Trip to Romania and Bulgaria 2014

Saturday 6th September                                                                    Off again                                                                      128 miles

Our trip to Romania and Bulgaria started off later than we originally intended. We waited until all our children/ grandchildren had finally left. Tom, Mar and year old Rita had come over from Spain, spending some time with us, and the others all joined us for various lengths of time. It was wonderful to see all the grandchildren interacting, and we all had great fun. Now term had started again, with 4 year old Joanna starting school, and all the others in new classes.
I had finally had a nuisance lump removed from my elbow, but had to wait for the stitches to be removed. Once this was done, we booked the ferry for 7th September.
Having checked with Kathryn that we could stay outside their house in Canterbury, we set off at 3.15. We stopped at Clacket Lane services to refresh ourselves with a cup of tea, and were bemused to see that the car parked close by us was minus a front wheel with the car on the ground. The occupants were sitting inside - we wondered how they'd got there!

We arrived at Kathryn and Tom's at 6.15, and after admiring their productive garden, including the 4 chickens, we had a look at their new attic room, with its lovely view. Joe and Zoe were also at home, and we enjoyed a superb meal all together, including runner beans and raspberries from the garden. We even spoke on skype to Teaney and 2 month old Dylan in Vancouver. We came out to the van at 11.30.

Oh dear!
Sunday 7th September                                                     Briefly through France then into Belgium                                174 miles
Any bluebirds?
Rupelmonde, where we couldn’t now stay
River Schelde

Monday 8th September                                    Belgium, Holland and Germany on the motorway                                276 miles
We wanted to have a look at the old town, but had trouble in parking. We could have walked from where we were, but thought that we would drive nearer. In the end, we used my blue badge, and parked near the town, beside an attractive green park area. It was a delightful old town, a bit like Hamlin. We wandered the narrow streets, lined with ancient brick/wood houses and shops, to a large church square with rather incongruous futuristic water features. Nearby a man was playing an accordion, but instead of the polka music we were expecting, it was Beatles tunes! We bought some fresh radishes from a well stocked veggie shop, and some rolls and buns from a bakers.

Nice overnighter at Hann Munden
On the outskirts of the town we bought some roses for Vera from Lidl. There were quite long queues in the shop, but with German efficiency we didn't have to wait long!
We stopped back beside the river for coffee, although we couldn't really see the water from where we were. We drove over the river to take a photo of the motorway bridge high above us which we had crossed on our diversion yesterday.

Attractive Hann Munden
Motorway bridge over the River Werra
They spoke good English, and it was refreshing to speak to young people and share some of our travel experiences. We dropped them at a rest area before Halle and then phoned Manfred to say that we would soon be arriving. Unfortunately we were a little longer than expected, as we diverted to find a possible place to stay tonight. However, when we arrived at Vera & Manfred's, it was clear that Manfred wanted us to stay there (indoors even, but we insisted on staying in the van)! We had last visited in 1991 with Simon & Tom. We had forgotten that their road led straight across from the tram lines, which we had to negotiate first.

Thomas and Alexander from Belgium
And so we went in for an afternoon, evening of much chat - rather difficult for me, as they don't speak English and Adrian doesn't speak German. I haven't used German for a very long time so did rather struggle! Twice Manfred phoned Lena to ask for a translation! Also, the internet password he gave us didn't work, so after much trying, Adrian spoke to a relation who gave a new password - it seemed that he had changed it! We were then able to receive a few messages, and send the ones that I had written yesterday before we had lost our connection. Later we had a short skype conversation with Tom and wished him a happy birthday.
After a cup of tea and cake, we had wandered out into their large garden, which we'd forgotten about. Later we had supper together before more chat, coming out to the van at 10.30.
With Vera and Manfred in their garden
Wednesday 10th September                                   On into delightfully different Czech (& 450 nights)                            132 miles
After a lovely breakfast with Vera and Manfred, we were on the road again before 10 o’clock. It had been wonderful to renew our acquaintance with them both, and good to see them. Vera now has trouble with loss of memory, but her caring and understanding nature prevail. Manfred, as always, likes to please, and we left loaded with fruit, cake and home-made jam.
We rejoined the motorway and headed towards Dresden, stopping soon to catch up with the diaries etc. We moved on for lunch. The first rest area we came to was too busy, but the next was quite pleasant, although the day had now become rather grey. We were cheered by seeing pretty blue chicory flowers. After lunch we redid my elbow dressing.
We drove on past Dresden, which we had visited in 1991, driving through an unexpected tunnel, then just before 3 o'clock we turned off the motorway at Pirna.
It had been lovely to see Vera and Manfred, but now we could relax, with no deadline to reach.
We enjoyed driving through 'real' country, quite forested. We came to the busy and touristy town of Konigstein. There were little souvenir shops, lots of people, including schoolchildren, an open-topped bus and a Trabant! It was obviously a place to go walking, but we couldn't see anywhere to stop.
We crossed the River Elbe to Bad Schandau, which Adrian thought 'bad'. It appeared 'posey' to us, reminding us of how we felt in the Dolomites many years ago - very smart with big, posh buildings. The car park we tried had a  'no motorhomes' sign, and anyway was fee paying! We felt uncomfortable, so drove on. We passed an ancient tall lift to the top of the riverside gorge. There was no railway now between us and the river, but a cycle path ran alongside us. We pulled into a 'permit only' parking area (it was a nature park) and had a cup of tea and some of Manfred's cake. The steep gorge sides towered above us.

Very soon afterwards we came into the Czech Republic at Hrenso (with no formalities at all). It was all very low-key. We stopped on the outskirts of Decin for some fuel, hoping that they would take a card, as we had no Czech money.
We drove on into the town, pulling into a car park beside the river. It was very atmospheric. We asked at the tourist information behind us (which was about to close at 5.00) if it was OK to stay overnight. The young lady said 'Yes. It's free' (I wondered afterwards if she realised that we meant to actually stay overnight).
We walked up into the wonderfully atmospheric town, with its castle above the river (a 'restaurant castle' stood atop the steep hill across the river) It was so nice to be in a 'different' place, not full of coffee shops and mobile phone shops, even if we couldn't find an ATM machine for some money. There were great views down over the river from the castle, and a long narrow wall-lined street. From thinking that we would have no photos for today, we now had very many!

The Elbe gorge near the German/Czech border
We came back to the van, looking across to the tall pastel coloured houses across the river.

Delightful Decin
We ordered 'forella' for Adrian, knowing that it was a type of fish, but couldn't remember what. It turned out to be trout, and excellent, and served on a bed of ratatouille. I had mushroom gnocchi -  equally good, so when the food finally came, it was excellent. Adrian also had potatoes, which was too much, so we brought back most with us. We'd had a jug of water too, so in the end, everything was fine. The castle restaurant on the other side of the river looked magical as darkness fell, and it was lit up. If we got the exchange rate right, the meal was very inexpensive too! (Yes £17.50 for two nice meals and a bottle of Bohemian bubbly)

The castle restaurant across the river
Thursday 11th September                                             Pleasant country in dismal weather                                     116 miles
Friday 12th September                                 More dreary weather in Czech, with a sting in the tail!                           113  (+4!) miles

It suited us, whatever it was for!
Tuesday 9th September                                                 Belgian lads and German friends                                         130 miles

We both woke late again to a fine morning. It was 10 o’clock when we were ready to leave, having had another look at my elbow.  A lot of cars had come into the parking area, but luckily not hemmed us in!

We had started working on the website, then gone to bed quite early.
At about 2 o’clock, we became aware of shouting and banging nearby - to me it sounded like gun shots! We didn't know where it came from. Adrian spent a long time peering out of the front window, but could see nothing. The moon was shining a bit - we had commented on it during the evening. The noise continued sporadically. It was very scary. We remembered that we were on a levelling block. Adrian let the van roll forward and crept out to collect the mud-caked block. We looked around at things that would have to be moved if we drove off - wine glasses, flowers, a bowl of water. We both knew that we would get no more sleep there that night - we were too frightened. In our nightclothes we climbed into the front seats and set off. The next village we came to, Cehovice, had a large lit-up church. We headed for that, but it was in the centre of the little cobbled roads, with no parking. We tried another track, but it led to gated works of some kind, and we imagined that workers might be arriving early for work.
We continued to the next village - Celcice -  and made for the railway. Opposite the tiny station we turned off onto the cobbled street, near to a large house, and with a lorry parked a bit further on. At 3.00am, it looked good to us! Feeling safe, we got back into bed and amazingly did get some more sleep. The first train came along at 5.20am! But then all was quiet until the next train at 6.45am.

We had been enjoying the trains going by. When a local train stopped, we heard a whooping, and a chap in red anorak leaped across the line in the rain and ran after the train. Sadly it didn't wait for him. As we were just leaving at 10 o'clock, the man approached us. He wasn't young! He gabbled off in Czech. When we said that we didn't understand Czech, we were English, he explained in his limited English that he was here 40 years ago, and had come back to visit. He asked where we were going, which was in the opposite direction from where he wanted to go. I felt really sad that we couldn’t help him.
We set off on our route south eastwards, taking more major roads, as we had found the rural roads pleasant but very slow. The villages looked rather sombre with their long line of houses either side of the road, especially in the dull weather, but it did brighten a bit later. One village, Hustenovice did have small gardens with flowers in front of the houses. The countryside became quite rolling, with large fields of sunflowers.
We pulled in for lunch in a (rare) long parking area which actually had a couple of picnic tables, but right by the road and not inviting. We sat inside for lunch, watching a large yellow student bus stop briefly while the young people got out to stretch their legs - reminding us of our trip on the 'yellow bus' down through Chile & Argentina in 2009.
By the time we left, the sun was shining. We were soon in Slovakia, with no border control. Maybe it was the (brief) sunshine, but Slovakia looked more cared-for and affluent than Czech, apart from the variable road surfaces! At Handlova we pulled in to photograph the handsome church.
Saturday 13th September                                                    Into Slovakia, still in the rain                                              167 miles

The morning was damp and grey, but it was good to feel safe! We have free camped for over 1500 nights, with hardly any problems so we didn’t dwell on it.
Our safe spot at Celcice station
We thought that there were more places to stop than in Czech, until we wanted to stop for a cup of tea to revive us after our disturbed night. We managed to pull in beside a reservoir just after Handlova as the rain returned. When it had virtually stopped, we decided to walk across the dam, but by the time we had put everything away (we are very wary after being broken into in Estonia two years ago), it had started again. Still, it was good to get some fresh air after 3 wet days. There were ducks on the water, and wild flowers amongst the grass.

The church at Handlova
We continued our journey in the rain. The hilly country looked lovely, but it was too misty to see much. Adrian was anxious not to go on any motorways, as we had no pass for Slovakia either.  Near Zwollen, we negotiated the road we wanted, only to find a 'Road closed' sign for today and tomorrow until 6.00pm. It was now 4.50, so we decided to chance it. The road was very flooded, with a swollen brown river beside it. We drove along for some way, then came to the cause of the closure - a motoring event! We waited a while, then followed after a van and car, just scraping past the tents and vehicles. We felt sorry for the participants, but pleased that because of the bad weather they were closing up early and we could get past! But why in the world was it there?
Just afterwards, we passed some rubbish bins, a rare sight, and were finally able to get rid of today's rubbish!
Continuing in the bad weather we were on the lookout for somewhere to stay for tonight. At 5.45 we saw a rough and very wet layby, just as we crossed our route of 1999 near Pstrusa. It was probably for access to the Slatina River, which we hope is far enough below us not to be a problem!
Later we looked at our book and maps of Romania and Bulgaria, but both felt rather weary!

The reservoir near Handlova
Sunday 14th September                                             Into Hungary, on our 4th day of rain                                             127 miles

It rained all night and was still raining in the morning! The road and railway hadn't been a problem

We drove on a few more miles, stopping beside the rushing Krivan River, which was joined here by another river - both brown and full. Pretty pink balsam was growing beside the river.
Where are we?
Krivan River - swollen like many others
Another railway spot - Bodrogkisfalud

We both had a 'busy time', having showers etc  and it was nearly 10 o'clock when we left.
We set off and very soon came to Detva.  We saw a Tesco store, open on a Sunday, and as we very much needed bread  (we had still been using some from England!) we went in for a short shop . They certainly don't go in for fish in these countries!   We had coffee afterwards, with some nice fresh bread. As we had an internet connection, we spoke to both Nicky and Emma on the skype phone. The connection was erratic, so we gave up on the video link, but it was good to chat, even if we found that the weather at home is fine and dry! Simon was about to take part in a 10k run as part of a triathlon and sent a photo of the participants setting off for their swim. We had some torrential rain while this was happening, but thought that we'd better set off before lunch!

The weather map shows it all!
Monday 15th September                                 Into Romania - eventfully!                             150 miles (guessed correctly)
Reflections in the River Bodrog
Russian rocket at Nyirtelek
After our lunch we walked down on the rough sandy track towards the passenger ferry marked on our map. It looked really dry, as if they hadn't had rain for ages. Below the levee there was a freshly painted little white house. With difficulty we found the track to the river, down stone steps. There was an area marked by white painted kerb stones, we wondered if it was the village congregating point. Across the river was a notice for 'Kemping'.
We drove on and very soon came to the border with Romania at a place called Pete. It was 2.30, 3.30 Romanian time. We did have to show our passports, but didn't have them stamped. An official did come and look into the van.
We had to get a 'vignette', a driving permit, so we pulled in to get this. While Adrian went in, I stayed inside the van. A grubby young urchin lad of about 8 came up immediately and mucked about around the van. He tried every trick - trying to open all the doors, swinging on a pipe and crashing it against the van, tugging at each and every opening outside. My 'Paddington stares' did nothing to deter him. For the second time in a couple of days I felt very uncomfortable. An elderly tramp with one leg came along and shouted at the boy with no effect. It was all extremely unpleasant, and not a good entry into Romania!
With the vignette  (no actual paper - 'all electronic' the lady said to Adrian) We drove on into the town of Satu Mare where we searched for a 'hole in the wall', and were able to get some Romanian currency. Adrian found it difficult, as we weren't sure of the exchange rate, and he didn't know how much to get! The town seemed quite reasonable and modern, with flowers  - young people had 'things in their ear' just like anywhere else. The outskirts had unattractive blocks of flats.
We took the road towards Baia Mare, finally pulling into a very dirty layby beside a field of dead sunflowers where we had a cup of tea and looked at where we might be going. A lady came and had a pee behind the tree in front of us! A mangy old dog rambled around - we shut the door!
At Livada we stopped as I saw  a sign to a place called 'Adrian', so we had to take a photo!

Looking down to the Szamos River
Behind us was a huge church with onion spires. We walked along to it, past the open channel beside the road. There were beautifully scented roses in front of the church.

Adrian, Romania!
As we drove on to Baia Mare we passed several horses and carts. Elderly peasant people were also very obvious, some sitting outside their houses. We were driving through flat country with hills to the side.
At Baia Mare there was a large church similar to the one we had photographed earlier, as well as a very futuristic church. It was a big town, mostly ugly. We had trouble getting out with one way roads and badly surfaced road works. We passed a mum with 4 little children going back to her ramshackled dwellings where an enormous line of washing hung from wires.

Church at Livada
As we drove up into the hills, a black squirrel ran across the road. People were foraging in the woods, maybe for truffles. We finally got to Firiza, a village of smart houses, where we were going to find a camping place for the night. Adrian thought that we had gone too far. As we turned around, I noticed the name he had said - it appeared to be a complex, and not what we were looking for at all. We started driving back down the hill, passing a layby where 3 young ladies were 'selling their wares', and at 7 o'clock new time found a place to pull off above Lake Firiza. It had been quite a day!

What a lot of washing!

Tuesday 16th September                       The wooden churches of Maramures (& a ‘different’ campsite)                            81 miles

We were surprised at the amount of traffic on this little mountain road, starting at 5.30 am (4.30 to us!) The sun was shining down on the lake when we finally woke up. Adrian walked right down to the lake to take a photo.

We left at  9.30 (new time).
We drove out of the forest and back down to Baia Mare, past all the road works. Often one side of the road was just rough rubble. Twice we were sent off onto little side roads which had hurriedly been repaired.
We were able to park near to the centre of the old town and then had a lovely walk around. There was a huge main square, but the nearby square was completely closed off as they were rebuilding it. There were a lot of church towers. We peeped inside a couple of the churches. One (Catholic?) had barriers so that you couldn't go far inside. The other (orthodox?) was very ornate. We were welcomed inside and had a quick look around.
In the tourist office in the main square a young girl with some English gave us a map of the town and told us of all the museums. There was a mixture of buildings, some in need of restoration. We passed by a primary school where one cheeky little boy picked a rose through the fence and offered it to us!
Early morning on Lake Firiza
It was 10.45 and warm by the time we left. As we drove out, we were impressed by the traffic light system which told you how long, in seconds, you would be waiting.
It was a long trawl through the dreary outskirts. Just as we reached the city limits, we came to an Auchan store, so went in the get some things particularly for Adrian's birthday tomorrow. It was now hot - vest and shorts time.
We set off southwards. We noticed a lot of produce (apples and tomatoes) for sale outside people's houses. In the fields we often saw autumn crocuses.
We were on the trail of old wooden churches which this area is renowned for. The first we came to was at Valea Chioarului. We had missed it at first and driven right through the village. We returned, and found it close to a much more recent church. It was quite delightful. We could only view it from the outside. With the cocks crowing, and the lush vegetation, it made us think of Tahiti. There were quite a few people around. One chap tried to talk to us. He had a few words of English, and understood that we thought that it was lovely.

The Main Square in Baia Mare and the primary school
Returning the way we had come, we stopped by a pull off with a rough concrete picnic table. It was warm and a bit windy as we sat to have our lunch. Around us were conical haystacks and hay was drying on racks. It made us think of Austria in 1965. We saw many more hay stacks today, and people working on them, and raking and turning the hay. Also apple trees were everywhere.

Valea Chioarului, the first of the wooden churches we saw
We had noticed many dark skinned Romany people. There was a wonderful contrast when we saw an elderly peasant woman on one side of the road, and a young blonde girl on a bicycle wearing pink on the other.
We came to another delightful wooden church with its tiny shingles at Remetea Chioarului. It was beside an impressive modern church with spires.

Haymaking in Romania
We unexpectedly came to another lovely church at Coas. There were wildflowers - knapweed and clover in the churchyard.
The old and the new, Remetea Chioarului

The wooden church at Laschia was up a lot of steps. Apple trees abounded as we walked up, and the graves were often full of planted flowers. Nearly all of these churches are world heritage sites.

The wooden church at Coas
In Fauresti, lots of people were out in the street. Our attention was taken by a tiny boy in blue t-shirt, and bare bottom, holding his brothers hand. Wonderful rural images we came across were men with scythes and a peasant lady sitting in an open trailer behind a tractor, also all the horses and carts.
We couldn't find the old church at Plopis, only the sign, and another church was too far away. The one at Surdesti had the route blocked by roadworks so we could only see it from a distance.
We drove a bit further to Breb, where we were hoping to locate a campsite, particularly so that we could empty the loo. We arrived at a small hotel, which we thought was the right name. We came across an old lady  first, but then a young girl who spoke some English said 'yes, it is possible' to stay. It didn't look right. Adrian looked up on the computer, and it wasn't the right name. The drive outside the 'hotel' wasn't level, so we weren't keen to stay. We apologised and drove on further through the village.
We were following signs now - and it was another kilometre along the bumpiest and roughest track possible! If we hadn't needed to empty the loo, we would have given up!
At 5.40 we came to the 'campsite' -  a lovely location, with several tents and one motorhome in a field. Two little blonde children, one in T-shirt only, sat in the long grass with two others close by.

Laschia Church
Breb campsite
Wednesday 17th September                              A short venture into Ukraine on Adrian's birthday                              59 miles

It had been a cold night for the first time, but the morning of Adrian's 72nd birthday was sunny and it soon became warm. We had showers in the van, not fancying wandering over to the cold shower block. We hadn't liked the colour of the water Adrian had got in a plastic container (no hose filling here), so hadn't put it into our tank.

We were heading north to the border town of Sighetu Marmatiel. At Ocna Sugatag we stopped by a little wooden church, where the bells were ringing. The sign said 1980, but it looked much older. A lady with bright red hair tried to chat to us. Her husband was ringing the bells in the separate little wooden building behind. He stopped the bells and came out - a large, round man, with a T-shirt which said 'I am Hungry' (which, judging by his size, he wasn't!)
The church door was open, so we could peep inside to see the delightfully colourful interior, with seats along the side of the church only. A man looking like the pastor arrived, so we think that a service was about to take place.

It was much bumpier than it looks!
Looking to Breb church
As we drove on we saw open air swimming pools and a (closed) campsite. We passed stalls with  tatty plastic ware on them.
There were a lot of road works as we headed towards the border with Ukraine. We were aware of some aggressive, impatient drivers. We passed lots of horses and carts. One was loaded up with possessions, and looked straight out of 'Fiddler on the roof', but the occupants smiled and waved to us. Old ladies were in peasant costume, nearly all with headscarves.

Inside Ocna Sugatag church
There was a continual line of houses beside the road as far as Sighetu Marmatiel. The traffic through the town was really slow. People here were very much in western dress. We wanted somewhere to stop, as Adrian was hoping to walk across into Ukraine. In the end, we found a spot in a side street - with an old steam engine just in front of us! It made a superb place for us to have our lunch, and to leave the van while we walked to the border.
Romanian traffic
Nice spot for Adrian’s birthday lunch
We walked back past all the Indian bean trees with their long pods, to the van. Here we had the tiny cake we had bought as Adrian's birthday cake. It was now very hot.
At 4 o'clock we set off along the Visieux Valley, passing lots of horses and carts, many transporting logs. We got to Viseu de Sus at 5.30. The reason for coming here, is that a steam train runs from here up into the hills - the only logging train that is still open to the public. We were hoping to ride on it tomorrow for Adrian’s birthday treat' (it wasn't running today - first week of the winter timetable). We didn't know if you could book, but Adrian came back from the ticket office jubilantly, with two tickets for tomorrow. Also we could stay in the yard (with water & electric) for 40 lei (about £7.50).
We had good cause to open the bubbly, and drank it sitting in the open train carriage right in front of the van!

A few images of our short visit to Ukraine
The border was quite busy, but we were ushered to the front and dealt with politely.
Crossing the bridge back to Romania
I cooked some fish for supper, which we think was trout, and even if the wine (Tokaj, where we were 2 days ago) was a bit sweet for Adrian, he had really enjoyed his birthday. We even got an internet connection and spoke to Simon, Emma and Paul. We ended by lighting a couple of sparklers outside. A really good birthday!
Fun place to have bubbly
Thursday 18th September                                                  Birthday treat steam train ride                                           0 miles in van

We were up at 7 o'clock on  cool morning and began preparing for our day on the train. The train left at 9 o'clock, but hordes of people soon began arriving, which was rather disconcerting. We soon realised that another train had come in and was steaming up. This one had more closed-in carriages. Adrian took our jackets over to 'book' our seats, and after that everything was rather a scramble! In fact the train beside us started to steam up too, and to load with people - they were obviously running two trains.

‘Our’ train
After an hour we stopped for the train to get water from a clear pool, using a long hose. We all got out - some people to have a smoke.  Others bought coffee and doughnuts from one of the open carriages. Some went for a pee in the woods. I had been very disconcerted to find out that the train had no toilets, but luckily all was well! There were toilets (clean earth closets) at the end station.
We continued to Paltin, which is as far as the train was going. It was now 11 o'clock, and we had 1½ hours here before setting off back. There was no village at all, just masses of picnic tables set out beside the river. We found one to sit at and eat our hurriedly made sandwich. You could buy sandwiches, but the queue was enormously long, so we were glad to have brought our own. Romanian folk music was played from the food stall, and just before leaving, the servers danced to the music.
We were joined at our table by a man who had been sitting near us on the train, and had already chatted to Adrian as they stood on the outside footplate. He was Romanian, but was a vet working in Toronto. He came back each year to visit his family, and this time had set off to see some of his own country. He was extremely pleasant, and again spoke excellent English. He had some 'traditional' Romanian food with him, which he wouldn't normally eat - local cheese, onions and fat! He offered us some - we tried the cheese!

A drink for the engine
This ‘Ford’ engine was in front to check the track
A happy Adrian!
At 12.30 we set off again, both standing on the outside footplate for some of the way, along with the brakeman, who had a hard time pulling on the brakes as we went downhill .
‘Lunch’ stop at Paltin
The sun was warm now when it reached us, deep down in the valley. We stopped once during the return journey, arriving back at Viseu de Sus at 2.30.
We said our goodbyes to our fellow travellers and returned to the van.
The return journey
Our Romanian couple
The Romanian vet from Toronto
Friday 19th September                                                    Towards the Bucovina Monastries                     100 miles (correctly guessed)
It felt very much like the Pyrenees or Alps - there was even a St Bernhard dog! More skiing development was just beginning here. We stopped a bit further on and Adrian walked back to photograph the wonderful view.

Lunch on the way to Prislop Pass
We drove on up to the pass at Prislop (1416m), where there was a fairytale like castle church.
Prislop Pass

We came to the tarmacking lorry, but they seemed to be filling in holes on the other side of the road, while we still bumped along over the deep holes.
At Botos the surface became a bit better. At Ciocaresti the houses were beautifully decorated with frieze like paintings.

Nice place for a cup of tea!
Prettily decorated houses, Ciocaresti
Saturday 20th September                                                    The Bucovina Monasteries                                                         83 miles

It was a fine but partly cloudy morning. The sun did come out a bit, but we didn't want it too hot, as we intended visiting monasteries, and had to be 'respectably dressed' - no shorts, and shoulders covered.
As well as the music last night, there had been a barking dog, and the nearby railway.
The other people (4 German, one Austrian plus one Romanian, and a French van which had come in late) all left at 9 o'clock. They nearly all seemed to have dogs.
We drove through the large village, with a lot of 'pensions', on the bumpy road to the first monastery - Voronet. Here we had to pay 7 lei  (£1.50) an hour to park, and then 5 lei (£1) each to enter (which we knew). It was also 10 lei to use a camera, but these were only allowed outside.
We’d already seen a lot of horses and carts. One behind the carpark was being used for logging. We thought it amusing to see the logs being cut up by chainsaw and then loaded onto a horse and cart!

Our spot by the Moldova River
It was a long walk up past all the market stalls to the monastery. There was no hassle from the stall holders. They were selling embroidered blouses, bead bracelets and wooden goods. People were painting eggs for sale.
This monastery was the largest, surrounded by a wall and tall trees. There were roses in profusion. The outside of the monastery was completely covered in frescoes (like a load of polyphotos.) The predominant colour here was blue. It was attractive, and felt very peaceful. Inside was decorated in the same way.
From chain saw to logging horse cart
Voronet monastery
We made our way to the 'real' one, paying our 5 lei once again, and 10 for photos. The building here was smaller, and the frescoes more damaged, but once again every inch of the walls was covered. They were doing restoration work inside.
We walked across to the tower, dating from 1600s. Adrian climbed right to the top, but the second two flights of stairs - extremely steep, and in the dark, didn't suit me! He took photos of the  superb views from the top.
The new monastery at Humor

This monastery had roses too. We walked back past the stalls, and I bought some decorated eggs. We didn't pay for the car park - the lady attendant appeared to be asleep when we arrived, so we don't know if we should have!
We returned now to Gula Humorului to continue our monastery route.
We drove back on yesterday's route as far as Vama, turning up for 7 miles to the next of the monasteries - Moldovita. Houses lined the road the whole way. It was really rural - people walked along the road with buckets to get water from the well. Horses and carts were prolific - many people waved.
Humor Monastery and its tower

We couldn't believe our luck when we came to a covered picnic table, with enough room to stop beside it. It made a great lunch stop. As we left, two cows with bells walked past.
When we reached Moldovita Monastery, we saw that the German group were already there. We parked in between them, but didn't actually speak to them, as they were having a guided tour by one of the nuns. We were glad not to have a guide. I quite like to see the overall sight of the frescoes, but wouldn't want to have each individual one described and explained to me.

Atmospheric lunch stop

This monastery had similar roses surrounding the building, and some lovely geraniums from the balcony of another building. They were working on restoring the entrance here. Although photos weren't allowed inside, the Japanese tourists completely ignored this!

Moldovita Monastery
We made the long descent of constant bends (on a newly surfaced road at first!) to Sucevita, the last of the monasteries we were going to visit. Like the wooden churches, these are all world heritage sites.
Sucevita Monastery was large, surrounded by high walls. Once more there were scented roses, and once more scaffolding. Once more too, the flat capped nun taking the money was miserable, with no smiles.

We now had to negotiate the Cuimarna Pass, winding our way right up to the top, where there was a huge statue of a hand.  The views were nice, but now misty, and the wind was cool. A few traders were selling local products, and an old chap tried hard to sell us some more decorated eggs.

House at Vatra Moldovitei
Cuimarna Pass
Having completed our visits, we set off to find a stopping place for the night. Following the sat-nav, we took a very rural, roundabout route, passing a wedding party walking along the road. When we got to our turn-off, Adrian found it no good, as it entailed a rough track for a mile and a half. It was now 5 o'clock. We could have returned to last night's spot, as we had done a circuit of the monasteries, and weren't far away, but at 5.30 we passed a picnic table just like the lunchtime one, and although it was very litter strewn, we pulled in near Paltinoaca.
Sucevita monastery
Across Europe to Romania
While I was cooking our pancakes for breakfast, an elderly gent came up and indicated that he wanted to talk. As I took him for a beggar, I waved, but didn't open the door. He walked across and thumbed a lift, which he got immediately, so perhaps he was just asking for a lift. We have noticed people, often with loads, thumbing, and getting lifts immediately.
It was a reasonable morning when we left at 9.15.
We soon came into Paltinoaca, on the main road, soon turning off south following the Moldova River. At the village of Braiesti each house had bench seats outside, facing each other.

Sunday 21st September                                                                       Rural Romanian Sunday                                             99 miles
Rural overnighter near Paltinoaca
Anyone for an onion or potato?
As we drove on, there was some nice autumn colour. We had planned to stop near the dam at Bicaz. There was a place mentioned in Lonely Planet, and also Adrian had information on the computer. Nothing seemed to quite work out. We drove across the long dam wall, and down to the 'cabana' mentioned in Lonely Planet, but this had a sign saying 'Private'. We drove back up and across the dam again, pulling into a shady layby at 5.15, near to where we had previously driven down to an unfruitful tourist complex.
Lake Izvoral Muntelui
Monday 22nd September                                A dramatic gorge, then into Transylvania (and Vlad)                                       123 miles

It was dark under the trees. We left just after 9 o'clock, enjoying the lovely view to the mountains as we left. We drove across the dam and stopped to take photos of the autumn colours.

The dam above Bicaz on Lake Izvoral Muntelui
We descended right down to Bicaz, which was a large town with unattractive blocks of flats and lots of taxis.
We were following the Bicaz River. At Tasca there were enormous ugly cement works contrasting with the beautiful scenery. We drove through little villages seeing lots more horses and carts.
Bicaz Gorge
We came out to Lacu Rosu - Red Lake - an expanding tourist village beside a small lake, from which dead trees emerged. It appears to have been formed by a landslide in 1838.
Tree stumps sticking out of Lacu Rosu
We looked at some eating places, but they were mostly pizza or fast food restaurants. On walking out of the citadel, we saw Bulevard restaurant, a nicely furnished place with lots of old photos on the brick walls. We had 3 lovely dark Romanian beers, a really nice vegetable soup (R) and fish (Zander - the same family as Perch) with chips (A), then a pudding each - plum tart & chocolate and icecream pancakes - all for £13!! and beautifully presented too.
Vlad the Impaler (Dracula)
Images of Sighisoara
We wandered back over the bridge in the dark to our van at 8.15.
Adrian tried for an internet connection, and got hold of both Simon & Emma, but said that he would ring a bit later. A frustrating time followed, as he then totally lost the connection. Success in the end though, and we did manage to speak to them both. And then the rain returned!

Plum tart!
Route map south west Bulgaria
Our Route map through Czech, Slovakia & Hungary
A more detailed map of our route through Czech (including 2 previous routes)
Our route map through Northwest Romania
Route Map for Northeast Romania