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Aug 06 2010

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Romania 2010 – Dracula Ride

Every couple of months there is an IBA UK ‘Ride to Eat’ somewhere on the continent where riders converge on a spot for a photo and a meal. In August 2010 the designated spot was Poienari Castle near Curtes de Arges in Romania (Dracula country). Having never been to Romania we decided to head down for the Ride to Eat and then take a couple of weeks riding round Eastern Europe afterwards before participating in the German Butt Rally.

We missed our tunnel train – why is it that the people who are nearest are always last? – and it was absolutely tipping down when we finally got to the terminal to learn that the next train was over an hour later. Luckily they have some dedicated motorcyclists’ shelters and we spent the time chatting to the rather wet ladies who were on duty. We finally arrived at our Calais hotel like two drowned rats just before 01:00 European time ready for a few short hours sleep before climbing onto the bike again for the run down to Eastern Europe.

At breakfast we met up with John and Sonia, and Steve and Kirsty who we were going to ride with. We don’t usually ‘do’ group riding but they are good company and three bikes just comes under Kevin’s ‘too many bikes’ filter. Steve was on his newly-acquired BMW RT and John was on his pride and joy, a Triumph Daytona; more of that later.

We had an uneventful day on the European motorways through to Linz, this time remembering to buy our Austrian vignettes en-route. The weather was not too bad – I’d put my waterproofs on to ensure the rain was kind to us! We rode for about 700 miles and I was feeling sorry for both my co-pillions – Kirsty hates bikes but loves Steve so she puts up with the odd jaunt on the bike and was not enjoying herself; Sonia was hanging on at the back of the Daytona and would have preferred to be on her Rocket3 trike.

The following day dawned bright and dry and we made good progress past Vienna (which has a huge refinery on the outskirts), through Hungary (which is a lot flatter than I expected) and into Romania.

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Finally, it felt foreign!

 
Our planned destination was Sibiu and as the roads in Romania were much slower than the previous day’s motorways we continued on through dusk and into darkness.
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A typical Romanian village/town

 

The roads had degenerated into what you might expect in an Eastern Europe country – narrow, twisty roads with lots of pot-holes, loose animals and plenty of trucks, cars and assorted four-foot-drawn vehicles all travelling at a leisurely pace. We came across quite large queues of traffic stuck behind a tractor or a series of lorries. As a pillion I just hang on and take the odd picture but from what I could see it was very exciting riding! Kevin was having a ball – he gets a buzz out of darting in and out of the traffic on this sort of road as we ‘make progress’ and the GS just soaks up the potholes; I’m not so sure the others felt the same!
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Good Journey!

We had a McDonald’s at 10.30pm in Deva (we do like to sample exotic foreign food!) and seriously considered calling it a night but we weren’t that far from Sibiu and collectively agreed to carry on. Steve suggested Kevin and I met them at the hotel and by the time we arrived there we’d been on the road for over 15 hours. We checked in and got the drinks while waiting for the others to appear. John was struggling with the badly maintained roads on the Daytona and finally admitted that perhaps it was not the most suitable bike for the trip (if John was cut through the middle it would say ‘Triumph’ so this was definitely a red letter day!). The lads were treated to a wedding party – the guests apparently kidnap the bride for ransom – and enjoyed some of the female attire. Kevin’s tongue is still dusty from its trip across the bar’s floor ;-).

We only had a short ride for the final push through to our meeting point and Kevin’s plan was to ride the Transfagarasan. We were not disappointed with the spectacular road and scenery but struggled to get through the thousands of locals who thronged the area.

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The Fagaras Mountains

As we worked our way up the mountain every open space was hosting a family picnicking and barbecuing. At strategic places along the route ad-hoc markets sprung up selling all sorts of items of food and toys for the kids. At times we were just stopped waiting for cars to manoeuvre round other parked cars – chaos ensued as there was not enough room to pull out and people just stopped and got out of their vehicles. It was very lively!

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One of the roadside stalls

 
We had just come round a corner to yet another view point and we passed a parked bike. “That’s Phil” said Kevin, so we stopped to say “Hello”. After we exchanged greetings and chatted for a while we rode away separately so that each rider could ride at their own pace.
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Well-met Phil

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Some of the 150 curves

 
At the far end of the highway the road surface degenerates and we were very glad that we were on the ‘off-road’ style GS rather than our more usual road bike.


This short video might give you an idea of what it was like.

We came round a corner and there, perched high up on a rocky outcrop, was the fortress we were meeting at later that day. We passed this by and continued on to Curtes de Arges, meeting up with Phil again en-route as neither of us knew where the hotel was, and finally meeting up with John, Sonia, Steve and Kirsty again when we found it (they didn’t fancy the Transfagarasan and had come the more direct route but it was still very heavy going on poor old John’s wrists). By now it was very hot and we got out of our heavy bike gear to ride back to the meeting place.

We got back to the castle and parked up. The photo was to be taken at the castle itself which was at the top of 1400 or so very steep steps. Paul joined us and chivvied us along with such gems as “You’re a third of the way up” – depressing – and, “Not far to go now, only another 500 steps” – verging on the suicidal/murderous. I’m not quite sure what he was on but he was definitely fitter than us!

100 steps from the top a guy was standing with the tickets for entry. I don’t suppose many people decide not to bother with the 5 Lei fee!

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The A team!

 

When we were at the top we had a text from organiser Phil W. (a different Phil), who had arrived late, saying he was at the bottom looking after our bikes and the photo flag. We invited him up but he declined. If he’d turned up a bit earlier we could have all stayed calf-wrench free!

Anyway we took the real photo at the top then made our steady way back down. I think that was probably harder than the steps up. At the bottom we also met Michiel and Betsey and enlisted the help of a passer-by to take the ‘official’ photo.

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and with the rest!

 
We enjoyed a leisurely ride back to the hotel, which was full with another wedding, and had a nice meal down the road in a local restaurant which was presided over by a rather stern lady who bossed us around and kept the rabble in its place! Phil W. redeemed himself by treating us all to the celebratory patches.

We then returned to the wedding-infested hotel and ‘enjoyed’ the wedding celebration disco from our bedroom until 5.45 the following morning.

We all then went our separate ways, some returning home, some continuing onto other parts. We were travelling on to Bucharest for a scheduled service for the GS but were disappointed that the route looked boring and quite short. Paul declared that the road to Brasov was interesting and I saw that Bran was en-route with a good castle so we decided to go to Bucharest via Brasov which would basically be 2 sides of a triangle. Paul joined us for the Brasov leg of the journey. Unfortunately it rained quite heavily most of the day and, as usual, the waterproofs went on far too late so we got quite wet. We arrived in Bran, got off the bikes near the castle, wandered for a few minutes in the pouring rain then thought “Bu**er this!”, got back on the bikes and continued our journey.

As we came into Brasov Kevin rode across a rail line at low speed and the bike just span through 180 degrees and flipped us off! I did my wifely duty providing a nice soft landing for Kevin and ended up with a bruise that was a perfect 5 on my rib where I presumably landed on something with writing on it. Apart from that the only other damage was to Kevin’s ankle which got twisted and trapped underneath the bike. Paul and everyone else around helped us to get up and we continued on our way not much worse for wear. The bike just had a scratch on the crash bar. I’m sure if we’d been riding one of our other bikes there would have been acres of broken plastic on the road and we’d have been looking at an expensive repair.

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Paul looking grumpy and wet!

We parted with Paul in Brasov and made our wet way to Bucharest. The road into Bucharest is ‘interesting’. Imagine a very busy M25 with 2-lanes in each direction. The bumper to bumper traffic is all moving at around 70-80 mph; over and undertaking is happening all over the place. Replace the central barrier with double white lines and put in lots of junctions on either side so traffic is joining and leaving the road to the left and the right. Add in large lay-bys full of roadside vendors with traffic stopping to buy things then re-joining the road. Finally, sprinkle some zebra crossings which cross both carriageways with no pedestrian island in the middle. That should give you a rough idea of what it is like.

We’d booked into a rather smart hotel next to the BMW dealer. We could almost see the receptionist’s bottom lip curl and the think bubble saying “What is THAT?” as two drowned rats wearing motorcycle gear appeared in front of him!

The next day we took the GS to the dealership where they did a very thorough 12000 mile service for the princely sum of around £200. I’m sure it would have been a lot more than that in the UK. We had a leisurely day doing not a lot – we couldn’t even be bothered to find our way into Bucharest – and had an exquisite meal in the restaurant that evening.

Tuesday was my birthday and Kevin treated me to a return ride on the Transfagarasan. We were looking forward to riding it again without the weekend traffic. We were not disappointed. There was much less traffic around although the locals had left all their rubbish at the beauty spots. It’s a shame as the scenery is stunning but is ruined by the lack of care. The rubbish also attracts numerous stray dogs which are always a pleasure to ride past as they chase after us! This time we approached from the south and worked our way north so we started on the section with the bad surface. There had been a lot of rain overnight and there was noticeably more rubble together with large rocks on the road which had been washed down from the rock faces alongside. There were also several ad-hoc waterfalls gushing down, a couple of them creating fords across the road. Again we were pleased to be on the GS.

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Some of the hazards on the road (I know the picture is out of focus but it gives you a general idea)

 
Towards the north and the interesting, famous, section where I was hoping to get some better pictures this time the weather started to deteriorate. It looked so murky we decided to put our waterproofs on.
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The Transfagarasan in one of its straighter sections

This was a good decision as it got wetter and wetter and as we rode higher the visibility dropped. Fat chance of getting those pictures, it was all I could do to see the car in front.

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The ‘view’ from the top

Kevin enjoys a challenge but even he didn’t enjoy the ride across the mountains where we had to negotiate the slippery roads in thick wet fog, keep an eye out for the sheep and the very slow-moving cars. I don’t think it’s a problem that they’re going too slow, just that it means riding at a different pace to that which we would do with a free hand and the poor visibility made it very difficult to pass them although we always managed it in the end.

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More hazards!

We stopped for a bite and drink at a roadside café where I discovered my new camera had got water in it and had stopped working. I definitely need to investigate buying a rugged one that can cope with whatever we throw at it. Finally we came to Brasov and stopped on the outskirts in a new Ramada. The room here was great and we had a lovely view over the hill.

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Brasov on a sunny day

The next day our plan was to ride to Sighisoara, about 100 miles away, but whilst we were talking to Stephan in the BMW dealership he told us about the DN1A road that he recommended as the route to Brasov. We’d wanted to do the Transfagarasan in reverse yesterday so we hadn’t ridden the DN1A but, judging by the well-worn leather jacket hanging over his chair, he knew what he was talking about so we decided to make a detour to ride the top end of the route (about 40 miles in each direction). He wasn’t wrong.

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The DN1A cannot be described as straight!

The road was delightful, wending its way through enchanting rural scenery with a road surface that was every bit as good as promised!

We worked our way up to the top and enjoyed the excellent hairpins as the road descended on the other side. It was probably the best road we had enjoyed whilst in Romania.

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At the top in front of a very Eastern European monument

Eventually it straightened and flattened out and we turned around to do it all again!

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These donkeys were in amongst a large herd of cows on the road

 
As we had been stopping and starting (jumpers on/off, photo ops, petrol refills, etc.) my rib had been giving me the distinct impression that it was not happy with the exercise. It was getting harder and harder to get on and off the bike and when we stopped at our hotel I admitted this to Kevin. We decided I should see a local doctor to get it checked out.
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Sighisoara in the rain

We walked to the local hospital which was about 200 yards down the road. It was like walking back into a Victorian asylum. You know the sort of thing – cracks in the ground from which steam emanates, tall ceilings, white tiles on the wall (some broken and falling off), grey tiny mosaics on floor (together with cracks filled with concrete), peeling paintwork and a manually-operated lift with no safety barrier! It didn’t look very promising but the staff were very friendly and helpful. I managed to get the gist of the problem to the nurse, she translated to the doctor, I had an x-ray and a diagnosis from the doctor and was back out within 30 minutes! Unfortunately the diagnosis was a broken rib so our holiday was essentially over as I couldn’t continue on the bike.

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Enjoying the rest and dry weather

 
We stayed in Sighisoara for another 2 days waiting for our travel insurance to arrange my flight home and enjoyed a couple of visits to the old town which was a short walk from our hotel.

My flight was arranged and I had a taxi to collect me at 3 am – thanks for getting me home Snowcard. Kevin started his ride home as soon as I was in the car and he arrived home, having ridden around 1350 miles, about 12 hours after me. Kevin sent “I’m OK” messages from the Spot device at his petrol stops which automatically send me a text and, once I was home, I was able to follow his progress using the Spot’s tracking feature both of which were very reassuring. He said the first 200 miles on pitch black, often foggy, twisty and poorly maintained Romanian roads being chased by stray dogs and avoiding suicidal cats was ‘entertaining’!

Apart from the rain and the rib I enjoyed our short sojourn into Eastern Europe. The way of life there looks like it is very different to ours – especially in the rural areas where you’re as likely to travel to work in a horse-drawn cart as a car. There are many visible reminders of the old communist regime – mostly derelict factories – and, of course, the Transfagarasan. We had planned on travelling into the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland on our way home and it’s shame we didn’t get the chance; we’ll have to go back that way again soon!

Dracula route

Would you like to see some more pictures from this trip? Click Here.

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