Thursday 29th & Friday 30th March
We were one of the first to arrive at the salt mine shortly after 9am. Received the old age entry fee (over 65’s) of around $5.00 each and quickly descended the steps down, down and deep into the shaft. Wasn’t looking forward to coming back up again later as these old knees are barely hanging in there and want to make sure they last until we come home.
This salt mine is very different to Wieliczka in Poland and Salzburg in Austria and in our opinion no where as good. However, the mine is very interesting and would be more so for the younger set as at the bottom of one of the oldest mine shafts, they have fitted out this massive area as a “play area” with two ten pin bowling alleys, numerous table tennis tables, mini golf, snooker tables, a Ferris wheel, and an area where you can hire a row boat and paddle about for 20 minutes.
This area has been very well done and soon we were ambushed by coach loads of kids who quickly took over. We arrived in an echo chamber and after listening to a school load of little ones screaming at the top of their voices, we headed back to the safety of the top floor and then out to the carpark which was now filled with coaches.
Left by 11am and headed north through some very poor and industrial areas of Romania. It is hard to believe people can live in some of these places that barely have a proper roof to protect them in the freezing temperatures.
Stopped to have lunch beside a roadside restaurant and were soon approached by a beggar with a child – so heartbreaking that they need to resort to begging.
Our campsite for two nights: Capiora, Firiza- GPS 47.740120N 23.602400E
Not far from the large town of Baia Mare is a turnoff to Firiza. The roads were not great but the scenery up and through the mountain was fabulous.
The small town of Firiza consists of only around 50 houses, three of which are bars (nothing like back home – they are in private houses), no shops and this great place where we stayed for two days.
A really beautiful bushland setting with a fabulous restaurant and accommodation. Only room for a few motorhomes and with a cost of only $8 per night including electricity and good internet, it really was worthwhile staying on and chilling out here.
The food was just amazing (particularly the goulash) and with two courses and two large beers costing $24 for both of us – a real bargain. Had to have dinner there two nights in a row as the food was so good.
Nothing was too much trouble and the owner Gabriele, speaks excellent English. She gave us a huge amount of information on places worth visiting in Northern Romania.
Saturday 31st March
Filled up with fresh spring water, said our goodbyes and headed off around 11am.
First stop was Sapanta which is close to the Ukranian border. We turned down one street and came face to face with the Ukranian soldiers and border guards – turned back quickly.
The “Merry Cemetery” is very unique and is one of the attractions that has put this small town on the map.
Its brightly coloured church spire and roof tiles together with colourful tomb stones attract tourists by the busload. Just outside of town is the Peri Monastery which boasts to be the worlds highest wooden building.
The woodwork is just amazing. We were unable to get inside the church but were able to climb up the steps into the tower to get a birds eye view of the property. The steps leading to the tower were carved out of one tree trunk. We had planned on staying in the carpark here which looks safe and quiet but it was still early so moved on.
We travelled on through many towns that had wooden churches and monasteries – a distinct feature of this part of the world. Some of the wood panelling at the entrances and doors to these and also to many houses, were incredible masterpieces.
Found a spot to park just outside Sighetu Marmatiei at a museum but the ground was so soggy and wet, could not park there without fear of being bogged so moved on again.
Our campsite for tonight: Wassertalbahn, Viseu de Sus – GPS 47.714611N 24.442820E
Hadn’t planned on such a long day, but ended up being a very interesting day with so much to see.
Wassertalbahn built in 1930, is about a km outside of the town and hosts a train museum as well as being a working station. We arrived here at 6pm and as the office was closed, the security guard told us to park and see the office in the morning.
The gates were closed at 8pm and the site is monitored by cameras and an onsite security guard during the night. Only us and the stray dogs were the parks occupants for the night.
Sunday 1st April – Easter Sunday
Rained heavily through the night and the carpark was awash though did not stop the coaches and cars filing into the carpark and boarding the steam train which leaves at 9am and returns at 3pm. It is a very popular tourist attraction and the train was full, even off season.
Played dodgem potholes again today, think we are becoming used to the roads a little more now – though my driver might not agree!
Travelled on to Bitoza to a small town that boasts being the prettiest town in Romania. The town runs along a waterway with some parts on the other side accessible only by small bridges. Our recommended campsite happened to be on the other side and with the road awash and muddy, did not want to tempt fate by trying to cross.
Today is Easter Sunday and in Europe, traditionally a day that is highly celebrated beginning with a long visit to your local church until about midday followed by eating, drinking and being with family for the rest of the day.
When we arrived in Botiza the cathedral services had just finished and we watched as the congregation left in droves and walked home down the middle of the street (umbrellas up and trying to avoid the mud and slush on the side of the roads). Most of the women were dressed in traditional Romanian costume and waved when they saw us taking photos. Again such a shame that the rain has dampened the traditional spirit of this day.
The original Orthodox Church on this site was built in 1694 and is now overshadowed by the new spectacular cathedral which was completed in 1974.
Only a few kms away we stopped at the famous Orthodox Barsana Monastery which is a famous pilgrimage spot even though it was built in the 1990’s. There are at least a dozen buildings in this complex set on acreage with a backdrop of beautiful mountains and valleys.
From here we tried to find a campsite (though there are none listed in any of our apps).
Travelled through town, and like most of these towns, it has only a one street frontage with little or no places to stop.
Our campsite for tonight: Halfway between Barsana and Stramtura – GPS 47.795880N 24.082424E
A dead end bitumen road off the main highway that is wide and flat. A restaurant is on the corner and down the street, what looks like council vehicles are behind a locked gate. There are rolling hills and green pastures across the road.
The restaurant was quite busy most of the afternoon but there is so much space here and is well lit.
Monday 2nd April
Today is meant to be a public holiday here, however the council workers were arriving by 7am to start their day. Woke us up when the cars arrived but soon we were back in the land of nod for another hour.
Took out the pinking shears and trimmed my drivers woolly mane. Quite a reasonable job and navigated well around the edges. Certainly has been worthwhile buying the hair trimmers in Oz before we left over a year ago.
Travelled up and over the mountains again today and soon we were travelling through a winter wonderland with light snow falling. The roads over the mountain were excellent, just as well as there were tons of hairpin bends to navigate both up and down towards Baia Mare.
It is so hard to describe our joy as we pass through village after village, each with their own individual and special characteristics. The little old ladies walking the streets all look similar – about 5ft nothing tall and almost the same around the middle, skirts down to their ankles, bright coloured aprons and scarves and boots. We take so much for granted in Oz and it certainly brings home how lucky we are. These people have virtually nothing and live in houses that would barely withstand a strong wind. They go out during the day in horse and cart and bring home timber for the evenings fire. Some places here are so old world charm still. They smile and wave as you go by.
Our campsite for tonight: Carei
This is a beautiful and well laid out town but with no designated camping spots in any of our APPs. Our first challenge was to find somewhere to camp. There are lots of parking places and finally we chose one directly opposite a grand castle and magnificent church.
Weather has been woeful over Easter but as we arrived here, the sun came out so took advantage and strolled through town.
Spent a couple of hours walking around and stopped at a bar to people watch for a while before heading back.
It is 7.30pm now and the sun is still out – hope Mother Nature allows us some more tomorrow.
Tuesday 3rd April
Wow – a cloudless warm sunny day! Haven’t had many of these and hopefully will dry up some of the slush we have had to drive and wade through over the last couple of weeks. Such a shame, as to experience these quaint villages and majestic wooden churches and cathedrals would be 1000% better in sunny conditions.
We are heading now towards the Hungarian border and have a few Romanian Lei left over so decided to spend one more night in Romania.
Our campsite for tonight: Oradea – GPS 47.055012N 21.938210E
A beautiful well laid out town with the parking right beside the river and only a couple of blocks from the central town mall area. The advertised rate in our APPS are incorrect. The cost is 2.6 lei per hour (under $1.00) from 7am to 6pm and free after that. Once we had worked out the ticket machine, we paid the cost to 6pm and then headed down to the mall.
Such a surprise – so many wonderful buildings in a huge square, where local vendors were displaying their wares in timber stalls.
Across, the bridge and over to the other side, we found another walking mall that stretched for a km or so where locals and visitors were enjoying the sunshine in outside eating areas. Many of the old buildings are being restored and will probably be open for the summer months.
Returned back to the main square where we enjoyed one of the Romanian delicacies Sarmale (spiced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves – great but not as good as mums cabbage rolls).