Tatras & Transylvania

Poprad and The High Tatras. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

"...We have to push the bikes half of the time. It starts to rain as the sun goes down. When it's dark and it's already snowing. It's getting steeper again. I'm exhausted. I can hear Geoff cursing further down, but I can't see him. This is not a good situation..."

Slovakia - a mountain lover's paradise. We entered the most spectacular part of the High Tatras and later cycled past the Lower Tatras on our way to the Danube. People were friendly and hospitable, but the weather gods had no mercy.

"...We should have listened to the news. The river is flooded. Even the ferry jetty is under water. The river crossing is closed. This means a long detour, with a strong head wind. Our smiles are gone. It's dark when we get to Szolnok Camping & Motel..."

"...The situation is weird. After a few minutes the man comes running back with a big book in his arms. This turns out to be the big taxi atlas of Budapest. -Get in!, the man demands. Before I know it, he's loaded our bikes into the back of his van. Is he going to take us to our hostel?..."

Hungary. I really enjoyed the long rest in the capital.

Romania. The most exciting country so far. I'd love to come back to Transylvania in the summer.

Zelene Pleso Rest House. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 29 1998 - Slovakia Here I Come!

(Zelene Pleso 1458 km)
The cycling start with a climb to a 1000 meter pass. Then a long slope down an open valley. We go fast (40-55 km/h) and overtake tractors and a few cars. Cows and bulls could be a danger here. They are loose, and sometimes cross the road in search of fresh grass.

We turn right further down the valley, and follow the mountain road along the southern side of the Tatras. The next town is the ski resort of Tatranska Lomnica. We stop for lunch before we get there. It's macaroni again. A few cars are parked near our pick-nick spot. No people are there but we see a trail that goes up into the forest. The sign says "Zelene Pleso 8 km" and there is a bicycle symbol. The trail looks steep, but it could be a mountain bike route. We decide to check it out in Tatranska Lomnica.

We ask about the route in the fancy hotel in town. It sounds ok. The rest house up in the mountains is open and we don't have to book in advance. It's late in the afternoon already, but we think we could just make it. It's only 8 kilometers from the main road.

It doesn't take long to get back to the parked cars. Now the hard part starts. I go as slow as I can without loosing the rhythm or balance. After 200 meters I stop to rest and drink. Then I go for it again. Without the luggage this would have been fine. Now it's a difficult test. It's getting steeper and more rocky. We start to think that the bike sign was a bad joke. We have to push the bikes half of the time. It starts to rain as the sun goes down. When it's dark, it's already snowing. It's getting steeper again. I'm exhausted. I can hear Geoff cursing further down, but I can't see him. This is not a good situation. We can't go back down in the dark. It would be very difficult to camp in this terrain. The only realistic option is to push ourselves the last kilometers to the rest house.

I do push myself. Finally I see the light from the rest house. The road is not so steep here and I can cycle most of the remaining distance. I don't hear Geoff any more. I see the light from his bike though. We made it.

The other guests in the rest house look very surprised to see us. The bike sign must have been a bad joke. Most people here have trekking boots, ice axes, and crampons. Not mountain bikes!

The house is much bigger than I expected. There must be beds for at least fifty people. There is a big restaurant downstairs and bunks upstairs. The dining hall is almost full. We put away our stuff and order food and beer. We soon find a new friend, Vlado. He comes here every year to trek between a few of the nine rest houses along the mountain range. Tomorrow, if the weather permits, he's going to cross the Baranie Sedlo (Pass) and continue down to the next rest house to the west. -Join me if you like, he says. -Just bring your crampons and ice axes.

Zelene Pleso Rest House. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 30 - An easy Climb or a Tricky Trek

(Zelene Pleso. Altitude: 1551 m)
I wake up early and go outside to take a few photos. I'm overwhelmed! The place is surrounded by steep, snowy, and rocky peaks. The way we came here is the only opening to this bowl of ice, rock, and snow. There is a lake just next to the house. The landscape is now covered in fresh snow. The steepest rock faces and the lake are the only exceptions.

After breakfast Geoff and I decide to follow Vlado as far as we can, and then return to the house. That way, we only need to bring some clothes and food for the day.

The first part presents no problems. It's an easy trek up to the steep side of the "bowl". Then it's different right away. We have to get up a very steep rock face that has been covered in a thin but slippery layer of snow. There are fixed chains along the way. The chains help, but they too are covered in snow, or frozen to the rock face. We slowly make it up all seven chains. Sometimes I slip with my gloves. Sometimes with my boots, but It doesn't feel too dangerous. -Don't look down, I think to myself.

After the chains, it's just flat enough to walk. The snow is deeper up here. We walk in Vlados footprints. He stops and points up a steep couloir. -That's where we get to the pass. It's not far away but, as it gets steeper, the snow gets deeper. We stop for lunch when we get to the base of the couloir. The slope is already around 35 degrees. If we drop something here, It would take a long time to go back down and get it.

Vlado drops his glove. He goes down to get it. Geoff and I go up. The snow soon reaches above my knees. About one hundred meters from the top, the snow reaches my waist, partly because of the slope. It's more like 45 degrees here. As the snow gets a bit harder we can make steps in the snow. I make grips for my hands as well, for safety. Vlado and a few other mountaineers catch up with me and Geoff near the top.

It's great to reach the pass. The view is excellent. We're at 2384 meters and can see all the way down to the lowlands. -Cheers! One of the climbers is sharing his whiskey. -Cheers to Baranie Sedlo!

"It's always more difficult to get down", that's what they say, isn't it? Not this time. We slide down on our bums. The snow brakes under our weight and slows us down.

The chains are more difficult. At one point I slip with my gloves and boots at the same time. Fortunately, there is a ledge just a meter below me.

It's nice to be back in the warm cabin in the afternoon.

Leaving the High Tatras. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

October 31 - High to Lower

(Vernar 1501 km)
Cycling down from Zelene Pleso to the main road wear down my brake pads completely. Geoff's got the same problem. We change the pads and continue down to the lowlands. We pass Poprad, a low pass, and one more town before it's time to find a camp site. We're now in the Lower Tatras.

Snow in the Lower Tatras. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

November 1 - Camp Site #666!

(Polomka 1547 km)
It's cold in the morning. It's been snowing. Getting the snow and ice off the tent takes some time. It starts to snow again as we cycle into the first village, Vernar. The shop keeper invites us for a cup of coffee.

The snowing is getting heavier as the road climbs to higher altitude. People seem to stay at home in this kind of weather. The few cars we see have no winter tires and no snow chains. We pass two cars that just can't get up the hill. It's a long climb and it's steep (12 %). I have to be careful not to make the back wheel slip.

The wind makes it hard to go down on the other side of the pass. It's very slippery. I ride with one boot in the snow as an extra brake.

We stop for lunch in the next town. The only place to eat is the Railway Station Restaurant. Three of the regulars are already drunk and want our company. The give us some kind of brandy. The landlady tells them off.

It's still snowing at sunset. Finding a place to camp is difficult. We cycle across a muddy and snowy field toward a river. It's the only reasonable place we can find. It's very wet, but it's getting dark. We have to stop here. The level of the ground is just 10-15 centimeters above the river. Geoff puts down a stick measure the water level. After unloading the bikes, the water level has risen three centimeters. This doesn't look good.

We look around for higher ground, and discuss the situation. There are higher camp sites, but they are out in the mud on the fields. We decide to stay. This is, no doubt, the worst camp site ever. Everything is wet and muddy. The snowing has stopped. It's raining instead. I feel miserable.


November 2 - Time Out!

(Brezno 1571 km)
The camping situation is worse than the night before. All the snow has melted. The place is like a mud wrestling ring. I'm not happy at all. The moral is low as we cycle into the first bigger town, Brezno. All our gear is wet, if not soaked in mud. We agree to stop here for the night. We find a youth hostel with difficulty and check in. Two hours later we both feel better. Our gear is clean, and drying. We are clean and dry. It's time for a night out.


November 3-5 - To the Mighty Danube

(Sahy and the Hungarian border 1713 km)
We get more rain on the way south, but the weather improves on the last day in Slovakia. The border crossing is a piece of cake this time. We're in Hungary.

We camp near Banska Bystrica and Domaniky on the way to Hungary.

View from the castle ruin in Nograd, Hungary. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

November 5 - Hungary

(Bôrzöni Tájrédelmi Körzet 1734 km)
The sky is starting to clear as soon as we arrive on the Hungarian side of the border. We're happy about that, but we can't find the road we want. There seems to be only one road from here, the big highway, straight to Budapest. We want to find a smaller one that goes through a national park. In the end we ask a border guard. He point toward a few trucks from Iran. -After truck, he says. He's right! The turn-off is hidden by the exotic looking vehicles.

An hour later we're in the pretty national park. It's not allowed to camp anywhere in Hungary (except on official camp grounds), especially not in a national park. We do have this bad habit though. We look around for cars or people before we cycle down on a small track to the left. The track is flooded only fifty meters ahead. I cross barefoot, with difficulty and set camp in a field further on. A pick-up with park rangers passes by in the dark evening. I'm ready to fork up a fine and clear off. The men don't even see us! They must have been too focused on the muddy track.

A hot air balloon is ready to take off. Budapest, November 1998. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

November 6 - To the Capital

(Budapest 1816 km)
I wake up early. The moon still lights up the hill sides around the camp. The sun arrives at breakfast time. G is pissed off with the flooded track. A frozen gear shifter doesn't make it better. I don't blame him.

The weather is excellent. Not a cloud. We cycle over a pass that gives us great views of the surroundings. We try a military road, but get turned back by a dumb guard just outside the park. This means we have to get on the highway sooner or later. They don't allow bicycles on the major highways in this country. I guess it's good to try it out now. Then we know how strict they are with enforcing the rule.

On the way to the highway we stop at Nograd. The Castle ruin makes a good sightseeing and resting spot.

The highway gives us no problems. We get down to the Danube for the second time at great speed. In Vac I feel the pain in my knee coming back. We change money and catch a ferry across the river. This side has a smaller road to the Capital.

After lunch my knee feels better again. We slowly make it into Budapest. It's dark when we get to the city center. No we're lost. We have an address but it's not on the map. A young woman who lives here can't tell us where Back Pack Guest House is! I'm tired and cranky. I don't need this hassle. A van honks his horn to tell us to get out of the way. I want to tell him to f... off.

I don't. The man in the van gets out to help us! He's getting a city atlas out of the side of the door. The index must have a hundred pages, but not our address. -No, problem, the man says. -We call the hostel on my mobile. We call the number in my guidebook. It doesn't work. What is this?! Now I tell the man that he's done enough. I want to thank him, but he starts running away! He gets into a phone booth and signals to us to come along. He looks up a correct number to the hostel and I get to talk to the reception. They have free beds. Our helper gets a description of how to get there and hangs up. -Fine, I think. -Wait here, says the energetic Hungarian, and runs off again! This time to a house down the road. The van is open and blocking the road. The situation is weird. After a few minutes the man comes running back with a big book in his arms. This turns out to be the big taxi atlas of Budapest. -Get in!, the man says. Before I know it, he's loaded our bikes into the back of the van. He's going to take us to our hostel! He opens the book and gives it to me. -Hold the map so that I can see it. He drives fast through the dark city. It's far and I can't follow the map. After ten minutes he stops. -We're here. The bikes are out on the street before me. -Bye bye, says our Budapest angel and drives off.

In Back Pack Guest House, we meet Per, a Norwegian cyclist. He's cycled here from Norway via Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Austria.

Budapest, Hungary. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

November 7-14 - Long Rest in Budapest

(1896 km)
Back Pack Guest House is a great place, and so is Budapest. We decide to stay a week or more. I do the city, ride without luggage, clean our ponies, and try to get an Iranian visa. The latter doesn't work out so well. They first suggest I go back to Sweden to get it. After some time the friendly man says he can arrange a six day transit visa in ten days. It will only be valid for a month though. I leave Hungary without the Iranian visa. I get a Romanian one instead.


November 15 - In the Rain Again

(Monor 1946 km)
It's miserable in Budapest today. The skies are gray and it's raining. We're soaked after 30 kilometers. The small dirt road we want to take is not good. It's either loose sand or mud. We don't have the enthusiasm for that today. We make a detour on asphalt to a little restaurant. We have a long lunch break and try to get warm and dry.

After lunch we only make another ten kilometers. We find a nice pension in Monor. I watch a movie dubbed to German before I fall asleep.


November 16 - Flooded

(Szolnok 2060 km)
The weather is good. The sky is blue and there is a strong wind blowing our way. It must be the first time on the trip this happens. We do around 30 km/h without much effort. We head east toward a ferry-crossing we see on the map. This is great cycling.

We should have listened to the news. The river is flooded. Even the ferry jetty is under water. The crossing is closed. This means a long detour, with head wind. Our smiles are gone. It's dark when we get to Szolnok Camping & Motel.


November 17 - My Friend The Wind

(Füzesgyarmat 2173 km)
The wind from yesterday is still present. We do a good distance before lunch. In the afternoon we start looking for a place to camp. There is a forest on the map twenty kilometers ahead. When we get there the area is flooded. We head for the next town. We ask at a few places before we give up. There are no hotels, no hostels, and no pensions or private rooms. There is not even a camping ground. A woman tells us about the next hotel. It's thirty kilometers east from here. We cycle there in the dark. We certainly don't want to camp in a muddy field.

There is a hotel in the next town. But it doesn't look like the budget place we hoped for. It's a three star hotel. I'm ready to camp anyway, but Geoff goes in to enquire about the rates. He's smiling when he comes out. It's only twelve US dollars!

We take it. We even splash out on a dinner in the hotel restaurant.


November 18 - To Romania

(Oradea 2242 km)
Breakfast is included. I have scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee, and bread with butter, marmalade and honey. What a luxurious start of a beautiful day. I spend my last forint at a gas station near the Romanian border. It's time for a new country and a new currency again.

The border crossing is straightforward. Even for the cars it seems to be almost hassle free. We keep going, to the first city in Romania. Oradea is very ugly. At least the outskirts. Huge deserted factories, rusting pipes, smog and rubbish. Even the city center is not so pleasant. Only the pedestrians-only street right in the center can be called clean. We check in at Park Hotel. It sounds fancy, and it probably was, sixty years ago. Now it's worn down, but the chandeliers are still hanging in the corridors.

We eat and try the Romanian beer. It's not so much to choose from. The food is so so, but the beer is great.


November 19 - More Carpathians

(P. Piatra Craiului 2308 km)
This is the day when we get back into the Carpathian Mountains for the second time. The road is level and follows the river most of the day. After a late lunch in a road side cafe, the road starts to climb to a pass. We reach the top late in the afternoon. It's snowing. We check in at one of the pensions on the pass.


November 20 - Cold Transylvania

(Capusu Mare 2375 km)
It's very cold in the morning. We go downhill to the river valley again. The weather gets a little better during the day, but it starts to snow in the late afternoon.

We find a very nice private pension just east of Capasu Mare.


November 21 - Too Much Snow

(Cluj-Napoca 2398 km)
It's been snowing a lot during the night. It's 10-15 cm (1/2 ft) deep even on the highway. We go anyway. It's very difficult to cycle in this mess. The snow is wet and heavy, and we have to make sure we stay clear of the cars and trucks. I loose my balance a few times and realize the danger we're in. It's a relief to get into the city.

We check in at Central Melody Hotel, right on the main square.


November 22 - Turda Gorge

(Ludus 2464 km)
The road has been cleared. We pass the Turda Gorge after a long climb. The afternoon is beautiful, and we find a simple lodge on the next hill well before sunset.


November 23 - Palinka and Vodka

(Balauseri 2522 km)
We reach a pass after fifteen minutes cycling. In the valley on the other side we find a little shop. The woman who owns it invites us to sit down an eat our lunch right there. She speaks good english and is very friendly. When we discuss the situation in Romania, she says; -Then we had plenty of money, but nothing to buy. Now we have no money but plenty to buy.

We find a dirty pension in a small village in the afternoon. We try out the Romanian Palinka and Vodka for less than 10 cents (US) a glass.

The Old Town in Sighisoara. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

November 24 - Dracula's Birthplace

(Sighisoara 2554 km)
It's only another 31 kilometers left to Sighisoara, but most of it is uphill. I ride fast especially down to the valley after the pass. We're in the birth place of Vlad Tepes (Dracula). After check in in at Chic Hotel, we go for a walk in the old city. Vlad Tepes house is now a Pub, with a restaurant upstairs. The bar tender Toma has been to Sweden for two years. He wants to talk to us more, and invites us to his home later in the evening.


November 25 - Pizza and E-mail

We have a resting day here in Sighisoara. I find a great pizzeria, and a cheap internet cafe.

Village in Transylvania, Romania. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

November 26 - Snow and Ice

(Persani 2637 km)
We go for the small roads on the map today. It's bumpy. It's a lot of snow and ice. It's sometimes very slippery. But we get to see the Romanian countryside.

November 27 - The Dracula Castle

(Bran 2684 km)
It's very foggy after the high pass. The visibility is down do 50 meters. There are very few road signs here. It's difficult to find our way, and a bit spooky. Remember, this is Dracula country!

The mist clears just as we enter the village. The snow clad Mountains in the distance are lit by the afternoon sun. At a gas station a radio is playing Indian folk music. The timing is perfect. It's a moment to remember.

We cycle straight up to the Bran Castle entrance. This is the famous Dracula castle, but it's not even likely that Vlad Tepes ever came here. We pass the exchange booths and souvenir stall, and go for the ticket booth. The lady in the little window tells us about the opening hours and then invites us to come inside. She makes us comfortable before we get into business. First she wants us to buy a kilo of home made cheese. It tastes wonderful, but we promise to think about her proposal. At this point the offered price is five dollars. The next sales pitch is about accommodation. The woman's friend has private rooms for 10 dollars. We agree to five. Ten minutes later we're following a car through Bran. Our landlady is taking us to her house.

In Association with Amazon.co.uk

After unloading our bikes, we go back to the castle. The lady in the ticket booth tries even harder with the cheese business this time, but she doesn't bargain with her own money. First she offers us to get in for the student fare if we buy the cheese. We hesitate. -OK, Romanian student fare, she says. Geoff and I look at each other. This is the lowest of all ticket prices. -OK, you go in for free, she adds. We accept with a laugh. She calls some guard up at the castle, hands over the cheese. -You can go. No problem. My friend in castle.

There is only one other person up in the castle. A woman that could be the ticket lady's sister. She gives us some free guiding of the castle. -I show you a secret room, she says. I don't get it until she pulls out a knitted sweater from a store room at the end of the ally. -Very warm, you want to buy? -I also have painting of Vlad Tepe's uncle.


November 28 - Skiing for the Rich

(Brasov 2727 km)
White frost is covering the trees along the road down to the Risnov turn off. It's uphill and slippery snow on the road to the castle. We have to leave our bikes at the restaurant. There is a steep path up to the castle. The setting is dramatic on top of a ridge. The mist ads to the atmosphere. This is much more Dracula than Bran. The weirdest thing here is the well. Drop a rock and listen. This one is deep!

We ascend up the mountain road after a coffee in the restaurant. The road condition is getting worse. It's very difficult not to make the back wheel slip on the hard packed snow. It takes a long time to get up to the pass. Unfortunately, there is more than one pass. Going down between the passes I have to ride with one foot in the snow. It too slippery to stop the bike with the brakes. An aggressive dog chases me up the last hill before the ski resort of Poiana Brasov. This place is definitely for the rich in Romania. I see a lot of BMW's and Mercs. The ski slopes look good.

We ride the switchbacks down to Brasov. It's a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. We just need a place to stay. My guidebook tells me about Maria. A lady that waits for backpackers at the railway station. I'm not surprised that the first person I ask, knows about Maria. He's a taxi driver. He leaves us and his car to go and look for Maria. He soon comes back with a second man. He claims to be Maria's brother. -Maria will come in a few minutes. I get a bit suspicious, until Maria herself arrives. This is definitely the real thing. In two minutes flat she's given us the short version of the Brasov speech. She gives us the long version in the evening, when we're introduced to our landlady's family.


November 29 - Saxons in Harman

(Brasov 2751 km)
Day trip to Harman. A few German speaking Saxons still live here. There is a castle and a lot of fine private houses.


November 30 - A High Pass and a Party

(Cheia 2804 km)
A long climb to the highest pass so far. We end up at a great party in the valley on the other side of the pass.

The southern plains, Romania. [click thumbnail to see full size photo in the photo gallery]

December 1-3 - Across the Southern Plains

(Calarasi 3062 km)
The lowlands are less interesting than the mountains. We cycle to the Danube in three days. We stay in Ploiesti, Malu, and Calarasi.

December 4 - Ferry to Bulgaria

(The Silistra border crossing 3072 km)
It's a short ride down to the jetty. A gorilla with heavy gold around his neck tries to rip us off as soon as we get there. He wants to sell a ferry ticket for twelve dollars. The ticket booth charges 30 cents. The ferry itself is also a bit of a rip-off. It consists of a floating platform, for cars and passengers, and a boat that pushes the platform across the river. The border is actually fifty meters from the shore. We can still spend our last lei...


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