An action packed week of fantastic cycling as two friends from England, Andy and Eoghan, joined me to explore the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, Romania.
After a brilliant weekend in Malaysia with my wife it was time to get on with cycling through Transylvania. The region of Transylvania is located in the Carpathian Mountains of central Romania known for its stunning scenery and rich history.
In the English-speaking world Transylvania is synonymous with with vampire due to the influence of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and its many film adaptations. A stop at Dracula’s castle would definitely be on the itinerary once Andy and Eoghan arrived in Romania.
First though I needed to cycle to the city of Brasov which sits at the top of the Carpathian Mountians and was where I had arranged to meet the lads.
I had spent the night before at Paul and Anca’s flat in Bucharest so in the morning when Paul left for work I cycled into the city with him.The quickest way was to cut through Tineretului Park which acts as the main recreational space for the heavily developed southern end of the city. As it was early the children’s play parks called ‘Orăşelul Copiilor’ was completely empty so we made good time.
Paul didn’t need to be at work until 10am and as we had missed rush hour traffic was light.Bucharest has a population of around 2 million people and as the city is fairly compact after 30 minutes I was back in the countryside as I headed for the Carpathian Mountains.
Now that I was back in the countryside the fields were the same patchwork of green and yellow that I had followed when I had cycled into Bucharest from Bulgaria. Andy and Eoghan were flying into Bucharest in a couple of days’ time, and when we had been looking at routes we could have either met in Bucharest or at the top of the.
They opted for meeting at the top of the mountain and that was where I was now headed. When they arrived they would catch a bus from the airport to the city of Brasov to meet me.
There were 2 main routes into the mountains to Brasov and Paul, who I had stayed with in Bucharest, had recommended that I take the slightly longer route which would take me over a higher mountain, but would be much quieter. This sounded like an ideal compromise.
Both roads left the city of Ploiesti at the base of the Carpathians, but I still had a 70km ride to reach there.
As I had time to kill before Eoghan and Andy arrived in Bucharest I decided to try and get to Ploiesti on side roads and tracks. For most of that morning as I wound my way north my only company were horse and carts.
At some points the roads ran out.
As I was not in a rush it didn’t matter.
Lunch that day was a stop at a shop where I bought a picnic of cheese, salami and bread, washed down with a local beer.While I was sat there eating my lunch another cyclist pulled up for his lunch, but from his ‘luggage’ I figured that he was not on tour!!!Every village that I passed through had two things in common – a church and a beautiful cemetery at either it’s entrance or exit
I was now into the start of the foothills and the fields of crops had been replaced by dense forests When I had been discussing the trip with Andy and Eoghan we had decided to not camp to save them carrying kit. Now that I was here I was glad that we had opted for guesthouses as the Carpathians are still home to thousands of bears and packs of wolves. All of the locals that I had met had told me not to camp !!!
In early afternoon I cycled into the city of PloiestiThe centre of the city was very pretty and life seemed pretty slow paced. In the main plaza were lots of book sellers
And the men were sat playing chessI could have stayed in the night in the city, but as it wasn’t going to go dark for another few hours I decided to press on into the hills.
This was the point that I had a choice of roads to take – the flatter, shorter, but busier Route 1 of the higher and longer Route 1A. As I didn’t fancy being chased by trucks I took Route 1A.
I was soon thinking that it may have been wiser to have chosen the other road as the sign showed that my gentle climb was about to get a whole lot harder.Still, the view back down the valley once I reached the top was pretty nice.If you have read any of my other posts you will know that water has been the bane of my life on this trip and has often dictated both my camping options. Here is this part of Romania water was in plentiful supply as each village I passed through had a well that I could draw water from.
As darkness fell I passed a sign for a pension by the side of the road and pulled in to see if they had a bed for the night.They did and even better they could rustle me up some food which would save me cooking. I was soon sat down with a plate of meat and potatoes.The next morning when I set off I knew that it was going to be a much harder day than the day before. As I was now getting into the business end of the ride into the mountains I was very much confined to following one main road, and I would be climbing all day.
I still hadn’t managed to find good coffee that I could make myself and as I didn’t fancy the nescafe they had at the hotel I cycled off in search of a shop to get breakfast.
I didn’t have to go far before I found what I needed. Breakfast that morning was coffee and porridge with Greek yoghurt The church and horse theme from the day before was still in abundance as I climbed my way into the Carpathians.
Worryingly though, ahead of me I could see storm clouds gathering and I was going to be very lucky if I managed to avoid rain as the wind was blowing it straight down the valley at me.It was then time to grind my way up as I was into a series of switchbacks that seemed to go on for ever
Once I had reached the top of the switchbacks I followed a river further up into the mountains. Where the valley widened the river had been dammed to form hydro electric reservoirsIt was here that the rain finally caught up with me and for the first time in months I was wearing my wet weather gear, not to protect me from the cold as I had in the Balkans, but from the driving rain that was trying its best to force me back down the road.
After an hour or so the rain eased and the sun even showed signs of coming out.My destination that day was the village of Cheia that lay at the base of Ciucas Mountain that form a ridge line that I would need to cross. (the pic below was taken from a walking information display for the area)After climbing all day getting over the ridgeline could wait for tomorrow as it was time to find somewhere to sleep.
The village of Cheia seemed to be a popular base for walkers and climbers and all along the valley there were caravans that looked like they were left there permanently.As I rode up the valley I didn’t see one person camping in a tent as the forests were the home to the largest concentration of wolves and bears in this region.
Even though it was Friday night when I cycled into the village it seemed as though it was still closed for the winter as all of the cafes and restaurants were locked. It seemed like I would have to camp after all !!!
I spoke to one of the locals and in pigeon German he managed to point me in the direction of a homestay in the village that he said was open.
I followed his directions and for 8 GBP I ended up with my own pine themed house all to myself.
The owner gave me directions to a restaurant that was open on the other side of the village, and she said that the quickest way to get there was through the forest. She said that I couldn’t get lost!!!
After cycling around in circles for a while I eventually found the right track which lead me to Nicos, where once again the menu consisted of a deliciously large plate of meat and potatoes.After a fantastic feast it was time to head back to my pension for a great night’s sleep.
In the morning I knew that I had a couple of hours more climbing to do before a respite of a long fast rolling descent into Brasov. The good news was that the sky was blue and the sun was shining.
When I cycle on the flat or climb I tend to loosen my brakes off as mud and small stones can get stuck between the pads and the rim which slows me down. If I know that there is a fast descent up ahead I tighten them up so that I can ‘fly’ down the hills knowing that I will actually make the inevitable tight bends.
So before I set off that morning it was time for a bit of an adjustment.
It was now time to get over the top of the impressive ridgeline that I could se in the distanceAt least the dogs seemed friendly
The road through the forest followed was probably the best that I had ridden on in Romania.
This was always slightly worrying as I have found on this trip that well maintained roads through mountains signaled steep climbs to come!!!
For now, I was enjoying the gentle slopes as the road wound its way next to a bubbling stream.I then entered a gorge area and this signaled the start of the main climb of the dayUp ahead I could see the ridge line that I would have to cycle overIt was now time to grind my way up the seemingly endless switch backsTo appreciate just how many switchbacks there were it is probably easier to show you a screenshotIt wouldn’t have been too bad if these were the only switchbacks, but no sooner had one set ended than another began.
After a good couple of hours of climbing a flat area and a sculpture indicated that I had finally reached the top.
It was then payback time as from my map I knew that for the rest of the day I would roll downhill towards Brasov, where I would meet the lads later that night.
Since leaving Bucharest food on the road had been fairly hard to find, and now that I was in the mountains even scarcer. Around lunchtime I passed a restaurant/hotel called Casa Valasoaia and pulled in to get a bite to eat as I couldn’t be bothered cooking after spending all morning climbing.
In the garden area the owner, Mircea Stoia, was busy getting food ready over an open fire.
Before eating there was a welcome drink – Romanian moonshine.
The stew that was slowly bubbling on the fire smelled too good to resist so that was my lunch (served with polenta and pickles)
After a great chat with Mircea on places to visit in the area over a couple of beers it was now time to get to Brasov. Gravity was in my favour and I had a great afternoon rolling down the mountain next to a river.
I was so glad that I Paul had recommending taking the harder route over the mountain instead of the direct main highway. This was another reason why having staying with a warmshowers host was so rewarding.
I’m not sure that the money that is generated in the tourist mecca that is Brasov filters very far up the valley as the area that I was cycling though may only be 30km away but seemed very poor.
I had the road pretty much to myself apart from the odd animal and people pulling carts of wood along.
Once I was within 10km of Brasov the tourist sphere of influence (guess who’s going back to work teaching Geography soon) was very apparent.
Cycling through Catherine’s Gate signaled my arrival in the city of Brasov.Brasov is a walled city and the 4 corner turrets on the top of the gateway back in the Middle Ages represented the city’s right to administer capital punishment known as ‘Jus Gladii’ or ‘the Right of the Sword’.
For the last two days of cycling it seemed at times it felt like I was the only person on holiday in Romania. As I cycled into the city that ‘dream’ was thoroughly shattered as there were thousands of people exploring the stunningly picturesque streets of Brasov.
If ever there was a town for a spot of promenading then this was it so after checking into the hotel that Andy had booked I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around drinking coffee.
Thankfully, it seemed that tourists didn’t venture too far from the main square and so once I was away from there I was able to amble in peace.
Brasov’s number 1 attraction is probably the Black Church which dominates the skyline of the historic quarter.
There was an English tour group being guided around the church so I tagged onto the back
Andy and Eoghan’s flight arrived on time at 4pm and they should have caught a 6pm bus from the airport to arrive in Brasov for 9pm. The only problem was that although they had arrived, their bikes had not. (to be fair to the airline Andy’s facebook update that they had to run through the airport to make the flight may have had something to do with their bikes not arriving!!!).
Now, not having bikes is a bit of a downer when you are going on a cycling holiday, but all was not lost as there was another flight due in from Luton at 7.30pm and they were hoping that their bikes were on it.
Thankfully they were.The only problem was that the 9pm bus to Brasov was a minibus with only 1 seat left. The driver spoke to the passengers and they agreed to squeeze up to let the lads and their two bikes on the bus, which was fantastic.
They would now be arriving at midnight so as I had a few hours to kill I headed out to check out Brasov’s nightlife.
At midnight the lads arrived and we went for a couple of pints before it was time to call it a day as we had an earlyish start planned for the following day.
Early on a Sunday morning even Brasov’s café culture has a slow start to the day and so breakfast was coffee and cheese bread from a 24 hour shop. At least we had the main square pretty much to ourselves.
It was then time for the lads to put their bikes together while I fuelled up for the day on porridge and more coffee.
All seemed to be going to plan until we discovered that Eoghan’s back brake wasn’t working. It seemed that most of the wires had frayed in the cable and there was only one or two threads still connected which meant that is was not releasing.
This left two options – to get it changed or to ride with no back brake. Understandably Eoghan wasn’t too keen on the second option so we googled options but all the bike shops were closed on a Sunday.
There was a Decathlon store in the city so we cycled out to it hoping that their bike section sold brake cables. It was a 6 or 7km ride and halfway there Andy discovered that he still had the hotel key in his pocket so he headed back and we arranged to meet him later on in the old town.
When we reached Decathlon we were in luck as not only was it open but their bike mechanics were on duty.30 minutes later we were cycling back to meet up with Andy. Out early start hadn’t quite happened and as it was now nearly midday we decided to take the opportunity to eat before heading off.
Our destination that day would be Dracula’s Castle in Bran, and the quickest way to get there was along the flat highway, but where was the fun in that. Instead, I had found a much better route with a couple of fantastic things to see along the way, the only problem was that we would have to climb a mountain to get there.
Still, the views over the city as we climbed were pretty good.
Once we reached the top of the climb it was time to get off the tarmac and cycle through the forest. Now, this was why people came cycling in Transylvania.
Even the locals were enjoying a spot of horse riding through the forestThis was a fantastic introduction to cycling through Romania
The tracks eventually led us back to down the other side of the mountain where there was one final very steep climb up cobbled streets to visit Rasnov Citadel.
The citadel was built as part of a defence system for the Transylvanian villages exposed to outside invasions. The of the citadel location was on the route that invading armies took which were coming from the Bran pass and were passing through Râșnov, on their way to Burzenland. The only chance of survival for the villagers of the area was the refuge inside the citadel.
The only problem to using the citadel as a permanent refuge was the absence of an internal water source which led to the limitation of long term resistance during sieges. Because of this lack, it was decided to start the digging of a well in the rocky in 1623.
Local legend says that the inhabitants of the citadel made two Turkish prisoners dig the well in the middle of the citadel in order to regain their freedom.
The captives dug for 17 years, during which time they wrote verses from the Quran on the well walls which can be seen even today.
The fate of the prisoners isn’t known, with some saying that they were released, and others that they were killed.
It was a great stop on our way to Dracula’s castle and from the citadel we had a great view back over the mountains that we had just crossed.
Strangely, just outside the historical walls of the citadel they have built a dinosaur park.It was a good job that we had decided to eat in Brasov before setting off as we had passed nothing to eat on our way to Rasnov. Water though was in plentiful supply from the various springs we passed by the roadside.It was now time to go visit the main attraction for this valley – Dracula’s Catle.The castle is located in the town of Bran which was on the other side of the valley from RasnovDue to the late start time was ticking on and so we decided to take the main road across the valley rather than sticking to tracks through the woods.
An hour later we arrived in the town of BranStraight away the ‘theme’ for the town was pretty obviousIt was a good job that we had decided to take the direct route as we only just made it before closing time at the castle, and if we had stuck to the tracks then we would have missed Dracula’s Castle.The castle was made famous in the 1897 novel called Dracula by the Irish author Bram Stoker. The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the ‘undead’ curse. For centuries Vampires have been part of local folklore in Romania, and although Bram Stoker did not invent them he certainly defined their modern form.
The inside of the castle was certainly spectacular
A labyrinth of passageways and hidden stairwells led us up to the top of the castle
The view from the top was lovely
Although the story of Dracula has made the castle famous the real reason the castle was built here was to defend the mountain pass in the picture below. (picture taken from the top of the castle)Many people believe that the castle had nothing to do with the story of Dracula. The real ‘villain’ of the time though in these parts was Vlad the Impaler who was the likely inspiration for Dracula.
Vlad the impaler (Vlad III), or simply known as Dracula, was the second son of Vlad Dracula. He, along with his brother were held hostage by the Ottoman empire in order to secure their father’s loyalty. Upon their release Vlad lived in exile before returning to Transylvania to rule Wallachia.
Records show that Vlad executed hundreds of thousands of people on his return from exile, and his favourite method of death was to impale people on a stake.
However, much of what modern historians know about Vlad III comes from pamphlets and other texts whose historical accuracy, many of which were written by Vlad’s enemies, can’t be confirmed.
Whatever the true inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel was the real reason the castle was built here was to defend the mountain pass. Still, never say that the locals haven’t got carried away in their pursuit of profiting from a good legend.
Although the fictional Dracula may not have existed a paranoia about witches certainly did. One of the ways that they used to identify witches was something called ‘Putting on scales’The practice of using the scales to identify followers or apprentices of Satan came from the belief that they would be lighter than their physical appearance suggested.
This was not only a common practice in Transylvania but across europe. If after being put on the scales the accused was found to be too light for their size and shape, torturing would continue until they confessed to their crimes.
If the person weighed the correct amount they were cleared and allowed to walk free, and couldn’t be tried again. However, there was huge room for abuse and anyone could easily be found guilty and subject to torture.
By the time we had finished at the castle it was early evening and as we were still a couple of hours ride from our intended destination we went for a pint to decide where we fancied sleeping that night.The food smelled amazing and we could have easily ate their and then slept in BranAs the area is still home to wolves and bears we weren’t going to be camping this week and as we still had an hours or so of daylight left we decided to cycle onto the village of Varnesti where we knew thought that we would be able to get a homestay for the night
As we were not in any real rush we decided to avoid the main road and stick to the side roads and tracks.
The sealed road ended and we were back on tracks
The only ‘traffic’ were sheep as they were returning home for the night
The town of Varnesti didn’t look that appealing from the outskirtsIt looked like the town was a series of uniform concrete communist era blocks of flats. However, once we were cycling through it’s centre is was slightly prettier.
We found a house that we thought was a pension but as there was no bell and the gates were locked there was no way of finding out. As we were about to cycle off in search of another place the owner came out to see what the noise was.
Although he didn’t speak any English he gestured for us to follow him into the house and we had a place to sleep for the night.
Inside the house was the most flamboyant medal display that I think I have ever seen.This area gets lots of snow in wintertime and the medals are for biathlon (cross country skiing and rifle shooting) His whole front room was a collection of medals and trophies.
They only had two rooms, and after being on holiday with Andy before Eoghan got the short straw, and had to endure a night of listening to Andy doing his best impression of a bear as he blissfully slept !!!
That night we went to a restaurant in the centre that the owner of the guesthouse had recommended, and it turned out that even though it was Sunday night the place was packed. We had delicious food and a few pints to wash it down. A great end to a fantastic first day on the bike.
The next morning, after a breakfast of cheese ham and salami Andy and Eoghan had a few adjustments to make on their bikes. It seemed that the off roading had taken its toll – Andy’s gears weren’t working and Eoghan’s rack had snapped.
Andy managed to adjust the bracket on his front derailleur to get his gears working but all we could do for Eoghan was wrap a bungee cord around the frame to try and hold it in place.
As we left Varnesti that morning the weather had changed and the mountains were covered in mist and it looked like the rain that we had avoided the day before would catch up with at some point that day.
On our way out of the village we passed a mechanics so we pulled in to see if they could weld the frame.
This is where touring bike setups and commuting bikes differ. My bike may weigh 16kg, but as everything on it is made from steel I know that it can be fixed on the road. As Eoghan’s rack was ‘lightweight’ and made from alloy it couldn’t be welded, and he would have to make do with the bungee cords in the hope that the other side didn’t snap.
There was a small climb out of the village through a pine forest that smelled wonderful
We were not sure of our destination that day but hoped to get to Sighisoara which was about 120km away through the mountains. As Eoghan had never ridden more than 90km then it may have been a stretch too far. Still, we could only try.
We had the road pretty much to ourselves as we cycled through valleys from one pretty village to another.
The only ‘real’ traffic we encountered were horse and carts, and the odd cow
The first village that we came to that had a shop was Sinca Noua so we stopped for a quick coffee and a snack.
As we cycled that morning one of the constants by the roadside were huge nests that stalks had built on top of telegraph polesWe decided to head for a town called Fagaras for lunch, and on the way the storm clouds that had been following us decided to give us the bad news.
Luckily, it was only a brief shower and by the time we reached the outskirts of Fagarasas then the worst of the rain had passed.Faragas was a pretty nondescript city which lies on the Olt River.
It’s saving grace was a beautiful moated castle in the centre of the city.During the 1950’s the castle was used a s a prison for opponents of the Communist State of Romania. After the fall of the communist state in 1989, the castle was restored and is currently used as a museum and library.
Unfortunately though, it was closed on Mondays and so instead of a bit of Romanian culture we headed for the pub to get lunch and to wait for the rain to blow through.After lunch I left the lads in the pub while I went for a walk around the centre. It was a very short walk as the only other place that I could worth visiting was the beautiful church.
It was then time to get back on the bikes and cycle back into the hills as when we left we had a good 10km of uphill grind. Fueled by a hearty lunch and a couple of pints we were soon at the top !!!!
Even the sun and the sheep had come out to greet us
The great thing about climbing is the descent and infront of us we had miles of gently rolling hills as we cruised our way down into the valley on the other side.
Ahead of us as we started our next climb the rain clouds had once again gathered
It was time to get out the wet weather gear again.This time it wasn’t a short sharp shower that was over in a flash and the rain stayed with us for the rest of the day.There was one more final mountain to get over before we reached our destination for the night which was the town of Sighisoara. The road at this point deteriorated into what could best be described as interconnecting pot holes.Still, by the time we got to the other side the lads were still smiling (just!!!)As they didn’t have mudguards on their bikes by the time we had bumped our way over the final mountain they were pretty dirtyThat day we had been over a few mountains and Eoghan had completed his first century ride so as we rolled into the town of Sighisoara instead of finding somewhere to stay and getting food we went to the pub.
Not sure that the staff were too pleased to see us though as three wet, two of them filthy, cyclists walked through their door but once we had stripped off and changed we were all slightly more presentable.
To celebrate breaking Eoghans ‘virgin’ 100km ride there was only one way to celebrate and that was with shots of Palinka – a traditional fruit brandy that is ‘brewed’ in the Carpathian Mountains. Most households produce their own version of Palinka with the most common flavours being plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries (our ‘poison’ that night was plum).
After warming up in the pub, and Andy restoring his day’s supply of nicotine, it was time to give the bikes a quick wash, as everything was filthy, and I wasn’t sure that the place Andy had booked from the pub (technology is a wonderful thing) would appreciate us arriving in such a state.
That night after showering we returned to the same bar for a bit more ‘homebrew’ and great food. (alas there was no dancing to be found as the only late night bar/club in town had two people in it)
The next morning, the sun was shining and although we had another 120km ride ahead of us we couldn’t leave without having a look around the town.
Sighisoara was fortified in the 14th and 15th centuries to defend it from Ottoman invaders. Today, the walled city still contains 9 original towers and 2 bastions.
The main entrance gate to the citadel today houses one of the city’s most prominent features – The Clock Tower.
The defensive tower was originally used as an armory to protect the main gate of the citadel. In 1676, the town’s gunpowder deposits exploded, and the tower was restored to house the clock.The citadel is inhabited and with it’s cobbled streets and beautiful buildings it forms the historical heart of the city.
On the highest point within the citadel was situated the aptly names Hill Church. To get the legs working we climbed our way up the 150 or so covered steps to the top of the hill.At the top was the beautiful Gothic ChurchAnd a Roman chapel and dungeonThe other main building at the top of the hill was the Rope Makers’ Tower.
It is the only inhabited tower in the city and is home to the guardian of the Evangelic cemetery.After spending a couple of hours strolling around the city it was time to walk back to get our bikes and continue our ride through Transylvania.
Our intended leisurely ride of 60km or so when we left the town turned out to actually be a bit longer than expected, and when I told the lads they didn’t seem too bothered (honest!!!) As the sun was shining and our destination that night was the UNESCO city of Sibiu they soon got over the ‘bad’ news.
The cycle that day was a ride of two halves. The first part of the day was a lovely cycle following the Tarnava River followed after lunch by a climb back through the mountains.
First though we had a 16km section of highway to negotiate and there was only one way to get through this section – time trail it. This was easier said than done when you are cycling a fully loaded touring bike but as out legs were warmed up from the hike through the citadel even the short climb out of Sighisoara didn’t slow up down.
16km later we were off the highway and onto quite country roads that meandered their way next to the river.
We cycled through some beautiful villages
Each had their own church
With the most stunning being the Armenian Catholic Church in Dumbraveni.
Once again the roads were pretty empty
This area must have been more affluent as horses working in the fields had been replaced by tractorsThere were lots of bee boxes in the fields on the side of the valleyAfter a couple of hours of cycling through empty roads it was time for lunch. As the dark clouds that had threatened us earlier in the day had blown through we found a lovely grassy area next to the road and had a picnic. After lunch we still had around 60 km to cycle but we had a choice – to take the shorter, flatter, more direct highway to Sibiu, or to go through the mountains. There was no real contest – we took the mountain route.
Along the way to the hills we found the weirdest cycle lane everIt was weird because it started in the middle of nowhere and after a couple of kilometres ended in the middle of nowhere. Still, at least somebody had taken the effort to build it for us.
I think that the whole valley was a bit like this as the next thing we passed was a reservoir which contained crops instead of water.The next ‘structure’ we passed was far more impressive – The Fortified Church of Mosna.The church dates from the 15th Century with the fortifications built about a century later to protect the church and the inhabitants from those pesky Ottoman invaders.
The village of Mosna was a very pretty little village
It seemed like they intended to keep it that way as there were signs ‘indicating’ the colours that you should paint your house.Once we left the village the road started to rise and and ahead of us was 10km of steady climbing through a forest.
As always, photos never do justice to just how steep the road was.
I was so happy to get to the top that I missed the turn off on the descent on the other side and so we had to climb our way back up part of the hill again. (oops!!!)
Once on the top the forest opened up which gave us lovely views of the surrounding area.
We then rolled our way down the other sidethrough small villages where there were more cows on the road than cars.
Just after we passed through the village of Nocrich we were off the side roads and on a bigger main road.
I think that the altitude had gone to Andy’s head as he wanted to ‘time trial’ the last 30km to Sibiu.
Lets just say that he was very thankful that we didn’t decided to time trail it when 5km before entering the city we came to the ‘kicker’. After 115km, we were once again climbing up what was probably the steepest climb of the day.
Just as darkness and the rain started to fall we descended our way into Sibiu. This was probably the worst combination as it was still early spring in Europe once the sun goes down the temperature rapidly drops and by the time we had reached the bottom of the descent we were pretty cold and wet.
Still, at we rolled into the historic centre of Sibiu the stunning sight before us made us forget the cold.
There was only one way to warm up and that was to go and have a beer. Once again, we booked somewhere to stay over a beer.
Once we had checked in, just like in Zarnesti, we took the staff’s recommendation on where to eat and an hour after checking in we were sat in a cellar restaurant drinking Romanian wine and eating hearty stews while listening to a ‘live’ band (I think it was the cooks who came out to play between cooking courses !!!)After dinner we headed off in search of a bar. After being chased by dogs for the last 3 days Eoghan was glad of the sign on the doorWe had found another cellar bar, and the band in this one was a bit better than the one at the restaurant.I think the toll of riding 300km over mountains was taking its toll on Andy’s body but to perk him up he decided that tequila submarines were the order of the day.
Here is a short video that will give you a better idea of the pattern that our evenings took for the rest of the week (and a better explanation of what a tequila submarine is!!)
As we were in a UNSECO city and we had not actually seen any of it, apart from its nightlife until the early hours of the morning, the next day we decided that we would have a day off and spend a day being tourists. (this had nothing to do with the toll of 3 days cycling over mountains had had on Andy and Eoghan’s bodies, or my hangover after the lads had ‘abandoned’ me as I headed off dancing at 2am)
The old walled city is located at the heart of the modern city.
The city of Sibiu was given UNESCO status in 2007 and with its labyrinth of cobbled streets it is stunningly beautiful.
The historic buildings around the main plazas were stunning
Around every corner there was something to see
Towering over the old part of the city was the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint MaryThe four small turrets on top of the 74m steeple were a sign to let foreigners know not to misbehave as the town had the right to sentence to death.
Due to its sheer size the dramatic 14th century church was probably the most impressive church that I had seen so far.
Inside there was a baroque organ
For three centuries the church served as a burial place for the mayors, earls and other personalities from Sibiu.
This practice was banned in 1796 but one exception was made in 1803 when baron Samuel von Brukenthal (Governor of Transylvania) was laid to rest in the crypt.
Bizarrely the church also seemed to pay homage to Count DraculaThe ‘star of the show’ was the climb to the top of the tower.
On the way we climbed past the bells
Thankfully they didn’t ring otherwise we would have been deafened.
Once at the top we had a magnificent 360 degree view of the city below.
The following day would be our last on the bike as we needed to get to Budapest for the lads to get their flight back to the UK. The plan for the week was to cycle up until the Friday and then get a train from the nearest city across the border to the capital of Hungary.
Looking at the map and online timetable the nearest city large enough for an international train to stop at was Deva which lay 130km away.
We cycled to the train station to buy some tickets for a couple of day’s time.The lady at the station told us that there was an international train from Deva at just before midday on the Friday. This was perfect as not knowing what the terrain was like it could probably be a push to cover the 130km to Deva in one day, and if needed we could finish the ride to the train station on the Friday morning.
The only problem though was the lady said that in Romania we couldn’t take bikes on international trains. She said though that if we made them a bit smaller that we should be able to get them on the train.
We decided that probably the easiest way to get the bikes on the train would be to firstly bag them up when we got to the train station and secondly to buy first class tickets (only an extra 10 euro). So, this is what we did.
It was now time to get on with the evening’s entertainment as we headed out to get some food and a couple of beers. Our food option was decided by a barmen in one of the bars that we went to who recommended a music club in the cellar of a bar off one of the plazas in the old town.
When we left the club it was raining and as we needed to get back on the bikes the following morning the drinking that night was a bit more ‘sedate’ and we were wrapped up in bed by midnight.The next morning all was good with the world as the sky was blue and the sun was shining. It was going to be another great day to be in the saddle.
We had a porridge breakfast sat in the courtyard of our pink hotelAndy’s body didn’t seem so happy to get back on the bike though and so the first stop that day was the chemist to pick up some Imodium !!!It was now time to get on with getting on with our final day of the ride and, hopefully, I had found us a cracker of a route.
The map showed that the quickest way to get to Deva was to follow the main road but that would have been pretty boring. Instead, it looked like there were a series of tracks through the surrounding forests and so we decided to take them.
Now, when planning a route on a map you know that a track exists but you don’t know until you cycle it exactly what it will be like.
That day, the track was fantastic and we cycled through thin mud, deep mud, forests, fields, followed rivers and had a whale of a time (well I did !!!)
The day started with a 10 km ride along a heavily trafficked link road out to the main highway to Deva. Once we crossed over the top of the main highway the sealed road ended and our cycling adventure began In the next 10km we went from good roadTo potholed roadTo a bit of mud
To lots of mudAt this point, even the locals were shaking their heads as we continued down tracks of deep mud.
At this point the road ended and now we were cycling through fields of mud
At points it was so bad that we had no option but to push the bikesOnce the mud ended we were able to ride the bikes
When the road ran out I think the lads were having second thoughts about us being able to cover another 30km let alone the 130km we needed to ride in order to catch the train to Budapest.
Now this was tour cycling at its best – heading down tracks without a clue what was in front of you.
The only problem with this type of cycling was meeting the inevitable ‘farm’ dogs in the villages and farms that we passed through.
In one of these farms there was a pack of 9 or 10 very large angry dogs that ran out to greet us. Now, the natural reaction is to pedal fast and to try and out run the dogs, which from experience is the fastest way to get chased and bitten.
The way to deal with packs of angry dogs is to get off the bike, keeping the bike between you and the dogs and walk. They always follow at a distance, making a lot of noise, until you pass an invisible line which marks the end of their territory, but never tend to come close.
Once we were past the dogs it was time to head into the forest.We came upon a shepherd with a large flock of sheep grazing in a meadow
In my best Romanian (non-existent) I tried to explain where we were going by saying names of villages that we would pass through on the way. They kind of just shook there heads when they knew we were trying to get to Deva as I’m not sure that the old man I was talking to had ever left the forest let alone been to a city.
They pointed to a track that went over a steep hill and through sign language indicated that it would meet up with the track that we had been following on the other side and would be a shortcut.
We were back to pushing the bikes. This time it was up a very steep muddy track and was bloody hard work. Eventually, we reached the top of the hill and found the track which had been following. We then descended off the hill and into the tiny village of Mag. Every house in the village had a dog which came out to greet us so we were once again pushing. One of the villagers stopped Andy and gestured for him to wait. Now Andy is a tall man and 30 seconds later his wife came running out of their wooden shack of a home with a used red all in one ski suit that was the perfect size for him that she wanted to sell him. A priceless moment on the road.
In the village once again there were stalks nesting on the top of the telegraph poles.Once we were out of the village we were not so much on a track anymore but following a cow trail of deep mud through the forest.
This was the only point that in 6 days of cycling there was a collective grown from the lads, and they voiced their concern about the track ahead. Looking at the map we could either push on through the forest for another 4km or take a sealed road out of the village of Mag and do a 15km detour.
We decided that even if we had to push the bikes for 4km that it would take the same time as the 15km detour, so we pressed on.
Once we were away from the village and on top of the hill the cow track improved and we were able to cycle most of the 4km to where we knew that we would join a bigger track.
Just before we exited the forest the view opened up and we had a stunning view of the valley infront of us
It was then payback time for the climbing that we had done as we rolled our way downhill past more shepherds tending their flocks.
This track took us to the small village of Amnas where we were greeted by more stalks
And a shop selling ice creamA welcome break from the midday sun which was now beating down on us.
The roads in the village were sealed
but once we were out of the village we were back on compacted dirt. I think that in the future they have plans to upgrade this road as above the dirt track was a huge sign that you tend to find on motorways rather than on a track through a field.It is these types of nuances that tend to make me laugh when riding a bike.
The dirt track ended shortly afterwards and we were back on sealed road.
We then had 10km of a roller coaster ride of a road through small villages to get to the town of Sebes.
It was now lunchtime and the day before we had bought a picnic feast so after a quick cake and coffee stop we cycled out to banks of the River Mures for lunch
An hours rest in the sun, good food, coffee and the prospect of 40km of gentle downhill cycling on sealed roads seemed to do wonders for the lads enthusiasm.
After lunch it was a beautiful afternoon’s cycling as we followed the Mures River down the valley towards Deva.
As it was hot we made good use of the wells that lined the road in the villages we passed through.
Towards the late afternoon a combination of lunch and Andy’s Imodium had been working a bit too well as he was now full of trapped wind. It was time to head behind a bush and we knew that he had been successful as within seconds we heard what sounded like a cannon going off.
This quick break gave Eoghan the opportunity of another chance at updating his Tinder profile picture if he was ever in the mood for the sporty type.It was then time to finish our ride through Transylvania and what better place to do it than through farmland next to a beautiful river.
One final climb and descent and we were nearly there.
The quickest way of reaching Deva would be to cross the river to get back on the highway for the last 10km. Once we were across the river there was another route on tracks though, so we decided to finish our ride in true style – off road through fields.
The fields were the last straw for Eoghans bike and on the way across not only did his rack give up but the pannier too. A quick last fix with bungee cords and it looked like his bike should hold up for the last 5km if we stuck to sealed roads.
15 minutes later we were sat in the city with a cold beer discussing the adventures that life on the road had thrown at us that day.I phoned a place to stay that was in the centre of the old city, and as the sun went down we cycled to find our beds for the night.That night dinner was a kebab and a few beers on a local bar street.The castle at the end of the road in the picture above is Deva Fortress which sits on top of a volcanic hill overlooking the city.
Sadly, the closest we ever got to the fortress was looking at over the top of a pint, as when we got up in the morning there was time for a quick breakfast before it was time to give the bikes a wash ready to pack them up for the train journey across the border to Budapest in Hungary.On the way to the train station we picked up a few pastries from a bakery and went in search of zip ties to wrap the bikes up. The first shop we tried didn’t have any but sent us to a second shop.
These too never had any but we now knew the name of what we were looking for in Romanian so by the time we reached the third store we had our zipties.We then cycled to the train stationOnce we knew which platform the train would be going from we cycled across the station and packed our bikes up ready for the train journey.
The lads used the bags that they had used to fly the bikes in and I used 2 rolls of cling film to wrap my bike up with.
The train arrived on time and we were soon sat in first class as we sped our way towards Hungary.It was a good job that we had been told to pack the bikes up as 3 of them full size.would have been too big to store on the trainThis begs the question of when is a bike a bike? As when the ticket guy came around, even though bikes weren’t allowed on the train, they tried to charge us ‘cash’ for the bikes being on the train. I gestured that they weren’t bikes but luggage and he walked off.
Five minutes later his mate came up to try to charge us ‘cash’, but after the some more gesturing went away empty handed.
Once we reached the last station before the border with Hungary police came on the train to check our passports, the engine to the train was changed and then we were on our way.Our passports were checked again by police at the first station in Hungary and then it was full speed ahead for Budapest.
The train journey was around 7 hours, and it was a good job that we had called at the bakery for snacks before boarding the train as there was no food or drink available for the whole journey.
There is a 1 hour time difference between Romania and Hungary and at 5.30pm we rolled into Budapest central train stationHere is a video to give you a better idea of the week we had:
At the end of the video above you can’t hear what Eoghan was saying but it was something along the lines of ‘there is still time for a few more dogs’. This was because all week dogs took delight in chasing him down the road.
Back in Budapest Andy had booked us an air BnB apartment for the couple of nights that we were going to be in Budapest and so after a quick game of chicken with the buses and cars in the city centre we eventually found the apartment (at first glance street addresses do not make much sense in Budapest)The apartment was located on a bar street (well done Andy) and was part of a terraced block of flats that shared a central courtyard area.Luckily, we had one of the rear ground floor flats so that we couldn’t hear the noise from the bars and it even had a shared rear garden. All this for 25 euro a night each.
It was a two bed flat with a third sofa bed in the living room. Andy and I took the rooms and Eoghan got demoted to the sofa bed. In hindsight, he could have had my room as I stayed out dancing for the next two nights after the lads headed home!!!)
A quick shower and it was time to get some food and hit the bars. A combination of a dose of the trots, Imodium, lack of food and nearly 500km cycling meant that Andy’s body had given up on him and after an hour he was heading home.
This left Eoghan and I to go discover the ruin bars of Budapest.
Ruin bars are located in district VII, the old Jewish quarter, and are abandoned buildings, stores, or lots that have been converted into bars. This neighborhood was left to decay after World War II, so it was a perfect place to develop an underground bar scene. (Not so underground anymore, though!!!!)
From outside, most of the bars look like normal homes. They don’t tend to have large signs pointing the way, you don’t hear any loud noise, and there’s no line of people waiting to get in (except at a couple of the more touristy places, but not sure why you would want to queue u en there are loads to choose fromp ).
Once you walk in there is normally an open air inner courtyard, with Dj’s and /or live music.They even have bike storage rooms After a few hours of drinking it was time to go clubbingThe doormen weren’t for letting me into the club wearing my only ‘evening wear’ of nike top, shorts, leggings and bright green trainers. After a quick word with the lovely owner to convince him I was cycling around the world and Eoghan was my ‘boyfriend’ for the night we eventually got in.
Eoghan lasted until about 3am and I eventually left the dance floor around 5am. The only problem was that my phone was dead and I had no clue where either I was in the city or where the apartment was.
Even if I could have found my way home the other problem was that I needed the codes to get through the front gate and they were saved as a screenshot on my phone.
As ever, things worked out fine and I found a gyro shop (kebab) that was still open and one of the staff had a charger for my phone.
I sat chatting with a guy from Afghanistan for 30 mins while eating a kebab and waiting for my phone to charge. I finally made it home just as the sun came up.
The next day we were all on different schedules – Andy who had not been out the night before was up and about first (I think I woke him coming in), Eoghan next, and I think the smell of food rose me from my bed as Andy’s stomach had recovered and he was busy in the kitchen making up for lost time.
I think that Eoghan had gotten up too early as after popping out for a coffee he came back and was soon fast asleep on the sofaI had a few normal jobs to do when I cross into a new country – buy a Sim card, plan a route etc so I took my bike out for a spin round the city.
I arranged to meet Andy at 3pm by the river (Eoghan had pre-arranged to meet a friend of a friend).Over an afternoon snack we got talking to a woman, who although Hungarian, was herself visiting the city and she said that on the other side of the river there was a Romanian food and beer festival.
What better way to spend the afternoon so we cycled across to the Buda side of the river in search of the beer festival. From that side of the river the Parliament building looked magnificentWe then cycled round in circles for a bit (Andy’s body may have recovered but not sure about his mind!!!) before finally finding the Romanian food and beer festival.
We had just arrived in time as no sooner were we through the gates than the heavens opened. Nothing else to do but head for a beer and wait for it to blow through.Once the storm had gone we did a quick tour of the stalls before heading back to the bar. It was then time to get back on the bikes to go and meet Eoghan for a final night out in the ‘ruin bars’ of Budapest.
We had a couple of beers and a quick bite to eat at one of the restaurants on the street where we were staying.
Before heading into the centre of the city to check out a few bars that we had not been to the night before (a lot of choice in Budapest!!!)
At about 1am Eoghan bailed on us and Andy and I went on to another couple of bars where to celebrate the end of a fantastic week of cycling we drank whiskey chasers.I think that did it for Andy as he headed off home leaving me to my own devices.
It was only when I was downloading photos from my phone a couple of days later that I remembered gate crashing a wedding on my way home!!!A fitting end to a great week’s cycling with the lads.
The next morning, or in reality that morning, it was time for the lads to cycle out to the airport and for me to continue on my solo ride through Europe.
I had loved spending a week cycling with the lads, but my brain was looking forward to not having to plan a route ahead of time, and my liver was also looking forward to a bit of a rest !!!