Jeremiah Watt Cycling around God's Creation

long distance bicycle touring

Posts tagged ‘adventure cycling’

Blog 21 Castles, Cathedrals and Cabbage rolls

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Blog 19 Roaming Romania

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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.
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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.
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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.wpid-1407491591052.jpg

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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