2018/03/29 – Romania – Turda to Oradea

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.

Nice colours???

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. 

Care must be taken driving on some of these roads – you can come across lots o0f different types of vehicles

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. 

Tomb Stones in the Merry Cemetry

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 Merry Cemetry

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.

Peri Monastery and the tallest wooden building

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.

Peri Monastery

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.

Another of the wooden churches in Sighetu Marmatiei

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.

Some strange trains here???

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.

Some happy local ladies after Easter church service

 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.

Very typical of this area – most houses and business have hand carved entry gates to the property

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.

One of the 12 buildings at the Barsana Monastery

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. 

Driving near Baia Mare

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.

Very windy road through the snow near 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.

Carei Cathedral

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.

Interesting skyline on 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.

The old and the new in electrification

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).

2018/03/24 Romania – Busteni to Turda

Saturday 24th March. – ROMANIA

Romania has a population of around 22 million people, with a land area of 237,500 sq. klm and the capital is Bucharest.

Romania is a member of the European Union but is not in the Schengen Zone.

Romanian is the official language and the Romanian leu (plural – lei) is the currency.

Australians do not need a Visa to travel in Romania and can stay for up to 90 days.

Wild camping is allowed with permission from the land owner/manager or local government.

Leaving Bulgaria we only had around 10kms to travel to the Romaniam border but still the roads were heavy with snow, mud and slush.

Through the Bulgarian customs we went only to be recognised by the customs official who said “We saw your lovely motorhome parked in Lidl last night”.  We thought that was very funny and received the passport stamp and tick of approval after paying the €2 toll to use the bridge across the Danube to Romania.

Next on to the Romanian customs counter where we again got a Royal Romanian stamp and a fleeting look into Ziggy from 2 customs officials.  They didn’t even come inside but merely glanced through the habitation door and spent the next few minutes talking to us about Australia.  Another easy border for us to cross.

Bought a vignette for around $8 for seven days a few meters on and then began the most horrific 300 metres we have ever experienced in our life.  Just about 200 metres from the border gates, we noticed the traffic was not moving in any direction and saw trucks lined up for as far as you could see heading our way towards the border gates. 

We suspected there may be an accident and within minutes saw a car blocking one and a half lanes, in a pot hole, with underneath bits hanging off everywhere.   It had hit a massive pot hole in the road and didn’t make it up the other side.  We were lucky enough to be able to get around it but found another 20 or more potholes of a similar size where we had to change to first gear to get up and out before moving on to the next one – this is no exaggeration!!!   Hate to think how bad it would be a few hours later with the number of trucks increasing the size of the potholes through every crossing.

Pot holes are impossible to see when covered with snow and or melting slush which turns to water and then it is difficult to determine the size and depth.

Do hope they spend some of the money they get from the Vignettes to fix up this bit and soon.

The roads are horrid in general except for some of the newer highways and we did hit one pothole at quite a speed and were so relieved no damage was done.

We did so enjoy driving up through the centre via the scenic route which was breathtaking to say the least, but each time we arrived at a potential camp for the night, most were snowed in or not open.   There is something so serene and special about driving through snow covered mountains where trees are dripping with snow and streams part covered in snow gently meander down the mountainside.

All sorts of traffic on the mountain roads

Frustration again set in (as well as an exhausted and tired driver) and when we were within a few kms of our final choice Brasov and were stopped by the police to let us know the road was closed, it was the final straw.

We had seen a Lidl a few kms back so thought that was our best option.

Our campsite for tonight:  Lidl – Busteni

Nested into a corner of the carpark, we hoped no one would notice us and slept peacefully until 8am next morning.

Sunday 25th March

No new snow overnight and we were pleased to see some of the ice in the car park was beginning to melt.   The sun had actually come out for the first time in days.

Headed back toward Brasov and hoped the road was open today.  It was and this time we were rewarded with breathtaking scenery all the way through the mountains.  This is a very popular part of Romania with ski fields in many of the towns along the way.

The roads were also very busy as skiers enjoyed the huge snow dump and took advantage of it to get in some last season skiing.

Our campsite for tonight:  Brasov, (Aleea Tiberiou Brediceanu).  GPS  45.6407N  25.5950E

Brasov is very special but there are few places that a car can park in, let alone a Ziggy Bus.  The centre is full of apartment blocks with only street parking available for owners with stickers. 

Our overnight parking spot – up against the Old Town wall

This car park is quite difficult to find as our NAVIE kept taking us round and round the block.  Finally we used the above address and soon found the spot right next to the Old Town Wall.   Being a Sunday, there was not a spare spot anywhere with buses and cars double parked.   We found a spot just out of town by a sports field and did some chores until later in the afternoon and then ventured back at 6pm and luckily found one or two spots available.

Took a long walk into the Old Town where we were able to get some photos before dark.

Monday 26th March

Back to explore more of Old Town this morning.  So many beautifully restored old buildings, street after street after street with the Main Street, cobble stoned and a pedestrian way only.  The town square is the most spectacular with the Black Cathedral being one of its feature buildings.  Sadly closed on Mondays so did not get past the front gate. 

Architecture Brasov style

Bought a Romanian delicacy called Kurtos from a street stall.  Tastes a bit like a donut but is long and hollow with the outside tasting like toffee.  It is pastry rolled onto a cylinder and then cooked as it turns past a heated element – yum!   Romanians love their pastries and nearly every person we saw was eating some kind of pastry.  Also noticed a lot of dentists around – too much sugar eaten I think!

Now that is a fort on a hill

The snow is now melting fast – thank goodness and as we travel through the countryside – the white hills are turning into brown hills with only patches of snow seen on the hills.

Our campsite tonight:  Sighisoara (8 Strada Anton Pann) 46.2188N  24.7882E

This campsite is on a road at the bottom of the citadel where there is room for cars and coaches.  Parking costs less than $2 per day from 8am to 5pm and free after that.  The parking attendant is very busy and strictly monitors every vehicle that stops.

What a trek up the hill – over 100 steps to get to the entrance at the top and then another 200 or more going up the different levels to the church at the top.   Certainly worked off the Kurtos by day’s end.   The clock tower in the square is one of the main attractions and appears to have figurines that move through openings under the clock – probably at midday we think.

One of the sets of stairs under cover leading to the top

We are in the heart of Transylvania (home of Dracula).  We even passed by a house which proudly declared that “Dracula was born here”. 

Architecture Sighisoara style

Every citadel in Romania we have visited has been packed with school kids of all ages and each has been so interesting.  Seems like nearly every medium plus sized town has its own citadel.

We took another way down into the new part of town which would have been far easier than the first 100 steps and stopped in a bar for a well deserved beverage.

Tuesday 27th March

Left before 8am but not until the attendant asked to see our receipt.   He arrived at 7am!!  If you stay longer, then another day’s payment is required.  At less than $2 a day – that would not be a problem at all.

Travelled to Sibiu where we parked right in town at the beginning of the walk to Old Town (co ordinates 45.7920N  24.1488E).  This car park is very busy and though it has a number of large spaces for motorhomes, this does not stop the locals from parking there in their cars.  We were warned about getting there early hence the early departure.  The cost here is 1 Lui per hour which is $0.33 per hour.   You can stay as long as you like including night time but opted not too as we thought it may be too noisy with cars coming and going all night, though looked very safe  – a great spot to visit this town.

Sibiu street scape

Most of The Old town is a pedestrian only zone and stretches over many streets of beautiful churches, clock towers and beautifully restored old buildings.  It has two large squares in the centre with many more smaller ones on the outskirts.   Spent several hours there finishing in a restaurant for lunch.  Sat by the window people watching as the restaurant quickly began to fill up.  Almost got invaded by a school group of 20 or so children around 10 years old – thankfully there was not enough room left so they moved on – phew!

Sibiu architecture

Decided not to stay here for the night and moved on.

Our campsite for tonight:  Alba Iulia – 46.0645N.  23.5748E

Arrived here just before nightfall and began working on our blog when we were surprised to see another motorhome pull in.  Think we have only seen a total of 2 motorhomes in the last few weeks.

One of the many wooden churches in the area

Recognised the motorhome and its occupants from a place we stayed at in Greece (Thessaloniki) so spent the rest of the night talking with Arthur and Anais, a young couple from France about their travels since last seeing them and exchanged great spots to visit.  It was certainly great to get some feedback on places to stay in France when we return there later in the year.

Part of the Orthodox Church in the Citadel area

Wednesday 28th March

Spent the morning catching up and up loading photos before venturing up the hill to the Citadel.  What an amazing place and we found it only by accident.  There is no reference to it in any of the research we have done.

The city within the walls is so well laid out and not of the same vintage as some of the others we have experienced but just as intriguing.  Hundreds and hundreds of school kids were everywhere – obviously school excursions just before Easter.  Really worth an overnight visit.

There are two spots to camp around the Citadel, we chose the quietest one.

The rain began to fall quite heavily so we quickly headed back to Ziggy and left not long after for Turda.

Our campsite for tonight:  Turda – Aleea Durgaului – GPS 46.5878N  23.7924E

Arrived here just before 5pm and did a quick drive past.  There is a carpark right at the entrance that offers day parking for under $2.00 for cars only and another carpark a little further on for buses, motorhomes etc at an hourly rate of 1 lei (33 cents).

The entrance to the mine – no they are not our children

We parked in the recommended motorhome parking which is around 200 meters from the front entrance and overlooks beautiful green pastures.

Looking down the shaft to the lake at the bottom

The salt mines of Turda (Salina Turda) open at 9 am in the morning and we are looking forward to seeing these and comparing these to the Wieliczka salt mines in Poland and the ones just outside Salzburg in Austria, both of which were outstanding.

Super quiet place to stop with again no other motorhomes around.