1.10 Romania, contrary to expectations
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Without really realizing it we started the last stage of our Romania adventure. This stage will take us across the Carpathian Mountains, from south to north, to the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. But first we need to know it once again. It just can't be that the whole local people keep talking about the many bears and we haven't seen a single one in almost two months. Or do they take us for a complete ride? So we use the next three days until our visit date with our highly esteemed friends, the Swiss-Romanian star restaurateurs Jakob and Crenguţa Hausmann and hit the bear woods once again, this time in Râuşor.
This Râuşor reservoir is located at just under 1,000 meters above sea level in a relatively narrow side valley. Our route from Snagov first takes us back onto the A3 to Ploieşti. At least the navigation system believes that there is a highway entrance here. But unfortunately it does not. It is an emergency exit. Driving in, as Google or Locus Map suggests, would probably be lethal. This is not the first time that something like this has happened to us. On this highway in particular, we experienced it years ago as well. The alternative route to the next entrance now turns out to be extremely tedious. We drive in zigzag over dirt roads with very large potholes filled with rainwater. After an hour of driving we are barely 15 kilometers from our starting point Snagov. This can still become a long day. Especially since today we don't want to target a place to spend the night from the app, but look for one on site.
Finally on the A3, we drive along the half-empty highway toward one of the most terrifying industrial cities. The huge oil refineries and cooling towers of the thermal power plants in Ploieşti can be seen from far away. Whether all of them are still in operation, I doubt. Some of the colossi already look very run down.
From now on we drive in western direction on a dead straight national road. These are always very dangerous, because here even 24-ton trucks start to overtake in the most impossible situations. So my view is almost as often in the rear view mirrors as on the road. After Târgovişte, the roads get narrower, curvier and worse. We are glad that we finally arrived in Câmpulung. As usual in such a moment before the isolation in the mountains, we visit again a Kaufland grocery shop. Then we go up to Lacul Râuşor. In the first villages many Romas are sitting in front of their houses and greet us friendly and exuberantly. We have already seen the thumbs-up several times. Here, however, whole hands and arms are thrown to us, we feel a little like the Pope in the Popemobile.
After just under ten kilometers we have reached the lake and thus the dam wall. A passage on the left off-road side fails. Too much mud and the advanced hour force us to return to the official path of the paved right side of the lake. At the lake itself we can't find a parking place, because it is much too narrow here. So we drive past the Râuşor reservoir and up and up the valley in search of a bear observation station suitable for us. The onset of dusk now demands a decision and we choose a small platform just below one of the numerous water sills of the Cuca River. Fortunately, the valley is oriented to the south, so we can expect appealing sunlight during the day despite the steep forests on the left and right.
We spend the time doing the usual housekeeping and vehicle inspection work. Always keeping an eye on the surroundings - and any bears. A passing employee of the hydroelectric plant confirms to us the presence of the cuddly beasts. But often they stayed in the higher regions. At night, they might descend. As soon as the sunlight disappears behind the tops of the firs, it gets very cool and we then stick behind our windows and take turns keeping bear watch.
On the second day the weather is getting worse and the increasing noise of the water threshold starts to disturb us especially at night. We decide to continue, because contrary to expectations the Carpathian bears just do not visit us. Maybe it is better that way. We have no fear, but great respect from these wild animals. But to see one in the wild would be a highlight of our Romania trip. Some of our remote locations were predestined for a bear sighting. Well, you can't force fate. I put this in the same category as the fact that, especially when I was a kid, I had a fishing rod in my hands for days and never caught a fish in my life.
From here to our friends in Bran it is actually hardly more than half a day's journey. But they will be back home only tomorrow, Thursday, so we have to find a place to stay again. Park4Night lets us down completely on this stretch over the Bran Pass. The area is beautiful, especially in winter, and yet there is nothing for overlanders to stay overnight? We drive into the most remote villages and often encounter astonished villagers. Probably not all of them were happy to see us with our Unimog in their small streets and nevertheless they always greet us politely back. We are already close to Bran and still haven't found anything suitable. So we have the idea to call Köbi, maybe we can drive to his property and welcome him tomorrow in his own home.
We are in luck. Köbi relieves us of our search and spontaneously offers us to spend the night already today on his property. We are relieved and drive past Bran Castle and up the narrow private road lined with fruit trees to Casa Mica Elveţie (little Swiss house), as he patriotically calls his residence. The two successfully ran a Swiss restaurant of the same name in Bucharest for years. An ex-Swiss soccer goalkeeper, Köbi has made a name for himself here in Romania as a TV chef, top restaurateur and, most recently, influencer. We are very happy and honored to call them our friends. Their hospitality and friendliness always have an overwhelming effect on us. This is also the case during this short visit to Romania.
We enjoy the time in Bran, a dinner excursion to Brasov, and terraces and fireside chats that couldn't be more cordial among old friends.
On Saturday our journey continues again. Again and again northward. Shortly after Brasov we crossed the same route on which we drove here. So we made quasi an eight across Romania and will close the first loop, on which we now came back in Brasov, somewhere in Hungary again.
The road now leads us slightly northwest via the beautiful Sighişoara to Târgu Mureş, that is, to the same river Mureş where we
have already spent the night south of Alba Iulia. The region of Transylvania, where we are again since the pass, we clearly like the best. And the further we get into the north, the more lovely and varied the landscape appears. We are making good progress and are now doing over 200 kilometers a day in four to five hours of driving, even without a highway.
The following day we drive through a small town called Beclean. This sounds somehow so un-Romanian. The area in which it is located, however, seems to live up to the name. The further north we go, the "cleaner" this country becomes. Maybe not completely against all our expectations, but honestly, we have almost given up hope for less garbage scattered in nature. We now pass garbage trucks every now and then that empty the black plastic garbage cans in front of the houses. Never before have we been so pleased to see these dirty cars as we are here and now. So it can work after all. Why one cannot introduce this here established disposal system in the whole country, remains to us however a mystery. It is probably also strongly due to the mentality of the people, because it strikes us that here carefully around the whole house one cleans, mows and paints.
Our route leads us after Dej further north to Maramureş County. It is the northernmost county in Romania and already borders Ukraine. There is one more thing that simply cannot be missed on a Romania discovery tour. A visit to one of the numerous monasteries. In addition to Moldova, Maramureş is also very well suited for this. In keeping with the FRAME style, we choose one that is not so easy to reach. In addition to the monastery, the approach should also have something to offer. With the orthodox monastery Rohiţa - not to be confused with Rohia - we find a splendid example of a beautifully remote and also photogenic consecrated site.
Rohiţa has a colorful history, about which one can hardly find any information except in Romanian. All the more we are happy to learn something in a conversation with one of the few remaining monks. By the way, the many great monasteries in the region are not made of wood because there is so much of it here, but because at the time they were built they were only tolerated without official permission and had to be demolished quickly and easily.
With the monk's consent, we put ourselves up for the night on the hill above the monastery, of course with a panoramic view and blessed sleep.
We are approaching the end of our Romania adventure and already on the drive to Baia Mare we are wistfully summing up the last two months in this friendly and impressive country. For political, but also meteorological reasons, we finally abandon a side trip to the nearby Ukraine. The last overnight stay is less than 20 kilometers from the Romanian-Ukrainian-Hungarian border triangle just before Satu Mare. As is often the case, we end our Romania trip by standing once again in the open countryside by a river that is not exactly blue, the Someş. We now start to be intensively planning our return to Hungary, which is imminent tomorrow.
Next Blog No. 1.11: Hungarian fairies, cave baths & sweet wines