New Orleans to Bulgaria & back

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by EvilEagle, Jun 25, 2020.

  1. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Long time lurker here on ADV but never considered any of my rides "Epic". COVID has given me some time to think about a lot of stuff. I decided to write up my trip from 2017. I really wanted to get it written before I forgot it all. I also wanted to prime the pump to get me writing about riding in preparation for a South America trip this fall. Hang with me (or click on) - I haven't written anything in a while. Here we go...

    In 2017, my fighter squadron was tasked for a Theater Security Package (TSP) to Europe – Holland and Bulgaria specifically. I looked at this as a great opportunity to try to get a motorcycle-through-Europe trip. I did some research on the legality of taking leave while enroute and on a deployment then talked to the boss about my plan. He approved and the planning was underway.
    #1
  2. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I had heard about Air Canada’s motorcycle shipping program. I called about it and was told that it doesn’t start until May of each year; but I was leaving in March. The cost to ship via Air Canada when the program wasn’t running was over 3x the cost during the program. Over the course of many calls I talked to several supervisors about my situation. Eventually they said ok, we can do a one-off for you out of season. I found out later that they thought I was in the Royal Canadian Air Force; but one more call and they agreed to continue the deal anyway.

    My motorcycle was in TN at my parent’s place having left it there and flown home from a quick weekend trip to Arkansas that ended in two days of pouring rain. The whole trip to Europe started off with an airplane ride to TN. I own a Beech Bonanza and a friend was going to fly it for me while I was gone. We used the flight to TN as his final checkout in the airplane. Once in TN, I waived goodbye to my plane and got to work on my bike. At this point I had owned my BMW over 11 years and had traveled to more than 30 states from WA, FL, NE and NY plus a trip to Nova Scotia in 2015. The bike fit like a glove and I was proficient on all the mx I’d learned along the way. After a quick oil change, I set out for my buddy Danny’s house in Cincinnati, OH. It was a cool sunny day in early March but the heated seat and jacket kept me toasty as the miles peeled away. Unfortunately due to time constraints I was slabbing it to Toronto trying to get there as quick as possible since I had a ship date 3 days away. The next morning, Danny rode with me out of Cincinnati for about 90 mins before separating after a gas stop. It was great to ride with him – especially knowing that it would be the last time I would ride with someone I knew for the next 3 months on the road. This was the first point that I got a bit of a feeling of being alone on a very long road. Unlike other trips, this one was a whole new kind of adventure. It was a strange feeling, but exhilarating and I was excited for the experience. Thanks to ADVrider.com’s tent space list I found a great place to crash for the night just outside of Toronto which made the ride to the airport the following morning a piece of cake – even though it was 23F and snowing!

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    Leaving Danny's place in Cincinnati
    #2
  3. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Most reports I had read about shipping the bike via Air Canada made it sound very straightforward as long as you followed the directions; and it almost was. A local business did the bill of lading and shipping declaration for me with an included weight that I had estimated. (I had been told that an estimated weight was close enough). After receiving the paperwork I drove a short but cold 10 mins to the Air Canada shipping area. Once inside I handed over the paperwork then changed clothes to add the final few items (my bike gear) to the bike and get it shipped. The bike was weighed and turned up 11 kilos heavier than the paperwork said. After several long conversations about what a big deal this was, I had to load up and go back to the paperwork place for another copy. Eventually sorted, the bike was enroute to Frankfurt.
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    Air Canada Shipping center, Toronto
    #3
  4. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I arrived in Frankfurt the day after the bike arrived and along the way had realized that I hadn’t actually received the insurance green card required for riding in Europe from the place I purchased it. (It was still in the mail somewhere between Bulgaria and the US) I had a new card overnighted to a friend’s place in Germany and spent the weekend waiting on the insurance so I could get my bike out of customs. Once out I had a long, sunny, cold and windy ride from Germany through Belgium and up to Leeuwarden near the north coast of Holland. I stayed in Leeuwarden for the next 5 weeks as we participated in a flying exercise called Frisian Flag. The weather was mostly cold and rainy so I only took the bike on a few side trips. Once the jets and most of the people flew out of Leeuwarden for Bulgaria, I would stay as part of the tear-down crew making sure we got all the rental cars turned in, on-base buildings cleaned up and all the other duties that go along with getting 260 military members out of town. Once that was done, I was back on leave for 5 days as I rode to Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
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    WSB @ Assen

    IMG_2935_original.JPG It wasn't warm that day.

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    Tulip season in Holland. This was a very small field of Tulips.

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    The plan
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  5. Dessert Storm

    Dessert Storm Dances With Drunks

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    Awesome. In. :clap
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  6. James59

    James59 Adventurer

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    Very interesting trip, one question, do you think it is wise to say on a forum who you work for? And your unit, and where you were deployed and when? If I worked for the PLAA (which I don't) I would never mention it. I don't mean to be nasty, maybe just a culture difference..
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  7. Bonnie & Clyde

    Bonnie & Clyde Wishing I was riding RTW

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    :lurk
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  8. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Good question. If it's in the past, no worries as long as it wasn't a classified trip. We did lots of public engagement on why we were in both countries, news releases, etc. It's no secret.
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  9. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I had ridden a lot of Western Europe when I was stationed in England in the early 2000’s; my bike travels had only gone as far east as the middle of Germany. I wanted to give myself as much time as possible between Prague and Plovdiv since this was all virgin ground to me. I left Leeuwarden early one morning and rode in a steady rain - all slab - all day with only two stops for fuel. I treated myself to a suite at the Prague Marriott via reward points. The hotel was ridiculous nice and way better than what I was used to. It was about a 15 min walk to the Charles Bridge and touristy area. I spent that night walking around taking pictures and reacquainting myself with Prague.
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    Charles Bridge

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    Famous clock

    I got a note that day that two of my buddies were at a conference in Brno only 125 miles away; what were the odds? No way I could pass up a chance to meet old friends in a new place. The next days’ short riding distance gave me a chance to sleep in, walk around Prague for more pics in the daylight then make my way out to Sedlec Ossuary – the “bone church” made biker-famous by Long Way Round.

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  10. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    The church is very strange, very small and almost exactly what I thought it would be like. The story told about the church is that a priest brought back some soil from Gethsemane which was thought to be blessed and hold all manner of special powers. The story goes that the people who couldn’t afford or couldn’t find room for a burial in the courtyard of the church would leave the bodies of their loved ones outside the chapel in hopes that the blessed nature of the location would ease their transition to Heaven. The story goes on to describe a blind monk that worked there bringing in and stacking the bones of the bodies left outside the church in order to keep the chapel tidy. Over the years the bone stacks became a tourist attraction. Anyway, that’s the story told via the interactive listening posts placed around the chapel. I went there more than any other reason because Charlie and Ewan went there in Long Way round so I wanted to retrace their tracks. Enroute to Prague, I had stopped the now-defunct German-Czech border where some other scenes in the show were shot. Sedlec Ossuary was the second of my three planned ‘Long Way Round’ stops. Outside the church I ran into the first set of bikers that wanted to hear about my trip and take some pictures with me. This really made me feel like I was on the trip! My inner monologue was screaming ‘NERD! Why do you care if other people think you are doing something awesome? You are a grown man and doing this for yourself, not for them.’ I told my inner monologue to shut it and enjoyed visiting with these two couples that had ridden down from Latvia for the weekend. They admitted to only coming to see the church because Ewan and Charlie did it as well so that eased my mind that I wasn’t the only fan-boy for LWR.
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    It's hard to know what to do when taking pictures in the church. It's not really a 'smile' moment.

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    The first set of people to ask for my picture.
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  11. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I arrived to Brno in a cold foggy rain that had crept out of the surrounding forests as the sun dropped towards the horizon. I had a great time catching up with my friends as we tried to find as much trouble as we could in Brno on a Tuesday night. As it turns out, there’s not much trouble to be had in Brno on a Tuesday night; or we just looked in all the wrong places. We were the only people at almost every bar and club we ducked into. We ended the night just drinking too much at a karaoke place and getting some street food. I knew that I should’ve gone home to sleep so I could get up and have a productive travel day; then I promptly chucked that idea and stayed out too late. These facts were evident as I drug myself out of bed the next morning and packed up in the rain for departure.

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    #11
  12. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Thankfully the rain didn’t last all that long and I was soon riding through blue skies and a lessening hangover. The goal for the day was the third of my LWR stops – Bojnice, Slovakia to visit the Bojnický Zámok Castle. Leaving the highway and starting up the mountain roads was a joy. The roads were generally in good shape and there was almost no one around. I stopped several times for pictures of the rocky mountains rising up from the green pastures.
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    I rode through small developments of shanty houses where people clip-clopped down the road in wagons pulled by ancient horses. This was really starting to feel like I’d left ‘the West’. By the time I arrived in Bojnice, my excitement for the trip and the great riding I had that day had beat down the hangover so that I barely remembered it. The castle is incredible; definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. The small town of Bojnice was immaculately clean. I remember thinking if I laid on the sidewalk for a nap, the sidewalk would come away from that encounter dirtier than I would.

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  13. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I was really enjoying the town; free WiFi in the beautiful park that ran down the main street, a few tourists scattered about but really not many people in this pretty little mountain village that was dominated by a very impressive castle. It’s just like a movie. My dilemma was that I felt I had wasted a day in Brno, and the weather for the following day was supposed to be poor. I really wanted to get to Sebes, Romania the following day in preparation for riding the Transalpina Highway. This and the Transfagarasan Highway were supposed to be absolutely can’t-miss for motorcyclists. Google maps told me that it was at least 9 hours of saddle time to get to Sebes and I was taking a less direct route than it had planned; so it’d likely be longer still. I had already spent more time in Bojnice than originally allotted so I couldn’t make it to Budapest before dark like I had planned. If I kept riding, I’d be stuck with luck of the draw on whatever town I was closest to when I ran out of daylight or motivation. My other option was to book a hotel in Bojnice, enjoy a nice dinner and the good weather while I had it to enjoy. I was torn on what to do. I texted Danny about my situation, he gave me some good advice to enjoy the adventure for what it was – if I wanted to stay, stay. If I wanted to keep riding, ride. I decided to stay. The rest of my evening was spent doing exactly what I wanted – shooting tons of photos, enjoying the nice weather, having a glass of wine and an excellent dinner outside then going to bed early while looking out the window at a real life fairy-tale castle.

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    #13
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  14. James59

    James59 Adventurer

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    Thats good then. I am happy to know you are ok. We have online security drilled into us. I have a similar trip planned though from Amsterdam. Yours is beautiful.
    Sunday Arrive Amsterdam-Regensburg 756
    Monday Regensburg-Budaors (Hungary) 636
    Tuesday Budaors-Sofia (Bulgaria) 779
    Wednesday Sofia-Edirne (Turkey) 312
    Thursday Edirne-Istanbul 237
    Friday Istanbul 0
    Saturday Istanbul 0
    Sunday Istanbul-Plovdiv (Bulgaria) 417
    Monday Plovdiv-Pristina (Kosovo) 501
    Tuesday Pristina-Sarajevo (Bosnia) 428
    Wednesday Sarajevo-Zagreb (Croatia) 398
    Thursday Zagreb-Rosenheim (Germany) 500
    Friday Rosenheim-Amsterdam 893
    The numbers are Km,
    #14
  15. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    So do we - constantly. It's a pain!

    Thanks for following, sounds like your trip will be great as well!
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  16. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    I'm sure everyone's border experiences are different. I'll tell you that the Bulgarian/Turkey border was a lot of work. I've got some stories coming up of my experiences going through Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and back to Germany. Those borders are full of stories!
    #16
  17. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    Departing Bojnice was quick and I was trying to put the miles in while the weather was good. I found myself on the E571 and 572 which were really nicely made roads with smooth tarmac and wide shoulders. The scenery was of a wide green valley as I sailed east towards the Hungarian border. The weather was actually nice but it had that smell of impending thunderstorms in the air that said ‘you better get all your outside stuff done soon’. One of many regrets I have about the trip is that I basically blasted across eastern Hungary entering near Salgortarjan, down to Karcag and east to the Romanian border near Oradea without stopping for anything. Entering Romania would be my first ‘real’ border crossing since all the countries I’d ridden through since arriving in Europe were part of the EU and had no border checkpoints. Thankfully I’d read somewhere about the long line of transfer trucks that stretched for nearly 5 miles leading up to the border. I trusted what other overlanders had said, shifted to the left lane and sped right around the line to the border gate. As I arrived there it was obvious that all the truck drivers and the sentries at the border expected non-trucks to drive around as I had done. Seems like there’d be a sign or something... Maybe American’s are just too rule-based?

    For the last hour I’d been mentally preparing myself for the border crossing. After years of reading ride reports on ADVrider, thousands of hours of YouTube videos and tons of books about overlanding you’d think I wouldn’t be so apprehensive. I rode up, popped my modular helmet open and gave the Romanian guard a smile. He barely noticed until I said “Hello!” with a big American accent. Eyes slightly wider and a look of amusement on his face he made the quick switch to English (envious of people who can do that!) “HZEELLLLOW” he replied in a thick but heavily accented voice. "Pya'perz pleazze" I handed over my passport and motorcycle registration. He looked at my passport shaking his head with one of those ‘will-ya-look-at-that’ looks on his face. He sauntered back to check the license plate against the registration. About that time a young Hungarian border guard walked over. He looked over at her, tipped my passport in her direction with a sort of ‘check this out’ motion. She did the universal jaw down/mouth closed eye droop look as to say yeah ok, I see the ace up your sleeve. She was a short, petite late-20’s brunette with big brown eyes and an athletic stride; probably gorgeous out of uniform. She looked at me, walked back to look at my license plate then came back and gave me the same jaw-down look. It struck me as so odd – I’ve seen that look all over the world (everyone has right?) but it just caught me funny looking down at this beautiful young woman in eastern Hungary shooting the same look as if I told the grocery checkout lady down the block in New Orleans “check out my new Amex platinum card”. Some things really are universally human I suppose. Anyway, this little back and forth between the gate guards had amused me and I’d forgotten all the stuff I was supposed to do at a border crossing: principle of which was never let your passport out of your sight. Before I knew it, I was shewed along by another guard telling me to pull forward and they would be with me shortly. My passport had left the area with the first guard – CRAP.

    As I rolled to a stop I thought - well, now you’ve done it. You have completely screwed the pooch on your first attempt. Who knows how long this will take or what amount of bribes might be needed. I resigned myself to make this just a part of the adventure, took my gloves off, broke out my Kindle and started reading next to my bike. Before I even got into the story a guard strode up to me, stuck my passport and registration in my hand and with a quick “Welcome to Romania” he was gone. I must’ve looked like an idiot standing there with my mouth open. I just had to smile, pack up and ride into Romania!

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  18. James59

    James59 Adventurer

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    I know. I have been lucky and not had too many problems at borders.
    1. Do your preparation., get documents ready before the border. And know or try to anticipate what they want.
    2. I know the Turks want insurance docs.
    3. Take helmet off and smile and hope for the best.
    4. I carry a small false wallet in case they ask for bribe I show I have only some little money ( but I have more money elsewhere, spread around)
    5. May be problem in Turkey because of Uighers in China (Turkish speaking people in western China, they are getting a tough time).
    6. Last resort I have a friend who works for Turkish Government in Ankara-phone.
    #18
  19. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    The weather had caught up to me by this point so I was constantly changing my route as I went to try to avoid the most weather. I had loaded my Zumo 550 GPS with the awesome free maps from Openstreetmap before leaving Holland. Unfortunately I could only load the maps along my intended route because there wasn’t enough space on the harddrive to hold all of Eastern Europe. I had ridden – quite literally – off my map when cutting through Hungary earlier that day and had not yet returned to an area that the Zumo had maps. Generally speaking I knew the direction I was going but I wasn’t as familiar with the route since it was on the fly. I decided to stop at a gas station to get out of the sprinkles, check my rain gear and confer with the iPhone – maybe even catch some free Wi-Fi and get another look at the weather.

    The store did indeed have wifi and some nice little baguette sandwiches. Breaking my usual habit pattern, I had google maps load up turn by turn directions. Unfortunately I was having a hell of a time getting the routing to go where I wanted it. It gave me the options of going directly through the giant thunderstorm I’d been avoiding or turn right back around for the border and via an alternate route in Hungary. I finally forced it into the way I wanted it to go by adding Oradea as a way point. I knew I should take the bypass road around the city when I saw signs for the airport. That should shoot me straight south and around the weather. I could get a couple of hours away from this storm before sorting out my follow on route.

    Merging into 7 lanes of pavement with only 3 lanes worth of cars put me in hopeful mood that it would be quick sailing and that I still had a chance to make Sebes – or very near to it – that evening. The turn by turn Googlemap directions through my Sena were wonderful and I questioned why I hadn’t been using this all along. As I got on the bypass road it started to rain. I actually enjoy riding in the rain if I’m prepared with good rain gear on a decent road in light traffic; it always puts a slight smile on my face knowing that once upon a time I was one of those bikers that never rode in the rain but NOW I’m one of those guys who I used to look at asking myself if I’d ever be ‘that hardcore’. Haha – hardcore indeed. The traffic got tighter and slower, the rain got heavier and heavier, the road got more and more standing water on it. The thunder boomed, the lightening crashed and I was quickly wishing I was back at the gas station. Since I was concentrating on the road, the cars, the rain and the lightening I missed the sign for the airport and was basically trusting the turn-by-turn directions. A few miles later I finally begin to question where these directions were taking me as they turned me down a city street that was doing a passable imitation of a swelling mountain stream. I tried to judge how deep the water was by looking at the wheels of the cars in front of me on the road. Finally it dawned on me that Googlemaps was taking me to the city center or wherever it deemed was THE point of Oradea. I lumbered through a U-turn while nearly dumping all 670 lbs of BMW into the street when a floating branch lodged under my front wheel just as I started the slow-speed U-turn. Thankfully I kept the bike upright and started re-tracing my path back to the bypass road while Google constantly told me to turn around, turn left, turn right, make a U-turn. The rain was absolutely belting down now and I was overheating from the combination of slow speed, frustration, panic at almost dumping the bike and the steam building up from my now damp clothes. My visor was fogging up so I cracked it as I eased into the now-packed bypass traffic. As we came to a complete stop the 4th time I was just about to start laughing at the situation when the roar of the rain changed it’s pitch. Suddenly the sound reminded me of a movie depiction of an avalanche through a stand of trees. An insanely load rushing sound hit all of a sudden with a bitingly cold wind and I took a hailstone directly between the eyes. A split second later hail was driving down, bouncing off cars all around me causing already bad drivers to become way worse. Everyone was panicking; I was on the verge of joining them. Cars crowded under the overpasses and refused to make room for anyone to pass. Thankfully I found just enough room to weave past them but there was no room for me out of the storm. The wind was howling now with the hail and I estimated at least 40 mph gusts. My brain switched to a pseudo-survival mode “I HAVE TO GET OFF THIS ROAD – NOW!” I went as fast as I dared back to where I remembered a shopping mall had been, thankfully there was another gas station there with room between the lobby and the cars parked up at the pumps. I stopped under the cover, turned off the bike and just sat there wide eyed. There were hailstones on every flat surface of the bike – on the GPS, on my tank bag, lodged in my helmet, down my back, in my pants, under my butt on the seat, in the folds of my dry-bag – everywhere! I just sat there in shock for a few mins before dragging myself off the bike and making sure the wind gusts weren’t going to knock it over. After a few hours, the storm moved on but by that point I was tired, soaked and generally defeated by the weather since it had moved off south in my intended direction and I wasn’t about to ride through that again. I used the wifi and booked a hotel only 10 mins away. After a shower I walked around the downtown area of Oradea which was quite nice, very clean with lots of new modern looking buildings. A few places were busy but generally everything was pretty empty. Perhaps the weather kept everyone at home. I had a quick dinner and made for my bed.
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    #19
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  20. EvilEagle

    EvilEagle Been here awhile

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    The rain came back that night but I slept right through it waking up to a wet grey city. Romania was thus-far making it really difficult to be in a good mood. Leaving Oradea was much easier with the rain/hail and traffic. I made my way down to Sebes in about 4 hours starting up the Transalpina Highway just after noon. I had recently read a thread somewhere that someone had asked if the road had been opened yet for the season. No one seemed to have the answer so I figured I may get up there and find a gate across the road forcing me to turn around and re-route again. As I climbed up the mountain I began to wonder if this was really the road I’d seen in the pictures. It was going to the mountains for sure but this had the feeling of a well-traveled road to someone’s house which was in stark contrast to the epic photos that give the Transalpina such a following. A small roadside store had a map of the Transalpina highway drawn out.
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    That was worth the stop so I grabbed a bite to eat, took a picture of the map and ate while studying my intended route. A little old lady that worked there came out to see my bike. She spoke no English and I no Romanian so we tried a little ‘pointy-talkie’. She wanted to know where I was from – easy stuff there. I asked her about the road ahead and was it ok? Thumbs up, thumbs down or eeehhhh? She said ya, ya, ya and gave me a thumbs up. Good enough for me; I was off.
    #20