AA on the road: Day 12 – Across Romania in a day

Day 12: September 7, 2015
Time: 09:00
Location: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Destination: Mioveni, Romania

Waking up in Cluj-Napoca¬†in the retirement home has not been a great experience. In line with the pension we stayed in Cebu, the Philippines, a few years back, however cleaner and less creepy. Poor Andreas struggled a bit to fit into the bed that was obviously a tad too small for his height. Well coming from the Viking lands is not always an advantage ūüėÄ

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The bed is definitely not Viking-friendly :)

Rushing through the morning preparations, we found the breakfast ready in the assembly hall with yarn-bombed wooden pillars. From the first sight it looked rather OK, taking a closer look revealed some cold mash of supposedly potato and another bowl with strange looking eggplant. Needless to say we didn’t dare touch any of it, having just recovered from Michelin tummy adventures.

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Our breakfast setting.

Leaving the retirement home, we spent much of the day getting across Romania. After yesterday’s adventures on the roads less travelled, we made a point of sticking to the big, shiny highways all the way, and by doing so ensuring¬†a much smoother ride.

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After yesterday’s non-existing roads, this shiny asphalt is such a welcome sight!

On the way to our destination of the day, Mioveni, Andreas’¬†eagle eyes spotted a UNESCO city, Sighisoara, and we stopped there for lunch.

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On the cobblestoned streets of Sighisoara.

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Hey there, Sighisoara :)

The small town had a potential for being a beautiful place, it was a very old German-built city, with pretty old houses, but it was left to decay and disorder. Very touristy, very expensive. Surprisingly the Chinese were not leading the touristic diversity poll, I do not think the word of this small town has reached to the vast lands of the Middle Kingdom just yet. The word did reach the Spanish Armada though. They were everywhere.

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The old, the colourful, the falling apart.

 

Among the pretty houses we also found Dracula’s modest home, which is now of course a restaurant, and you could go check his room out. Not sure it was the real deal but we paid the entrance fee anyway to satisfy our curiosity. The doorman looked and acted like the Dracula himself, extremely impolite. As it should have been expected it was a very disappointing experience. Two rooms, one of them the fake Dracula lying in a coffin and casually chatting with tourists, in the other room his dining table. And that’s it.

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After an hour of walking around and getting our ears used to the intense flow of Spanish, we left Sighisoara with mixed feelings. The beauty and the beast of travelling. Here is a gem of a town, that would have provided such a charming experience had it not been overcrowded by visitors, and overcommercialized to cater to the same visitors with Dracula memorabilia, tourist trap of restaurants and pushy local business owners.

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Reflections…

Some more kilometers underway on the Romanian roads we reached another stop on our north-south axis. Brasov, a small cute town with surprisingly many clowns and balloons.

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We have arrived in Brasov.

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The city of clowns.

Brasov was pretty, with no trace of Spanish tourists and with a much more local feel to it.¬†Some more kilometers underway and we arrived at Dracula’s castle in Bran to find it closed off and inaccessible even for pictures. The one below is the only glimpse we could get of it. Not a big deal. The hospitality of the security guard didn’t leave a very¬†welcoming impression.

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Beware! Bran, Dracula’s residence.

Leaving Bran, Dracula and the sour guard, we continued our trans-Romanian trip. In the approaching dusk we could still make out the beautiful scenery of Transylvania that we were leaving behind. Our last destination for the day was Mioveni. Here we were greeted by Luminita, the sweet mom of our friend Roxana, and her partner Marius. Within 10 minutes of our arrival, Luminita already set a table bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables. Marius got right on with showing us the good roads to drive on to reach Bucharest and the not to miss highlights. Their sweet hospitality reminded me of being back in my home, Armenia. Not too long now. We are coming, Armenia!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 11 – The Romanian tale of a disappearing road

Day 11: September 6, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Budapest, Hungary
Destination: Cluj-Napoca, Romania
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We will miss your pretty face, Budapest!

The day has come to pack our bags, load the car, and take one last stroll in the beautiful streets of Budapest. The sun is shining brightly and the sky is the perfect shade of blue with patches of clouds dispersed all over the blue canvas. Just the day I love! Our first obligatory stop is the Parliament of course. I cannot tire from looking at this pretty view.

We reach the Parliament in the midst of a big commotion and a cheering crowd. With a bit of disappointment we quickly realise that the commotion has nothing to do with us approaching the scene, rather its sole cause is the changing of the guards! Ah what a shame… But hey why don’t we make use of the moment and join the bandwagon. By the time the guards in khaki uniforms follow their commander’s orders and do the well-rehearsed march, a huge crowd has gathered in the big square.

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The guards are definitely enjoying the attention :)

Now normally, as witnessed in other countries, the guards do their march, swing their swords, click their heels, turn sharply around and go back to where they came from. And don’t even dare to talk to them. The sword can easily spring into action. Apparently not the Hungarian ones. To our awe the guards finish their march and line up for nothing less but a photoshoot! This is an unexpected turn of events. The crowd is going wild. Cameras are¬†set to motion, poses are struck and words are exchanged with the guards. We also get our chance to take home a fun memory from the day :)

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Our moment to shine!

We leave the guard meet and greet to try out another exciting adrenalin-packed adventure – ride on the cute little yellow trams of Budapest!

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Reporting live from Budapest’s cute little yellow tram.

Needless to say, the speed of the tram wasn’t what made our ride exhilarating, rather it was the sight of Budapest’s postcard-perfect streets and the riviera coming into view one after the other.

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Last glimpse of Danube.

We hop off the tram by the Chain Bridge. It is time to bid farewell to pretty Budapest and hit the road again.

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Budapest, we will be back!

Our next destination will bring us to another country Рthe land of vampires, aka Romania. There are some 200 km of Hungarian countryside to cover before we reach our favourite activity of crossing borders. So off we go!

The long stretches of driving are necessary to get us to our end destination, however they tend to become quite boring after hours of sitting in the car and gazing out the window. This is strictly the¬†passenger’s point of view, and I am quite a demanding and impatient passenger when it comes to long drives. Andreas, the driver, never complains. Just from time to time he needs a bit of muscle stretching. So for the purposes of taking a break (better read, to¬†give some excitement to the demanding passenger), we take a small detour from the highway to continue our drive through the Hortobagy National Park.

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The crown jewel of the national park is this old bridge dubbed Nine-Hole Bridge spanning across Hortobagy river.

 

Oh the passenger is now on full alert as we drive through beautiful, wide plains, passing by grazing animals and long, long stretches of open road. Stunning scenery!

IMG_8292Crossing a few more kilometers and waving good-bye to cute straw figures on our road, we finally reach the Romanian border!

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Ciao Hungary! You have been a real treat. Hello Romania, country #5! Excited to explore what you have up your sleeve for us.

A mandatory picture snapped by the border control. Another flag, another combination of three stripes, another hour spent on the border, stamps leaving their ink traces in our passports, brief exchange of greetings with the guards, a receipt for the road tax, and we are finally ready to continue our trip driving on the same stretch of asphalt dividing the two EU member countries.

That little stretch of asphalt¬†that seemed rather smooth and similar to the Hungarian standards very quickly proved to be a bitter deception. A few kms in on the Romanian roads the driving habits suddenly changed, turning into rules are there to be broken principle, the smooth asphalt got replaced by big holes eventually turning to dusty narrow roads, horse wagons became a common sight, and as if this wasn’t an experience enough, ladies of a certain, ancient profession, started lining up the roads! I certainly hope this last criteria was not why Google Maps suggested this route as a better option!

Not exactly what we had in mind when we drove away from lovely Budapest earlier in the day. Oh well! Adventure is what we are after, so Romania bring it on.

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A beautiful welcome to Romania! Thank you.

As if to apologise for the offroad driving inconvenience, the nature sent us the most gorgeous sunset setting the sky on fire. Well done, apologies accepted.

So on we drive towards our home for the night – Cluj-Napoca, blindly following the Google Maps and its biased route suggestion, waving good-bye to the setting sun. We carry on through the dust, through the holes, on and on stopping occasionally to do a little impromptu photoshoot for our sweet Rover.

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Doesn’t he look just stunning?

An hour more of driving… It’s pitch black, the dusty roads¬†and occasional villages lining up the road have long disappeared, we are now driving through a forest¬†in complete darkness, with no other living soul around us. Talk about the land of vampires. Rather spooky. Google Maps still insists that this is the best route and Cluj Napoca lies in the end of this dark hole. We proceed. Mostly because turning back at this point would be a rather daunting task.

Another 40-50 minutes pass watching the kms slowly tick in on the dashboard. There is silence in the car, as we sit in intense anticipation for what lies ahead. Another few kms and the map claims that Cluj-Napoca is so so close… Cannot wait! A few more meters and suddenly we come to an abrupt halt!

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Our nightly adventures on the Romanian roads. A story to remember.

No way, no freaking way (pardon my French)!!!! The road… there is no road… it’s been washed away… collapsed into a gorge… there is one big hole… impossible to drive over even if you are James Bond. Oh no bloody way! The only reason why the car didn’t end up in the hole was because of its big, beautiful, magnificent lights. We have no choice but to turn back. Turn back into the darkness, so close yet so far away from Cluj-Napoca and attempt to reach it by driving the slightly “slower” route as claimed by glorious Google Maps.

We turn back. Sleeping by the side of the hole, in the middle of nowhere does not look too appealing. Another hour or so making our way through the darkness we reach one of the highways leading to Cluj. A deep breath of relief. The highway resembles a real highway. Smooth, beautiful, shining with signs and white lines. Oh thank goodness. We are back to civilisation. Reaching our destination becomes more and more realistic. It is way past midnight, we are way too exhausted, hungry and sleep deprived, but we are happy, ready to jump in joy, because we discovered the highway!

Another hour or so on the beautiful road and we pull up at our home for the night. A church turned into housing complex! A step in and we discover it is a housing complex for elderly! Entering our room you could almost suspect time travel was a true thing. Hmm interesting turn of events, definitely the day couldn’t get any more adventurous.

We are tired. It is way way past midnight, after ~12 hours on the road, more than 500 kms crossed even a mat on the floor would do the trick. Comprehending the full extent of our lodgings has to wait until tomorrow. Good night!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan