Monday, July 30, 2018

Monsoon: Sinaia to Targoviste

Ruth: Ok, I have tried to be goodnatured about the weather in Romania this July, but after two days of complete soakings I am fed up. Yesterday morning our ride out of Sinaia was lovely, with the sun even making an appearance, but at noon we were caught in a huge thunderstorm. We tried to wait it out in a bus shelter; counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder. One hit very close to us. When the rain slowed we started riding again, plowing through the flooded streets. In one town a manhole cover had blown off, and in another the streets were completely underwater. You can only imagine the plume of water coming from the trucks which tried to plow through at the same time as us. Gord disappeared at one point and was trying to save some tiny soaked kittens.  We hope they made it. 

The weather reports all say that the rain stops on Friday and that August will be good, but it has rained every day in July. Most days have not been as bad as the last two, and we do seem to be developing tans, so there have been sunny breaks. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Prejmer to Brașov

 Ruth: I was thinking that our blogs this trip lacked a certain Je n’est sais quoi, with our descriptions  and pictures of countless churches. When I looked back over the last few posts I realized that they also lacked pictures. I have no idea what happens between our composing and posting but sometimes we seem to lose most of not all of our content. Arrrrg!

We are not religious fanatics obsessed with ecclesiastical architecture,  but when in Romania, Churches and Monasteries are the things to see. Each area we pass through has completely unique versions of their own religious buildings. 

We are back in the heart of Transylvania and today took a side trip to visit Prejmer. Prejmer is on of the UNESCO listed Saxon fortified churches. Fortification was a serious business here. As the first fortified church this side of the mountains, invasions were common. The village was destroyed at least fifty times while the citizens found safety within the massive walls. The complex has 270 rooms to accommodate the crowds during a siege. 

Up until now we have been staying in wonderful accommodation. Tonight’s place in Brașov would not fall in that category. We are staying in our host’s apartment, which he vacates when he has a booking.  It very much has the appearance of the home of an oblivious, aging single man who has just stepped out for a few minutes.  The sink is full of dirty dishes, the washing machine has clothes in it, there are items of clothing hanging everywhere, and there is a general lack of cleaning.  When we drain either the bathtub or the kitchen sink, water rises through the floor drain and flows across the kitchen.  This apartment is a very recent addition to the bookings website and as a result had no posted reviews.  I think that we will send the pleasant owner an email rather than do a review, but others will not be so kind.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Székely Land

Gordon:  Our guidebook described the area in eastern Transylvania, in the foothills of the Carpathians, as “Székely Land”.  The Székely are a Hungarian group that have been in this area since at least the 13th century.  The word “Székely” comes from the Hungarian for “frontier guard”.

I expected to notice some traces of a different culture, but coming down into Székely Land was like entering another country.  Everyone speaks Hungarian, to the point that I feel uncomfortable using my few words in Romanian.  There are Székely flags flying everywhere, and most signs are in Hungarian.

Last night we stayed in Miercurea Ciuc, which bills itself as the capital of Székely Land.  On the free municipal map available from from the tourist office, the greeting from the Mayor doesn’t open with some banality about tourist sights, but rather with the statement “God ordained the Szekelys to guard the eastern frontier of Christendom ... “  The defining history of this region was the ongoing conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Christian groups, but it has been quite a while since the Ottomans were a real threat.  It is remarkable that ancient history is still very much alive in Székely Land.

We have enjoyed the food throughout Romania, but from a dining perspective it is a treat to be in a Hungarian region.  There are different dishes, the food is more spiced, and we have been encountering the cyclists’ dream: the buffet breakfast.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bicaz Gorges and Red Lake

Gordon:  Today the rain held off long enough to allow us to ride from Bicaz to Lacu Roșu (Red Lake).  The scenery along the gentle climb up the Bicaz valley was reminiscent of Switzerland, with intensely green fields rising above quaint villages.  The gentleness of the climb made Ruth nervous, because she knew that we had to climb 600 metres to our destination.  Twenty kilometres into our 32 kilometre ride we were only 150 metres above our starting point.  And then we entered the Bicaz Gorges National Park and hit the wall.  The river valley narrowed to only 30 metres in width while the limestone walls of the gorge rose 300 metres above us.  The road twisted and climbed its way through the canyon, but with only one short stretch that was uncomfortably steep to cycle.  Although the gorge is in a national park, there were numerous souvenir venders wherever the shoulder of the road was wide enough to fit them.  Regardless, the ride through the gorges was spectacular.

At around 1000 metres the road flattens out around the basin containing Red Lake.  This small and murky lake was created by a landslide in 1838, and there remain numerous stumps in the lake that attest to the drowned forest.  It is a tourist circus on the shores of this popular lake, with rides, souvenir stalls, junk food, and all the other things families on vacation seem to hold dear.

We were walking along the shore of the lake when we noticed there were things hopping around our feet.  Closer inspection revealed multitudes of minute frogs. We realized with horror that we had probably been inadvertently crushing them underfoot as we walked.  Returning along the highway was even more of a horror show, as the frogs were crossing the moderately busy road by the hundreds.  If we were in England they would build an underpass for the frogs, if they didn’t just close the trail and road for the frog migration season.  In any event, there were lots of frogs so enough must be surviving to perpetuate the species.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Rainy day

Gordon:  Before we make a decision to travel to a particular destination we generally have a look at the weather that we can expect.  The average temperature range in Cluj in July is a high of 26 degrees Celsius and a low of 13, with 9 days with precipitation - not bad for a cycle trip.  The temperatures we have experienced in northern Romania have been consistent with the historical averages, but unfortunately the precipitation has not.  We have had some rain almost every day during the three weeks that we have been here.

There has been a daily pattern to the rain here, with clear mornings and a buildup of clouds as the day progresses, leading to showers in the afternoon.  We have a good weather app (Storm) and by keeping on eye on the forecast we have generally been able to do our cycling and visit the desired sights without getting too wet.  Today was an exception.  The forecast was a bit ominous, but because the actual weather is usually better than predicted, we chose to venture up the road rather than hunkering down in our excellent pension in Piatra Neamț as we should have done.  As it turned out the rainfall was apocalyptic: at one point in the town of Bicaz we were cycling on the sidewalk because the highway had turned into a river.  We only cycled 26 kms before we washed up at a pension in Bicaz and settled in for a day of reading.

The forecast is for another week of showers before a return to sunny weather.  While the countryside appears green and productive, with plums, cherries, apples and walnuts hanging everywhere, locals have told us that in at least some areas crops have been lost due to the rainfall.  There is a massive physical investment in harvesting and stacking hay, and it certainly would be a challenge to dry hay properly in the conditions that have prevailed in northern Romania during this July.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Ruth: I am afraid Gord has lost his blogging privileges for a bit. He does struggle with what is acceptable in a post. 

This morning we visited our last Painted Monastery in Bucovina. Voroneț is the most visited of all the monasteries  and at 9:30 in the morning it was already swarming with tourists making their way through a kilometre of craft stalls to the entrance of the monastery.  Shortly after we arrived one of the nuns began hammering a gong to call all to prayer. 

I left Gord to contemplate hell fire while I popped into the church, but it was already too full to see anything beyond the entrance. 

The judging of souls and as usual the demons cheat

The Devil in the River of Fire

As part of the Last Judgement animals bring back the human body parts they have previously taken, and sunken ships rise from the deep

The Tree of Jesse

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Humour Monastery

Gordon:  Another day, another monastery.  Today’s ride took us to the quiet, less visited monastery at Humor.  The paintings on this church had some of the same subjects that we have grown accustomed to seeing: the Tree of Jesse, the Last Judgement, and the fall of Constantinople.  The style at Humor is a bit more Byzantine, with the stylized creases in the drapery and faces.  Unfortunately, as at Sucevița, the wall with the Last Judgement scene is completed invisible behind scaffolding.  Perhaps this is for the best, as the Devil at Humor is portrayed as a woman, and Ruth’s actions when confronted with this misogyny could be unpredictable.

Last Judgement, taken from the Internet 

Beating out the call to prayer on the toaca

Russian graveyard for soldiers killed in 1944

A charming town we visited, nestled between two ridges

Friday, July 20, 2018

Sucevita after a beautiful ride.


Ruth: After a beautiful climb up out Moldovița we were treated to one of the best descents ever. As cyclists what we always hope for is a slow long float. Fast enough for fun but without the need to break much. This one delivered that for about 18 kilometres. At the top of the pass we saw an epic zip line more than a kilometre long and very high. I wouldn’t trade our perfect ride for a chance to try it.

Our days have been paced nicely with big climbs and descents in the morning and generally finding a place to stay by noon. This pattern was dictated mostly to avoid the afternoon rain storms. Today was different; for the first time in two weeks there was no rain. 

We are slowly exploring the painted monasteries over three days while most tourists cram them all into a single day. I have no idea where they fit in nap time or painting. 

Today’s monastery was Sucevița, and it had just enough of the fire of hell to please Gord and plenty of fabulous images to pease me. 

At dinner tonight thrifty Gordie  ordered a very cheap vegetable stew. The waitress looked  unimpressed when he ordered it and asked if he would like bread to go with it; so Gordie splurged. This is what came to the table.