Transilvanian loop and a detour home

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by pip_muenster, Dec 12, 2010.

  1. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Around end of August another rider and I met on a local forum and went on a nice round trip through Transylvania. When he had to go home after a couple of days, there were still some days to kill, before I had to show up on a party on September 25. So I took a little detour.

    Follow me on the way to my sister's party through 16 countries (or 18, if you count Saxony and Bavaria - which always seemed a little ... different to me :lol3). Here's the teaser:



    Without much experience on dirt roads, we were a little afraid of them at the beginning.

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    Even with the sheep skin, the GS doesn't really fit into local traffic.

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    The route.

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    #1
  2. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    All through the winter I had been dreaming on Iceland, quickly realizing that my CB750 would not be the perfect bike for the trip ...

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    With the snow melted away, I started my quest for a more suitable bike.

    • I loved the small Tenere (XT660Z), but was afraid that it wouldn't have the power for European highways (and where I live, every trip starts with some highway kilometers).

    • The F800GS was beautiful to ride, but I hated its layout. With the wide tank on the back, it would have been as wide as a car with panniers (solution here) and probably very tail-heavy.

    • The 950 KTM Adventure was cool, too - but maybe expensive and complicated to service?

    • The Moto Guzzi 1200 Stelvio gave me goose bumps, but was out of limits for me. It was just too expensive for first experiences on dirt roads.
      (But I love the dealership, full of old restored beauties and a huge espresso machine ...)

    • The 950 Triumph Tiger also seemed interesting, but the dealer had difficulties organizing the test ride.

    • The BMW 1150GS turned out to be an acceptable compromise. It had a reputation as a travel bike, was at least less complicated than the 1200 - and available at little money.
    So I bought the GS and took it for a quick test ride on 3000km through the Alps in spring. Ok, that'll do.

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    Then the summer came and it turned out to be
    all work. I barely spent a night at home and didn't had much time for biking, except this. The summer passed.

    I now had missed the season for Iceland and had to find an alternative, quickly. There was one week before my vacation started.
    So when I saw someone looking for a travel companion on a local forum I said 'yes' immediately. If it worked out, great - if not, we could still go our own ways.
    We didn't even talked much on the phone, just had a couple of mails going forth and back. (To be honest, that was mainly because I couldn't understand this Saxonian accent at first ...:rofl)

    My preparation in the last days had been reduced to a new set of tires. I went for Tourance tires, as knobblies on only 1 of 2 bikes wouldn't help much.

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    And I wanted to have a new GPS, mounted rally-style on top of the cockpit. My choice was the Touratech bracket with keys matching to the panniers. As there was little time left, I ordered it at TT in Kassel, so I could pick it up on the way.
    #2
  3. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    My destination for the day was in Saxony, near the Czech border. That was just across Germany and I figured I could do it on secondary roads, thus enjoying e.g. the Sauerland hill region instead of the dull highways.

    Chased by rain clouds.

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    At TT in Kassel I was welcomed like I'd been a regular customer for decades. They invited my to bring my bike in the showroom to install the new bracket and provided me with all the tools and coffee needed to get the job done.
    I also bought a nice tearproof map of Romania there as my first and only preparation towards the area we were heading at - which turned out to be more detailed than most of the maps I should see later during the tour.

    The service was much more than I'd experienced e.g. at TT in Hamburg, where I'll never come back again. Talking bikes with the owner while we worked on our bikes took longer than I thought. I suddenly realized that I still had to do 350km, it was already 5pm and I had an appointment for dinner.

    So it was autobahn only now. My recipe to stay awake and alive is to be ahead of the traffic. Assuming all the other people on the road are useless and incapable drivers, I want to see them and don't want to be passed or tailgated too often. Luckily the GS is happy at speeds around 150 to 160km/h (100mph) with most of the luggage weight down in the panniers.

    When it got dark I refilled with gas and coffee and finally I reached my future travel companion's house, where I was welcomed with dinner and beer. :clap

    #3
  4. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    My travel companion is Steffen. He's a nice guy, about my age - and by funny coincidence, rides almost the same bike as I do. Well, maybe he does it with a little more devotion and believe in the mighty GS. :poser
    At least, I'm not yet convinced of the bike.

    Someone on a German traveler board had recommended an auto train from Prague to Poprad in Slovakia which would save us some 600km. As this would be a new and as such welcome experience, we wanted to reach Prague by lunch time. But first, we took the opportunity to ride through his backyard, the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), so we could get to know each others riding habits.

    The city of Prague was jammed and it was a bit of stop and go to get to the station. Then we missed an exit and had to do some more of stop and go to get back.
    As an reward, it turned out that at least we had found the right station. On the down side, they told us that the train was fully booked, even in off-season. Who would have thought that?

    Prague is a beautiful city and worth a visit, but both of us had been there more than once. So we decided to cover some distance on the bikes for the rest of the day.

    Now, there's a highway toll in the Czech Republic, did we had to get a vignette? Since the lady selling them didn't know, we asked some locals. One young man picked out his phone and obviously called a number of his friends, until he finally told us that there is no toll for bikes. Well, at least nobody knew about it.

    A little bit later near Jihlava
    we're stuck in traffic again. About 100m in front of us a car is upside-down and burning. Police and firefighters are already on the site, so there's nothing to do but pull to the side to open a rescue lane and wait.

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    According to our map, the only nice place to spend the night is a camp site at Lake Velence right in-between Lake Balaton and Budapest.
    We've lost some time, so we find ourselves riding on secondary roads through endless fields after darkness. This would be a great places for deer, so we're not really happy with that.

    The camp site however is pretty nice - and there's nobody than the night guard and us. No campfire, but nevertheless not too shabby ...

    #4
  5. Schlug

    Schlug JockeyfullofBourbon

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    put something on and stay in that position.
    I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this.


    :thumb
    #5
  6. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    In the middle of the night I was woken up by some rattling noise near my tent. Now, where I grew up, even some 4-year-old Hansel and Gretel would survive a night in the forest, as there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. No deadly or poisonous animals and plants - the most dangerous things are ticks and stinging nettle.

    Here, I had no idea. Are there thieves and robbers? Bears? However, I saw nothing when I stuck my head out of the tent - so I turned back into sleep.

    The next morning after breakfast we packed our bikes. I usually put on boots and gear last, so it was Steffen who pointed at something in the distance and asked: 'Is that your boot?' Someone must had quite an appetite for Daytona boots. (Oh, I must remember to send them back to Daytona for repair ...)

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    Today, we wanted to reach Romania where our tour should really start. The map showed that this would mean more endless straight roads through fields.

    As there is no highway, our road was also the main route for trucks here. So somewhere, in the middle of nothing, with the next village being maybe some 5 to 10 houses where everyone knows everyone, you could see a young girl in sexy boots every few hundred meters.
    There was nothing else, no house or van nearby. So I suspect, if you're up for anything, you'd better have a sleeper cab on your truck - or you're enjoying a bed in the wheat field, like this guy.

    Once through the Romanian border, we could see the Capathian mountains for the first time.

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    And since none of us had really thought this through, that should be our destination for the night. We turned off the main road and headed towards the mountains.

    The villages here were complete different to anything we'd seen before on this trip. Broken asphalt, gravel roads, maybe some chicken or a cow looking for food next to the road.
    While most of the houses seemed to be in bad shape, some people must have had far too much money. Why would you build a 3-story palace in such a place? There were several of these in each village, everyone with meticulously decorated roofs - and none of them finished.
    Unfortunately, we thought that would be typical for Romaina and missed to take pictures, so here's something from wikipedia:

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    It seems like it's a mandatory status symbol, indicating the wealth of the family clan to have your own palace. It's not necessary to live in it, you just have to own it. That would explain why none of them were actually finished.

    (It's well known that you should take a photo if something's worth it and never wait for a better moment ... embarrassing though to be reminded in such a way.)

    We however rode up into the mountains, towards a camp site marked on the map. It turned out to be a small place in a dark valley. There was also no dry wood here, so again - no campfire, just some beer.
    #6
  7. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Thanks for the tour! What's the story on those ornate houses popping up all over Romania? I've seen them everywhere.. :ear
    #7
  8. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    We had been through travel guides and our maps during dinner and breakfast - and now actually had a plan. The guide named the Scarisoara Cave about 42km towards the east as a must-see attraction. Looking at the map, it would probably be 3 times that distance.

    The first village we came through was Dezna and according to the map there should be a small road to Dieci, where we would get back on the main road. The only road we could find was a worn out dusty gravel track.

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    It let us to some small farms and nice scenery.

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    Than the road went down into a small valley near a river. The recent rainfalls and countless cattle had transformed the road and the meadows on both sides into mud pools. Not really suited without knobbly tires. We walked through the mud puddles for maybe 200 to 300m, trying to find a way through - but decided better not to try it. (hey, we'd only had some 10km experience off the tarmac at this point ... :shog)
    Instead we tried to find a bypass across the meadow and were stopped again and again by either the mud or drainage ditches.

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    Well, we had tried it.

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    So we had to go back. I blame these buffalo, that are laughing full of mischief at us, for all the mud.

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    And some of these ...

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    Actually, while we had been stumping through the puddles, a horse-drawn carriage had passed us, showing that mud is not a problem at all with the right equipment.

    A little bit down the road, we tried another gravel road leading into our direction - only to find another dead end.
    All of this had cost us about 1 1/2 hours, but was a lot of fun. Now we were back on the main road (79A) and about to turn north onto the 76, when we stopped at a small gas station to refuel.

    It was also a good opportunity to take some clothes off as both of us were covered in sweat. While we were relaxing and drinking some coffee, I discovered that they also had an open WiFi. :eek1 This place was in the middle of nowhere, nothing else than 2 rusty gas pumps and a wooden shed, but they offered free WiFi. Well, somehow that matched the picture: Someone told me that Romania is one of the countries with the most cell phones per head - and from my observation there are more people talking while driving than you usually see during rush hour on I-45, if you take the horse- or ox-drawn carriages in account, too.

    From the 76 we turned east onto the 75 after a few miles. Here we found this nice church near Fanate.

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    The road became better and better while we got deeper into the mountains, with lots and lots of nice curves until we finally came to Sarisoara.
    It was around 4pm now, just enough time to test-ride the last 15km up the mountain where the cave was located.

    The road turned out to be rough gravel, getting worse and worse and my bash plate hit the ground from time to time. It took us quite a while to cover this last leg and when we came to the top, we decided to stop here and find a place for the night.

    We asked the people selling gifts and home made spirits and were shown towards a farm a few hundred meters down the road.
    It was a guest house and there were already about a dozen other guests here, mostly Germans. :(: Nevertheless, it turned out to be a great evening with good homemade food. Later in the night the neighbors came over and the house was filled with the music of a clarinet, a guitar and a drum.
    #8
  9. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Hi,

    as I tried to explain, I think it's all about representation and status. These are not for living, but to show-off.
    Although they may be around the country, we actually saw the really impressing ones only near the Hungarian border on our first day. But than, we've also only seen a small part of Romania.
    #9
  10. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    In the morning we took a look around the farm and had a good breakfast.

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    With lots of good tips from the other guests we than headed to the cave. We had to walk the last meters up the hill and immediately started sweating in our riding gear. An old woman with a basket full of marmalade and spirits passed us. Well, it must have been the gear ... :shog

    The cave was at the bottom of a hole.

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    And were very utterly disappointed. Yeah, it's a cave. It's ice. It's some colored light.

    That's it. Would have been better if they would actually let you get into the cave - and not just a few steps ...

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    So we went back down the mountain.

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    Next we were heading towards Sibiu. We crossed the area around Pauca which has a reputation for a 'German' appear of the villages.
    Actually they were pretty nice and clean, with flowers in front of each house.

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    It was around noon on a Saturday, which might explain all the people relaxing on the side of the road. It looked like they had started their weekend.
    We were even invited for beer by some farm hands resting in the shade, but had to pass as we wanted to get to Sibiu today.

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    It was here, when I met the blood suckers.

    While riding through the fields I burst through a swarm of small insects. Not much of a problem with the visor down, only that I had to stop and clean the visor when another swarm hit me.
    And than, somehow the helmet felt strange. I didn't knew the reason before I had a look into the mirror later in the night: My forehead was completely covered in mosquito bites ...
    Well, no reason to complain - if you're going to Transylvania, you should expect to meet the vampires.

    Just before sunset we had found a nice camp ground nearby. There were lots of bikers who had trailed their dirt bikes down here and some RVs - all of them German. So, if you're German, and you want to travel the world to meet even more Germans: go to Sibiu. Just as good as Mallorca.

    For us the day ended with more travel tips from the other campers, a BBQ and some beer. :1drink
    #10
  11. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Everybody had told us to see the Transfagarasan. We decided to leave the luggage, do a trip up the pass and leave the afternoon to see the city. It was rather cloudy and we could only hope to see the sun eventually.

    The road was in good condition and great to ride. No really tight corners though, more what you'd like on a street bike.

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    The resting area at the top was full of people walking around, buying souvenirs and gifts or drinking coffee. There was also a nice lake.:vardy

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    We decided not to go down the south part of the pass and turned back.

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    What do we do on Sunday? Let's take the family and have a BBQ in the mountains ...

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    Weeks later a colleague told me of a Top Gear episode on Romania. It turned out, they'd had named this place the Best Driving Road - in the World, thus putting the Passo del Stelvio down on #2.



    Sibiu was crowded, too. As it turned out there was their annual pottery fair on the market.

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    We tried to find some traditional local food for lunch which was a good thing as it had started raining. Once the rain was gone, we walked up and down the alleys and visited some nice churches.

    Back on the campsite we met 2 British guys driving a small hatchback. They'd been all over the Balkan and were on their way home. Actually, they had 2 days to cover the last 1,500 miles before the end of their vacation. :rofl
    #11
  12. Mark.F

    Mark.F Been here awhile

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    Nice RR,Eastern Europe is somewhere I still have to visit on the bike,thanks for taking us along.
    #12
  13. ATAK

    ATAK Been here awhile

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    Great keep it comming. I am waitg for Albania.

    Thanks, Ad
    #13
  14. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Now that is fun. Seems like everybody is telling Balkan stories in the RR forum these days ... and there's quite a competition! EUSKALHERRIA, asilindean, motophil, nordy, MEH, etc. - you all have great photos and stories to tell! Well, I won't let that intimidate me and continue mine - unless Colebatch AND KTMInduro come up with a Balkan story together, that is.



    As it had been raining during the night we had to pack our tents wet. Than we started the day shopping - this might be the only large city we'd see for the next days. Fuel, motor and olive oil for the bikes and us, some souvenirs, gas for the stove ...

    Next we tried to find the way to Medias. My outdated Garmin maps weren't helpful and I thought it would be overkill to get the cell phone out (GPS data of Sibiu were ridiculously more accurate on the Nokia than on the expensive GARMIN), so we just asked the locals.

    Out of the city we passed some gypsies selling copper ware. It looked like the home-distillery might have been their top seller.

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    Our first goal for the day were the fortified churches, Biertan to be precise. The fortress is easy to find, it's a little higher than the other houses.

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    This allowed for a nice overview on the beautiful village. It was neither looking broke or full of tourist traps, just a idyllic small village.

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    On of the church's attractions was its treasure chamber with its heavy door. The story goes that a bishop was convinced, only a door with 18 lock bars would keep his treasures safe. The door they'd constructed for him is operated by a single key and a crank handle from the outside ...

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    ... moving simultaneously all the bars on the inside. That's the kind of over-engineering you'd usually only expect from German manufactures like Touratech ...

    Hym, now when I think of it, these settlers with the fortified churches actually have some kind of German ancestry. :rofl

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    Our next destination was the Bicaz ravine. So we continued in the general direction north-east. Somewhere we took a wrong turn and as the day passed, we were still far away. It also looked as if rain was coming up, so when we saw some huts on the side of the road we went for them.

    The restaurant and the heated hut were a welcome change from the tents which were now hanging on the walls, so they could dry over night.
    #14
  15. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Though the scenery was very nice going around the Lake Bicaz, it was wise to keep an eye on the road. Some of the potholes were quite deep. We were thankful that it wasn't raining, so it was at least possible to identify and avoid the really deep holes.

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    Waiting for Steffen, I was able to get this priceless snapshot of him being overtaken by an ox carriage.
    :hide

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    At the entrance of the ravine we stopped for a coffee. They had just opened up and the water was not yet boiling. But when we finally had finished our coffee and a small second breakfast, the sun had come out. Great!

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    After riding up and down the ravine, taking lots and lots of photos and doing a short visit to the Red Lake we turned around. We wanted to follow the mountains towards Baia Mare.

    Later during the day, when we started looking on the side of the road for a place to set up the tents, we saw the Romanian type of a Ferris wheel.

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    Oh, and have you noticed the garage in the background where someone's working on a car exhaust?

    We finally found a nice spot for the tents, but it was on the other side of the road. There was a wooden bridge.

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    Sorry, this is the bridge we took.

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    We were the only guests and set up our tents on the grass right next to the river. There was a restaurant offering fresh fish and someone brought us dry wood for a campfire. :clap

    Finally! What kind of trip would this be without a single night with a fire?!
    #15
  16. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Drip, drip, drip.

    Drip, drip.


    Drip.


    It's really hard to get out of your sleeping bag when you can hear the rain on your tent. Luckily it always sounds worse than it is. We packed, had a cup of coffee and hit the road again. Heading west, we should be able to reach Baia Mare before nightfall.


    My cheap rain gear was still working fine.


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    The road meandered through the mountains with the clouds hanging in the trees. This would be a nice set for a Dracula movie.

    But due to the rain we had to keep an eye on the road, trying to find a path through the shallower potholes. Several times this turned into a zick zack all over the width of the street in 2nd gear.

    Later during the day we met another German biker on a heavy Bavarian sports bike heading the other way. He would have some fun on these roads ...


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    Here, close to the Ukrainian border each house had a huge wooden gate covered with artistic carvings.


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    It was an uneventful ride, only disrupted by occasional stops coffee or lunch. Actually, we only had lunch as it was a welcome opportunity to warm up.


    To get to Baia Mare we had to cross another mountain ridge. The road (#18) turned out to be a huge bowl of asphalt spaghetti with wide turns, hair pin bends and just everything you could wish. This is what the Top Gear guys should have checked out.

    There were three campsites on our maps and all were closed or in bad shape. We were dreaming on a warm fire and a cold beer, so we continued until we hit a hostel in Satu Mare. The place was cheap and had a heater. And after some minutes it was covered in dripping wet tents and rain gear.
    #16
  17. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    Today, Steffen and I had to split up as he had to get back to work soon. I still had some days left before I had to show up at my sister's party, so I turned south again.

    Oh, and it was still raining.

    Everyone we'd met had agreed that the cave we had seen earlier was kind of boring. And everyone had been asking us why we hadn't visited the much more interesting Bear Cave.
    So I thought, I might search for that cave and than head towards the Black Sea.

    We had learned that the red roads on the map were the overland routes and the yellow ones were smaller, but still most-often with good asphalt. Then, there were 3 levels of black lines ranking from 'probably asphalt' to 'probably dirt road'. I should be following the same yellow road (19A) for most part of the day.

    A bike shop near Simleu Silvaniei.

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    There's a saying that Inuit would have hundreds of different names for snow. If that's the case, Romanians probably have hundred names for gravel roads.

    This 'yellow road' turned from asphalt to 'mostly asphalt' ...

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    ... to mud ...

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    ... to potholes divided by asphalt ...

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    ... to gravel with a foot-wide of asphalt ...

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    ... but the scenery was great!

    Also, I wanted to see something else than just tarmac all day. I loved it. While I was stopped to take a picture, I noticed that my gas was almost on reserve. I hadn't seen a gas station or even a village for hours and according to my GPS I had left the digitized world long time ago. Funny.

    It was comforting that the GPS showed a road some 20km straight north of my position when I zoomed out. That should do.

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    And really, I found my way back on the two-lane blacktop, right next to a gas station. It was shut down.

    This reminded me on 'Jupiter's Travels' - the only book I was carrying. As an introduction he describes a situation where he run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and instead of worrying he's looking forward to the adventures this will start.

    I didn't know whether I should have been happy or disappointed as
    I found another gas station only 5 or 10km down the road. No adventure for me today.

    Back on tarmac.

    [​IMG]

    With the road getting better I reached the Bear Cave just in time for the last tour of the day. The guide was speaking Romanian, and I didn't ask him for an English translation as I was happily trailing the group and enjoying the cave on my own.

    This was the biggest dripstone cave I've ever seen. As always, it was forbidden to take photos in here.

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    Now as far as I know the reason for this is that the photo flashes allow alga to grow on the dripstones - which is bad for the dripstones. So I ignored the photo ban and worked with the flash off. These photos only show some of the smaller dripstone colonies - they are nothing close to the real thing.

    The guide told us an interesting story about this cave:
    A worker of a marble pit had discovered it and notified the authorities. 3 or 4 men immediately joined up to ensure the safety of the place, since a similar place had been completely destroyed within 2 weeks by the locals selling the dripstones a couple of years before. The marble pit got mad about the worker since he hadn't simply bombed the place to ensure that they could continue working the marble. The authorities got the army in to guard the place and finally the ministry of tourism won and the cave was turned into a tourist attraction.
    Months later the police got a tip and stopped a truck loaded with dynamite heading for the cave. That had been the last move of the marble pit so far.

    So if you ever come to Romania, check out the Bear Cave before it might get blasted away! :eek1
    When I got out of the cave, there was sunlight. No more rain.

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    It was not difficult to find a nice bed & breakfast for the night as this area is developing into a recreation area with lots of marked trails etc.
    The only downside was that the price for the night had raised over night - not a nice move, so I won't recommend the place, even if the room was in fact a beautiful suite.
    #17
  18. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

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    I had used the night to go through the maps and decided to go south first and than turn towards the Black Sea once I was in Bulgaria.

    First, I wanted to see the Dacian Fortress
    Sarmizegetusa some 50km southeast of Deva. The last kilometers gave me the chance to practice more gravel riding and after a while I found myself happily speeding over the bumps trailing a huge cloud of dust. :ricky

    The road followed a small creek winding through the mountains.

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    The Dacian Fortress

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    All this took quite a while, so in the evening I found myself near Bumbesti Jiu with no place for the night marked on my map. The sun set and I got really tired, so I just checked into the next roadside motel.
    #18
  19. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Oddometer:
    552
    Location:
    Karlsruhe, Germany
    There will be no happy memories of that place. As it turned out, I forgot my olive oil and all my spices in the room. So some dull meals were coming up until I could restock.

    The ride south was mainly straight roads and the beautiful mountains and trees were exchanged by open coal pits and oil rigs.

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    Oh, and while I'm looking up my route on Google Earth to check whether I forgot anything, there are some strange pictures in the system ... Is it possible that the local hookers advertise themselves with geo-referenced pictures on Google Earth?! Interesting product placement that is.

    Anyway ...
    I finally come to the border with Bulgaria, i.e. the river Danube.

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    There is a tug boat with 2 barges used as a ferry, so you have to do a U-turn at the end. This is interesting as the level of the 2nd one drops by about a feet while it's been loaded with trucks and a bike.

    [​IMG]
    Ok, Bulgaria. I have no idea about the place. What's their currency? First I need to get a map ...

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    The only thing I have are the GPS coordinates of a certain place known well here on ADVrider ...

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    Doug is still in Turkey and will not be back for another 2 weeks and Poly is out of town, too. Nevertheless I'm welcomed by Ivo and get some great touring tips for Bulgaria.:clap
    #19
  20. kion

    kion Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    233
    Location:
    Chicago,IL
    ...gypsy palaces...
    #20