The rain continued into the night, and the morning dawned grey. It had been very quiet, despite being in the centre of the town. All we heard were church bells at 6.00am.
My elbow was giving concern, as it wasn't healing. I started taking some antibiotics we had with us.
Adrian wanted to spend a day catching up, particularly to get on with the website, which takes a great deal of time, and needs an internet connection.
We spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon working on it. I enjoyed seeing the birds outside – wagtails, sparrows and collared doves. We haven't seen very many birds.
I made 'gypsy toast' for lunch – eggy bread with cheese.. Adrian did the emptying, then we set off for a walk – the sun had come out now, but it was chillier than it has been.
We ended up walking right around the outside of the citadel, stopping to buy a large loaf from a little bakers, where the lady was pleased to speak some English. It was a long way around – we had asked in a small tourist information if they had a map. The young chap showed us a 'freebie 'type map of the town for 1 euro, which we declined! The back of the 'hill' was a steep park area with trees. Adrian was amused at a 'no parking for horses & carts' sign.
Along by the river and over the bridge
Past the church
And back to our campsite
Wednesday 24th September Saxon villages and lunch outside Charlie's house! 92 miles
It was cool, but the sky was blue. We were amused and amazed to see 8 young people emerge from the motorhome which had come in noisily late last night and walk off with their back packs.
We didn't leave until 10.20, having a great view of the citadel as we dove across the bridge.
We drove towards Brasov, through pleasant country scattered with ancient villages.
We pulled in by the crumbling church at Saschiz, not realising that this was one of the Saxon villages. We had our coffee, waiting for the coach party to leave, and looking up to the fortified castle on the hill. We then walked across to the little tourist information, where we got a leaflet on the village, and also on the birds and the flowers of the region. The young girl seemed more interested in arranging the pots of home made jam!
We then set off on a walk around this film set village, walking across a very unsafe looking bridge, with a waterwheel attached to it. A lady shovelling outside her home said hello, and indicated that she thought it was cold! Wonderfully atmospheric houses lined the unsurfaced road. We kept going, hoping that the road would join up with the main road, which luckily it did!
Back in the van, we continued to Bunesti, where we turned off to the village of Viscri, a World Heritage site. The road was partly surfaced, but was really rough, with huge pot holes. We rumbled on for 7 km until we came to the village, where the road was not surfaced. We pulled in to have lunch. I had just got the minestrone soup ready when a chap knocked on the van and tried to sell us an embroidered cloth. I attempted to ignore him, and when we had looks from another couple, I ignored them too. Adrian thought that they wanted to talk to us, so opened the door. It turned out that she lived in London, and was staying in Brasov, and had come to see this village with a friend. They saw our GB numberplate and just wanted to say hello!
We knew that Prince Charles had an interest in preserving the forests and architecture of Romania, and had bought a house in this village. The lady told us that she thought that we were parked outside it! It was powder blue as his house was reputed to be, and we later found out that it was in fact this house.
Some images of Saschiz
Prince Charles’ house in Viscri, with us parked outside for lunch
We continued towards Brasov on an unsurfaced road, which was in fact much smoother than the 'surfaced' road we had come on. We drove through green hills scattered with trees and with autumn crocuses growing. We saw a lad rounding up a large flock of sheep on his own, with no dog.
Impressions of photogenic Viscri
At Dascia we reached a surfaced road. An Austrian couple in a motorhome coming the other way, asked about our road. They had been at last night's campsite.
The road we were on now was very potted. We passed horses and cows in the fields. At Rupea, where we joined the main road to Brasov, there was a wonderful castle on the hill.
On the road to Dascia
The road was now good. We realised that it was too late to visit Brasov today, and decided to drive on to a place to stay at Bran, where we wanted to visit the castle (of Dracula fame). We were amused on the outskirts of Brasov to see a sign saying 'Zone Industriel', and pointing towards an empty field!
We negotiated around Brasov. At the long strewn out village of Cristian, we had a view to snow topped mountains!
We got back at 5 o'clock, and Adrian did the 'filling'.
After supper we sent the email and the website and then read through our diary. We were pleased to get hold of Tom, and had a chat to him on skype.
Thursday 25th September Bran and Brasov 100 miles
The night was cold – there was frost on the cars! As we put on our Ipod, the tune playing was ‘September morn'! The dogs had been a real nuisance, one in particular barking loudly and incessantly. We did enjoy seeing chickens wandering around though. The sun had reached us by the time we left at 9.15.
We drove back to Bran Castle. We wanted to arrive early to miss most of the crowds. We knew that parking might be a problem - it cost 7 lei (£1.50) an hour, but we managed to find a space on a side street. There were no signs, and we had trouble finding our way into the castle, which we could see above us. When we did, we were pleased that we could have 'oldies' rate at 25 lei (£5) each. Adrian didn't bother with paying for a camera (20 lei) but did surreptitiously take in his phone.
Bran really is a fabulous castle in a beautiful setting. Although early, it was already busy. We couldn't envisage what it must be like with several coach parties. There are many narrow, steep and winding staircases of wood or stone, some almost dark. Sometimes we would have to wait for people to descend. There were hardly any handrails, and no signs telling you where to go. The castle has a great history, being associated with Vlad the Impala and the Dracula stories. The Romanian Royal family lived here, and there were many artefacts. I liked the blue and green chests. There were great views out over the hilly countryside, and attractive courtyards. We didn't get involved too much in its history, we just enjoyed the feel of it all.
Aspects of Bran Castle
We pulled in to have lunch sitting on a little wall with views down to Brasov far below before driving town to the town. Again we knew that parking would be difficult, but we were able to find a spot in a car park (3 lei for 2 hours) right by the town. We had a really good wander around the busy, bustling town. We loved the main square, which had stalls selling all sorts - crafts and food. We bought a long fried sugary 'loaf' - made in a spiral, a bit like a cylindrical cream horn. It was hot, and delicious. I had forgotten to take my bottle of water, so we had to hunt around before finding a little supermarket where we could buy some.
Looking down to Brasov
We wandered on some more, all the time seeing the Hollywood style letters of Brasov set high in the hills, where a cable car could carry you up. We stopped to eat some more of the 'bread' in a little square near the Shei Gate, seeing some strange tiny red and black beetles on the wall.
Brasov’s main square
Next to the square was the so-called 'black church'. This didn't impress us so much. We had to pay 8 lei each to go in. It was apparently a Gothic gem, but to us was only like so many churches that we know, and rather a plain one at that! You couldn’t even take photos!
The Black Church
Strange red and black beetles
The Shei Gate
We hoped that we were going the right way, and were pleased when we saw the large black and white church which is by the campsite.
Friday 26th September A dull day, but a spark of steam for Adrian! 47 miles
What I really liked were the windows in the red tiled roofs of the houses – they looked like eyes with eyelids!
We bought a cheese 'pastry' from a bakers. I handed over 2 lei, as I had pointed to the 'plain' pastry. She gave me the pastry, and asked for another lei. When I said – '2' she said 'don't have', so had given me a cheese one, which was 3 lei!
We walked back past the brick town wall to the van to have lunch. We turned on the computer and received an email from Matt, saying that he and Marion's wedding will be in the Lake District next June.
The Bridge of Lies
Anyone for bacon fat?
Just some of the engines we saw at Sibiu - railway buffs contact Adrian if you want to see more!!
We had scant information on a railway 'museum' in Sibiu, so Adrian tried to find the way there. It was very hard to find, but with perseverance we made it! It was off a small dirt track on the southern side of the town, with nothing to show that it was there. It wasn't really a museum – more a collection of 20 or so steam engines at the roundhouse beside the railway works! Adrian was in his element as he wandered around all these engines, just standing there! It was if a museum was once intended, but the engines were just left where they stood. One or two workers walked by, but nobody bothered us. It made Adrian think of Barry (Wales) in the past.
Saturday 27th September The world's best road 62 miles
Soon afterwards we began ascending the mountains. Mostly we were in thick cloud, but just occasionally it cleared a bit. It was probably better that I couldn't see, as the road winds on hairpins continually, often very close to the edge, which isn't good for me with my fear of heights! It did mean though that we weren't able to see the fantastic views which you apparently have from the road.
Before long we reached snow beside the road and wondered whether we would make it to the top. We wound on up on continually circuitous roads with many, many hairpin bends to the summit at 2042m, where we were amazed to come to car parks with men collecting money! There were stalls with sausages hanging from them, all in the cold and the snow!
Ascending the Fagaras Mountians
Then we immediately went through a tunnel (did nothing for my claustrophobia!), but when we came to the other side, there was sunshine! It was short lived at first, but then, as we descended to the tree line, passing cascading waterfalls, the sun stayed. We had now left Transylvania and were in Wallachia.
The Fagaras summit
We pulled in for lunch at 4,200 ft. Now we could relax – we had made it across the mountains! The trees were tinged with yellow. It was sunny but cool. We walked down to a little rocky stream passing several wildflowers including Siberian bellflower.
A little bit of the descent
We then wound down and down the southern side of the mountains, coming to long Lake Vidraru. Occasionally we could glimpse the lake through the trees, as we drove on constant hairpin bends. The sat nav often lost where we were going! We managed to pull in for a cup of tea, looking across to the steeply forested slopes opposite.
Out of the snow!
Soon afterwards we came to the dam. There were stalls selling local cheese, jam and sweetcorn. Two horses with carts full of logs passed us The dam was incredibly high (165m). We looked down the steep sides to the bottom of the valley far below. We then went through several low tunnels (4 m) - we wondered what we would have done if we hadn't been able to get through them! High above us was Poiemari Castle, reputed to be Dracula's 'real' castle. It is where Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) had lived and ruled from.
By Lake Vidraru dam
At 4.50 we came to a picnic site which Adrian thought that we could stay at. It was deep down by the river, with picnic tables on either side of the stream. There were 4 'toilets' – wooden shacks with a hole in the ground!
We pulled in and walked all around the area. High above us we could see the castle. People had had fires in various different spots. We tried to gather up any scraps of firewood, but it was hard going! The sun went down behind the high mountains, so we tried to get a fire going. Adrian used the little saw I had given him for his birthday. We planned to cook on the fire, but it didn't go well! Adrian couldn't find any barbecue lighting fuel - it must have got left behind. He tried lighting an 'instant barbecue' we had been carrying around for ages. Nothing would light! We tried finding any bits of paper we had - even using bits of my notebook! In the end, we did get the fire going, but we cooked the food inside! We ate our meal sitting by the fire, watched by a mangy little dog all the while - we threw our scraps to him afterwards. A memorably beautiful ending to a challenging day!
Poiemari Castle, Vlad Tepes’ (the Impaler) ‘real’ castle
This is what it’s all about!
Sunday 28th September Out of the mountains and on to Bucharest 128 miles
We were deep in the valley, so although there was a partly blue sky, it was cool. No sitting out for our fried breakfast! I gave a couple of crusts to another mournful dog before we left at 9.30.
We followed down the valley of the River Arges, turning off onto a surfaced road which Adrian thought might lead up to 'Dracula's castle'. It didn't, but it was interesting to see the activities of Sunday morning as we drove past lots of well maintained houses. Several people were just walking - twice we saw men leading their cow along - it made us think of Jack and the beanstalk! A few men were sitting at a bar. After several miles, the road ran out, so we returned to the main road.
We then passed many villages. The first was Corbeni, where the houses were strung out before merging with the next village. People were sitting by rough stalls with mostly apples on them. Other people were just walking along the road. We saw far less horses and carts, and the hay rick supports were often empty. This area appeared more affluent to us than further north.
We came to the large town of Curtea, which was unattractive on the outskirts, with a lot of industry. We persevered, and finally found the Cathedral complex which we were looking for. We parked for 2 lei (40p) right by the cathedral, having our coffee sitting on a grassy slope in the warm sun before entering the grounds. A lot of people were wandering around the pleasant grassy area, dotted with tall trees. In the centre was a superb white building, with rounded tops to the towers, and looking very Eastern. It had been built with marble from Constantinople in 1512. There were old carts and wheelbarrows full of flowers and chanting was coming from the loudspeakers, making it very atmospheric. Inside the church the walls were completely covered by gold and brightly coloured frescoes. There was the tomb of Queen Marie, who had been born in England, and had lived at Bran Castle.
Nearby was a church with a spire, which was obviously a haven for catholics, who were thronging there - lighting candles, writing messages and fervently praying to the images.
We walked out, past all the stalls selling fruit, icons and general 'tat'.
We set off again across the flattish country with houses lining the road once again. At Merisani we could see a vast number of people gathered, so turned off to investigate. Cars were parked, and people of all ages were walking along the road. Many of the ladies wore long flowing skirts. The younger people were in western dress. We were aware of being stared at. Many of the people were very swarthy looking. There were loudspeakers with chanting. As we neared the house where all the activity was, a man spoke to me. He said it was 'a lady'. He indicated that she had died. 'kaputt' he said. Adrian went to photograph the ladies beside him, but they turned away. As we walked back, some men sitting at a table started talking. They spoke minimal English, but wanted to know where we were from. When we said 'England, London', they got us to exchange phone numbers (when someone found a pen) so that they could visit and stay (we hope not). They were happy to have photos taken. All the adults had gold teeth.
The Cathedral complex at Curtea
Other men were sitting at another table playing backgammon. Adrian had asked why there were a lot of Bulgarian number plates, and was told that cars were expensive in Romania, so people bought and registered them elsewhere. The man added that there were a lot of gypsies about, indicating to be careful.
We continued on our way for a while, stopping for lunch with a distant view to a lake, with houses lining the other side of the valley. It was hot when we left at 2 o'clock, heading for Pitesti.
When we reached the town, we struggled through the unattractive outskirts, but never got to the centre, as we were now trying to find the way to Bucharest, and had real trouble in finding the (rare) stretch of motorway.
We were now travelling across very flat land. At 4 o'clock we reached the end of the motorway and the beginning of outer Bucharest. Then it was a long trail like driving along the busy Western Avenue or North Circular (but with tram lines in the centre). We turned north on a road which became quieter and more pleasant and at 4.40 reached the campsite we were heading for.
The campsite was in a nice situation, with a lot of tall trees, but motorhomes were crammed in. We discovered that these were from a large group of Germans, who soon returned by coach and had their 'briefing', like us in Central America. Without them, the site would be almost empty. Little cabins from Communist days surrounded the paved area – you could rent one for the price of camping!
We had a wander around. The site owner had tried to be very helpful. He had also given me a nice little wooden bracelet. Outside the site were the ruins of a past 'brasserie'.
In the evening we listened to our recording of our time in the Marqueses in 1998 and looked at the photos – what an amazing trip that was!
Locals gathered to remember an old lady, Merisani
Monday 29th September A sunny day in Bucharest 0 miles in van
We were in shade from the tall trees as we watched the German group get ready and leave.
At 9.40 we walked over to the campsite entrance - and there was a taxi! In we got, and were driven the 7 miles down to the centre of Bucharest. A wonderful £4's worth! Our driver was quiet for a long time, but he did speak good English, which he said he learnt at school and from television. He loved Top Gear and also Jamie Oliver. The way we went, the buildings all looked smart, with large displays of begonias, but our driver assured us that not all of Bucharest is like that! The traffic was very busy - he said that it always was. We passed the 'Arc de Triomphe' - a copy of the one in Paris - under wraps for reconstruction. We had seen several small churches squashed in between large buildings - a bit like in London.
We were dropped at University Square. One of the first things we saw was a poster for a concert with The Troggs, The Yardbirds and The Animals and another one for the Bucharest Fringe!
We were surprised at how much was written in English - e g 'push' on a door.
We looked inside the orthodox Church of St Nicholas, which was very ornate.
Adrian was quite lost, as we hadn't got a good map of the city, and couldn't find a tourist information to get one. We followed the inadequate maps which we had, and came to the Old Princely Court, with its recently nicely restored church.
Look what we saw at University Square, Bucharest
I'd been looking out for somewhere to have coffee, but all the cafes seemed to be beer places, and were in the shade. In the end, we got a coffee from a Tschiba 'hole in the wall', and we bought some little cinnamon whirls. They were 2 lei for 100 gms, but Adrian thought 2 lei each, so ended up with 200 gms - 6 small buns! We enjoyed (some) of these sitting on a seat in the hot sun, in the quiet square, opposite a roof with 'eyebrow' windows.
We wandered around some more – the lovely day made it pleasurable, but the buildings didn't really excite us. The city had been bombed in the war, and 2 earthquakes since then had destroyed very many buildings.
When it got to lunchtime, we found a nice Greek restaurant where we both had a lovely mixed fish meal, with a dark beer. A sunshade kept off the sun until the end of the meal. We were able to get email messages on the phone (not possible at the campsite) and received messages from Emma, Paul and Simon, with photos of the children. We had been the only people eating for most of the time, but it had been really relaxing .
Old Princely Court
We walked on to the 'Rebirth Memorial' to the 1989 revolution. It was a strange spire with what is referred to as a 'doughnut' near the top. Near here was a tourist information, and we were able to get a map - now Adrian was happy! While we were sitting looking at it, outside the Kretulescu Church, a pleasant young lad came up on a bicycle and asked if we wanted help. He was at high school, and had applied to Universities in England - Durham and London - to study anthropology. We wished him luck.
The Rebirth Memorial
We found our way into the Cismogiu gardens, which were like a mini Hyde Park - very pleasant and shady, but a place where too many people brought their dogs! It was very peaceful, away from the frenetic traffic. There was a pond with black swans, and many birds including peacocks.
Tuesday 30th September From Bucharest to the Danube 144 miles
It was a lovely morning. Adrian did the 'emptying and filling'. It was very different having just one other camper here.
We had decided that we ought to drive back into Bucharest to see the 'Palace of Parliament', which is apparently the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. We had been close to it yesterday, but not actually seen it. (Adrian blamed it on not having a proper map at the time!)
Hence we set off and braved the frenetic traffic.
We reached the building, and all I could say is that it is big, but not much else – not exciting. It was started in 1984 and was another of Ceausescus' mad projects – 12 storeys high and 3,100 rooms, and is still not finished. Amazingly we were able to park for free in a car park opposite to have our coffee and take photos.
The Palace of Parliament, Bucharest - second largest building in the world
We thought that we'd try out the restaurant – the lady had given us the menu. It was amazingly smart inside, all done up as if for a wedding, with the chairs all covered in peach covered wraps.
We were the only diners.Adrian ordered zander fish, with rice & mushrooms, and I had a seafood salad. The lady didn't speak much English. When we'd asked for 'dark' beer, she brought 2 lagers – they hadn't any dark beer. The food was alright, but when the bill came, it was more than we'd expected – the portions seemed to be charged by weight, so not what it said on the menu. Where else have we ever been to a restaurant where you don’t know the price of the meal until after it comes! It didn't cost a lot, but Adrian felt that we had been conned, so wasn't very happy about it! They didn't get a tip!
We had been able to get an internet connection in the restaurant (but not in the campsite behind until we had the password!).
Campsite at Varsatura
Wednesday 1st October To the Danube Estuary 91 miles
It was a lovely morning, but did cloud over a bit later. We left at 9.20 and soon came into the large town of Braila. The roads were tree lined, with uniform concrete 'sinks' of red salvias. There were ugly communist blocks and the whole place had an austere atmosphere. On the way out , we passed a woman sweeping the street with a besom broom.
We drove on through a desolate area, and wondered if we were going the right way to the ferry across the Danube. Yes, we were! We came down to the Danube (which certainly wasn't blue!) A man pointed us to the left, and we saw a boat ahead of us, with vehicles driving on. We waited our turn, paid our 40 Lei (£8) and drove on. More cars loaded on, and then a huge cargo truck. It was certainly busy! We wondered if it was the right ferry, as there were no signs. Everything was very casual – definitely no Health and Safety – not even a hand rail! It felt a bit precarious.
Adrian enjoyed the whole experience. It was pleasantly warm and still on deck. Once on the other side, people were in a hurry to get off, but we took it slowly. (Adrian laughed when the boat arrived at the unloading pontoon and there was a 9in step up, so they backed up the big lorry until it was nearly falling off the other side. By now the boat was level with the pontoon and they unloaded cars on that side until the step became too high above the pontoon, so that when the lorry pulled across for its turn, it was now level!) We stopped by the shore to have coffee on a seat where most of the planks were missing. Beside us was a large worn out map of the area.
We left this place, Smardan, and headed into the different world of the Danube Delta - flat and wet! The level of the water seemed to be high. Tree stumps were sticking out of it. Fisherman were sitting with their bikes at the edge of the water.
Ferry cross the Danube
Fishermen by the swollen Danube
Barges on the Danube
Adrian sorted out with the site owner for us to have a trip on the estuary in the morning – starting at 8 o'clock!
Danube backwater at the end of our campsite
Thursday 2nd October Delights of the Danube Delta 62 miles
We had set the alarm for 6.30, but were up just before that. It was a lovely morning, with the sun just peeping through the trees, looking like African Sunrise.
We were ready for our 8 o'clock ride to the other side of Murighiol with the husband from the campsite. He was to be our 'captain' for the trip. We had been warned to wear warm clothes, as it would be breezy in the open boat. It certainly was!
We were pleased to see that the seats had padded cushions, and a back rest. With our life jackets too, it was comfortable. We had taken our overtrousers, but not put them on - I spent the time with mine held over my knees - like that I was just about warm enough. We were certainly glad of our woolly hats and gloves!
After the first anxious moment, when the engine had a bit of trouble starting, we set off along the maze of rivers and lakes that form this part of the delta. Without an expert guide, you would be completely lost. Our man knew what he was doing, and where he was going, traversing the lakes and channels which were often covered by yellow and sometimes white water lilies. He told us that the water level was 2 metres higher than normal.
And so started a wonderful 3 hour adventure. We didn't see flocks of migrating birds, but we did see plenty. Cormorants and coots by the hundred, egrets, herons, and whooper swans. Then there were a few 'specials' – pretty little squacco herons, a sea eagle, and a white pelican. We have seen these in America, but this is their limit in Europe. Occasionally a little 'plop' signified a frog, and sometimes there were fish jumping.
The only unpleasant part was when we 'bumped' on the waves sometimes made by other boats as we sped across the lakes (although I suspect our grandchildren would have loved it!).
We were brought safely back to our landing place and then driven back to the campsite, where we warmed ourselves with a hot drink while we prepared to leave.
At 12 o'clock we set off in the van, driving to the nearby village of Dunavatu de Jos. Like other villages, there were lots of magenta coloured Michaelmas daises outside the houses. The road just ended by the water - it didn't go on around as our map showed so we had to return to Murighiol. We were now at the eastern extremity of this trip. From now it's all 'downhill'! At Dunavatu a man had tried to sell us a trip on the delta, despite us telling him that we had just been on one! He was in fact from a neighbouring campsite.
The road we now took had potholes worse than ever! We needed to stop, as Adrian had become drowsy after all the fresh air. As always, it was difficult to find anywhere, but we did find a bit of track by Laku Razui, a lagoon behind the Black Sea. We had our lunch here. In the distance were an egret, a grey heron and cormorants.
We drove on along small roads passing numerous villages, often with houses with thatched roofs. At Sarinasuf peasant women were collecting up sweet corn from a huge pile and stripping off the husks, while a group of ducks waddled nearby.
Ready for a trip on the Danube Delta
Views from the boat
At Iazurile there was a very colourful children's playground amidst brightly coloured flowers. There was also one storks nest - we wondered if each village had one, to bring the babies!
At Sarichioi the road almost reached the lagoon, so we pulled in and walked down an extremely bumpy road, which actually had signs to a campsite! When we reached the lagoon, there were a lots of little fishing boats. There was a horse and a cart, and several people around. We looked back to an ornate blue church with a gold cupola.
Anyone for sweetcorn?
We stopped at Enisala near to a castle on top of a hill. The day had now become overcast, so everything was lacking in colour. As we drove on, there was an enormous flock of small birds.
At Salciora we passed a cart loaded up even more than any we've seen! There was another stork's nest here.
Fishing boats at Sarichioi
Just after Ceamurila de Jos, as we turned on a cut off road to Baia at 4.30, we found a place to pull off for the night. Rural images surrounded us - a flock of sheep, and herd of cows and a group of free range chickens.
How much more loaded can you get?
We heard the sound of bells, and looked out to see a large group of goats passing, as the red sun rose into the sky before turning to orange. Sadly it disappeared soon after that, and the day was mostly overcast with a cool wind.
After the goats came a flock of sheep, and then 3 separate lots of cows. We enjoyed the rural atmosphere and left at 9 o'clock.
We followed through flattish land southwards, not far from the shore. Holes in the road had been roughly filled in, but then we came to the part where the machine had gouged out the deep holes, and they were waiting to be filled. You needed great concentration to avoid them! We felt that there was very little tourism in this area by the looks and the waves which we got.
Friday 3rd October The Romanian Black Sea coast 95 miles
The pretty church at Sacele
We returned to the main road, and after the place named 23 August(!) we turned down to the purpose made resorts with names like Neptune, Jupiter and Venus. Everything was shut up here too. We did have a look at Jupiter, which had a nice beach, but was just apartment blocks - not our sort of place at all! The windy weather didn't add to the attraction!
We came to the town of Mangalia, which had been signposted for hundreds of miles. There were huge shipyards here, just before a place called 2 Mai!
We were almost at the border with Bulgaria now, but stopped at the last town - Vama Veche, where you could stay on the beach. Almost everything here was shut up too. We pulled in on the beach, between summertime cafes and shacks.
The winter Black Sea beach at Constinesti
It was an 'alternative' place, and very scruffy, reminding us of southern Italy, when we visited in 2000. We had a little walk around, but the cool wind didn't show it at its best light! Adrian became concerned when a car pulled up beside the 'Folk stage' next to us, thinking that they may have been opening up tonight, but the man had come to take down the signs!
Stashed up on the beach at Vama Veche
Looked nicer when the sun came out!
The village was out of this world. It stretched a long way, with houses lining the rough road. It was as if time had stood still. Animals wandered around – turkeys, ducks, cows. We drove up the cobbled street towards the fortified church and parked. We still had a very bumpy walk up the cobbled street and then up to the church. We walked around the outside. A couple spoke to us in English, and said that it was closed until 3 o’clock (it was now nearly 2.00). You had to get the key from an old lady, they said, and she was having her lunch! We walked back down past the cafe, which was closed. It apparently sold hand knitted socks and hats and felt slippers, to make money for poor children to get an education.
We stopped to get some LPG then continued through Bran, which was busy and just full of 'tat'. Soon afterwards we came to the large car park where we plan to stay tonight. It was nearly 5.30 and the sun was shining. As soon as it went behind the mountain, it became cold - we are at 2,500 ft (800m). I wasn't feeling great (maybe the winding roads, maybe the antibiotics) but I suggested going across to the restaurant on the other side of the carpark. This was an excellent idea. It was a pleasant place (except that smoking is still allowed in restaurants here) with furry covered wooden seats and just a few other customers. Adrian had trout (the only fish option) and chips. I had a 'Romanian speciality' – polenta with cheese and an egg. With three nice dark beers it came to £10. We walked back under the stars - seeing the Great Bear and Cassiopeia - at 9 o'clock.
When we came out, we wandered through the vast array of stalls, many of which were just setting up. It all looked much better today, being less crowded, than when we had driven through yesterday. We bought some local cheese, having tried some, and Adrian bought a 'Bran castle' T shirt (not with Dracula images on!) Back at the van, we had coffee sitting on a convenient seat in the sunshine. At 11.30 we set off for Brasov. At Rasnov, where there was again a castle on a hill, we took a winding, pretty route through the hills, passing the winter ski resort of Poiana Brasov.
We then walked through a little park, past St Catherine's Gate, and back to the van via the 'behind walls' path, alongside the old town walls and adjacent to a little stream, with parkland up behind. Getting out of Brasov was hellish though – finding our way, trying to follow the sat nav, getting into one way streets and avoiding impatient drivers. We then needed to stop for diesel. Adrian had problems at the first petrol station we stopped at, but there was a nice helpful lady assistant when we did stop (although this had meant crossing the busy carriageway and then returning!) We drove towards Sibiu on a good but busy road. We could soon see the snow topped Fagaras mountains to the south of us, which we are hoping to cross. The actual town of Fagaras had a fine castle. We drove through several little old-worldy villages, but as the motorway is planned to follow this route, they could be changing. At 5.45 we pulled in beside the road, just before Bradu. It had been a long day! It was beans on toast for supper! Afterwards we started on the next bit of the website.
The noisy traffic had kept me awake, but otherwise it had been a good stopping place. The morning was overcast as we drove through the pleasant village of Bradu on the way to Sibiu. We passed a few stalls at the roadside selling local cheese and honey. The outskirts of the town looked particularly dreary on this dismal day. Adrian found a car park near the centre of the town – it cost 1 lei (20p) for 4 hours! We had coffee and some more of yesterdays 'spiral bun' before setting off in the mizzle to explore the town. We stopped first at a chemist, of which there were many, to get some more dressings for my elbow, which hasn't yet healed up. Apparently Romania's first pharmacy was in Sibiu, and there is a pharmacy museum here. Our impression of Sibiu is that it would look nice on a pleasant day! We located the 3 major squares – the Main Square, the Little Square and Huet Square. Most of the Main Square was taken up by a huge marquee for the 4 day 'Cibin Fest'. This would appear to be a kind of bierfest. The marquee was full of tables, with a stage at one side, and a few food stalls. There were just one or two takers at this hour. Outside the marquee were several fairground rides, unused at the moment. It seems that Sibiu has more festivals than any other town in Romania. We called in at the tourist information and asked about a map of the town, but she didn't have one! We had been debating whether to go inside the large main church, but it didn't matter, as it wasn't open anyway! They were doing restoration work on it. Around it were many stalls selling local cheese; fruit & veg; meat & sausage and also bacon fat - ‘lard’– this stall was really busy! We crossed the 'Bridge of Lies', seemingly the first wrought iron bridge in Europe.
With a big smile on his face, we returned to the van, and set off out of Sibiu. On the outskirts we shopped in a large 'Penny market' store. There was a Trabant in the car park when we came out, and the weather looked a bit brighter. We drove back past Bradu, where we had stayed last night, with its little pastel coloured houses, each a different colour, lining the street. We couldn't see the mountains to the south today, and just hope for a clear day tomorrow when we hope to be able to cross them. We were heading for a campsite at Carta, a few miles off the road. We drove through the long, well kept village. There were troughs of matching flowers outside each house. We had quite a trail around on cobbled and dirt roads, finally finding the campsite in the large back garden of one of the houses. We were greeted by a largish blonde young Dutch lady, who spoke excellent English. She seemed pleasant but efficient. We were given a small jug of home made plum brandy as a welcome. It reminded us of 'de klomp', where we had stayed in Portugal in 1966. Our notes said that there was a washing machine here, but in fact we had to hand the washing over to her to be done. As this is the most difficult thing about being away for a long time in countries which do not have laundrettes, we just gathered up all our washing and handed it over. Later we got it back - the first lot all neatly folded. The second lot had just come out of the drier. We came back to our spot to enjoy the rural setting, looking past the fields of sweetcorn to the hills. With an internet connection, we were able to speak to Emma and to Simon & all the family (including seeing Leon the cat!) We read through our diary of New York 2005.
Well, that's according to Top Gear. We were disappointed to wake to a grey morning, with a few spots of rain, as we were hoping to cross the Fagaras Mountains on the Transfagarasan Road. If it was raining here, it was snowing up there, and we wouldn't get through. The road is closed from October to June. It had been built under Ceausescu in the 1970s as a way through if the Russians invaded, at great expense and loss of life. Its original purpose wasn't needed, and as a through route it is quite unnecessary, but it is a beautiful road. We had showers in the van, and Adrian did the emptying and filling. We had breakfast using some butter which we had bought yesterday, and which was like lard, despite the well meaning young chap in the shop telling us that it was good! We left at 10.45. The campsite had served us well, especially with the washing. Including that, it had cost much less than we had imagined. The lady had been very efficient, but not warm or friendly. As we drove back through the smart little village, people waved. We turned off to the Fagaras Mountains which were shrouded in mist. We stopped to have coffee, watching people picking potatoes in the field opposite.
Back in the traffic – where the parking made the Italians look good! - we came to St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral. A plaque said that Pope Jean Paul had visited in 1999 (he seems to have got everywhere!) There were some nice stained glass windows. A chap at the entrance chatted to us – he said that he was Orthodox, but today the Catholics celebrated Archangels, and he loved the Archangels, so wanted to tell us. He said that he was also a tour guide. We now walked a long way to the Kiseleff gardens, where we were hoping to see some of the houses of the open air Romanian village or peasant museum, although museums were closed today. By now though we were pretty weary, so went looking for a taxi to take us back. This was more difficult than we'd imagined – the first 2 we tried said no! Adrian had had the insight to take the postcard which we had been given at the campsite, so we could show where we wanted to go. The third taxi driver said OK. He drove us silently until we were almost back, when he pointed out the US Embassy, and a building called the White House (the name of our campsite). Once back, we moved the van across to the other side of the camp-site – where all the Germans had been – as it was still in the sun. The only other van here now was owned by an English chap – it turned out that he was from Bideford, and knew my cousins Janet and Mike Bray (Rosa's parents)! We stood in the sun for a long time chatting, despite wanting to sit down! He was an auto electrician which is why he knew Mike, but had been looking after his 85 year old Mum for the last couple of years, but who had died in March. He had been hoping to buy some property out here with some of his Mum's money, but he has a ' wicked brother and sister' who have made the sale of the house very difficult and so he now has to drive home to sort it all out. We hope he manages to return.
Now it was time to get out of Bucharest again. We had found it to be a pleasant city, which we'd seen in perfect weather. It was very green and clean, but had very little character. We took a long, wide, tree-lined street with fountains all down the centre and then made our way out of the city. At one point when we were stuck in traffic, a chap in the next car wound down his window & got chatting 'You like Bulgaria and Bucharest? Where you go?' We needed some shopping, so stopped on the outskirts, amidst the uninspiring apartment blocks and went into 'Pennymarket' Not much inspiration here, either from the shop or from the female cashier. We couldn't argue with the price though - we bought about 6 items of veg for £1! We went into nearby Lidl, but that wasn't much better. I still couldn't get any decaffeinated coffee, and Adrian couldn't find proper butter. The male cashier spoke in Romanian, and kept repeating it louder– I then realised that he was asking for 20 bani to save giving lots of change! Just after this we got onto the bit of motorway which goes eastwards from Bucharest. It was lunch time, so we pulled into a rest area. It had a utilitarian picnic table with just one bench, but then we spied a shaded picnic table, and I started to prepare lunch. A worker came over, asking for 'beer', and then 'vodka' and then 'cigarettes'. Adrian was being too polite! The man soon disappeared when I gave him some of our unwanted bread! We left here at 2.30. We were now into the flat country, making us think of the North Italian Plain. We drove on the motorway for an hour or so, turning off northwards towards Slobozia. A sign said that the temperature was 24°C. Teenagers were walking home from school, looking very western in their dress. We wondered what will happen when the elderly peasant people have gone, and these young 'Europeans' are the older generation. We soon had to wait in a line of traffic at a level crossing. Drivers were very impatient. A huge lorry pulled in right in front of us, causing Adrian to bleep loudly on his horn! Slobozia was as unattractive as its name suggests! On the outskirts was an enormous ugly factory belching out yellow smoke which smelled of sulphur. Further on another chimney belched out black smoke. We continued on the very straight, often tree-lined road, through really dry country. Tractors were working in the fields, which seemed mostly to be growing sweet corn. There were many horses and carts too – some loaded with the ripe corn. There was absolutely nowhere to pull off. In the end, we stopped at Baraganul, beside some broken concrete 'seats', but despite the nice day, we sat inside for our cup of tea because of all the litter and broken glass. There was a well close by, and chickens scampered around across the road. A 'gang' of young kids wandered by. We came to another level crossing – this one had no gates, but flashed red lights and had a loud siren. A long train eventually went by. Having seen nowhere at all to stop for the night we carried on to Varsatura, where Adrian had note of a campsite, but didn't know what. It was in fact behind Donaris restaurant. There was a grassy area, with trees, and with lines of beehives around the outside. It seemed a suitable place for £8, so we settled in in the last of the sun. We were very close to the Danube River.
There were farms, with rolls of hay, like we are used to seeing, not haystacks. At Macin, the road turned north. We were now on hilly ground, with the plain below us. People looked very western - we saw a girl in denim trousers and short jacket. There were also plenty of horses and carts. We saw a storks nest too. As we drove on, we passed walnut trees, but most of the nuts had been picked up. At Vacareni, we were travelling eastwards again. Young children were coming home from school, looking very neatly dressed. We came down to the Danube at Isaccea, on a very bumpy road, to a part marked 'port'. We were looking across the wide river to Ukraine, where we could just see trees. A huge barge went by, making it seem like the Mississippi! We had our lunch here, with a herd of cattle close by, and a noisy group of dogs.
As we drove on through the town, we again saw the contrast between the young western people and the donkeys and carts. We carried on towards Tulcea, passing an enormous electricity substation (which seemed to link with Ukraine). We had imagined Tulcea to be a small town in the estuary, but it was in fact a gigantic ugly place with unattractive buildings. The road was being dug up, so it was bumpy and dusty. When we got passed that, we had speed humps!There were lots of boats on the river. We stopped for a quick look, but it wasn't the place for us! Driving on, we were surprised to be on undulating land, occasionally with views of the Danube. The weather had become hazy, so it all looked dreary and unexciting. We managed to find somewhere to pull in to have a cup of tea, beside a field of dead sunflowers, but it was all very grubby outside. We came to the village of Murighiol, where there were several campsite signs. The sites just seemed to be in people's back gardens. We chose one –Lac Murighiol– and were directed to a pleasant lawn area, which ended in a 'forest' of bamboo. On going to investigate, we found that a backwater comes right up to the garden.
At Sacele we passed a very pretty church, but a bit further on at Corbu we came to vast ugly works, some derelict, and a massive oil refinery. Just on from here at Navodari, the road was being made up, so everywhere was very bumpy and dusty. We reached the beginning of the apartment blocks as we arrived at Mamaia, with the lagoon of Lake Mamaia on one side, and the Black Sea, with waves, on the other. Disappointingly it was cool, grey and windy – not what we had been looking forward to at all! We pulled in by a beach of crushed shells and braved a quick dash across to the water. To the north we could see the oil refinery and to the south the town of Constantia. There were gulls on the beach, sparrows beside us, and kite surfers preparing their gear. We drove on to Constantia, hoping to have a look at one or two places, particularly a Roman mosaic, but the town was far, far larger than we had imagined – much too big for us to contemplate. We drove around, with all the impatient drivers, passing some ancient town walls, but then trying to get out! To the south was an enormous port area. We took the fast road south – the only road. We crossed the Danube-Black Sea canal on a large bridge then at Agigea we saw schoolboys in smart uniform, and a neatly dressed young girl leading her dog. At Eforie Nord we turned off by Lake Techirghiol and pulled into a half built car park to have lunch. Continuing south, we turned off to the resort town of Constinesti and found the road down to the beach. It seemed quite a low key resort, with new eating places being built, but was all shut up for winter.