The other day, we were both reading about our next destination Brasov, Johan is asking me whether I read about the beers in Brasov. Not really, I thought by myself, and why would I read about beers while I don’t even like it? So he continues telling me that beers even come into the city (…). Oh wow! There is beer in the city, wonderful. When he continues ‘and they are looking for food in the garbage‘ his comments finally make sense. Johan is talking about bears! And yes, it is true, Romania is home to half of Europe’s brown bears and most of them live in the forests close to Brasov. And it is also not just a rumor that they come into the city. They usually come at dusk and are mostly seen in a residential area (forgot the name) and there is a very simple reason for it: this area is exactly going through an area the bears have used for migratory reasons and they of course don’t stop migrating just because of some new streets and houses. On the contrary, the garbage easy food for them. The local government now built special dust bins which are 3.5 meters deep and won’t be entered by bears anymore.
Brasov itself is a great city for many reasons: it has a beautiful historic town center, it is multinational, everybody speaks English and if not they for sure know someone who can help, people are super friendly everywhere, it is the safest city in Romania and for the first time it feels as if we are just in a nice city somewhere in Europe. We enjoyed it so much that we even stayed a day longer to relax, stroll around, eat and find some belated birthday presents for Johan.
Brasov is almost the end of our sightseeing tour through Romania – there is just one more highlight to come, the crossing of the Carpathian mountains. I wrote last time it would be a 80km climb before we descend again, but I was completely wrong. I found a description of the route and a profile from another cyclist on the internet, but I don’t know where this guy cycled, definitely not where we did.
We leave Brasov right after dawn, at 8am and 4.7 degrees Celsius. The valley and the city is completely foggy, the Dracula feeling is back, while I no longer think about Dracula but more about all the bears we might meet on our way up. It takes about 12km until the climbing starts, a very gentle climb on a so far quiet back road. By that time we are already above the fog and enjoy sunshine and a crystal clear blue sky. It still takes us about 10 more kilometers to get out of the city and into the forest. I think we chose the best time of the year to cross the mountains since it is still warm enough to cycle and because of the beautiful colors of the forest – the leaves turned into all shades of yellow and red by now and we cannot get enough of looking at them and taking pictures.
I am also looking at the tracks next to road – they might be bear tracks, really! And when I go for a pee behind a bush far away from the road I see huge bear droppings. Johan is still making fun of me and pretends they are horse droppings, but I know the difference, I looked it up the day before.
If you are alone in the woods they say that you have to be a bit noisy and shouldn’t carry food with yourself to avoid that bears attack you. So I start annoying Johan and talk a lot until he cycles off – I continue talking to myself and singing a bit, just to be on the safe side, you never know. While on one hand I would love to see a bear, on the other hand it is maybe not the right timing.
After 42km we reach the first peak at 1,263m – a really easy ride. Maybe the last 5km were a bit more difficult with a 8 to 10% uphill grade, but by now we are really in good shape and manage the climb very well. I am almost a bit disappointed because it is so unspectacular, just another hill….There are a few more climbs to come later on, slightly steeper but relatively short. The rest of the day we are descending.
There were two annoyances though. First the truck traffic in the mountains: believe it or not, even here we shared the road with transit trucks while there is a national road connecting Brasov with Ploiesti and Bucharest. We think they are all avoiding the toll. Most likely not to blame the truck drivers, but the companies they work for. How annoying must that be to share the road with two cyclists and hundreds of horse carriages? In the mountains the trucks weren’t a real problem for us since they anyhow went slowly and there was a truck every few minutes only which gave them enough space to overtake us.
A real drama were the horse carriages. The whole country is preparing for the winter and cutting wood in the forests which is being carried from the forest to their homes by horses, in the mountains with 10% climbs. Before we see them we hear men screaming and I almost get a bit scared since I don’t have a clue what’s going on. When we see them the horses are standing on the right hand-side of the road, waiting to let a truck pass. Once the truck passes, the men start screaming at the horses so they continue moving – 10% uphill! The horses manage for about 20 to 30m and have to stop again, and the hill continues to climb for at least 2km. Johan feels sorry for the horses, I feel more sorry for the people who cannot afford to buy or rent a tractor to do the work for them. What a work, but a real spectacle being in the midst of it.
Another annoyance – still belonging to the first category – is the traffic that is picking up tremendously when we start descending and reach the other side of the mountain. Trucks, trucks, trucks and cars, no shoulder for more than 40km, and a very bad road which makes cycling very difficult. The honking trucks don’t move – so either you jump off the road onto a pot-holed sand/stone path which is about 15 to 20cm lower than the main road – or you are under the truck. These trucks don’t move at all. Thankfully there are a few villages in between and they have to slow down a bit and we can use the sidewalks, but still a very scary part of the day and until the rest of the day.
The second annoyance – what else could it be: the dogs. I got attacked twice, once in the middle of nowhere, Johan is cycling ahead – he even passed the same without noticing them – when I suddenly see two huge beige dogs next to the road running to me and barking as crazy. I scream as loud as I can and that Johan thinks I got attacked by a bear, but it helps, they stay away from me and I continue uphill, heavily trembling. The second attack took place just before we arrive, on the busy road, when I am even cycling ahead and Johan is only a meter behind me. Given the traffic all we could do was yell at them, this time I actually only swore, very hard though! Couldn’t help it anymore. I then decided that I no longer feel sorry for the stray dogs, of which Romania has the most in the world thanks to the Ceausescu regime, that forbade private property. People had to leave their homes and at the same time left their dogs behind so they all became wild and propagated!
After about 120km and 7.5 hours cycling we arrive in Ploiesti at 17.30h, find a nice hotel with again great staff and food. The next day we leave early to catch a train to Bucharest – it is our last day in Romania and we are really sad to leave again and not to be able to pass the border on our bikes, we almost have a bad conscience that we take a train, but we don’t have a choice time-wise anymore.
We’ve had a very exciting time, both positive and negative, learned a lot about the country, its history and people, and saw wonderful picturesque landscapes. None of the negative prejudices about the people came true, not a single time we felt threatened (often though by dogs), never ever were we in uncomfortable situations and nothing got stolen, on the contrary. There is still a lot to do in this country and we are wishing everyone all the best for a hopefully prospering future! This country deserves it and we wish we could do more than just spend a few Lei. Goodbye Romania, we’ll be back, promised!