Amazing Romania

23 September 2018

We are really enjoying Romania, which has a fascinating history as well as beautiful landscape – and the people are really friendly as well. The fact that it seems to be stuck in an eighties time warp actually adds to its charm and makes it more endearing and simple in a really nice way. We have seem farmers cutting hay with scythes, shepherds tending flocks of sheep on the hillsides while chatting on their mobile phones (yes we asked his permission to take the photo!) and despite warnings of unsavoury people and crazy drivers, we have yet to experience that.

In terms of its recent history, systematisation has completely fascinated us as there are signs of it everywhere, and it’s the background as to why there are so many feral dogs roaming free in the county and cities.  Systematisation is an ideology that was implemented in the seventies and eighties under the rule of the Socialist Republic of Romania ie Communists.  It was effectively a programme of rural resettlement where the number of Romanian cities was targeted to double by 1990 – which meant investing in existing towns and large villages to turn them into urban industrial centres, while at the same time mechanising farming to make it more efficient and thereby killing off rural life.  Villages with populations of under 1000 were deemed “irrational” and the residents were either forced to move through the physical distruction of their houses or by cutting their services off.  To accommodate the growing population in the new expanding towns, many old buildings were demolished in order to build modern multi-storey apartments ie the large grey communist buildings that we see today.  And for the country folk who were forced to move to these new apartments or town folk that had their houses destroyed, it meant leaving their family pets behind – hence the stray dog problem throughout the country.  Systemisation destroyed many historic buildings and homes throughout the country and even the nicest towns we have been to so far have big concrete blocks alongside some lovely historic churches and buildings….with the exception of Sibiu where the old medieval town thankfully seems to have been spared from it all. And even more interesting is the Germanic influence in Sibiu (or Transylvanian Saxons to be precise) …it’s like being in Bavaria with its architecture and the Oktoberfest that is in full swing this weekend.   The fact that the town is also known as Hermannstadt should have given it away…

So we arrived early afternoon on Thursday and after a shower and snooze headed out to explore the lovely old town.  Dinner was traditional Romanian fare, which we loved….plenty of meat like in Serbia but with polenta mash and sour cream.  Friday morning was our exploring day and we basically covered the upper and lower towns, taking in the historic sights and buildings and indulging in the local food when we needed a break! We were first to the top of the Council Tower to take in great views of the city; and the Lutheran Catheral and the Romanian Orthodox cathedrals were also well worth visiting.

They also have fascinating houses with eyes…attic ventilation that makes the houses look like they are watching you…

Foodwise, the only thing that we weren’t too keen on were the “gogosi”, which are basically large doughnuts …we opted for a ham and cheese one and a chocolate one to share. They are very greasy – and the ham and cheese one was just weird; Nigel said “probably the worse culinary experience I have had in a long time”.  Obviously we have to try these things, but let’s just say we aren’t fans!

But that aside we have loved our time in Sibiu – it’s a really great place to spend a day.

Heading off after our rest day, once we were beyond the city boundaries we were on a nice flat and relatively quiet road that initially took us through some lovely villages.  This then took is into some fantastic wooded hills with some amazing scenery and then flattened out a bit when we cycled alongside a river – we even had train drivers and passengers waving at us along the route!

Lunch was in the fairly non-descript town of Avrig, but we happened to be sitting munching our sarnies when a wedding party arrived and were led into the church by a musician on an accordion, which was a bit more interesting than our cheese rolls! We had about 45 minutes on a busy road after that before it went back to a quiet, scenic route with fantastic landscape for the rest of the day – the end to a perfect day really, which goes down as once of Nigel’s favourite cycling days for a long time, especially when we had the mighty Carpathian Mountains for company…

…That is until it all went wrong. We arrived on the village of Sambata de Sus to find our accommodation, which was not where it appeared on the map and there was no phone number or email on the booking.com email, although they had taken our payment.  We enlisted the help of some locals who had never heard of the place but managed to find a phone number, which went through to voicemail.  With their help we thought we had found the correct location but when we got there and “Mrs Google Maps” announced ”you have arrived”, there was nothing there.  Aaaaagh!! There was one other possible location 9km away and at least there was other accommodation in the area if that didn’t work so we decided to give it a final shot.  At this stage we had already covered 95kmand it was starting to get chilly and dark, so with our lights on the bikes we pedalled the 9km…all uphill. Arrived and when we still couldn’t find it we opted for an alternative, which we found quite easily when 4 barking dogs came towards us as we got off our bikes.  Cold, tired and a bit hacked off, we couldn’t face cooking dinner so it was sandwiches and chocolate biscuits (horrah for chocolate biscuits!!) for dinner – by which time it was already dark!

Next morning, we were up and out early – and as there is a historical monastery just down the road we decided to start the day with a visit there.  It is a lovely building at the foot of some forested mountains and as it was Sunday there was Sunday worship in progress as well as what I can only describe as “stick-slapping”, which must be an Orthodox call to prayer of some sort.

Anyway, it was a lovely start to the day, followed by a 9km cycle downhill to where we had come from the evening before.  The temperature has dropped a lot so it was fleeces, gloves and jackets on this morning for yet another day of lovely cycling.  Quiet, flattish roads until we got right into the hills and amazing scenery all round. Our destination for today was Bran – home of Dracula’s castle – and as we were having our mid-morning snack sitting by the side of a road, 4 cyclists stopped to say hello.  All from the north of England in their 60s and on a cycle tour of the area for the holiday – quite inspiring to see them on cycling holidays at their age…I hope we will be still doing so!

One heart exerting but short climb before we arrived in Bran around 4pm and with no accommodation dramas we set off to explore the famous castle.

It was a royal residence and is fantastic inside.  The Dracula connection is only a small part of the story, and interestingly Bram Stoker had never visited there, despite it being the inspiration for his book.  Being a Sunday it was absolutely heaving with tourist, so it was a bit painful dealing with a large crowd in some confined spaces – but well worth the visit and a great way to round off a great cycling day!

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