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.
Sunday 7th September Briefly through France then into Belgium 174 miles
Rupelmonde, where we couldn’t now stay
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
We left at 7.30 on a fine morning, with the sun breaking mistily through from a clear sky. We arrived at Dover at 8 o'clock for our 8.45 ferry to Calais with 'My Ferries', the first time we had travelled with them. We were told that they were loading in 10 minutes, which we thought gave us time to make a drink and get some cereal. Unfortunately, we were about the first vehicle to board, so it was rather a scramble, with mugs of drink and bowls of cereal! We were rapidly trying to mop up the spilt milk in the dark of the car deck! The boat was quite impressive. It was obviously French, with signs and announcements in French first (the old Sea France boats we think). We went out on deck to enjoy the fabulous view of the white cliffs of Dover, which it is so easy to take for granted.
At 10.15 (11.15), we had disembarked at Calais – again just about first off the boat. It all seemed very casual, with virtually no announcements. We drove into Calais and located a bakers on this fine Sunday morning. We bought a (not so fresh) baguette and some pain au chocolate, and ate these for 'elevenses', sitting on an iron bar by the harbour. We then drove through delightfully quiet Calais, stopping at Carrefour on the outskirts to fill up the tank with diesel. The supermarket, as others, was closed. We made our way to the motorway A16, and after as short time we were in Belgium. We travelled on the A18/A10/A14. The rest areas were all choc-a-block with lorries. We eventually stopped in a busy rest area, and enjoyed lunch sitting at a picnic table. We turned off the motorway, intending to stop at the motorhome place we had been unable to locate in 2012. That time, the weather had been abysmal, with rain and wind, and roadworks had hampered us too. This time the weather was beautiful, but we had just as much trouble in locating the place in our book. When we finally did arrive at what we knew to be the right location, we walked around past the attractive watermill, and then found the motorhome parking place, with a sign saying that since May 2013, motorhomes were not allowed! The site would have been there on our previous visit, but maybe not signposted. Shame – it was a lovely riverside spot (River Schelde), very tranquil on this Sunday afternoon, with just a few cyclists, and with people enjoying the pavement cafes.
We set off for a place 30 miles on, driving around Antwerp on the busy Sunday afternoon motorway. First we drove through Kruibeke, past the tall church where we had pulled in for the night last time, in desperation! We saw the bakers where we had bought a loaf of bread then, not knowing what language to speak! A sign said the the temperature was 25°C. Just before 6 o’clock, we stopped at our 'overnighter' at Grobbendonk (worth staying just for the name!), alongside many other motorhomes. After supper we played yahtzee and 5s & 2s, enjoying our first night abroad this time.
We had a late start, having moved on an hour in time. I'd written several emails, but annoyingly we lost the connection, so couldn't send them. Then we had an awkward time with my elbow, changing the dressing, and finding the wound still weeping. It was 10.30 when we drove through the smart, tidy town of Grobbendonk, with its large colourful baskets of flowers. We found a small Carrefour, where we bought bread, milk and chicory and one or two other things. There seemed to be a continual line of houses beside the road, like in northern France. Eventually we pulled into a bricked area edged with neat hedges in front of the church at Pulderbus for our tea/coffee. We left here at 11.30, and headed for the motorway A67, crossing into Holland half an hour later. We drove on through Holland, hoping to stop for lunch, but the rest area we tried was too full of lorries – the story of today. Where will it all end I wonder. We continued into Germany – now A40, stopping at 1 o’clock at a rest area where we sat at a picnic table for lunch. A tractor soon finished noisily ploughing in the field behind us, and we enjoyed the sunshine. As we continued, we were aware of the vast numbers of lorries on the motorway. We crossed the Rhein and soon came to a hold up. We drove on through the busy Ruhr area, taking the A2 motorway just to the north, which was through more pleasant country. We stopped at a rest area soon afterwards now on the A44. There were about half a dozen spaces for cars near the loos, the rest was taken up with lorries. We were able to sit at the one picnic table for our cup of tea, but the refrigerated lorry opposite didn't make for a quiet stop! At least the sun was nice! As we drove on, we did pass less busy rest areas, but also many jam packed with lorries. We continued eastwards through pretty, undulating forested country, . The leaves were just beginning to turn. When we came to our exit at Kassel, the town we were heading for –Hann. Munden was crossed out! We had to continue to the next junction, and drive back. It was very pretty, beside the River Werra. We reached our parking spot at 6.20, just across from the river. Later we read through our diary of 1991, when we had visited former Eastern Germany. It was fascinating and amusing, especially our eventful and problematic Silver Wedding day around Berlin.
Back on the motorway we headed towards Halle, turning off to Heiligenstadt, where we located the motorhome place to dump and get water. It was 12.30 by the time we got going again. We needed to stop for lunch, but the first rest area we pulled into had a width restriction on the part that was not for lorries. The next one had designated areas for cars/lorries/motorhomes. There were only benches by the motorhome part, so we crossed to a picnic table in the next section to have our lunch. As so often, the picnic table and benches were strange – too far away from each other, and sloping backwards. As we were just finishing eating, two lads approached us and asked for a lift. We said that we were going to Halle. They said fine, could they come with us. Adrian said, yes, but we don't speak much German. They replied 'Good, neither do we, we are from Belgium'! And so we gave a lift to Thomas and Alexander, two students from Antwerp who were on their way to Krakow and Warsaw. Alexander was more chatty, but I think that Thomas dropped off to sleep! We said that we had a son Thomas, who's birthday was today, so they wished him happy birthday!
Being right by the town, we thought that we ought to take the opportunity of eating out, especially as tonight is our 450th night in the Ixi! I had looked at the two restaurants adjacent to us, right by the river. We walked up to the first, which seemed to be just a coffee bar. The second had a menu of mainly pizza and pasta, but there were other things too. There was an outside balcony, decked out like a ship, decorated with life belts, right above the river. It would have been lovely, but too chilly now! We sat inside, and were finally served by a pleasant young waiter reminding us of our Polish dentist Greg. Things happened very slowly, but they did happen! We had not been able to get any Czech money, so when he said 'card – German or Czech?', Adrian got out his visa card to ask him if it was OK. He said yes, then again asked 'German or Czech card?'. We realised at last that he meant menu, so we said 'English' 'No, we haven't got English, German or Czech?' We settled on German, and had plenty of time to make our choice! We also ordered a bottle of local 'sekt', Bohemian bubbly, which wasn't expensive. When he brought this, with a bucket of ice, he said that it wasn't very cold, he'd open it in 10 minutes!
The night was very quiet, and the morning too, despite the many cars in the car park. People had been arriving, mostly by coach, for trips along the river. We had our breakfast, listening to the new 'Roses' playlist which Adrian had put on the ipod, comprising of songs with 'rose', or something similar in the title. We read an email from Lena explaining that Ruth and a friend intend cycling to Turkey, returning in almost a year's time! Adrian had another look at my elbow, then we walked across to the river, leaving just before 10 o'clock. This was a lovely start to our journey 'proper'! We drove towards Liberec, through pleasant rolling country, but as always with no pull-offs. Soon after Cvikov, we turned off and stopped beside the road for tea/coffee and some of Manfred's cake, trying to sort out our onward route. We continued around Liberec, a very large town, on a good road (this was probably a motorway which we weren't supposed to be on as we hadn't bought a vignette!), then on more winding roads to Jablonec, also large. After that we followed the sat nav on a very rural route. Cars were parked on the verge, and we imagined people 'foraging' in the woods. We pulled off for lunch on a rough area with a little roadside stall. The skies darkened and it became very grey. We left here at 2 o'clock. Unfortunately the greyness turned to rain, and everywhere took on a very dreary look, occasionally brightened by red and pink geraniums in window boxes. At Zasada lots of people were walking along the road. Many were children coming home from school. The afternoon was hampered by numerous roadworks and road closures. At one point a van overtook us, and the workers got out and covered up the closed signs on the way we were going, but there was still a 2 ton weight restriction, so we had to find a different way. At another point the main road was closed and we had to find a cross-country route. Added to these difficulties, the reversing camera monitor had stopped working. We had stopped again to rethink our route, as the going had been rather slow. When we came across a large surfaced area near a road junction at 5 o'clock, we decided that this was the place for us for the night. There was a sign with words which we looked up but couldn't find in the dictionary so we got settled in as the rain continued to fall. We were near a place called Dolary. Later we read through our diaries of our travels through Czech in 1999 and 2012 and also our diary of this trip so far.
There was more rain during the night and in the morning. It had almost stopped by the time we left at 9.30 and brightened a bit later, only to return again. There was quite a lot of traffic on the road the other side from us, but it had been a good stop over. We rethought our route once again, knowing that we urgently needed to dump, and also we still had no Czech money. We had thought of driving through a southern part of Poland, but now headed for a motorhome dump which we had used two years ago at Svitavy. There are very few motorhome facilities in Czech in our book. We drove a few miles into Jaromer, and when we saw a Tesco store thought that it would be a good idea to shop there, as we were pretty certain that we could pay by card. We had noted on previous visits to Czech that the produce in Tesco was better than other places, even if not up to the standard we are used to. We had quite a good shop, getting fruit & veg, rolls, wine and some slippers for me, as mine had fallen apart. As before, we found the prices interesting – most things really cheap – a 5 litre bottle of water cost 30p! A few things though were expensive, so we had to be careful. Afterwards we had coffee and a good 'maple/pecan' pastry. We even had an erratic internet connection. We then set of south eastwards in the direction of the dump station. We were hampered once again by roadworks. Finding places to stop was difficult as always. We turned off to the village of Zamrsk, finding a space to park just by the railway station. A lady who was walking past with a wheelbarrow having dumped her grass clippings in a large skip, indicated that she wanted to talk to us. I thought that she was asking where we were from, so I said 'England'. She replied 'no Deutchi, Czechi'. She was perhaps wondering where we were going. I pointed southwards, and she seemed quite happy! Just as she left, we had a torrential shower of rain, but then the sky brightened. Numerous trains went by behind us. After lunch we drove on south-eastwards towards Svitavy for the dump. When we had come in 2012, it had been really hot, and some young kids had been playing with the hoses when we arrived. We approached with trepidation, hoping that the facilities were still there. We had a bit of trouble in finding it again, but all was well, even if the water tap had a big problem, and it took ages to fill the tank. We had a cup of tea afterwards, then set off again, hoping to find a stopping place for the night. We drove through attractive undulating country, often tree lined, making us think of Poland, but the road surfaces here are better (except for the bumpy cobbles after Jevico). We passed lovely coniferous and deciduous trees. The roads were often winding around the hills. The rivers and streams were brown and swollen. There were no pull-offs though. We stopped in Prostejov to see if there were any suggestions on the computer but there weren't! Soon afterwards, at Bedihost, I spied a track to the side with a tarmacked bit of ground. At 5.40 we pulled in – the weather was dull and damp, but the spot seemed adequate for tonight. BUT! 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 quiet till 6.45am
It was 2 o'clock when we left here – we had driven a total of 9 miles! We continued through the pleasant countryside – wet and green! At Rimavska Sobota we stopped to get some fuel and at 3.15 we entered Hungary. We drove past the old border crossing on a dreadful bit of road which luckily improved. We had a brief glimmer of sun! We immediately noticed the different language on the signs. We had left the hills, and now drove through flattish country on a tree lined road. The first town we drove through, Putnok, struck us as being well cared for, with lots of flowers and nicely painted buildings. There seemed to be pride in the place. We remembered from previous visits that there are very few pull offs in Hungary, but we did find an old bit of road for our cup of tea. It was very wet, but there were a lot of wild flowers as I walked out, and steps down to an old spring. We had noticed vast old factories from communist days. We negotiated around the large town of Miskolc, continuing past Szerencs which was smart with lots of flowers and some strange towers. It seemed to be a world heritage site. We turned off this road (37) and at 5.20 came to a large rough parking area beside the railway at Bodrogkisfalud. It was full of puddles, but seemed a good place for the night. Heavy old trains went by, but the level crossing was quiet and didn't have any bells.
We were able to talk to Simon on the skype phone, after his excellent 10km run. We also had a chat to Manolo & Millie, both on fine form. Later we read through many of our lists from our Australia 1998 trip – before internet and computers! So much fun!
Strangely there were no trains in the morning. We wondered if it might be for works on the line or a strike – it wasn't a public holiday. The builders merchants opposite was quite busy. It was a grey morning, with some sun, and at least not raining! We left just after 9 o'clock, following the River Bodrog. Bodrogkeresztur was quite a smart place. We noticed storks nests which we'd first seen in Hungary in 1999.
We came to Tokaj, which was marked as a world heritage site and we wondered why. We pulled in by a huge theatre building, which was closed, and looked it up. It seems that it is an ancient wine growing area – we had noticed vineyards yesterday. The Bedrog River joined the even larger Tisza River here. We stopped by the bridge, beside a 'resort' area which had seen better days! There was an obsolete camp-site obviously from the communist era. We walked on to the bridge, enjoying the reflections. It was lovely to be in the sun! We drove on to Nyirtelek, where there were two rockets in a park.
Several young people were here with their bikes, having a chat. We had our coffee sitting on a bench. It was hot – we both changed into shorts! As we travelled on, we noticed a lot of people cycling with large loads, also people walking with big bags. At Nyiregyhaza there were long market stalls, but people seemed to be packing up. We noticed workers in fluorescent jackets sweeping the pavements with besom brooms. At Or there were a lot of little simple roadside stalls selling potatoes and fruit, particularly water melons. We had seen many places to stop early on, but of course nothing when it came to lunch time. We were almost at the Romanian border, so turned off on to a no-through road by the Szamos river and stopped just before the river after a village called Komlodtotfalu. It was cloudy now but warm. There was a newly painted white fence.
An attractive young woman with long blonde hair then greeted us. She was wearing torn denim shorts. It turned out that she was Dutch, and had lived here for three years. She said that it was much better than Holland – less money, but such freedom and space. It was very much an 'alternative' site, with a tiny hostel attached. She spoke of 'grandmother', so we think that the husband is Romanian, and his mother still lives here in the farm buildings. She showed us the facilities – 2 showers (No male/female). Washing up – outside. Water (no chance of using our hose – but when we saw the colour of the water, we didn't want it anyway!). Then the bombshell – 'you can't empty the loo, we have a sceptic tank'! Our hearts sank. We assured her that we used no chemicals, and she said OK. When we came with the loo tank, another blonde young lady (her sister?) repeated that we couldn’t empty it! Once more we assured her about no chemicals. With that task done, we sat in the last of the sunshine with our aperitif. Adrian had taken a long time to get the van level and then finding the plug for the electric, now we could relax!
Adrian had opened his birthday cards and presents, then we took our scrambled egg breakfast to eat at the one picnic table. The site was slow to wake up, with nobody about still when we left at 11 o'clock. Adrian had chatted to the young husband when he went to pay, and found that they were both Dutch. They had come to visit the area and liked the position and view of the farm, and had bought it, along with 'Grandma' (no relation), who had stayed on in the farmhouse. We now had to cope again with the bumpiest ever 1km track but after that we had good views to Breb church.
We spent a long time making everything secure in the van, then part way along the road, Adrian wondered if he'd locked all the outside lockers (he hadn't!), so had to return. We made our way to the border, wondering if it would be possible to walk across, as Lonely Planet suggested, because of the recent troubles. The Romanian border officials were all very pleasant, saying 'Have a nice day'. We then set off to walk across the long bridge over the Tisa River on the wooden walkway. On the other side, we had the Ukrainian officials, and these were pleasant too, as they stamped our passports. We were asked where we were going. As we had no idea, we just said 'to the village'. Signs were in Russian script, which made things extra difficult. As we approached the village, there were roadside stalls selling oilskin tablecloths and colourful scarves – black with bright flowers. There was a 'shop', with that written outside, which had overalls hanging up. A little girl walked by carrying her violin. She wore a black skirt with white top and tights, with a rosette in her long dark hair. A woman passed us in her car. People were cycling, and others carrying large bags of shopping. We walked as far as a smart church, taking in as many images as we could before starting to walk back. As we did so, two young boys walked past us, about Manolo's age. One had stylishly cropped hair. We attempted to take a photo. When he reached his house, his mother tried to talk to us. We replied with smiles. As we neared the border again, a young woman in T-shirt and shorts cycled by, with a solid child seat on the back.
We made our way over to 'our' train, where all the seats were now taken. The wooden seats on this train had cushions on them, unlike the other train. We were sitting opposite a young couple, who after a while we got chatting to. They spoke excellent English. He had translated the information given by the lady official for us. He worked for a company which had offices in Marlow and London, so spent some time in England. She was a doctor, specialising in thyroid problems. When I later mentioned that we had stayed at a campsite owned by Dutch people, he said 'Were you at Breb?'. They were staying in a (cold) cottage in Breb, and had hired bikes from our campsite! The train set off on time, travelling along the valley of the Vasser River, with its increasingly steep sides. The sky was blue, but it was cool in the shade of the hills. There were cows in the fields, and racks for drying hay and a few houses at first.
Adrian had had a wonderful time, but then we had a downer! We had intended having a meal tonight in an adjacent rail carriage. Adrian had enquired about it yesterday, but when we went to book, we found that there were no seats left. We were really disappointed, as this was to be a celebration meal. We could have booked it last night, but hadn't been told that there was a need to. We came back and sat in the sun on the log in front of the van with a cup of tea before getting sorted after two busy days. I had also hoped to have a short cycle from here on the hire bikes, but Adrian was sure that it would be rough mountain biking, so not for us now. Nevertheless, we decided to stay here for tonight. It was even cheaper tonight, as we didn't pay for showers (we hadn't known or used them yesterday). There was an added bonus – Adrian noticed a small washing machine in the gents loo, which was really for the workers use, but we were told that we could use it. We had a nice meal, with Adrian's favourite halloumi cheese and afterwards we worked a bit more on the website. When the washing had finished, we had a 'knicker and sock' line around the van, but all was dry by morning.
This morning it didn't seem so hectic as people came for the train rides. They appeared to arrive much later than yesterday. There were still two trains running, and it was fun watching all the activity. After having showers in the van, we sorted all the dry washing and I even ironed a couple of T-shirts! We got more water and emptied the loo, so didn't leave until 10.30. We had debated whether to have coffee before leaving, then thought that we probably should have! We drove through Viseu, stopping in a little shop called 'market' in the next village and buying just a loaf of bread. We were not impressed by the other goods. We were following the Viseu river, and houses lined the route endlessly. We saw many peasant ladies dressed in mostly black. We pulled in opposite a church for coffee and a bit of the bread. The churches have been sparkling white with shimmering silver roofs. A peasant lady walked down from her house and crossed the railway line with a bucket full of apples. We noticed older men wearing trilby hats We drove through the town of Borsa at 3,500ft, with its nearby skiing resort. We came to a picnic table beside the road, which made a wonderful lunch stop in the hot sun. The bench was made of strips of small logs. It felt really alpine with the meadows, the forests of fir trees and little huts. Lots of overloaded logging trucks went by. We saw four hoopoe birds fly off from the top of a tall evergreen.
There was a new picnic table in exactly the same design as the one we had lunched at. The Italian motorhome which had been parked beside us at Breb passed us – we kept passing each other all day. As we descended this side of the pass, there was no crash barrier at all – there had been once, why had it gone? We passed two groups of makeshift tents and shelters of wood covered by plastic. The road was VERY bumpy. We were following a large truck, but Adrian couldn't take his eyes off the road immediately in front for a second. It was like following an obstacle course around the huge holes. At Carlibaba the gardens were full of flowers and the balconies dripped with geraniums. We were following the wide and shallow Bistrita River. Near Valea Stanei we pulled in by a covered picnic table. Three kids came along on their bikes and sat at it, with their phones! We had our cup of tea, and thought it a good place to stop, but decided to go further.
At Lacobeni we reached the main road (17) and at last had a decent surface. A man driving a large motorhome with a small trailer asked us what our road was like. We could only say 'bad', which I think he understood! We drove north eastwards, coming to the large, smart town of Campulung Molovenesc. We saw a 'Penny Market' shop (which we think is Aldi) and went in to buy some drinking water. Everything was very inexpensive. We bought 3 bottles of wine, water, lebkucken, Tuc biscuits and more and it came to less than £10 It was now 5 o'clock. We were planning to visit the Monastries of Bucovina, the first of which was near. At Gura Humorului we turned off to Voronet Monastery, only 4km away, hoping to find somewhere to stop. As we crossed the Moldova River, we saw half a dozen motorhomes parked in a field. We drove in, and Adrian spoke to one of the men. He was German, and said 'yes, OK to stay'. We sat out for a short while in the sun with a drink. Another man came to chat. He was Austrian, from near Linz and leader of the group. He had travelled to Britain 5 or 6 years ago and loved it. Each year he had travelled – one year to Russia. When we came in and looked on the computer, this place was on Adrian's list of 'Freebies', we just hadn't got round to looking! Adrian was interested to read of the Scottish referendum result, and its implications for other places, especially Catalonia and Romania. We heard Romanian folk music coming from the nearby village at bedtime – it wasn't so much fun when it went on all night!
When we got back to the entrance, a Romanian coach party had just arrived, and we had to push our way past. It wouldn't have been so peaceful with all those people in there! Another coach party had just arrived in the car park. We just had time for our tea/coffee before our hour ran out. We took the bumpy road back to the main road, passing the haystacks looking like skittles. We drove on to the smart town of Gula Humorului with its pretty flower beds – petunias and begonias - to the next monastery, Humor. There were houses lining the bumpy road all the way. This monastery was much quieter. We mistakenly walked first to the modern monastery next door to the ancient one. There were lovely brightly coloured frescoes on the new building beside the monastery.
Many had huge bags of potatoes on them, and a few had apples and onions. We wondered who would be buying all these potatoes, and how they chose which ones to stop at! It was a nice rural Sunday feel as we drove past the non-stop houses, with chickens roaming free (later we saw cattle too.) We passed a stork's nest. We have been amused at the word 'non-stop' on signs for petrol stations, shops etc where we would say 24 hour. After Sasca, we finally came to open, flat country, with a lot of sweetcorn being grown. Near Tarsia, we pulled in for coffee by a covered picnic table, but luckily hadn't planned to sit at the table, as it was missing! There were blue chicory flowers, which was nicer than the litter strewn everywhere. One of Adrian's birthday balloons had come down. We looked up our diary of 2007, (24th Sept), when we had played with a balloon while on the Lewis and Clarke trail on the Salmon River. We came to the large and not very attractive town of Targu Neamt and shopped in an extremely busy Lidl. We needed both bread and butter, but didn't buy too much else, as we had very little Romanian money left. We didn't want to be in the situation of 2 years ago in Germany, when our card wouldn't work, and I had to stay with the shopping while a kind customer had driven Adrian to a bank! (7th Jul). This time, Adrian walked up to a nearby bank while I put the shopping away. We'd had our problems though, as the till roll in the queue we were in ran out, and after waiting some time, we transferred our shopping to another one. The car park had many dark skinned children begging. They were very persistent. With some it seemed to be a family business, with parents waiting by the horse and cart. Made us think of 'Oliver'! We needed an internet connection to look up about a gorge we were heading for, as Adrian thought that it might not be big enough for the van. We had a lot of trouble in getting a connection, but when we did, we were able to speak to Paul & Nicky and the girls on skype, on a chilly day in England. It then came on to rain. We drove out of the town, looking for somewhere to pull off for lunch, as it was past lunch time. This area also has plenty of monasteries, but we had seen enough!There was of course nowhere for a long while, and when we did finally pull off, it rained torrentially for a while. We drove on through more villages. Once again, at Leghin, they were selling what looked like potatoes beside the road. People seemed very happy, some sitting and some walking – it seemed to be the way to spend Sunday afternoon. Many waved enthusiastically to us. Between Pluton and Petra Voda we wound up through the forest to a pass. At Polona Langului we came to Lake Izvoral Muntelui, a very long reservoir built in the fifties. Disappointingly we were high up amongst the trees for much of the way, with no view of the water, but we were able to pull in at Grozavesti, above the lake and have a cup of tea.
Some of the people were wearing fluorescent jackets, which looked amusing. There were a lot of people walking along the road. At Bicaz Chei there were more vast cement works, just as we came into the National Park. We then entered Bicaz Gorge, which was really dramatic with its enormously steep sides. It looked really attractive, with the autumn colours, and the little stream flowing down. It was very narrow, so we were glad to see a lorry pass us, as we then thought that we would get through. We were intrigued to see dozens of stalls lining the road. Some were closed up, but many were open. We couldn’t see how people could park to stop at the stalls. The road was partly being resurfaced, and there were busy workmen about. We were surprised to see a large bus following the route. Lonely Planet had described the 'white knuckle' drive through the gorge, but the most worrying part was the bad overtaking of other drivers!
We had our coffee before winding on up through the mountains to Pangareti Pass -1256 m. From here we could look down towards Gheorgheni far below. We descended on winding roads. When we pulled in to discuss our route, a group of ladies, looking like Hungarian peasants (this is a very Hungarian area) tried to get our attention by knocking on the van. They were picking up something – maybe even litter. We stopped at the village of Lazarea for Adrian to try to get an internet connection. According to Lonely Planet, there was a Saxon castle here. Nothing was signposted. We saw what we thought was the castle, and turned onto an unsurfaced road, but it was blocked by road works, so we gave up! We wanted somewhere for lunch, and pulled onto a puddly track beside a pleasant park full of trees. It was sunny, but there were no seats nearby so we sat in the van. Children had been coming home from school, looking like any European children, the girls in pink tops and trousers, with pink back packs. Mums collecting them (some in cars) were on their mobile phones. It felt hot when we left at 2 o'clock. We drove westwards. At Joceni, there were wheelbarrow loads of potatoes for sale outside houses. We passed even more horses and carts. We crossed the Mures River. Houses lined the road, with a ditch in front, often with Michaelmas daisies growing. At Borsont we ascended into the forested hills. At the bustling little town of Praid the houses looked different, with red tiled roofs. The names were written in Hungarian as well as Romanian. We were now in Transylvania– a name that until recently I had thought was made up! At Chibed, there were onions strung up for sale outside the houses. We came to Fantanele, hoping to find somewhere to stop for our cup of tea. There were large cooling towers and we pulled in opposite one, joking that we could sit outside by the flower beds looking across to the towers (now that Didcot’s are gone!), but at that point it started to rain!
We reached the junction with the road to Sighisoara at Batauseri, where again there were stalls of onions. We saw a funeral procession walking along the road. At the next village, as well as the onions, there were stalls of gnomes and storks! (and we did see a stork's nest too!) We arrived at Sighisoara and made our way to the campsite that we had information on, right in the centre. Imagine our dismay, when we found the gates closed! Adrian went to investigate, and on persevering he found that the parking area for motorhomes was open. The adjacent enormous swimming pool was empty and closed, but for £9 we had a bit of hardstanding with water and electricity! It was very wet on the ground, but we decided to walk up into the ancient town. The sky looked very grey, and it soon began to rain, but we climbed up to the citadel and had a pleasant wander around this atmospheric town, where apparently Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) had been born. We even saw his statue, and the house where he was supposedly born! There were several ancient towers and old churches.