Around the world by bike
(959km - 19days)
30 July – Szeget, Hungary – Arad, Romania – 78 km
Left Szeget with a stiff tailwind which became a near gale force crosswind, making it challenging to keep the bike on the road, with all the trucks and heavy traffic. We arrived at border post to find that my Hungarian visa, was not what I had expected, but in fact 2 x 10-day visas, (where did that come from?). I therefore overstayed and after a lot of hand signals, and being shunted back and forth from building to building, I was allowed to go. Phew!
I was excited to see Romania. Firstly, it finally felt that I was finally on my way and secondly since a young child I was intrigued by gipsies, and I understood that there were still real gipsies living in Romania. Add to that the mystery of Dracula's castle and place names like Transylvania and I was hooked.
As always in a foreign country the language remained a considerable obstacle, everything (as expected) was in Romanian, and very little English was spoken.
We arrived in Arad very late that evening looking for a camping spot, as indicated on the map but all that remain of the campsite, was an abandoned field. By that time, it was raining and quite dark, and we booked into a pension at 120 Leu.
31 July - Arad – Bârzava – 60 km
Arad was a bustling town, with many old buildings, but few seemed in good condition, most appeared to need some TLC. 50 Years of communism left its mark, and there were numerous apartment blocks, all very unattractive and in a state of poor repair. All countries are different, and just as one gets used to the how-where-and-when of the one; it’s time to cross the border, and all things are different. Suddenly campsites were few and far between, and the cheapest accommodation could be found at truck stops where there were inexpensive food and rooms.
1 August - Barzava – Deva – 100 km
First thing in the morning I fixed slow puncture that has been giving trouble and then on the road again. We got on the road to Barzava by 12:00 and I found the countryside interesting with many small communities, and indeed real-life gipsies complete with horse carts and old ladies dressed in black. It reminded of something of a forgotten era. The gipsies were a tad disappointing as they were not dressed like the gipsies I had in mind, think long bright flowery skirts, blouses adorned with cold coins and head scarves LOL.
Cycling was challenging and at times downright dangerous as the main roads were jam-packed with trucks of all shapes and sizes. The rural villages were, however, quiet, and residents found us as different as we found them. Most of these communities only had very basic facilities and water was still collected from a communal well while farmers worked the field by hand. Filling our waterbottle resulted in stopping, lowering the bucket into the well and then bringing the full bucket back up using a pulley system.
2 August- Deva - Geoagiu Băi – 27 km
Left the busy town of Deva along the main road, but found the road extremely busy and the road in poor condition, making for nerve-wrecking cycling. At the soonest opportunity, we turned off the main road onto a smaller road. Soon spotted a sign for a Roman thermal bath, and as it was only 12 km down the drag, we headed in that direction. Geoagiu Bai was a small but busy town where we found camping in a someone's backyard amongst the chickens and dogs with only a long drop as a toilet.
3 August - Geoagiu Băi – Blaj – 91 km
The following day we carried on along a dirt road, past numerous small villages, farmlands with cornfields and even vineyards. The countryside was scenic, as the road twisted and turned between wooded mountains and along scenic rivers.
4 - 5 August - Blaj - Fagaras – 135 km
It was not long before we found ourselves in the heart of Transylvania a place that conjured up images of scary looking locals, wooden crosses and howling wolves. It was partly right as there were often askew graves and wooden crosses with bunches of garlic hanging from gates and doors. Being in this part of the world was exciting. The country offered fantastic riding through densely wooded mountains, medieval town and fortresses associated with legends.
6 August - Făgăraş – Bran - 63 km
We tried to find breakfast but at 9.30am but it seems to be too early for food, but not too early for beer, people are sitting drinking beer, but when we enquired about food the reply was "don't know at this hour". It was a most beautiful ride through the heavily wooded mountains and along raging rivers. On arrival in Bran expecting to find clues to Dracula Castle but only found ominous sounding "Vampire Camping".
7 August - Bran
We spent the day in Bran where a visit to Bran Castle revealed the real story of old Vlad and the castle. The castle was constructed in 1388, and it was indeed built on a steep cliff with exceptional views of the nearby hills. The castle served as a customs office as well as a fortress and was used in an attempt to stop the Ottoman Empires expansion. Although the castle had many owners, it did indeed at some point belonged to Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire named Dracula.
8 August - Bran – Campulung – 59 km
We cycled over the Carpathian Mountains via Bran Pass. A stunning ride and the dividing line between Transylvania and Valencia. Language remained a problem, not only did I buy yeast instead of butter but also a fountain pen without ink instead of a ballpoint pen and cream instead of yoghurt! That night we found excellent accommodation in a pension, very upmarket at 120 Leu.
9 August - Campulung – Targovista – 65 km
It was a day of excellent downhill riding into Targovista where we arrived early but thought better of it to overnight there instead of continuing to Bucharest which is still about 80 km away. We found accommodation in "Pension King", which turned out not much of a palace as the name indicated as it was situated in the back streets next to scrap yard.
10 August - Targovista – Bucharest - 98 km
Getting into Bucharest was as hair-raising as most cities, loads of traffic, especially on a Friday afternoon. We got directions from a taxi driver for a campsite, on the other side of the town, but later found an internet cafe and found the real campground all the way back through the city where we came from in the first place. It was a great campsite but slightly mozzie infested but at least lots of trees.
I also discover that my Romanian visa was only granted for two days (valid for three months) and not given for three months as expected! There was not much I could do about it and intended dealing with it once at the border. Lesson learned, always check your visa!
11 August – Bucharest
We stayed in Casa Alba Campsite, doing the usual, shopping, laundry and a bit of sightseeing including a visit to the city’s most iconic landmark, the massive communist-era Parliament building with its 1 100 room, said to be the world’s second largest building. Far scarier was that we learned that more than 10 000 people are bitten by stray dogs in Bucharest every year.
Bucharest is a fun city with a long and fascinating history and a crazy mix of communist-era, neo-classical and art deco buildings mostly with oyster shell shaped canopies. It was particularly interesting to see the 100’s of grey high-rise blocks of flats from the communist era.
12 - 15 August – Bucharest
I made use of the time to apply for both my Bulgarian and Turkish visas. On my return from the city, I found the campsite invaded, by what looked like 100’s of little tents. It turned out to be the well-known Baltic Cycle group, on tour from the Baltics to Cypress. They mostly spoke Polish but there was at least one Brit and one lady from New Zealand with them, and we could make ourselves understood.
At the Turkish Embassy I was informed me that I can only apply for a visa in my home country. After phoning my sister Amanda in SA, she came back with the news that the Turkish Embassy in SA said that I must just ask again. Which I did. The next day it was back to the Turkish Embassy to beg for a visa and it worked, and by 5 pm I had my visa! I also phoned the Bulgarian Embassy and yes the visa was granted, I can pick it up the following day.
16 August - Bucharest – Oltenita – 98 km
Well needless to say I was at the Hungarian Embassy at 10:00 sharp, just to find a lot of people milling about. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to this order of things, so after a while, they pointed at me and took me to the front of the row and I was promptly handed my visa. A visa was granted for 15 days which was fair enough and by 12:00 Eddie and I were on our way to the border. So instead of taking the main highway to Giurgiu, we decided to cycle to Oltenita which was a much smaller road, only to find that there was no border crossing as indicated on the map! I couldn’t seem to get out of Romania!
In the process, we met Peter, a local Romanian, who invited us to his house, a tiny 2-room wooden dwelling without a bathroom or kitchen. One could, however, go for a wee in the back garden amongst the chickens. I could never quite figure out what to do about the bowel movements.
17 August – Oltenita, Romania - Silistra, Bulgaria – 85 km
After a breakfast of fresh tomatoes and paprika from Peter's garden, we were on our way to the Calarasi border (before the veggies kicked in). This time we were in luck and took the ferry across the river to Silistra. I was nervous, as can be expected, to see what would happen about my Romanian Visa dilemma. I was, by then, in the country for 20 days instead of the two days indicated on my visa! At the border, I did not say anything – just handed over my passport to the border officials, they disappeared behind a screen. After a while, they reappeared and gave me back my passport, all without a single word! I was relieved, to say the least.
I can tell straight away that communication is going to be an even bigger problem as here the alphabet is different and on top of that they nod their heads for no and shake it sideways for yes. What a confusion!!