Storms, floods, mozzies and a hard rural life

Trip Start May 29, 2005
Trip End Dec 17, 2005

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Saturday, September 3, 2005

Chapter Summary


In hot water
19 Aug, Friday
Start point: Carei (Romania)
End point: Tasnad
Odom(Km): 40.80
Moving(hrs.mim): 3.04
Ave(Km/h): 13.3
Total Ascent(m): 189
Max Altitude(m) 200
Max Speed(Km/h): 33.6

I breakfasted in Carei town centre next to the fountain the park and watched the comings and goings of the cultural centre. Found a good map for touring which I perused over while eating porridge. After a hunt for photo opportunities I exited on the main road south - main in the sense that it is the only one heading south, but as far as traffic goes - it was empty. The landscape is flat and featureless, allowing time for my thoughts to drift. Routine was broken by the interesting sights the villages had to offer - road side vendors, horse and carts, crumbling houses, chickens and cows wandering round at random. Stopped at Tasnad to update nearly 2 weeks of diary entries and once finished it was time camp and the local hot spring was the perfect place. I'm not one who likes cold water, which is good as the water emerged from the ground with jets of steam. It emptied into the pool from a pipe that fired scolding hot water directly into the bathing area - wouldn't be allowed in the UK! The water did have a rather disconcerting smell of diesel with a hint of eggs. I got chatting to a very likable girl who could speak French. Siloghi worked in the administration and running of the spa resort. After she finished work we talked about my route and she was very knowledgeable about the sights of interest in Romania. I really did want to spend more time with her, but I found the French communication difficult and a reoccurring problem I had in France came back to haunt me; which is I find it very difficult to understand anyone under 35. They speak so fast and use phrases I'm just not familiar with. This was despite me asking her to slow down and phrase things 'more simply'. I still struggled - I could ask questions, but only understand part of the response. Reluctantly I broke off and returned back to the tent for food and bed. Friday night is lively on the campsite - not conducive to an early start... but if I want the daylight as we approach Autumn I'm going to have to change my body clock, despite the pack of mongrel dogs shagging outside my tent at 2.00am

State sponsered art, Carei

The market produce in Carei is fresh!

Village church

The gorgeous Siloghi

Are you stupid?
20 Aug, Saturday
Start point: Tasnad
End point: Mirsid - near Zalau
Odom(Km): 88.30
Moving(hrs.mim): 6.21
Ave(Km/h): 13.9
Total Ascent(m): 822
Max Altitude(m) 353
Max Speed(Km/h): 42.1

Romania is a country that a number of people on my travels have warned me about. So far I have been either very lucky - or the vast majority of Romanians are welcoming and friendly. I pass through a village on average once every 35 minutes and there is always a grocers store of some description to ensure you won't hungry - or without a bottle of wine or non descript spirit.
The roads are unbelievably quiet and the surface is perfectly adequate for touring. I don't have to take detours to avoid the busy roads as in the countryside there aren't any busy roads.
I do have one big gripe though. I can on longer find porridge here. This brings me onto the complex subject of 'Where you buy the same item in different countries'. For example, take the fuel for my stove. Go to a camping shop in the UK and you buy it there. In France you buy it from any supermarket, in Switzerland I had to go to a chemist, in Slovakia when I asked in the camping shop I got a look as if I was stupid, "Go to the petrol station", and sure enough there it was. To complicate things further, the same thing is called something different in each country. So what do you ask for and where do you ask for it when arriving in a different country. After many conversations where I got looked as if I was stupid, I now know.
Powdered milk - not the coffee creamer, but the stuff you add cold water to - great for cereals if you don't want to carry cartons of milk. In England and France, very cheap and available at every supermarket. I crossed the border into Germany and it was like gold dust - with a price to match!
Now in Romania they don't sell porridge oats, not even in the giant supermarkets - it's as if I cross the border and it no longer exists. When I ask for it I get blank looks. Do I try the pet shop next???
Back to today's activities: I stopped by the office before I left to say goodbye to Siloghi and thank her for the time she spent advising me on my route as it will form the foundation for my travels over the next two weeks.
Then followed quiet roads all day passing though pleasant countryside stopping only for 2 hours to service my bike. Onwards past a whole flock of stalks and numerous horse and carts. The road turned into cobbles for a 2Km stretch - warn smooth over time but a bit lumpy in places. Hurried into the nearest town to fetch water and wine for an evenings camp in the wild as the sun set. No porridge tomorrow, my stocks have depleted - but managed to find a backup - Semolina, or at least I think it is!

Wells for water, horses for transport, rural life in Romania

Wooden churches

The only traffic

Typical road

Flock of stalks


Porolissum - Roman remains
21 Aug, Sunday
Start point: Mirsid - near Zalau
End point: Deusu
Via: Porolissum
Odom(Km): 75.91
Moving(hrs.mim): 6.25
Ave(Km/h): 11.8
Total Ascent(m): ???
Max Altitude(m) 497
Max Speed(Km/h): 41.8

I serviced my bike the other day mainly because it needed it and I have been making excuses for the past 2 weeks - such as its going to rain tomorrow or it's too dusty at the moment. Afterwards it was like riding a new bike. The gears shifted like a dream, it gleamed in the sun, brakes worked perfectly. I cursed like a demon as a short cut I took 3 hours later turned into the muddiest track I have taken so far this holiday. I need to do more work on it now. Typical.
My first stop before breakfast was Porolissum, a small walled Roman town built in 106 AD. It was the provincial capital for the area. I walked around the site in the early morning and was the only person there. The foundations of the important buildings are preserved and signs kept me well informed. The highlight is the ampatheatre with a capacity of 5500 and the restored gate entrance, very recognisable as Roman. The one outside Tower Hill tube station in London is almost identical.
As I left the first visitors started to arrive. Time to find a breakfast spot. The rest of the day I spent on empty roads through yet more pleasant countryside. Being a Sunday and in a very Catholic part of the world, everyone was dressed in their best going to and coming from church. My prayers were for good roads, warm weather, warm welcomes and warm food.
The further I go into Romania I am noticing a change in the quality of roads. There were pot holes today which I had to navigate round. Some may say the roads are bad, but when you compare them to the state of the major highways in Africa, you will realise the roads here can be cycled without feeling as though all your internal organs from you chest to your abdomen have been removed, kicked around a football pitch and then sown back in again. I know what bad roads are and these are not bad.
The terrain is getting a bit hillier and in a few days I will hit the Carpathian mountains - which interestingly begin in Bratislava.
More wild camping tonight and an early start tomorrow for a tour of Cluj-Napoca, the biggest town I have come across so far in Romania.

The city gates

The Amphitheater at Porolissum, Origonally build of wood and rebuild in stone in 157AD. Room for 5500 spectators

What is this foreign weirdo doing
22 Aug, Monday
Start point: Deusu
End point: Mociu
Via: Cluj-Napoca
Odom(Km): 65.35
Moving(hrs.mim): 4.37
Ave(Km/h): 14.8
Total Ascent(m): 609
Max Altitude(m) 531
Max Speed(Km/h): 45.1

Related to my comments on asking for things in the shop that they don't sell is the Romanian postal system. I have a parcel that I have been carrying around and have been unable to post. Easy you would think, find a post office. Not a problem, there's nearly one in every village. Only when I walk into what is clearly signed as a 'post office', the routine goes somewhat like this:
1) Establish they don't speak English or French
2) Place the parcel on the desk
3) Point to the address, and say "Europe"
4) Make squares in the shape of stamps with my finger on the envelope where the stamps are usually located
5) Pass the parcel to the lady behind the counter
6) Take out my wallet as if to pay
The response from behind the counter is not that a complication has arisen such as a form is needed, or the packaging is inappropriate but one of complete and utter confusion. They just don't get what I am trying to ask for and if I persist, I get looks as if to say "What is this foreign weirdo doing". When I work it out, I'll let you know.
Back to today; an hours ride saw me into my first big Romanian city, Cluj-Napoca. I made it into the centre without a problem and straight to the main church. The town was originally a Roman settlement and right in the centre a large scale dig was taking place. I did see a few things that would send shivers down the spine of Tony Robinson and the time team crew - pickaxes, shovels and not a trowel in sight. Wheelbarrow loads of debris were hacked and shovelled away from the clearly visible layers and dumped in huge pile ready for removal. I guess this means it will be dumped in some local beauty spot. No sieving, no metal detectors, just burley men and brute force. They were uncovering what I think was a covered walkway - similar to the one described in Porolissum during my visit yesterday. I watched and looked at the debris they were throwing onto the pile, looking to see if I could spot anything - a buckle, a broach or even a coin. I saw nothing except lots of black stones, tile fragments and soil. If only I had a metal detector.
Toured the rest of the town centre and came to the conclusion that it is a place not for people, but for cars. There is no pedetrianised area and traffic was all invading, even in the back streets. I often reach this conclusion after seeing a shop or a sight of interest a few meters away, I wait to cross, and wait some more before deciding it's more trouble than it's worth. This is a town not really geared up for tourism.
Tried a local snack called a Pancetta, like battered fish, but without the fish. As you can image, it's like the UK - some places do it well and others don't. Then a look round the shops with an eye out for international phone cards or booths where I can make such calls from. The problem is there is no visible established immigrant community in this city and hence nobody to set up such facilities. Exited after finding a bike shop that sold every useless gadget for you bike except water bottles, map holders and bungee clips. I got the same feeling as when I went into the petrol station looking for a road map - fluffy toys, yes, road maps, no.
Then on the highway out of town past the airport to a main road that took me into the countryside. 'main' it was but 'main' it didn't feel. Through gently rolling hills and terrain that could seriously benefit from some reforestation.
More camping in fields, this time consulting a local who seemed quite proud I had chosen his field to pitch my tent in.
Although Cluj was busy, not once was I hassled as I walked my bike along the streets. - a very different story in UK towns or cities where being pestered by drug addicts is a regular occurrence either asking out right for cash or spinning you a made up story about running out of petrol or money for an important phone call designed to make you open your wallet.
On a final note, I really must wash my tent. Every time I pack it away it's wet and every time I pitch it and get in for the first time I'm hit with a smelly dog odour. Maybe I'll do this when I reach the Mediterranean climate because I know now if I wake up and everything is dry - I'm still dreaming.

Cluj-Napoca city centre

Cluj-Napoca, city streets

The big dig

The big dig, takes a rest!

Targu Mures city tour
23 Aug, Tuesday
Start point: Mociu
End point: Coroisanmartin
Via: Targu Mures
Odom(Km): 96.26
Moving(hrs.mim): 6.23
Ave(Km/h): 15.1
Total Ascent(m): 927
Max Altitude(m) 498
Max Speed(Km/h): 47.4

Out of curiosity I continued trying the post offices, just to see the reaction when someone walks in wanting something to be posted. Country to my previous experiences and much to my surprise the parcel was accepted! What the five minute animated telephone conversation was about, I couldn't quite work out, but in the end I was presented with a total amount to pay. I handed over the cash and to my surprise was told they have no more stamps. My cash and the parcel were handed back. The next post office accepted it with no questions asked - and at a cheaper price than the first.
900 grams lighter I continued to my destination for the day Targu Mures. The morning brought a heavy rain shower which layered the road in a thin covering of mud. It ground into the chain within the first 10 minutes of my journey undoing the 1 hour of maintenance I did last night. I feel like I am being punished each time I service and clean my bike.
Targu Mures is located in a depression within the Carpathian mountains and is the most pleasant city I have visited so far in Romania. My first stop was the main boulevard that runs through the centre. I took pictures of a peaceful square called Piata Teatrului which fronts the National theatre. I was waylaid by two ice cream vendors and struggled past a cake shop to reach the tourist information office. I spoke to a very likable and helpful gentleman called Demeter Attila, a student studying sociology in one of the four local universities. While studying the literature I was given outside a college asked if my photo could be taken in front of the office with the bike for the website. Following the map I toured the rest of the city. The inside of the cathedral is breathtaking, floor to ceiling completely covered in mosaics, painted plaster and metal work - again another example of superb craftsmanship. There's a golden glow that hands in the air. Then to the town hall and cultural centre. Lastly to the medieval castle which is a park area integrating the buildings and walls that still remain. The city had a laid back feel and was more relaxed than I was expecting. Exited following a busy road out of the depression where the city is situated and into the surrounding hills. Camped in a recently harvest corn field - same as last night. The ground is littered with straw, simply tread down the stalks, lay the hay on top where the outline of the tent will be, pitch and prepare for a comfortable nights sleep.
My evening meal in the dark was livened up by a thunder and lightning storm near by which hung there without moving for three hours. The moment I was ready for bed the first drops started to fall. It rained very heavily for I don't know how long, because I was as soon as I tucked myself away in the bag I was out like a light.

Vine yards

Targu Mures - Cathedral

Targu Mures - Inside of cathedral

Most of the suburbs of large cities look like this...

Welcome to the Transvaal
24 Aug, Wednesday
Start point: Coroisanmartin
End point: Sighisoara
Odom(Km): 42.92
Moving(hrs.mim): 3.02
Ave(Km/h): 14.1
Total Ascent(m): 353
Max Altitude(m) 446
Max Speed(Km/h): 41.6

Welcome to the Transvaal. This is a Dracula souvenir zone. Beware, the vampires bite - providing you've put the batteries in the right way round. Not only that, the town is very picturesque and deserves a visit.
In the morning my route took me through the most beautiful countryside and villages I have visited so far in Romania. The style of buildings has changed - look at the pictures.
The rain stopped soon after I set off and I continued listening to my MP3 player down deserted country lanes. Arriving in Sighisoara I parked up near a cafe and got a group of Australian lads to keep an eye on the bike while I visited the tower and museum. Town tour done I located one of the 3 campsites and pitched, the only tent on site. It is not surprising few people camp when a guest house room sets you back 4 pounds for a night - still, the tent it is what I'm used to and turning up to accommodation with bike and bags can only cause more confusion and complication. I don't have to work out what time breakfast is, no finding a spot for the bike, I can do as I wish, except get rained on which happens whether like it or not.

Picturesque villages

Picturesque villages


Sighisoara - Me up the tower

Sighisoara - View of the tower

What makes a bad cycle route...
25 Aug, Thursday
Start point: Sighisoara
End point: Aita Mare
Odom(Km): 100.37
Moving(hrs.mim): 7.19
Ave(Km/h): 13.7
Total Ascent(m): 771
Max Altitude(m) 680
Max Speed(Km/h): 39.0

The past few days of rain have had some disruptive effects on the areas I travelled through today. Luckily for me the periods of heavy rain have been at night or localised when I was not in the locality, so I haven't had to endure any periods of cycling in the rain.
I find it surprising how everyone here has a different view than me as to what constitutes a 'good bike route'. I learned not to ask if this is the correct turning to go to XYZ, but mention the name of the next town I would pass through. The reason being is that I'm inundated with warnings about how 'bad' the choice of route is, alternative routes on 'good' roads are given. If you idea of a 'good route' is a European highway, single lane, streams of lorries and cars, ugly industrial decay, prostitutes plying for business in the lay-bys, dust and grime, noise, endless car show rooms, auto repair shops and service stations - then you will indeed have a 'good' route suggestion offered. If you think a 'good' route consists of quiet bumpy country lanes, sleepy villages, farmers cutting grassy meadows with scythes, children playing in the street, picturesque wooden churches, interesting rural architecture, wood carved gate entrances, old men chewing the cud, small family run shops and so on.., if that's what you think makes a 'good' route, to get looked as if you are... yes.. from a different planet. I thought it was the car drivers that held this view, but when I stopped a cyclist to check if I had taken the correct turning I got the all too familiar response. "You can't go that way, the road is bad', you need to go back and take the... ". The reason is what is considered a good road by Romanians is how flat and pot hole free it is. This again leads to the 'he must be bonkers' syndrome I continually get when interacting with the locals, a subject I touched on before when asking for things in the shops. - OK, I admit cycling this far is bonkers, but even with this fact hidden away, they still think I'm bonkers - as did the cyclist when I insisted I didn't want to take the E60 European highway juggernought death trap because I preferred the quiet country lanes, despite their bumpiness. Having cycled 5 days on African roads I know what a bad road is and people in Africa dream of the quality of roads that exist in Romania.
My choice of a 'bad road' was a delightful one. Everything I expected and yes, the road was a bit bumpy in places but nothing that even came close to 'challenging' on a fully loaded touring bike.
The look on the faces of the villagers is a sight to see. It is a mixture of disbelief and curiosity. The stare is unchanging in expression as the head turns to follow my path. It is then I try to catch the eye of the onlooker and a nod of the head and a smile breaks them out of their trance - especially the older folk, and they beam a smile back with a nod. It's an international language.
On the 'bad' road I came across two young men tending to what can only be described as two giant pizza ovens. I had to stop and ask. One of them spoke a smattering of English and he didn't say what it was only, "come here, I show you". He took a spade and extracted a white stone from the oven. He placed the stone in a pan of water and within seconds the water was bubbling, hissing and spitting. They were making quicklime for use in cement and plaster. For 25-30 hours they continually fed wood into the oven and afterwards would extract all the stones and rebuild it again and repeat the process. They lived and worked there for 4-5 days and the rest of the time was spent at home. They were quite amused about my giant pizza oven joke.
The day ended camped next to a kindly looking family who live in a shelter made from whatever they could find. They have a heard of 30 cows that they spent most of the evening milking. The three children were delightful. A girl in her early teens, a blond boy with a big smile and a little girl. I gave them a bag of Adidas children's socks I was given for free when I purchased camera number 4. My photographic eye sees pictures involving people are the most interesting - today I look at a scene in front of my and think - that's a fantastic photo, but I am always a bit apprehensive about pointing my camera in the faces of people I don't know. Over the next few days I will try to overcome this by asking permission.

Carved gates are common

Not much of that going on!

Flood damage

Bridge out, but open to bikes!

Bridge out, but open to bikes!

Flat crops

Rail road out

Countryside view from the 'bad' road

Making quick lime

Playing with quick lime - put it in a pan of water and it starts to boil!

Municipal buildings are common

Going potty!

Comman transport method - I ended up camping next to their shack

Sunset over the family shack

'Posh Nosh' and Brasov city tour
26 Aug, Friday
Start point: Aita Mare
End point: Sacele
Via: Brasov
Odom(Km): 85.07
Moving(hrs.mim): 6.14
Ave(Km/h): 13.6
Total Ascent(m): 597
Max Altitude(m) 776
Max Speed(Km/h): 52.3

The road was every bit as 'bad' as I hoped it would be and within a few hours I rolled into Brasov. It's a difficult city to navigate and a wrong turn took me to what looked like a 'hearty' restaurant. I've not eaten out in Romania as in the villages and small towns there are very few restaurants and those that I have tried only sell drinks. I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to be fed without any effort. When I went round the back with the bike, it was indeed a posh restaurant - suits, dresses and designer sunglasses. What the hell, lets see what it is like. I asked about dishes typical to Romania, his response was the mixed grill. The soup or broth sounded more interesting, which turned out to be a tasty tripe soup. On the whole, the dishes were chicken and chips with salad type fare. Well presented but more like bad American food than anything Romanian. I ate the soup, the grill, 3 servings of bread and a large coffee. The bill came to 6 pounds, a fortune for the locals. If I sat in the cake shop I found afterwards, I could have ordered 15 cakes, so instead I made do with two.
Once I found the town centre I immediately bumped into a Polish cycle tourer, Lukas. He was on a mission to see as many monuments in the shortest period of time on his way back to Poland taking the most difficult route over the mountains. "Why did they have to build these castles in the mountains", he exclaimed. We chatted for a while and I toured the Black Church, called so after a fire blackened the stones. The restoration must have cleaned them because I saw no black stones! Toured the backstreets, shopped and exited taking the road into the mountains where I camped next to a river away from the road. Not a soul around.

Farmer burning his crop. He said the storms ruined them

Slow but powerful

Typical town streetSlow but powerful

Brasov town square


See the 'Hollywood style' sign on the mountain

Lukas, Polish tourer

Then into the mountains

Up and over the Carpathians to a flooded landscape
27 Aug, Saturday
Start point: Secele
End point: Ciuta, (Near Magura)
Via: Pasul Predelus pass, Cheia
Odom(Km): 116.56
Moving(hrs.mim): 7.10
Ave(Km/h): 16.3
Total Ascent(m): 1252
Max Altitude(m) 1262
Max Speed(Km/h): 49.1

I am having serious corn on the cob cravings. It's grown everywhere, but can I find it in the shops or markets? No. I've not seen anyone eating it either. It's another one of those Romanian mysteries.
Climbed the rest of the way over the Carpathian Mountains and had breakfast at the top. The pass was 1263 metres and certainly helped build a healthy appetite. On the way up truckers were tooting me for encouragement. When they passed they made pedalling motions with their hands and punched the air with a gleeful smile.
Looked round a beautiful monastery in the town of Cheia that had painted plaster on both the inside and out. They were doing a roaring business inside selling religious tat - glass hands holding the sacred heart, that sort of stuff. It was very cheap though, but somehow I was not tempted.
Then it was all down hill from then on, leaving the cool and damp woods of the mountains behind me I watched the landscape change into a more Mediterranean terrain. Came across more flood damage, another bridge completely washed away. A ladder had been installed to allow pedestrians to cross - so I had to unclip all my panniers, carry the bike up the ladder followed by the panniers. With the help of a few locals and a young boy, I was moving again in no time. I gave him a bag of chocolate biscuits for his troubles.
Taking the advice of all the other tourists, cycle tourers and locals, I will not visit Bucharest and instead make a break for the black sea coastal resorts to catch the end of the summer season. I consider myself very lucky as it has been sunny and not cold over the days since the floods. I've been promised better climate nearer the coast.

Mountain views

Mountain views

Yours truly..

Monastery - with Roman scaffold!


Bee keeper tailor

Selling his wares

The bridge is not just down... its gone!

Helped by the locals carry the bags up the ladder. I carried the bike!

Hedgerows wild of canna*bis plants
28 Aug, Sunday
Start point: Ciuta, (Near Magura)
End point: Tarlele Filiu
Odom(Km): 110.34
Moving(hrs.mim): 6.47
Ave(Km/h): 16.2
Total Ascent(m): 413
Max Altitude(m) 238
Max Speed(Km/h): 39.8

Once down from the mountains the feel is slightly Mediterranean and the temperature certainly reflects that. Much of the scenery is maize fields where closer inspection shows that the corn is left to ripen and dry into 'un-popped' popcorn while still on the cob. This will be either sold as is or crushed into a powder and used for cooking or baking.
I did notice very large hedgerows wild of canna*bis plants. They were as high as me and definitely not hemp plants - the smell confirmed that!
Then a cross country short cut turned into a trek down dry, dusty and rutted tracks. Don't ask for directions - the response is very detailed, often involving many explanations - unfortunately in a language I don't understand and no amount of repeating the same word louder or slower changes that. I will press on to the coast tomorrow, locate a pleasant black sea costal resort and have a bit of a holiday. I have not had a day off for a long time...

Have a look at this hedge... can you spot what its made of?

Take a closer look at the hedgerow above...

The road was a dream

Honest, this is a typical evenings feed. Sunset watching is my favourate passtime.

Big melons and a Mediterranean climate
29 Aug, Monday
Start point: Tarlele Filiu
End point: Harsova
Odom(Km): 101.33
Moving(hrs.mim): 6.42
Ave(Km/h): 15.1
Total Ascent(m): 342
Max Altitude(m) 51
Max Speed(Km/h): 35.5

Its harvest time for melons and on the roadside they are stacked like cannon balls with whole families sitting, fooling around and waiting for customers. With a whole watermelon costing 20p I found it difficult to resist temptation. My criteria for which one I chose was entirely based on photo opportunities - and they were very willing subjects - if not a bit crazy!
My dash to the coast continues - crossing that familiar river, The Danube - or Dunarea as its called here. Progress was hampered by having to find an alternate route away from the main road coming up to and after the river crossing. A bit of rough riding and cross country was required, but better safe than squashed.
If a Mediterranean climate is characterised by hungry mosquitoes, hard rocky ground unsuitable for tent pegs, insects falling like rain, small plants with spines that pierce the groundsheet of your tent and insects that make a racket, then I have reached the Mediterranean. It's a comfortable 24DegC so I can't complain.
Once thing I've noticed over the last week is an absence of Gypsy families. The border with Slovakia / north east Romania seemed to have the most social problems, elsewhere life carries on in the rural areas as it must have done in Western Europe 50 years ago. No machines to turn the hay into neat bails, they simply pitchfork it onto a horse and cart for transport to a covered area near the farmhouse.
Tomorrow the coast and a well needed shower and shave!

Rural life, harvesting cattle feed

Melons galore

Cetatea Histria, the mozzies made the Romans leave
30 Aug, Tuesday
Start point: Harsova
End point: Grindul Saiele reserve, Lake Nuntasi
Via: Cetatea Histria (archeology park)
Odom(Km): 91 (estimate)
Moving(hrs.mim): ???
Ave(Km/h): ???
Total Ascent(m): ???
Max Altitude(m) ??
Max Speed(Km/h): ???

Barren is a suitable word to describe the area of Romania south of the Danube delta. The only trees standing are those that line the road - which makes map reading simple as you can see all roads within a 5Km radius. Gentle hills provide viewpoints that look out onto nothing. Land not used for maize or cattle feed is scrub, grazed by sheep and goats lead by wandering shepherds. When taking the minor roads, I often consult them to confirm the direction to a particular village as these tracks have a habit of forking unexpectedly.
With so much open space you can see storms miles away. I watched one get closer and closer until big fat raindrops fell onto the dry dusty ground around me. Had a series of punctures where the moulded seams of the inner tube started to give way. Since I carry a spare it was not a problem and a young lad in one of the villages acted as helper as I fixed it.
After a bit of a roundabout route, a shepherd helped me onto the right route. I hinted I was in two minds about carrying on to the park as I didn't fancy walking around in the rain. He was adamant the rain had finished, even though there were some rather menacing clouds up wind. Not being one to ignore such an authoritive prediction, I pressed on towards the park. True to his word, the storm never closed in and soon the sun was shining brightly.
At 17.30 I arrived at Cetatea Histria, a Roman archaeology park - not holding out many hopes of getting in. To my surprise the museum closed at 19.30 and the ruins at 20.30 - A good thing about Romania are opening times. In the rural areas the shop is open if the shop keeper is at home and awake.
The museum did little to put what was on the site in any sort of context. I perused a collection or pots, house hold items and carved marble. Not a problem as a guide was on site to answer such questions.
The site was a roman fort, but the site had previously been inhabited by the Greeks in the 7th century B.C. Inside its walls were temples and administrative buildings. Its primary function was as a port town and had been mostly expanded in the late Roman or Byzantine period. It was abandoned in the early 7th century after being destroyed following an invasion. What remains now are the outlines of defensive walls, temples, baths, gate house, town piazza and administrative buildings. I wandered around the ruins reading the placards and snapping pictures of a spectacular sunset over the ruins.
Camped next to a farmer's trailer by the lake. Very friendly and was insistent I took the spare bed. When he turned the light on the place was crawling with insects and spiders. I declined. He had the common habit of speaking to me in Romanian at great length and when I indicated again that I didn't understand a word he said, he simply repeated it louder and closer to my ear until I did. The campsite was perfect if it were not for the plague of mosquitoes. I put my waterproofs on and sprinkled the exposed areas liberally with repellent with seemed to do the trick.
His helper, a young lad of around 25 sat with me for tea and we played pictionary conversation until late (22.00!) Its surprising the information you can get across with a pen and paper. We shared honeydew melon for desert. He wanted to give me his knife, obviously a very personal item due the number of fixes to the handle and by his own admission - Romanian repairs. I had to decline and described that it was yet more to carry. I asked if I could take a water melon instead, he agreed and allowed me to go to bed. How he can sit there in T-Shirt and shorts with no repellent on - I can't understand. Earlier in the day I missed spraying a small section of my calf and received no less the four big bites. The other day I must have placed my hand near the mosquito net of the tent while sleeping as when I woke up my thumb was swollen after receiving an unknown number of bites.

The shepherd who gave me the weather advice, his cattle and a barren landscape

Storms looming in the distance

Cetatea Histria archeology park: Museum

Cetatea Histria archeology park

Cetatea Histria archeology park

Cetatea Histria archeology park

Cetatea Histria archeology park

Constanta city tour and the Black sea coast
31 Aug, Wednesday
Start point: Grindul Saiele reserve, Lake Nuntasi
End point: Neptune beach
Via: Constanta
Odom(Km): 80 (estimate)
Moving(hrs.mim): ???
Ave(Km/h): ???
Total Ascent(m): ???
Max Altitude(m) ??
Max Speed(Km/h): ????

An early start meant clear roads into Constanta, another town if importance in Roman times. On arriving near the city I made a break for one of the beaches. It was popular despite the oil refinery a few Km away. See picture. Had a leisurely breakfast in the shade of an olive tree surrounded by plastic bottles and other such rubbish. People are not into 'putting things bins'. Not surprising when you know the contents of the bin usually end up tipped into the gutter anyway - or at the very least dumped in some local beauty spot.
Then into the town following the lively promenade of Mamaia, the Blackpool of Romania. I like it. There's a vibe, beach bars, discos, restaurants lining a pedestrian walkway and then the beach. The tolled service road ran behind the hotels out of sight. It even has a cable car to give you a bird's eye view. Not small either, the 'strip' is a good 5Km long. This took me to the city of Constanta, busy and traffic dominated, I struggled to find the town centre. When I finally made it my ears pricked up at the sound of a Manchester accent, the first Brit I had seen for weeks. I had to latch on. The couple were on a day trip from a Bulgarian resort awaiting the coach back to their hotel. We agreed that Romanian cuisine is non existent and they simply copy other foods badly. Where else do you get soggy half cooked chips in your kebab - without even asking?
The park displays Roman remains uncovered in the city and provides a haven away from the traffic. Toured the short pedestrianised shopping area and stumbled across the old quarter and Archaeological museum. I chose to visit a preserved Roman municipal building used as part of the port. Its outstanding feature is a mosaic of 2000 sq metres - of which 600 sq metres survive and are on view to the public. Again I had a personal tour guide around the site - partly due to the fact the place was empty and the lady, who was completing a degree in Roman history was board and I was an eager listener.
Tried and failed to find a quiet route out south from the city. On the short stretch I couldn't avoid was the aftermath of a road accident where a horse had been knocked down and killed. The occupants of the carriage seemed unharmed but I didn't think it appropriate to add to my road kill collection. Sorry to disappoint you David and Jamie. Then cross country, literally, the road was hard flat baked mud. OK in the summer, but I would dread to go this way after a rain storm.
Arriving in the dark at Neptune beach resort I finally found the campsite, chatted to a Romanian couple who like most were absolutely fascinated about my trip, despite my attempts to steer the conversation away. The resort seems a bit of a family and 'older' couple affair. I say this with some authority because I can hear cabaret, and they have just started singing 'Delilah'.

Breakfast on the beach

The 5Km 'strip'

Constanta - Eastern influence in the buildings is apparent

Run down old quarter

Run down old quarter

Constanta - Massive port harbour

Constanta - Plan of the ancient sites

Beer is 35p for a half litre in the beach bar
01 Sept, Thursday
Start point: Neptune beach
End point: Neptune beach
No cycling, just jobs.

A quick tour of the site located some interesting places to explore in the evening however most of the day was taken with jobs. Sorting out gear, washing all my clothes, sleeping bag, mat, tent. Sat in a beach bar updating my journal drinking beer. At 35p for a half litre, you can guess I didn't get much work done. So much for my plans to have the next journal entry online by this evening. Still, there are more important matters to attend to. Barman, another beer please.

Charming story
02 Sept, Friday
Start point: Neptune beach
End point: Neptune beach
via: Mangalia

Washed all my clothes, sleeping bag and roll mat. Getting clean again was a priority. In the afternoon I went to explore the near by town of Mangalia following the entire strip of costal resorts which runs for 7 Km. Cakes, 'fast food' and beach bars. When in Rome.. Its a hard life. Internet and an evening hunt for some nightlife which was unfortunately lacking as this is now the low season. When taking some photos of the souvenir stalls, I attracted a bit of interest. "Where are you from", "How did you get here?", "All that way by bike?", The vendors went charm crazy. "You must have this", "For good luck". When I declined they were insistent I didn't pay. My bike was adorned with knitted figures, good luck bracelets and shell key rings. It was the thought of them being carried all that distance under pedal power that drove them to decorate my bike. They were genuinely friendly folk and I thanked them before heading off to bed.

Charm stalls

The rain forced me to drink beer
03 Sept, Saturday
Start point: Neptune Beach
End point: 2 Mai
Odom(Km): 14.30
Moving(hrs.mim): 1.05
Ave(Km/h): 13.7
Total Ascent(m): 99
Max Altitude(m) 33
Max Speed(Km/h): 40.0

Serviced bike, cleaned tent, adjusted panniers, fixed tent poles.. you get the picture. Then had a huge meal in a restaurant that involved a whole spit roast chicken, chips, loaf of bread, chips, mash potato and coffee. The bill came to 4 pounds, expensive because this is after all a tourist resort. Then to the near by town of Mangalia where I was forced to eat more junk food as the rain had started. Having just serviced my bike I decided to sit this one out, hence the large volume of food consumed and the pathetic distance of 14Km cycled today! Saw campsite on the way to the Bulgarian border as well as some dark clouds so I decided to call it a day.. As soon as I entered I was greeted by a group from Bucharest. I spent the evening with Mark, an English teacher who introduced me to a very tasty brand of Romanian beer. He spoke perfect English and we chatted about all sorts and everything. It was a pleasant last evening in Romania, a country I will leave, taking only fond memories and a sore head with me.
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jnewcomb on

Re: hi!
Similarly, if I go to a country to experience their local cuisine, I'm not going to comment on the quality of their McDonalds restaurants..
As wealthy business visitor or package tourist, you are indeed correct, I would have very different experience of the country than the one described here.
PS: If you think I'm harsh on Romania, you should read the section on Southern Italy ;)

im on

Nice story, nice trip!
There's a thing where I disagree with you: we do have a local cuisine, but you'll never find a traditional romanian dish in a fast food restaurant ;)

Kay on

Hi! I'd love to talk with you about Romania, as I've written a novel based in Brasov. I've been checking out your page here, and you have pictures I haven't found on the tourist websites I initially looked at.

If you wouldn't mind me asking you a few questions, my email is

Thanks! And great documentation of your trip!! :-)

stelian.b on

as many other countrys romania has nice and ugly parts. the nice ones are unique in the world and you need information to fiind it. for example a city like cluj could teke easily two weeks to visit it brasov the same and sighisoara ooooo. in the conclusion i'm not sayin' that you are wrong but i'm saying that is not fare to put an etiquete to a place in a few hours...all the best

jnewcomb on

Hi stelian, I do very much agree with your comment. Most cities I visited had so much more to offer than the parts I found by accident, but finding them carrying a bike and bags containing 25KG of camping / cooking / tools / clothes / electronics and making sure its reasonably secure is not easy. Add in having to find a place to camp - often wild for the night and you are faced with a rather inflexible schedule:
· Arrive early
· Do what you can
· Exit in the direction of the next destination
· Find a camping spot before it gets dark.
Of the weeks spent in Romania, the highlight was the journey between towns and cities.. the country lanes and rural village. See pictures for a very heavily edited selection - It just doesn't make for very interesting reading that all!
Thanks for taking the time to read.

Kay on

I still love this, Jonathon. I've read a few more of your stories, you kept a great attitude despite the lack of corn and porridge (lol). :-)

I love your pictures, they're beautiful. I think Romania is beautiful (even more so than I did before seeing your photos).

Hope all is well! A big howdy from Texas! :-)


Marta on

WOW! You know, I've been dreaming of visiting and even LIVING in Romania! But what has slowed me down from doing that is trying to learn the language! I must ask you, was it hard trying to communicate to the Romanian natives? What I loved most was the rural lands, and Brasov! I can't forget Brasov! And when I saw the Polish tourist, haha, it made me smile because I am Polish myself!

Dziekuje za te ladne zdjecia!
(Thank you for the wonderful photos!)

~Marta :)

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