Big Trip special: Transylvania - so close yet so far away
03 January 2008 01:00
A trip to Romania will transport you to the past. But do it soon – this unique country is changing fast. MCN spoke to Damon l’Anson about his introduction to Romania.
Having ridden through the night across Austria and Hungary we are leaden of eyelid as we ride away from the customs post and into Romania. Having last seen daylight on stark, efficient autobahns, things have taken on a surreal edge for my riding companion, Pankaj, and I.
Peasants in headscarves are ploughing the fields, others scythe and stack hay by hand. Pretty young girls in floral skirts and blouses send up clouds of butterflies as they pad along the verges smiling demurely. This feels like motorcycling into some paradise past, surroundings and fatigue give the experience a dreamlike quality.
Trucks are a nightmare to pass on our single-cylinder Yamaha XT660R chuggers, as with unrestricted engines they drive like WRC devils. Flat-stick, the HGVs hit near-80mph on single carriageways, drifting their trailers through corners and bullying the drivers of ancient, clapped out, Soviet-era Dacia cars.
They are not the only tarmac terrorists. The drivers of the fewer modern cars also harass and bully, paying no regard to others around them – especially those on two wheels. We endure around 200 miles of giddy car-jousting before turning into the foothills of the Fagaras Mountains, our destination the city of Brasov, just a further 100 miles to the east.
On the city’s outskirts, we meet up with our soon-to-be good friend and head of the local bike club (the Brasov Bulls), Dan Bujoreanu. He has good cheap rooms, quick wit, a plentiful supply of excellent red wine and a thorough knowledge of the local trails.
Unfortunately he also has a broken collarbone and so the following morning deputises guiding duties to local enduro fan, Gabone, who leads us into the local mountains on his KTM.
Through villages that can’t have changed much for a century, past the ubiquitous horses and carts creaking their ways to market, we climb into thick forest along muddy logging tracks.
This is where our XTs belong, and thrive, especially with pairs of dirt-oriented Metzeler Karoo tyres digging into the mush and gravel. Having rounded sparkling lakes, chatted with bemused loggers and coated ourselves in seven shades of slime, we return to town.
Brasov, at the heart of Transylvanian Alps, is an historic, cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural past. It is now, though, on fast forward to the future. Gorgeous young lovelies wiggle their scanty ways down the old quarter’s cobbled streets, adding eye candy to pavement café life.
Later, bars fill with good-natured chat and restaurants serving Euro-cuisine heave with affluent middle-class diners, while a smattering of tourists try not to stare at the girls.
Romania is still recovering from what must be Europe’s most crushing political system of the late 20th century. But things are changing fast and the country will soon be in the Euro-zone. The economic opportunities are rapidly growing... and so is the bike scene.
I was lucky enough to be in Brasov during the city’s annual bike festival. Machinery, from mint R1s to CZ125s, flooded in from all over the country as every variety of rider got together to party, stunt, snog and drink.
After a few fantastic days riding and partying in and around Brasov, it was time to make the move a couple of hours south, to the Bucegi mountain range.
For once the route, a ‘highway’ was reasonably placid and well-surfaced. Until, that is, we turned off onto soggy logging tracks that weaved through thick forest and gravel trails before heading over rock-strewn highlands to the snowline.
More stream-splashing, rooster-tailing trails and a small ‘Cabina’ in the forest was found for 15 Euros per night, including dinner. Finding accommodation was never a problem and everything is about half the price of the west.
After just a week, we were both sad to leave Romania and plan to get back there as soon as possible, before everything changes, which it will – soon.
Visa issued at border; Currency New Lei (around five per pound); Euros accepted and cashpoints common; check with insurers; English widely spoken; summer climate 25-30º in the mountains.