Bicycle tour Carpathian & Balkan mountains


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Tuesday 17 June, Sighetu Marmatei

I'm now in an i-net place in Sighetu Marmatei, a small town 15 km from Sapânta, close to the Ukrainian border, where I stayed in a guesthouse.

It has been a very long ride from Nyírbator, 170 km. As soon as I crossed the Romanian border it started to rain, after the hot weather the last days have been pretty chilly and overcast. In Satu Mare I couldn't find a bank machine, so i had to go to an exchange office and changed 50 euros for 1,8 million Romanian Lei $-)
On my way to the Huta pass i noticed the houses in Certeze (a small mountain village) became bigger and more luxurious the more I went higher. Very big mansions, almost little palaces and they are still constructing more... It's remarkable to see more expensive Mercedes and Audi than Dacias on the road. I wonder where the money comes from in this poor country...?

On top of the scenic Huta pass (587m) i met a couple of cycle tourists, the first since I met a Czech guy near the Tatra mountains. An American guy and a Hungarian girl from Romania. The American guy was a recumbent rider in disguise as well ;-) he had left his recumbent at home and was now touring on his Bike Friday folding bicycle. In Sapânta I'd found a very nice room for 8 euros just across the famous "
Merry Cemetery".

Today I cycle along the Iza valley with its remarkable wooden churches towards Borsa.


Prislop pass

Wednesday 18 June, Vatra Dornei

Again in an internet place, this time in
Vatra Dornei, a pleasant Romanian city with a campground, crowded with Dutch caravans. This morning I cycled from Borsa over the Prislop pass eastbound, a very scenic ride through the forested Rodna mountains. It was quite cool up there, <20c.

Yesterday i cycled from Sapânta to Borsa through the Iza valley. On the way i passed beautiful wooden churches. In every village local children greeted me with Bonjour, Ciao, Hello etc. One boy on a bicycle kept company for a few kilometers and we had a small talk in German, he'd picked it up from German satellite TV channels and spoke it remarkable well!
In Borsa I started to search for a place to stay or camp. In Borsas winter sport resort i was allowed to camp in a meadow behind a pension. I offered the owner some money for using the shower and toilet. For 10 euros I could stay in the pension but i opted for my comfortable tent. The owner invited me to join a BBQ with construction workers who were building a hotel in the resort. The workers were very interested in my bicycle, not because of greed, they were just interested in the technical details of my bicycle components. ;-)

Had a good conversation with one of the workers who could understand English but couldn't speak it ;-)
So he answered me in Romanian and with gestures we could communicate very well.
I gathered that lots of his fellow countrymen could easily get a working permit in Italy, from where they send money home. This explained the big mansions i saw in Certeze. By the way, the more i cycled inland, the less the poverty seemed to be. Houses are well kept here and villages seemed pretty much self contained. Only the shops here don't offer all the luxury we are used to in the west. Tomorrow I will head northeast, where the famous painted monasteries of
Bucovina are located.

Bistrita valley


Thursday 19 June, Moldovita

From Vatra Dornei I cycled the very strenuous and tough route over
pasul Rarau to Câmpulung-Moldovenesc. On my map it looked like a nice shortcut instead of the busy highway. The road turned actually out to be in deplorable state with the pavement nearly washed away. On my way up it became better and better, with terrible steep grades up to 20% though. On top of the pass beautiful Dolomite-like rock formations called the Pietrele Doamnei (Ladies rocks). The descent was a horror, the paved surface completely eroded. It started to rain heavily so the road turned into a wild streaming river.
Often i had to walk with the bike so the downhill speed was as slow as uphill.
Finally I reached without troubles Câmpulung where it -luckily- was dry. After visiting the
Moldovita monastery I missed the turn to the campground. It started raining again so I decided to stay in a small hotel. Got a room with all facilities for 10 euros, not bad.


Rarau, Moldovita, Sucevita monastery


Friday 20 June, Manastirea Humorului

The next day I did a tour along the Moldavian painted monasteries, starting with a not too difficult pass.
Sucevita monastery was even more beautiful. From there I continued east to a bigger town, Radauti, to find a bank machine for a few millions of cash. Via Solca I reached Gura Humorului. Met a group of German cycle tourists. Near the Sucevita monastery I found a nice place to camp at a B&B farm. I insisted to pay for this and for the use of the sanitary facilities and the host accepted my offer of 5 euros, which is a crazy amount for a simple camping spot. For this amount he invited me to sleep in a bedroom inside, but I refused politely and opted for my tent with nice views on the village road. My host spoke good English, teaching American sailors in Brasov and staying at his parents farm during the holiday season.


Saturday 21 June, Piatra Neamt

Having toured along the impressive Moldavian monasteries for the last two days, I started this morning from the farm in Manastirea Homorului and went south. First a small detour to visit the Voronet monastery, which unfortunately was being renovated. My initial plan was to cycle then south through the mountains, but the approaching thunderstorms made me choose for the easier eastern, less hilly, route around the mountains. Quit roads and rolling hills from Targu Neamt to Piatra Neamt. I met a Austrian "Frank van Rijn" type of guy who was making a big cycle tour though the Balkans.

Piatra Neamt, in the Lonely Planet guide described as a "picturesque town" turned out to be a ugly city, dominated by concrete blocks from the Ceausescu era. Luckily there was a good campground and the centre was very lively and full of people, because of the fair with live music. And the local internet place charged me only 25 cent/hr to type this account. ;-)
Soon I will look for a good place to eat, for 5 euros or less you can get here a 3 course diner, so i don't cook very much :-P

Plan for tomorrow: the Bicaz gorge and into Transylvania.

moldavian landscape

bus to Franeker


Sunday 22 June, Gheorgheni/Gyergyoszentmiklos

This morning I cycled from the impressively beautiful gorge of the Bicaz river (Cheile Bicazului) and over the Bucin pass (1259 m) to
Gheorgheni. Gyergyoszentmiklos in good Hungarian - in this part of Transylvania the Hungarian are a big minority.

The road from Piatra Neamt climbed constantly, about 70 km. I suffered from a head wind and a not so good physical condition.
I'm thinking of taking a small break to recover, maybe in Brasov in a few days.

By the way, in the area of Piatra Neamt the regional buses were quite remarkable, the yellow old Dutch buses. On the destination plates on the front they left the old Dutch names of the destination towns, its a weird sight to encounter bus 93 to Surhuisterveen in this mountainous country :-))) On Piatra Neamts bus station were buses leaving for Bucarest, but also places like Joure, Steenwijk and Emmeloord!

Just had diner in this internet cafe / restaurant for 100.000 lei (2,5 euro). After the i-net session back to the campground, a large meadow next to a motel, 4 km outside of town. Sanitary facilities are in disrepair, but the showers are hot, unlike the campground in Piatra Neamt. Tomorrow further south towards Brasov.


impressively beautiful Bicaz gorge

Monday 23 June, Sfântu Gheorghe

Cycled today in very good weather from Gheorgheni to Sfântu Gheorghe, 130 km, through the flat Olt valley. Panoramic views on the surrounding mountains. This part of Transylvania has a completely different architecture compared with the Northern part of Romania, more a Middle European style instead of Eastern Orthodox. In Sf. Gheorghe I stay at a place in a typically Eastern European apartment. My bicycle is stored safely in a garage box. Unfortunately the apartment has no warm water, but my host has made some tasty soup for dinner. Tomorrow I'm planning a visit to Brasov and the mountains.


Tuesday 24 June, Brasov/Busteni

Yesterday an exciting day to Brasov and the nearby Bucegi mountains. I'm still staying in the apartment in Sfântu Gheorghe. To witness the life of ordinary Romanian people so close is a good experience. The people living in the apartment are a bit alternative, vegetarian, yoga practicing and have to survive with little income, as most Romanian people do. Yesterday Judith, who studied ethnography and working as text editor, a day free and joins me on my day trip to the mountains.

Because inefficient public transport we were travelling the Romanian way, hitchhiking. The Romanian are used to pay the driver, about 1,5 euro until Brasov (35 km). Judith is a experienced hitchhiker, we got a ride to Brasov in no time. The ride to Brasov was quite an experience. The car driver turned out to be a policeman in daily life. In a typically Romanian driving style (ignoring all the rules) he raced over bumpy roads to Brasov. In Brasov we didnt had to wait long for a next ride to the mountain resort Busteni. This time more relaxed in a luxurious space wagon. Busteni is beautifully located against a huge wall of mountains.

Busteni and the Bucegi massive

Bucegi mountains

The beauty of the Bucegi massive can be compared with places like the Spanish Picos de Europa or the Italian Dolomites. Our plan was to get a cable car up to 2400 m and walk from the mountain hut to the Sphinx, a scenic rock formation. Unfortunately the cable car was out of order due to maintenance.. :-((

After having spend a while in the vicinity of the resort, we hitched back to Brasov, to visit the historical town and enjoyed :-P a not so very fresh pizza. On the way back to Sf. Gheorghe a heavy thunderstorm started. Just in time we got a ride from a small van. The driver ignored the severe weather conditions, but luckily we survived the ride ;-)

Wednesday 25 June, Sfântu Gheorghe

Today a resting day, doing the laundry, checking e-mail, shopping for the coming days etc.
Tomorrow i continue my cycle trip, first to Brasov-Rasnov-Bran (Dracula castle). Thursdays destination is campground "de Oude Wilg", on the base of the Transfagarasan Highway, the highest paved road in Romania.
I hope to tackle this road on Friday, weather permitting. If the weather conditions are not good, I head further west to the Saxon town of Sibiu.

Dracula castle, Bran

Thursday 26 June, Sfântu Gheorghe-Rasnov-Bran-Rasnov

After saying goodbye to the people from the apartment in Sfantu Gheorghe i cycle along a nice and pleasantly quiet route towards Brasov. Recommended by the girls from Sfantu Gheorghe, I had the opportunity to tap mineral water from a source in Vâlcele. In the village there were many people tapping water from the source. The natural carbonated water was quite tasty, once getting used to the slight iron taste :-P

35 Kilometers further I enter busy city centre of Brasov, where I had to take a few photos from the old city centre. On a busy narrow highway I head to Rasnov, with a nice fortress high on top of a hill. I pitch my tent on the empty campsite and continue my bike trip to Bran. In Bran the castle of count Vlad Tepes, better known as Dracula, is located. The route along the impressive Bucegi massive became very scenic again. After a quick stop in the tourist trap of Bran I return to the campsite. The water supply functions only after 19hr til midnight. Unfortunately cold water only, but I'm already getting used to taking cold showers. I'm looking forward to the next campground, "de Oude Wilg" where I'm hoping to find a nice hot shower.

The Trans-Fagarasan Highway, a fantastic mountain route

camping "de Oude Wilg"


Saturday 28 June, Curtea de Arges

I'm now in a crowded i-net cafe in Curtea de Arges. Left Transylvania and are now in the region of Wallachia

> Minko's mail from "de oude wilg" received.
> where does the name come from? Is it a Dutch camping?

Yes, a small campsite "at the farm", owned by Romanian/Dutch couple, located in a small village (Carta). I was received with a warm welcome, all other campers were Dutch (mostly senior, on a long journey in Romania). Finally I could take a warm shower. All in all a good starting point for todays ride, over the Trans-Fagarasan highway, with the 2000 m high Balea-pas. The climb is long, about 30 km, not too strenuous though (avg. 5%). Very impressive! On top of the pass I met a Dutch couple from the campsite. They were amazed I did it all on a bicycle. After passing a long dark, unlit tunnel I started the long and beautiful descent. I met a cycling couple from Freiburg, Germany. Romania did remind them very much of their trip in South-America. They brought a few extra copies of a Romanian map with cycle routes, and gave one to me! After we exchanged e-mail addresses our ways separated, they went uphill and I continued my way down. A long ride along a lake followed, up and down. At the end of the lake was a dam and a very scenic canyon, with high above on the rocks a ruin of one of Vlad Tepes (Dracula) castles. After 130 long kms I found a campground in Curtea de Arges, a pleasant city. Had a good meal at the campground restaurant (only 4 euro for campsite, including diner!). Tomorrow I travel further west.


Cerna valley

Tuesday 1 July, Baile Herculane

The last days I had not too interesting rides (Curtea de Arges-Horezu, with a nice monastery; Horezu-Baia de Arama), and finally I ended up in this spa resort of Baile Herculane. Not far from the Serbian border and situated in a very scenic canyon of the Cerna river. The weather changed since I left Transylvania, its now sunny and hot, 35 c. Here in the internet room its cool though. My plan for tomorrow is to cycle down south and take a ferry across the Danube, leaving Romania and entering Bulgaria at the bordertown of Vidin.

Too hot at the now i'm back at the cool internet room just across the street ;-) costs are only 50 ct per hour. This evening i went out for diner, Ciorba as starter (a rich soup of meat and vegetables), then a schnitzel (as usual fried with a thick crust, too fat) french fries and salad (means a few slices of tomato and cucumber) and bread. A meal like this cost about 3 euro. The campsite has hot showers, hot mineral water, which smells a bit like rotten eggs (sulphuric).

Today I could practise my dazzer for the first time. A few nasty dogs bothered me and one push on the dazzer chased them away, so it does its job! Besides this incident most dogs don't bother you, although there are many stray dogs.
Since a lot of people use their bikes here, dogs are not interested in chasing cyclists. When you camp somewhere, sometimes dogs coming to your tent to beg for food. And at night they all start barking, a concert that can continue the whole night long..

Tomorrow a flat ride (I'm glad, climbing in this heat isn't fun) through the Danube valley. The coming days I head down to Sofia, where there are more mountains to climb.

Continued in Bulgaria