Budapest to Craiova – Days 21 to 30

So, a massive backlog of blogging activity – so I’ll try, and fail, to keep it brief…

From Budapest I set off in torrential rain and thunderstorms along possibly the worst stretch of dual carriageway ever conceived of by a Hungarian – think potholes big enough to swim in (and I could in the rain); an alp-esque scene in miniature recreated by mounds, troughs, cracks, anomalous bumps, and a pile of debries which might be considered Geneva. Add to that the tsunami simulations which occurred with every passing bus or truck, and I was sodden. The experience was shortly followed by a slew along a sodden silty sand back-road to avoid a section of no-bikes-allowed road.

East through Hungary was otherwise underwhelming, with the exception of some of the most colourful and bountiful natural beds of wild flowers you could hope for – bright reds, scandalous purples, sunshine yellows, sea blues, and gemstone greens… Perhaps my imagination was making up for the flat unremitting fieldscapes around me. It took me two days to reach the Romanian border, with a good leg of decent cycle path running the last 20 kilometres or so.

From Oradea in the Romanian border I continued on to Cluj-Napoca, the Transylvanian capital – with a significant improvement in scenery and town appearance; mountainous and with plentiful historic buildings in the mix.

At Cluj I spent two nights, primarily as I hadn’t had a cycle-less day since Nuremberg, getting blind drunk on the first night – courtesy of three English guys (Thomas, Rob, and Harrison) I encountered within minutes of arriving in the city. That first day we headed to the dramatically named ‘haunted forest’ on the edge of the city… We all survived, and it was rather more of a local dog walking spot than a fearsome ancient woodland. Nevertheless, the views back west from the top of the woods was well worth the visit.

The same weekend that I was in attendance coincided with Cluj’s city festival – with public events, samba bands, and local musicians. So on Sunday I emerged to stroll the streets and hear a few choice bits, before an early bed. Cluj is well worth a visit!

On the monday I headed on south, with a stop at Turda to visit Salina Turda, a historic salt mine that had been recommended to me. The mine began operation in the 1680s, with the excavation of a large bell mine some 40 metres deep, from there it was extended, with a series of tunnels and mines connecting to the city below. The mine was operated until the 1930s, though continued to see use as a shelter during war, and for storing cheeses later on. Now the mines are an impressive museum and veritable amusement park – with table tennis, pool, rowing, and a theatre all within its marbled depths.

From Turda the way got a bit more interesting as, following my mapping app, I found myself following a steep tractor track out of the town of Ocna Mures into the hills… And I’ll admit, as it got to steeper and muddier, that I had to push my bike at times! A ‘gravel bike’ it may be daubed, but grass and mud bike she be not. The struggle proved worthwhile however as I crested out to views of a quiet, almost medieval landscape, of small hamlets and open fields tended in strips, and not a road in sight (excepting an array of tractor tracks). From there the cross-country and downhill riding became fun, and the bike performed well (except on mud), with me descending into a small town of colourful tin-sided homes at Sarvas. Being a dead-end town I got quite a few befuddled looks, equating to ‘where the #%*! did he appear from’. From Sarvas I followed a paved road on, passing an escaped horse towing its spike and chain, to camp at some woods above Heparta.

The next day followed in similar fashion, with a short stretch of road riding culmimating in being spewed off onto another tractor track for a big climb, and stupendous downhill to Bucerdea Granoasa, and on to Blaj. Shortly after that point two heavily laden German tourers, Paul and Julian, caught up with me as I considered my route ahead. The two are touring around Europe, through to Georgia, and possibly on to Iran climbing and mountaineering as they go (their masses of gear included a complete climbing rack, rope, mountain boots, climbing shoes, camping gear, and so on). As we were headed to the same place (the city of Sibiu), they suggested I join them, and stay with their Warmshowers host. Warmshowers is akin to Couchsurfing, though targeted at people bike touring.

We continued on to their host, in a small village near Sibiu, where we were put up by the very hospitable Lili and Vlad – sharing our stories, cycling rations, homegrown salad, and a tipple of Pálinka.

The following day I popped into Sibiu, a very attractive historic Saxon town (many towns in the area were founded by Germanic settlers in the 12th century), before turning my attention to the Transalpina – the highest, and formerly most dangerous (before they paved it), road in Romania.

The Transalpina was challenging, exhilerating (desending over 1000m in an hour!), stunning, and 100% worth the effort. Coming from the direction of Sibiu I climbed a sort of amuse-bouche of the route from Saliste to Dubra; climbing to 1000m quite gently, then plummeting down a series of switchbacks of 500m. From Dubra I was on the Transalpina proper, with 120 kilometres to go to reach its end at Novaci. The first stretch climbs gently through wooded slopes alongside a river, fed by hundreds of rivulets and waterfalls. I slept part way up near one of two large reservoirs, before continuing the next morning (after apologising to an amused farmer for putting my tent in the way of the gate he was attempting to herd his three spooked cows and one donkey through). At around 1700m the route cruely descended 300m again (fun but frustrating), before the real challenge of doglegging and plodding up to the road’s top. Unfortunately, at a peak at 2100m I thought I’d made it! Thus I purchased a celebratory beer at a tourist stand… Only to check my map and to realise I had yet to complete a short descent, then a steep climb of 150m to the peak of Urdele at 2228m! From Urdele it was a terrifyingly fast (when my front break went anyway) descent to Novaci.

Yesterday I pushed on, through a pure drudgery of ribbon developement and poor roads, running south to Craiova. At Craiova I was caught staring at my phone trying to work out where, or if, to stay, when an energetic and welcoming guy named Alex cycled up to me (Alex, who has done his own share of touring in Romania, happens to be a host on Warmshowers), offering advice, and even use of his appartment (even though he was leaving for Bucharest within the hour)!

That was far too long, I apologise. Today I will head into Bulgaria, then on southeast towards Turkey,

Seth

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