I will approach this with a renewed spirit, not going to let the WordPress issues screw up another good day. There have been severalemails that we have had regarding the Dracula Castle. And yes, there are 2. A tourist version which is Bran Castle in the village of Bran. History tells us that Vlad Dracul spent all of just 3 days at this castle. Then there is the real Vlad Dracul Castle on the south facing slopes of the Grans Fargaras. There is a point where you cross a huge dam that crosses a pair of opposing rocky mountain faces, the surrounding area is very steepand ro ky. Its here tnat our Vlad the Impaler of Dracul fame actually made his home. This castle can barely be seen within the red circled area in the photograph shown. The only way into thecastle is from that upper ridge to the right of the castle. If per chance you tried to approach from the bottom ylu would need to have Sir Edmond Hillary with you.
I am living in blogging hell, the vehichle that propels me towards hell at warp speed is the WordPress app. This post was written to describe the descent off the backside of Trans Fagaras, since it felt like we were spiraling down the mountain. Instead we find our writing/photograhy and blogging efforts swirling down the toilet bowl. Thanks WordPress, ya really knock it out’a the park with this blogging platform. The entire post that was up here this am is gone, very sorry but I dont have a copy and I ain’t screwing around with retelling the whole thing. I will post the images once again and then webe done.
Thouroughly ticked off with the WordPress app. Thjs post was done in total, and last night Pine even proof read it for me so we could be sure we told our story accurately ans in order. But trust the danged WordPress to eat,destroy,skip,erase, or generally make life in hell look like more fun than everyday infront of WordPress. God, has been given the naming rights to this post because I am here due to Gods grace alone.
Pine and I spent a day wandering Sibiu, a very pretty city and as far west as we will be going on this trip. Sibiu is one of those cities who,s outer industrial type zone about had JW ready to leave before I got into the heart of it. Its an old city with some amazing sites to see, a huge armour museum, a rennasaince art museum with some of the finest pieces in the world, then there is the very quaint and achitecturally interesting downtown……..plus there is a Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream…….and thats the only thing we were here for. We seen it all, sat and watched a Christian Band play in old town center, watched people, and took many photos. The road into Sibiu was way to busy for our liking, many heavy trucks.
We wrapped up our time in Sibiu, and made our plans to leave by way of tiny backroads. This woukd take us out thru rolling farm country, and take us directly east along a major river Here in Romania. As soon as we climb over the first ridge east out of Sibiu, we were in a much different world, the single lane blacktop gave way to gravel or various conditions ranging from good to nasty. Plenty of long slow climbs spotted our days pedal effort. Sweat was rolling, shirts were off, sun screen shone in the sweat and sunshine that bounced off our backs……pretty soon pants were off. Okay, don,t get to excited, I am lying about having my shirt off. Farmers, mostly working in pairs along side thier horses, were out hand loading hay to be taken back to the farm yard. The hay is most often cut with a scythe, forked and rakwd into windrows, then hand tossed onto wagons, were once in the farm yard it is then stacked over a triangular rack were it can dry completely. Huge thunderheads rolled over the distant mountains edge, beckoning us to venture closer.
We are headed for Trans Fagaras, this is considered by many to be amongst the top 5 climbs in the world……..and we are going to do it, or die trying. And for that cowboy friend who said we had always taken the easy way out, this is for you, to satisfie your cruel heart that we done at least one very difficult climb. Not that there haven,t been more than that. Some of you are harkening back to my claim, 4hat I am here by Gods grace alone. Maybe now is a good time to explain. Our cross country route from Sibiu this day, kept us away from a very busy minor highway for as long as possible. But as fate would have it, we had to ride 12 miles of this road before we could make our next turn south towards the infamous Trans Fagaras.
Roads are generally pretty good here in Romania, that is if you are in a car. But on a bike, it looks and feels totally different. Here are some details before you call me just another idiot on a bicycle. In almost all places along the road there is a vee shaped ditch to catch running water, it would be about 3 foot wide and 2 feet or more dee, the ditch is sometimes right at the white line and at others there may be a foot or so of cement edge before the ditch.. This ditch is open if you are out of town, but intown, there is a cement grate placed over it, the grate is designed to allow water to pass thru and into the ditch. Probl2m is, that witha bike, if you hit the ditch at just the right angle, your wheel also passes thru it and the wreck is on. When going thru towns and villages, there are curbs made that are usually about 10 inches tall, these really catch your pedala quick if you dont pay attention. And last, also maybe the worst, is the blacktop edge drops right off at the white line, the drop can vary from being ess3ntially flush to as much as 10 inches which really wakes you up.
So, there we are, Pine running about 50 yards out front of myself. We are rolling uphill thru a small village, these are always the worst and we hate them for the simple reason that there are so many things to watch out for. Traffic is generally very considerate on Romanian roads, and this is not a rant about drivers. As I pedal uphill, watching for people, bogs,curbs, white line and one single tree that borders the very road edge in front of me, I can here a semi tractor coming behind me. I take a second to check my mirror on his position, and in that briefest instant several things happened simoultaneously. The reality of knowing that the semi was right on my butt probably played into things even if only sublimanely. The road edge dissappeared from under my bikes front wheel, as road edges are, that being uneven and rough. It allows my front wheel to roll off, then attempt to roll right back on……..I could tell I was going down. But, there was nothing that I nor Superman could have done about it. When the bike rolls off and back on like this, its shoots you and the bike at an angle out across the lane of traffic……and thats right where I was headed, in slow motion I watched as I headed out into that place I last wanted to be. My arms extended to break my fall, my left hand leads the way to impact………my feet attempt to turn and twist trying to free myself of the wieght of the bicycle. The fork and front wheel bounce with the impact……….. theres a screech but I cant see from what………..the panniers partially break the bikes fall……..the ashphalt rips at whatever exposed flesh comes its way…………an acrid smell of brakes fills my nose……………my left knee comes to a halt finally and it hurts…….there is the sound or horns honking……….my left elbow is complaining……….in the back of my mind I hear the expulsion of air from the semi but it dosen’t really register yet………we have landed and come to our final rsting place……blue wave of smoke passes thru my immediate vision…….. I look for blood, none. GOOD praise God. I am stuck, momentarily, but stuck nonetheless, my legs, and my feet are tangled in the bike frame and I cant get to my feet as I frantically try to work free knowing there is a semi coming. I roll over to my back, and push hard with my right leg which shoves the bike out and away from me. As i try then to get upright now, my feet and left hip encounter the huge silver front bumper of the semi…?….reality finally sets in here as I look over my placement and predicament. The reality of just how close all this came, has me shaking. Yes, I could have fainted the way I felt, everything in me was set on vibrate. Aches, pains, a little blood, some skin missing…….and the click of gears engaging as the semi now moves on from where it all happened. Total time, in actuality it took only seconds…….but in feeling……it took an hour from the moment I checked my mirror to landing on the road in front of the semi. Life, its a precious thing that we hold onto for all we are worth. Only God knows the number of our days here on this earth, and he alone is in control. I am blessed, yes blessed in being here after the very close call. But to a greater extent folks, I am blessed knowing that I have confesed my sins before a loving God Christ, he has alotted me a place in heaven……but not today. HE has something greater in mind for me, I know not what but I am on this walk and in his hands. He lives in my heart, he was saying and thinking the same things as I during this whole episode, only he was not worried because he knew the outcome. I am convinced that without Christ in my life I would not be here writing this today.
WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY BE WAITING FOR, be thankful that some of your Christian friends actually think your life here has value. Life can be snuffed out so quickly, and in the most inoquous fashion that you may well have no time to ask forgiveness. Dont use that “I WILL CALL HIM WHEN IT HAPPENS” as your fall back plan. Oh’ but for the grace of God go I, in a pine box back to my family in California…..thankyou Jesus, for the angels placed around me because of the fervent prayers of your Saints here on earth.
We take a short break after the accident, to gather our wits, our courage, check for damage. We are all good, albeit a little shaky, but good. We turn south towards the Trans Fagaras and its now famous grades and switch backs. Seen on 2 or 3 different TV shows that demonstrate driving skills, the Trans Fag is not to be taken lightly. We run about 18 miles due south, creeks cross our path in several places, all of them running fast, cold and clear likea mountain streem should. We reach the base of the climb and camp for the night.
The next morning, we tackle the climb with the determination that we would be victorious. Ate a big helping of porridge and some toast. Rolled out and made the first inclined bend just 200 yards after our camp and it never let up for the next 5 hours. The initail climbs are all made within heavy forests or hardwoods and fir, just enough is cleared away to leave a road to drive on, huge branches swipe at you and cars as you pass. Stinging nettle lines to road side like fawning crowds of cycling enthusiasts, only to leave you with a rash and itch as a reward for your passing. The sun struggles to find a place on earth to lands its golden rays the trees are so dense. We had prayed that we would have sun during our climb so we could take pictures, and once again……my GOD answered our prayers as sunshine abounds. Thunderheads adorn the crest of the rocky peaks like whip cream dollops, sun warms the slopes above the tree line. After mayabe 2.5 hours of continuous climbing thru the forest, we break out above tree line and are greeted witha full view of the Balean Falls as our reward for our effort thus far.
Starting at the falls, the first turn is hard left, uphill at plus 10 percent, and nothing quits from that stage on. We round the first hairpin, and are greeted by a huge bowl formation inwhich the roads snakes as if alive, yp to the very precarious top. We ride this writhing alive strip of ashphalt for some 40 assorted hair pin turns. Sosme less than 10 percent, and most are at or over the 10 percent grade. The lungs and the legs are about to burst, the lactic acid in my legs is on fire, my butt muscles feel like I have been branded. No amount of water seems to quench my thirst. And my riding shorts are now more white with salt, than they are black. There is the lingering smell of an “old goat”, and it seems to share a place on the bike with me. Turns, water falls, mud, rock slides, fog and mist rush in to invite us to attempt to tackle this God made rock behemoth……..crank, pedal, pray, drink, wipe sweat, grunt even fart……but just keep your eyes on the crest and nothing more. We are here, we both made it. Pine arrived maybe 45 minutes ahead of me. Here we stand at the top of Trans Fagarase. Done with one of the greatestroads to drive, and climbs to tackle in the entire world. I will carve a notch in the proverbial bed psot when I get home after this one. My hips are aching but other than that I feel pretty good. Pines butt muscles are tight, I didnt feel them, I took his word for it being so.
Are we well fed, yes. Are we worried about having enough water to make it thru the day. No, not really we are beyond that part of the journey inwhich those dangers lie. Like much of eastern USA, when horse drawn vehichles ruled the day, you end up with towns or villages that as close together as you could travel by horse in one day. Such is the case here where we are in central Romania. We are on a Castle, Cathedral and Cabbage Roll tour. Our biggest concerns these days is not that of water or shelter, but rather how steep will the hills be, and how busy will the roads be.
When we were up north, within the Carpathian mountain range the churches are almost all Orthodox Christian churches. We toured many of them, and I even stood in for most of a service in one of them. There different because the Priest sings the incantation, a choir then responds, and it is all quite beautiful. There are no Pews, you can stand, or take a kneeling mat. You place yourself randomely, if you need spiritual attention, then put youself close to the Priest. We are now in Evangelical Christiandom, we have left Orthodox Monestaries behind, and we now see Cathedrals. The first thing of note, is the cross style on top of the Church, and seats inside. The evangelical churches will all have a standard crucifix, while the Orthodox will always have the cross of Lorraine, which has 2 cross bars with the lowest bar both shorter and slanted.
This is the fortified Church region of Romania. So while touring you see what looks like a fortress on a hill top, and sometimes indeed it is just that, a fortress. More often though, you will find a Church at its center. This is the tri-cornered Saxon region. The Saxons lasted till McDonalds put in there first franchise, then they to finally fell. The Tuetons came thru, wiped out many when they came, built castles both large and small. And we have seen them all I think. Pretty sure I have an ash tray from everyone…..and I dont even smoke. We rode thru Rupea, a huge fortification on a very steep sided hill top. Pine and I, both found this place to be of amazing interest, but for different reasons than you may be thinking. Rupea, is the most westerly edge of the invasion by Mighty Ghengis Khan of Mongolia ( consider thatfora moment, he wouldbe approx 6000 miles from home at this point ) He conquered the fortification, history has it, that his army hspent the winter and moved on. So, what the heck is so amazing bout that JW. Just stop and think about that whole scenario for a minute. The only evidence we have is that old word of mouth history, and thats not to say that I dispute the claim. Its just that the Mongols may well be the only invading force that never left behind so much as a foot print. Every other empire that invades, leaves behind genetic traces within the indigenece populace. Religious traces, architechtural influence, even changes to local food or dietary traditions. Not the Mongols, at least from what I have seen.
Sarmale, served with sour cream and usually polenta and sour kraut. My dear Mom always insisted that cabbage rolls were called “Hollopchi’s”….you all probably realize the same thing as I do now. Moms infinite wisdom was robbed from her by Google. Here in Romania, Sarmale or cabbage rolls as they are known locally, are really good and really common. If I had gripe about Hungary, they could sure stand to heat the food up. It comes to the table about as warm as a bleacher seat. You may have guessed, that we have been on a bit of a cabbage roll kick.
We took in Castle Peles, which highly recommend should any of you be over this way. For me it equals the Palace of Versaille for oppulence, but certainly not for size. The castles is decorated in a thematic regimen, with rooms echoing great cultures and artistic influences from around the globe. The central reception hall is just stunning, with a stained glass cieling hanging some 65 feet above the viewer, and the entire ceiling is mounted on tracks allowing it to be rolled open for sunshine and air movement. Never mind wowing your guests. The central room has some of the most beautifull wood work I have seen within castle construction. And the details go right down to the most minut, mundane items within the room. Thats not to say that this is the only fantastic room, because certainly its not. The rest of the rooms are quite exquisite to be sure. The whole castle is worth a visit, and the drive up is beautiful for sure. From thier we climbed over Receda pass and down into Rasnov. This was a bit of a let down to me, there is a fantastic image of the castle that comes up on Google images……it is stunning……..it may well be the only good view of the castle. Its mostly in ruins today, with just the outer walls standing. And by the way,it is on top of a steep hill. We took our look around, loaded up the bikes and rolled out for Bran Castle to end the day.
Time for alternative history. Bran Castle, famous for being the castle of Dracula in Irish born writer Bram Stokers novel of the same title. The charcter Dracula was fabricated over or off of the real life person known as Vlad Dracul……or as I knew him thru school history…….Vlad the Impaler. Its this last title that I want to dispute or offer an alternative history on. The story I was told, is that he was so ruthless a tyrant, that he just loved to create agony and aguish within his people. They will respect me out of fear sort of theory, was what I was taught. Here in Romania, he is considered to be one of the good guys, a true warrior, a defender of the people if you will. He was a tactical genius, fearless in battle…….and yes, ruthless in victory. They have a saying here, that every inch of Romania is fertilized with Turkish blood…..thanks to Vlad Dracul. He kept the invading horde from the south at bay. Those captured in battle where impaled alive on wooden stakes to make a point to the enemy……..that Romania is a nation covered in wooden stakes. No, sorry, that was my thinking. The point being, dont mess with Romania. The Bran Castle was Vlad,s residence for about 3 days according to history. Most of his time was spent within the walls of yet another castle that lays much further south and west of Bran…….but then again, why ruin a good story with fact.
This will be the 3rd night that we got very soaked with rain showers along the mountain edge where we are currently riding. Several weeks ago, I took an afternoon and washed my tent well,soaked it in salt&lemon concoction to kill the mildew and that odor. It did stop that bout. But it has been wet and rolled up and getting pretty ripe all over again. We do our best to stop when we have bright sunshine during the day, we lay out our gear to dry and air out.we traveled some very pretty backroads avter leaving Bran, and made our way over to Sibiu which willbe ourmost westerly destination while in Romania.
We have cycled thru yet another piece of what God has created, mountains with snow capped peaks, valleys lush and green. And people, who have been given the ability to love thier brother as tnemselves and to do good unto others. Some days we witnessed it, and at other points during this ride…..we longed for it. Each day we Pray for safe roads, the strength to make the trip, a chance to mention our saviour Christ in conversation, we would ask that you do the same.
We could easily call this, “just too cute”. But that would be a little to sensitive for a hard hearted fella like myself. So, we will call it, blessings of a hill.
It was 105, and the sweat was running off my elbows as we climbed yet another little short 8% grade. Not very long, just enough too make you bear down to get over it. We were rolling uphill into another tiny Romanian village. The road was narrow, the nerves, frayed, and the shoulder. Well for the most part, nonexistant. A wooden fence to my right, held me into the lane of traffic it was so close to the road. A couple cows and a pig had the run of the area that the fence boundaried. A huge weeping willow shaded the side of a rather “rustic” little casa, flowers adorned the west wall of the house where paint should have been. Out front, like an emporor on a throne, sat a small boy, clad in just his underwear, holding a small mongrel puppy. He was mentally on auto-pilot as the sultry afternoon passed him by. Just to cute to pass up. I rolled to a stop, pulled out the camera and snapped a shot thru the rails of the fence. I know he seen me, but I am not at all convinced that we broke or disrupted his train of thought. The way it looked to me, he still expected Sponge Bob Square Pants to be coming from the north, to invade his kingdom, and he was holding onto his only protection till then. The blessings of a hill for sure, I was goung so slow it allowed me to stop without disturbing any one.
Mountain strongholds, shrouded in cloud, give way to miles of rolling farm ground, pituresque cottages that once dotted the landscape, along with toiling farmers cutting hay and tending thier livestock are no more, gone like the mist that cloaks the moutain tops. We roll off the western edge of the Carpathians, on a dizzying downward spiral thru stands of fir and spruce, only to find ourselves riding right into Gypsy central. We are cycling thru Gods creation, and know full well that we are Blessed to be able to do so. Thanyou Jesus for this chance to witness your wonderful works.
It all happens so fast that we are caught flat footed so to speak. It happened at a road side bar/cafe/quiksack type affair, which there are many of here in Romainia. A dark skinned women with raven black hair, long ornately embroidered dress and similar headscarf, walks right up too us before we even dismount our bikes and wipe sweat off…….moneta……..moneta, she keeps on saying while holding out her hand. Well, we know right away what “moneta” is and why shes asking, but holding her hand out like that, what the heck could that mean. I ponder the begging spectakle before me, a little stupified. I work thru my mental lexicon of Chinese Sign language phrases that come to mind……….a quart of oil, why the heck does she want a quart of oil???
The begging as we quickly found out, takes place everywhere and by every age. Here is a little of what we learned thus far as it pertains to Gypsies. Watch the women, they are much more brazen than the men. Gypsies have 4 arms and 4 hands, ( God origninally intended them to be fruit pickers…… but as humans are…..they heard pocket pickers ) they only ever show 2, but believe me, quick as a wink those other 2 come out to lift the valuables of the bewildered and unsuspecting. Within the Gypsie culture it is considered to be beneath them to work a regular job, they prefer to barter and trade thier way thru life. Hence, they line the road with family members selling fruit and vegetables, buckets of wild berries and the like. The little kids just walk right up and tell you they want money, the older teenagers are a little more street polished will begin by telling you they have no job, hence they need money. The women, walk right up with a huge pearly smile, often shake your hand and even give you a hug (I noticed they learn quickly, they only hug a biker once), very often with a small child in tow………moneta……moneta. Now, should you fail to pass over the requested sheckles……then what they say afterwards in a tongue I do not speak…….well, it doesn’t sound real nice. One gypsy will relay to the next that you didn’t aid them in thier financial woes, they begin sort of a group heckle. Sounding similar to 4 guinea hens out in the yard carrying on. This process breaks down the tourist into a quivering bowl of giving. Had very little effect on me, being Captain of the Hard Hearted Club……just ask my friend Pete, or my Pastor.
The countryside rolls, with tiny slow moving rivulets of water snaking and meandering in the lowest valleys. The hillsides are often planted in corn and sorghums, many times the southern exposures of hillsides are planted in apples. The creek banks are full of wild plum, raspberries and corcavase which are what we call saskatoons. Men work the fields, while women are out picking berries. There are many horse drawn vehicles in this region, and we have seen our first draft sized horses being used. Very common to see a wagon heading out with several men and thier scythes, and women with picking pails. By noon or a little later berries will have been brought to town, where a younger family member busies themselves selling the hand picked goods to cars passing by. Heck, I even noticed two partially dressed men on bikes buying berries and then ice cream during the heat of the day.
One place that we can discern a real change in economy, is in that of the housing and barn yards in this region. The houses here as a whole, all need a little repair. Gone are the abundant flower beds. The ornate baryards of the more northerly Romania, traveling south you see more purely utilitarian back yards. Trim on the houses amounts to paint if that. Ornate brick work chimneys have fell by the wayside as simple metal chimneys take thier place. Fences of made of ornate wooden slats, or complex hand forged iron, give in to iether nothing or very rustic railing. Up north it was common to see a newer Audi or Mercedez parked in theback yard along with a work wagon and maybe even a small tractor. Now, you seldom see a car parked in the same yard as a wagon is parked.
Within the last blog post I mention P&I had the chance to meet Alexander, a judge/advocat from up north. Anyways, one of the points he made was that as you progress south thru Romania it gets progressively poorer. I would have to say that it certainly seems to be that way, as seen from the seat of my bicycle at 15 miles per hour. Stopping your bike to take a photograph around here can bring on unwelcome results. A simple tired horse standing next to the road can be an image, but 5 or 6 men sot you and come out demanding “moneta” for the reason that it is there horse. I am sure that one man owns the horse and wagon, but all 6 men are demanding thier share as if I am United Nations or something. A shot of a cute kid can bring on 3 grandmothers in headscarves, all demanding money. It only takes a few of these incidents and you leave your camera in the camera bag.
Even though the countryside is rolling, there tends to be more valley and ridge type climbs in this region. Unlike, say riding thru Moldova, where it was iether up or down all day long. Here, you start a climb for several miles in length, make 8 or 10 big switchbacks at 7-10 percent, crest out, and drop off the other side in similar fashion. The roads, we are traveling on, are “E” marked roads. These are very good, with some shoulder too get off on, which always makes you feel a little safer. They canbe alittle bjsier than one may like, but droppingdown to an “A” marked road almost always mens rough gravel at best, and sometimes nothing more than a dirt track.
We have actually been riding a little harder than we need too. For no good reason. We both hate sitting around at the tent in the evening, so we usually dont quit riding till about 7pm. We have been hitting the70 to 80 miles a day mark. As a result, it may put us into Bucharest earlier than we want. So, we are calculating some alternative routes so as to see some extra stuff. We are currently in Sighsoara ( pronounced -Siggy-shwara). This is the birthplace of Vlad Dracul. Also known as Vlad the impaler, famous for yes, impaling his captives on wooden stakes while they were alive. Nominated twice by the Nobel folks for “Nice guy of the year”, fortunatley for them, he never won it. Vlad, is the character behind the story of “Count Dracula”, made famous by Irish born writer, Bram Stoker.
Sighsoara, a Unesco funded city,with buildings and landmark fortifications dating back to the early 1100,s. Cobble stone streets still line the downtown old city region. The multistory houses, are all built connected to one another, known as “birgmier” construction…..gosh, I hope Ihave that spelled correctly. If you get looking around, very view of the houses are actually built as we would call square. There are alot of corner angles well above or below a true 90. It
renders a downtown street edge that is unusually disconnected, with some portions protruding and others receding. Both interesting and different from what we have grown up with here in the States. There are 14 medievil wall towers within the Sighsoara fortress, each tower built and also maintained by a benefactor Guild of the day. For instance, the most famous being the Watchmakers Tower. So the Guild system, on one hand meant that your occupation was somewhat protected from outside competition, it also came with a cost as we see here. And I am sure those costs would have been exorbatent in thier day, which was approx 1425.
Its a bright sunny day here today, kind of a nice break.we have had about 4 days steady of grey leaden skies, carrying with them the constant threat of rain. Tomorrow, we start the day with a climb out of the treelined geographical bowl that Sighsoara is located within, and we will be headed for Brasov.
WORDPRESS……OH MY GOD HOW I ABSOLUTLEY DETEST THEY…….I WOULD SOONER VOLUNTEER TO BE WATER BOARDED. If it wasn,t for constantly dinking with wordpress crap, my ride would be done.
OMG, I think I am in love all over again. Roaming Romania, and seeing the beautiful houses, barns and villages, the countryside. I am in love with the place. For sure, Iam bringing my one and only true love here at some point, do a little driving and relaxing and enjoying. It is truely the most photogenic place that God has created yet.
You really cannot believe how much work these folks put into thier homes and yards, and every out building right down to the chicken coop. It is so very hard to describe, because it is ornate on every level. Starting at the top of the chimney, and carries right thru to the dirt that the house sits on. As I ride along, looking over fences into back yards, I think what a fantastic idea for a coffee table type book. The beauty of rural farms in eastern Europe. So far, each country has had its style of decoration, some were surely more prosperous than others. So far though, Romania has just taken it to another level.
The countryside began to change about the third day into Romania, just a little after Botosani. We got a hotel in Botosani, washed some clothes, and charged
Everything back up again. The clothes, wow, they certainly needed a good washing machine washing, which they had not had since we left China. BOTOSANI! A very pretty city on the eastern slopes of the Carpathian mountains. We sat out and had coffee, watched people walk by, and kids play in the central fountain. We worked on the blog, and blog images for way too many hours. We spread out our sleeping bags for some air…..always needed.
FULL DISCLOSURE HERE, MY TRIP IS NOT SPONSORED NOR PAID FOR BY ANY COMPANIES NOR MANUFACTURERS. SO. WHAT YOU READ HERE IS MY OPINION OF HOW WELL OR POORLY CERTAIN ITEMS HAVE HELD UP. LIKE MANY WHO SIT PLANNING SUCH A TRIP, IT HELPS TO GET HONEST FIRST HAND EXPIERIENCE FROM WHICH TO MAKE A DECISION. Not banging on anyones gear inparticular. So, lets start with our Power Rocks. Small chargeable via usb devices looked pretty handy to us so we brought 2 of them. Virtually useless. Here is the problem as we see it, the on off switch sits so flush with the surface, that they always get turned on by accident. We have tried several ways of carrying them, and never fail, they are dead or close to it. Verdict, for cycle packing in panniers or worse yet inhandlebar bag…….waste of time. Next item, Dynamo hubs. Mine is a cheap Shimano and has worked everyday with out fail, no problems with connections,wiring, nothing. Pine runs a Schmidt Son 28 Dynamo Hub………very expensive, and useless thus far. Verdict, wiring could be much better planned for the price, connections are always coming off or breaking. We had been using a Gopro solar panel and a pretty large battery as storage. They recentley both died. The battery began giving us problems way back in Mongolia, but now the panel has quit doing its job as well. Verdict, when they worked we certainly used it. Just not sure if they are rugged enough for cycle touring. I really think cycle touring is harder on gear than hiking, even if you take places like Mongolia out of the equation. Because you are moving faster. For one thing, but also you hit holes directly with a bike, that on foot you would step around. While moving thru traffic in the city you run up onto sidewalks, or drop the bike off curbs etc, so the shock and impact are that much greater. My Galaxy2 cell phone, totally babied that thing and it was toast by half way thru Mongolia. Reason for its demise……I dontreally know but I think the shaking while riding in Mongolia got it,thats my best guess.
We leave Botosani and are headed west, the rolling hills give way to mountains and valleys. The trees also change, the hill tops are now mostly pine and spruce. The valleys are usually along, or near a river. The climbs now, take you up a long ridge, then ride the ridge aways before diving off into a different valley. So far, we have not had any leg breaking climbs, but they are out there waiting for us, we know that. First stop is in Suceava for 3 old notable Monestaries. Turned out to be well worth the stop and visit, very beautifully done. Before leaving Suceava, we stocked up on food for the night.Next stop, Humorlului for 2 very famous painted Monestaries.
Those being Voronetz and Humor. In our case the latter came first, and it is a very substancial edifice to be sure. These monestaries differ from many others, because they have the bible story painted around the outside of the church so that the non reading peasantry of the day could begin to understand the whole story. Voronetsz, for sure the more famous, known for its special blue used in the paintings…..is just that. Spectacular. I think an atheist could stop for a look and be impressed.
So, we are walking out of Voronetz, and looking for somelplace to get a drink. Walk by a fellow we both spied and thought “american” (a game we call name tqhat nationality “. He says hello in very good english, so we get to visit…..power of Prayer here folks. Watch and see. Language, its a huge barrier on a trip like this versus say my crossing of America. It hinders youmeeting people. I had Prayed just days before, I need some God conversation, it has been to long missing on this trip. Getting back to the fellow we meet, he found Christ 27 years ago, and was given a scholarship to attend Seminary College in Sacramento, California. He stayed on, pastored several churches in that area and set up a mission field in Romania, before the fall of Cheuchescue. On his first mission trip over, several people came to know Jesus. Amongst them was a young man fresh out of medical school. So, on this one happen chance meeting (happen chance my butt, God put all of us in the same place, at the same time so that we could all see Prayers answered and Christ exalted thru it ) it was a great God moment as my Pastor-Mike Markley would say.
Left Voronetz, headed west again, all watered upso we can camp for the night. Camped by the river with a heavy threat of rain, which didnnt mzterialize. Very heavy dew that night, so everything is very wet. We decide to just get rolling, and let things dry later. I also asked Pine to find us some smaller roads, which he did for me. We took the main road for another 9 miles, then made a hard left over the rail road tracks and began up a narrow valley. Not sure if this will all be paved or not, says Pine, but it is numbered on the map so we will be fine. My god but it is so. Pretty and so quaint, that noone is complaining about it turning to gravel and getting very steep and extremely narrow. We are talking less than a car width and very much like a 4 wheeler track.
Up, up we go.At 2 miles of climbing I dismount to get my toungue untangled from the spokes. It is pushing 25 percent on dirt that has been rained on. Poochy Maggie, just a tad tough for an old fart…….and for me too. We debate the intellegence of this road……and conclude…..heck yeah, it will look good on our resume. Up,up, we go. We meet a fellow walking down the mountain, not far he says…..or, at leSt thats whst we thought he said…..ha,ha, were we wrong. He mentioned just 1 mile to the Rauraului Monestary. Good Lord, you can hardly walk up here, why put a Monestary……Iam thinking maybe an ER room for idiots like us would be better.
Up, up we go, we are both pushing our bikes and working to do so. The pitch seldom slackens under double digits. Low and behold, we arrive at the ornate front gates to the Monestary, which is also pitched higher up on a steep mountainside. We park our bikes, and walk up to lookaround. We were both expecting a vacant, or close to vacant situation. But far from the case. The Monestary has been in existance since mid 1400, destroyed twice and rebuilt each time. It is functioning as a teaching center year round, for Priests, and Nuns both. A truly beautiful center, we walked, photographed and tried to avoid people because we did sweat on the way up. A bell rang……for no reason that we knew of. A fellow walking past me, who had just been Praying, says that lunch is served and would we like to share it with everyone. We smell bad Itell him……..dont worry he says, so do I for I have been living in a tent for 3 weeks. Okay, so we head to a covered outdoor kitchen area. The Monks cook and serve everyone. All total, maybe 25 people shared in a Prayer and then a meal. It was great, we had white bean soup, very good. Bread, a tea/fruit compote to drink, fresh tomatoes with lots of garlic and onions added, and a porridge type cake for desert -fantastic and needed by us.We thanked our hosts and made our way back down to the bikes. The “road”, if indeed it can be called that. It deteriorated substancially before se topped out, another 6.5 miles further on from the Monestary. The last 3 miles was all switch backs, and plus 30 percent.
As I type here tonight, I lay in my tent and ache in places i never knew even belonged to me. When you finally top out you are at a minor ski resort……qwondering, how the heck do they get up here. We go into the restaurant and eat as we were both starved. Wego for a walk up to what we are told is a famous rock formation……its always uphill here.On the walk back down from the rock, I spot a older than me fellow sitting out in front of his little holiday house, and he is cleaning mushrooms. But these were the biggest Mushrooms I have ever seen. The cap on these are 7 maybe 8 inch across. So, i ask him if I can see them closer, to which he invites us into his yard to see. Turns out, he is a local Judge, has been since back in the 60,s, and he speaks French and Russian. Pine becomes our translator now. Our quick hello, took 2 hours. He began by explaining the process of spotting the right mushrooms.he had 3 varieties that he picked that morning. He then gave us a bowl ( full bowl ) ofcoldmushroom stew……superb. I spotted a huge glass jar sitting in the window. It was lined with a layer of white sugar, then fruit, then sugar and fruit till it was full??? So what is that I ask. Oh, just a minute he says, comes back with a bottle and shot glass. Its wild summerfruit cordial, alchoholic, so I refrain, but Pine partakes……excellent black berry Raky they call it. Oh, just a moment he says, and comes back with a plate of local special cheeses from this region. All the while, we are getting a history and mild po.otics lesson while we talk. His passion, is cooking and making the wines and spirits, but his love is for his Romania. That was very evident. Oh, just a moment he says, and comesback with 4 more varieties of homemade Raky, pl.um, fennel, cherry and strawberry.
Rather sadly we left this great host, and decided we would roll off this narrow mountain top. There is a beautiful paved road comesup from the opposite side we are told. Should only take a moment to decend. Wrong, huge rain shower busts loose, we are all decked out in Showers Pass rain gear and glad for it. We point our bikes downhill and turn them loose. Very tight turns, very steep pitch, very smooth new blacktop……it lasts for not quite 1 milefor us. Our road forks off to the left, and turns into an ugly twin of the road we came up on. It is rain soaked, dirt, washed badly with the new rain, and we are working hard at holding the bikes back while decending. The hands are tired from riding the brakes, the brakes are mud clogged, the shoes and feet are soaked, and we decend for over 1 hour. Down the narrow road/trail, sweeping thru mist and shattered cloud cover. Pine and spruce whizz past, rocks jump up and clatter around our full length fenders, and rain fogs our glasses. Down, down we go into a fog shrouded valley below us. Past the most story book looking farms that you have ever seen or imagined…..we are truly blessed to be Roaming Romania.
Walk the block around, look the windows in! It’s a saying that my mentor Chuck Stormes told me about years ago, when I was apprenticing as a young saddle maker. It seemed a fitting title to this brief post regarding the window trim assortments I have seen so far. Yes, you could say that I walked the block around…………and looked the windows in. I hope you enjoy this little photographic journal of eastern european window dressing. These walks took place in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova so far.
Onwards west. With Kiev behind us, an open rolling country infront, we head onwards west. The city of Kiev is quite hilly, which surprised us both.
The hilly terrain would just stay with us…..and get bigger as we cycle onwards west thru western Ukraine. Ee rode 88 miles the first day, temp showed 109 at its peak. Pooped.As we travel the roads get rougher than a cob, with huge bicycle swallowing potholes. The roads are pretty much tree lined, which is great as its scenic and shady. But bad in that the shade often hides a bone jarring pothole ( worded in this maner so as not to offend some of my more sensitive readers, everyone knows there are no bones centrally located in your buttocks ).
To be honest the roads are almost on par with Mongolia for roughness…..but paved……kind,a.The hills, never hit one under 10%, and steepest marked was 23%. And they just keep coming with greater regularity all the way to Romania but I dont want to get ahead of myself. We are cycling thru lush farmground and impoverished villages at least by American standards. It should be said that poverty does not stop dogs from barking, chickens free ranged the streets and yards, and the sound of childrens laughter was everywhere. So who is to say just who is poor……..poor in those things material. Probably. But rich in ways maybe we have lost sight of, is more the way it looked to us. Countless times we seen father and teenage sons walking holding hands, same with mother and daughter. Big brother hauling little brother down to the swimming hole…..little brother perched on the handle bars. Family here, seemed to have a deeper meaning than what I fear it has become back home.
We were plesantly surprised at the amount of water in western Ukraine. Pretty much every valley would have a damned up body of water in it. This raised fish, and was used to house ducks and geese for that village. This also convieniently served as a swimming hole for every kid for miles around. Heck, we even partook every afternoon at about 3pm if possible. With all the foul sharing the pond it made for lots of squish between the toes, and pretty ripe smelling green water at times.Each little village would have a Magasin or store of some sort. But finding a cold drink other than beer or gas water as they call it, was at times a problem. Some how thru all those towns and villages we did make it work, even if it was a warm Fanta. In every village, there was a freezer full of ice cream…..and we had at least 1 everyday.
We soon learned that there are water wells literally everywhere, once we got used to spotting them. From that point to now, we pretty much quit buying water. Now, when we get overheated climbing a hill, we spot a well, stop and pour a bucket over our head. Fnish the rest of the hill with sweat running down the crack of your butt, and goose bumps on your scalp.The farming on this western side of Ukraine becomes more labour intensive as you travel west. Near Kiev, the farms are large and utilize very modern machinery. By the time you travel less than 100km, that gives way to familys out putting up loose hay for winter feed. Horse drawn implements become very common.
We did not see any teams, nor any draft animals being used, we did see single light horse hitchs as the standard. The wagon, seems to be the most common vehicle pulled, although we seen a few rakes as well as hay racks being used. The bulk of the hay is cut using a tractor and sicle bar stylr mower. But you would be amazed at how many folks ( men and women, even aged women ), carrying or rythmically swinging thier scythes thru tall grass laying it low, sweep after rythmic sweep. Tanned arms, open shirts, loose fitting torn trousers, paisley dresses and flowered scarves, all worn with what ever color and style shoe you prefer, including flip flops. There is no time here for fashion concerns and makeup color charts. Life is simple, it starts with a hearty bowl of soup laced with melted butter and generously sprinkled with fresh dill. A cup of tea and a few slices of bread, I left out the caveat of “farm fresh”, here you get what you damned well get. We have had bread like a shingle, and bread likea mother makes for thanksgiving dinner.
As we ride west, we are approaching Moldova at its northern tip basically. We cross at a place called Soccora, which is situated on the steep banks of the Dnieper River. From the Ukrainian side, we take a ferry across the river, which is the only crossing choice available. Soccora, is a predominantly a Gypsie town, we felt safe, but there is still a stigma concerning the european Gypsie. We hit the biggest hardware store that we have ever seen thus far while traveling Europe. We found ICE COLD juices and teas. A word about teas over here, I cant tell you why, but the teas are much better here in Europe. There are also many more flavors available.
If this town is known for any one thing, it would be the oppulent houses built at the top of the bank of the river. They are outlandish in thier oppulence. Golden cieling domes or brick domes done in colors and pattern, and metal eve and gable work that is pure art. Combined with a 24% grade of about 2.5 miles in length…….and by then if you have never prayed before in your life………you will…….even if its only for more air.Top that river bank and roll into a speedy decent on great road……only to roll right up the last climbs twin sister. There is sweat running off our elbows. I can squeeze my bars and have sweat water run out of the bar tape…….its 110. The blogs, and travel info guides all describe Moldova to be an essentially flat country…….my round butt it is. It may well be at the southern end, but up north its big rolling hills. At least half our riding day is spent climbing hills, none marked under 10%. Makes for tired old men, and humbler young men……I know, I have seen it.
We both really liked Moldova, it was clean, productive, quaint and friendly. The general living standard of Moldova seemed to bea littlehigher than that of Ukraine, and Ukraine just a little higher than that of Russia. Bear in mind, I am talking about the rural farming regions of each country respectivly. Each is a little cifferent, and yet so many things are the same. Farming is hard work any place, but certainly more labour intensive in these regions. Thru Moldova, the water wells were the most abundant and the most ornate to be sure. The water is cool and refreshing at the moment. But let it sit in the bottle and it is not so nice. It does not quench your thirst when warm. It also grows mold in the bottle very quickly. And use it to cook with, and the pots have a heavy sediment layer added. We have drank plenty of it and were happy for it, poured a lot of it over our heads, but dont like it once warmed up.We crossed out of Moldova at the Costesti crossing. A huge lake beckoned us, but it was only 11am and we had miles to ride yet before a swim. We are into Romania praise be to God for his daily blessings and guarding our travels. We have averaged 58 miles per day thus far, and apart from tired we feel okay.
Avoiding Border crossing issues is always good advice while traveling, Pine and I have been told numerous times that south of Kharkiv can be a problem with the current Ukraine/Russia conflict, best to just avoid it so there are no Border crossing issues.
That is pretty much what we done. Heading west from Ulyanovsk there are no trains to hitch, all trains runsouth or north to Moscow. The distance is approx. 16 days to the Ukraine border, which put us over our visa stay. Plus crossing at that position within Ukraine would make it difficult to hit Bucharest Romania, and make Pine’s flight home.Not a big thing, hop the overnite train to Moscow.
We spent 2 full days walking Moscow………this is a place JW did not want to actually go, but Pine really did. So, we went with Pines wishes. What a gorgeous city, I would take my wife back in a heartbeat. It is stunningly beautiful. I guess I was expecting grey cement Soviet architecture. But it was nothing like that, it was busy, it was high fashion, it was oppulent, it was clean, and the people we interacted with were very freindly. So, once again Pine made sure that I ate all my helping of CROW. Moscow was a definite high point thus far in the trip.
The Mongolian roads took there toll on several pieces of electronics. My overly babied Galaxy 2 cellphone quit before we got to western Mongolia. My camera began having lense retraction problems about half way across Mongolia, so I knew it was coming time for a replacement. No surprise then, as we are walking thru Red Square in Moscow, that the camera just quits. Now, we have to go camera shopping instead of being a tourist. I know have a new camera, but still no cell phone. Not a biggie for JW, i hate the things anyways.Our 2 days in Moscow let us see the main attractions and yet no extra time to linger and sit in the street cafes. Not a bad trade off really.
Borded a night train south to Kiev. Once again, our thinking is avoid those Border crossing issues. This would give us the safest route to cross the border. Loaded the gear up, hopped a train, went to sleep. No problem, we got into Kiev about 7am, rode up a few steep hills to our 2 star hotel. First thing was hanging the sleeping bags for some air…..they needed it badly, as do we when we roll in. Getting hard to stop the eyes from watering. We tried those sleeping bag liners, but we both felt like they should be called “CAMPER STRANGLERS” thats how we rated them. Washed a few cloths, then washed us and headed out to see Kiev.
We both really liked the city, very clean , many street cafes etc. But you could also tell the the national income just wasn,t there as in Moscow. Thats an issue that still needs to be resolved……as we were told many times……believe me. Pine had been avidly following the demonstrations and riots in Maidan Square, downtown Kiev. Pops, was oblivious……but, did you know theres no horse roping in “ookryaina” or “Youkrain”as we say it. The Square is full of the harred and battered remnants of the riots. Military type tents dot the Square, numerous barricades made of every old tire in the city. All the streets and side walks close to the Square have had the cobbles and pavers stripped to be used building fortifications and as missiles to throw. Yet just a half block in any direction from the Maidan Square and normal life goes on. There was an ominous presence that seemed to hang in the humid air of Kiev, and odor of “frustration”masked the fragrance of flowers and lawns. Kiev could be set of on the riot path by just one tiny spark is how it felt to both of us.
The Ukrainians……….without doubt love Americans. We had our dinners bought, our coffee, ice cream bars, you name it and they would buy it for you. All gestures of gratitude in the Ukraine begin with the offer of a beer, which I observedly declined out of respect for my loving wife, and a 23 year old promise I made to Christ.Tomorrow, we are back on the bikes, and headed west towards Moldova. We will post that next blog.