking space with a café in front of it. That was the place where everybody had to park and continue by foot... including the motorcycles. So we parked, changed clothes, and continued by foot.
We walked with the path for some time - it looked like forever! - and got to a place where the river came from two directions, through its regular path and also from the top as a kind of a waterfall, passing through so small "lakes" or swimming pools inside rocks.Water was freezing cold. But Eitan and me couldn't resist going in at least with our feet. Eitan got first to one of the swimming pools in the rocks, and literally immersed himself into the water up to his head. Regarding me... no chance I would do that, that freezing water would touch my feet only. But I got to the rocks and their swimming pools, and managed to see the clear waters up there and take some pictures of them.
We intended to continue to the Beusnita waterfall, but people coming back from there said there was neaarly no water at the fall. So we gave up and came back to the motorcycles.
We spent around half day at the Beusnita Park. The rest of the day was spent walking in Sasca Montana. The place which just one day before looked like we had returned 100 years to the past, now looked familiar and enjoyable.
At night, we had dinner at the hotel, a very good dinner, and went to sleep early, looking for the next day, when we would begin our way back to Bucharest.
I had a request from Eitan and Anat that we do our way back in an easier road than the Bozovici road that we did to arrive there. Looking at the map I managed to find a road going through Moldova-Noua, which was longer in Km than the original road we used to arrive there, but in terms of time was 17 minutes faster. So, I decided to try this road.
Well, my experiment succeeded in all terms. Not only we got a road which was a lot easier and faster to travel, but we also travelled for some 50 or 60 Km, almost until Orsova, through the border beween Romania and Servia, where only the Danube river separated the two... And the Danube.... oh, the Danube.... well, the Danube is the Danube, and there are few rivers which are more beautiful to follow than the Danube. So there we went, together with the Danube, until Orsova.
We were told that they carry tours at the cave every straight hour until 19:00, so at 18:00 we were there waiting for our tour. We were received by an angry guide, who didn't speak a single word in English, and looked like someone who as had a very bad day. So, like good children, we entered the cave without discussion. The cave is beautiful. At some points of it, the height of the passage goes down to 1 meter. I had big trouble passing there, and Eitan more than me. But it was worth it, After every passage, beautiful rooms opened in front of our eyes. I couldn't take many pictures of that, at some time someone managed to explain to me that photographing was forbidden unless you paid a fee before you went in.
After the visit, we went back to the hotel, and enjoyed good food and good wine.
In the next morning. we returned the motorcycles and spent the day touring Bucharest and letting the girls do some shopping.
Romania left me a strong mark in my mind and in my heart. I did not have much expectations from it, and I found a beautiful country, with gorgeous cities and villages, a stunning countryside, incredible roads to ride, very good hotels and restaurants, and all for a very affordable price.
And the people! Ah, the people! One of the most sympathetic people I ever met. Always smiling, always wanting to hep, always with good words to say. People that are supposed to provide services (shop salespeople, waiters in restaurants, etc) do it with all their heart, and are always ready to share a joke with their customers. Just the way I like. I think that the only exception for this are the Bucharest taxi drivers... but then, with the traffic in Bucharest, I wouldn't be surprised that their state of humor is somehow bad...
This chapter of Romania was finished in my life, but I am sure new chapters will come in the future. It is a place which is too beautiful and nice in order not to visit a second time.
Already at home, I edited all the pictures and videos of the trip an came out with this video:
Last, but not least, I thank Romania, for the sympathy, the hospitality, and for bringing so much to see to my eyes and so much to think about to my mind.