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2006 June In Romania PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

BY MOTORHOME FROM ENGLAND TO ROMANIA

The Log of a 2,000 mile Journey

Part Two: June 2006

Margaret and Barry Williamson

Clich here for many more images of our travels in Romania

Click here to open the first part of this log – 25 to 31 May 2006

Click here to open the third part of this log - July 2006

This daily log gives an account of a 2,000-mile motorhome journey to Moldavia in the far north-east of Romania, leaving the UK on 25 May 2006 on the Portsmouth-Caen ferry. We drove from the Second World War battlefields of Normandy to the First World War battlefields between Verdun and Saarbrucken on the French/German border. How we admire the European Union!

After pausing near Heidelberg and again at Schnaittenbach, near Nuremberg, we are headed for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary (to see good friends in Budapest) and then into Romania. After meeting the Fizedean family (old friends from our days of taking aid to Romanian Orphanages) near Arad, we will continue north and east across the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania.

Our intention is to leave the motorhome on a friendly campsite there, whilst we take to our bicycles to explore the Maramures area of Moldavia and the borders of the Ukraine. Entry to the Ukraine is uncertain, but we will try.

To see how we got on and discover what we actually did, read on!

Distances are given in miles; heights in feet; and costs in Euros. 1 mile = 1.6 km; 1 foot = 0.3 metres and, at present, 1 Euro = about 0.7 Pounds Sterling. The current exchange rate for each non-Euro country is given in the log. The daily rate quoted for campsites generally includes an electrical hook-up.

A Table of Distances, Fuel and Costs for the journey from the UK will be included at the end of this log.

1 June  At SCHNAITTENBACH, GERMANY Camping am Forst €11.50

A Rainy Rest Day

A day of seriously heavy rain, when we were glad of the excellent heated laundry and other facilities at the municipal camping and baths. We did some writing and emailing and were relieved to learn that our 'Green Card' for countries beyond Hungary had reached the safe hands of our friends in Budapest.

2 June   166 miles SCHNAITTENBACH – CESKE BUDEJOVICE, CZECH REPUBLIC Autocamp Dlouha Louka €14.00

Across the German-Czech Border to Budweis

Unable to exit the campsite at Schnaittenbach until noon (we'd been warned the drive would be dug up!), we walked down to the village to use the bank, post office and shop. Once free to leave, we drove east on B14 for 7 miles to join the new A6 motorway to and beyond the Czech border. In 1988, cycling from the UK to the far eastern end of what was then Czechoslovakia, this road was narrow and empty and the border area patrolled and quiet: it was the Iron Curtain!

There was a 5 km-long queue of lorries waiting to enter the Czech Republic but we joined the car lane and were quickly through, with no checking of passports or car's papers (of course, the country recently joined the EU) – a far cry from the old days, when even as cyclists we were thoroughly interrogated and searched. There is a large area to park, change money and buy the required motorway pass. These 'toll vignettes' are valid for 10 days, a month or a year. The minimum time for our category (3.5–12 tons) cost €26.00. The local currency is the Koruny (CZK), currently 28 to the Euro or 39 to the Pound, but we didn't need to change money for our transit since the campsites accepted Euros and we paid for fuel with a credit card. Diesel was slightly cheaper than in Germany, at 29.50 CZK/litre: approx €1.08. LPG was also available.

Continuing east on the A6 we found the smooth new motorway had a missing link, south of Plzen towards Prague, so we exited at Junction 27 on E53 and headed 12 miles south to Prestice. From there the narrow road 230 took us south-east for 15 miles, through rolling countryside at about 2,000 ft, until we met E49 at Nepomuk and followed it past Pisek (where it became dual carriageway) and on to Ceske Budejovice. All these cities now have shiny new filling stations, Tesco hypermarkets, Lidl stores, McDonalds and KFC.

In the small towns and villages, bypassed by the new roads, the old way of life lingers on – a man pushing a handcart, the greying net curtains in a forbidding restaurant, a stork's nest on a crumbling chimney behind an abandoned workshop. We read (and believe) that the endless forests of spruce, oak and beech cover one-third of the country and the thousands of little lakes were once medieval carp ponds. An interesting small fact: no rivers flow into the Czech Republic; all the water flows out into surrounding countries.

Ceske Budejovice (more familiar by its German name of Budweis, home of the beer) is on the Vltava River, which then flows north to Prague and empties into the Elbe. It was easy to find 2 adjacent campsites, 2 miles south-west of the city centre, by following the E55 in the direction of Austria and Linz and watching for a right-turn camping sign.

We stopped at the first of the pair, a motel/camping run by Cedok, the government agency who dealt with all accommodation in the Communist era. The 'motel' consisted of lines of simple and seemingly abandoned cabins but the camping area was grassy, quiet and forested, with just a couple of Dutch caravans in residence. The price (360 CZK) was paid in Euros, at a poor exchange rate. The showers were clean and hot, though with the public changing rooms which are the norm in Eastern Europe.

3 June   144 miles CESKE BUDEJOVICE – VEVERSKA BITYSKA, CZECH REPUBLIC Camping Hana €14.55

From Budweis to Brno in the Rain

C Budejovice is a charming medieval city, capital of South Bohemia (much of which is ethnically German, transferred to the newly-formed Czechoslovakia after World War I). However, as the rain which had followed us from England still poured, we postponed exploring it for another visit.

Back into the city and over the Vltava River, we headed north-east on E49/E551 through forests of fir trees, sadly showing signs of acid rain damage from heavy industry. After Jindrichuv Hradec (German name Neuhaus a little easier), we turned east on road 23. After 60 miles, soon after crossing from Bohemia into Moravia (with noticeably worse roads), we passed Telc, another charming medieval town with a historic castle and square but with nowhere to park a 6-ton motorhome!

10 miles further on, we were pleased to meet the E59 coming up from Vienna to join the Prague-Brno motorway. We turned north on it for 20 miles, passing the city of Jihlava, then drove east on E50/E65. The motorway surface was terrible, worse than Morocco at times, with long stretches of corrugated concrete – and for this we had bought a 'vignette'!

We left the motorway at Ostrovacice, Junction 178, 12 miles before Brno. Our old Caravan Club book listed 3 sites here but one had ceased to be and the other 2 were tiny, with very narrow entrances! So we turned north on road 386 for 5 miles of narrow lanes to Veverska Bityska (north-west of Brno) and its larger campsite, which was almost full with a convoy of Dutch caravans. We squeezed in among them and watched a lively red squirrel in the trees. A stork feeding in the cold, wet, blustery field must have wondered if it had returned too early - at below 60 degrees F, it's hardly June weather!

4 June   218 miles VEVERSKA BITYSKA, CZECH REPUBLIC -ESZTERGOM, HUNGARY Gran Camping 4,300 Fts (€16.30 approx)

Across Slovakia and over the Danube to Hungary on Whit Sunday

From Veverska Bityska we drove south-east along a lake to Bystro, then down to join motorway E50 at Junction 190 by Brno. We followed E65 south (Bratislava direction) on another dreadfully corrugated surface and, yes, it was still raining! We turned off with relief after 40 miles of it, at Junction 48 shortly before the Slovak border (avoiding the need to buy a Slovak motorway vignette).

14 miles east at Hodonin, we turned south and almost immediately crossed the River Morava, separating the Czech Republic from its neighbour, another new EU member. There were no formalities. Slovakia immediately looked poorer, with more Communist-era tower-block flats, but after 15 miles at Senica we found a new Tesco Superstore, which offered a place to park for lunch and a fill of diesel. The Slovak Koruna (SK) is worth less than the Czech one, at 38 to the Euro or 53 to the Pound, but we paid for fuel by credit card and didn't change any money. Diesel price was again just over €1/litre but we guessed petrol must be more expensive, or unobtainable, in the villages as local customers filled many cans! We wondered how the old Potraviny food-shops could possibly compete with the likes of Tesco, comparing the old rule of One-per-Customer with the new concept of Buy-One-Get-One-Free!

We continued south-ea42_Esztergom_Bridge_to_Slovakia.JPGst on road 51 to Trnava and on to Sered, where we turned south to Galanta and Dunajska Streda, across lower, flatter country (300 ft) with meandering rivers. The E575 took us south-east again to Komarno, where we had intended to cross the Danube to Komarom in Hungary, as we had 10 years ago. A new and unannounced 3.5-ton limit on the bridge foiled that plan! We checked out the campsite in Komarno, which was a bit sordid and packed with German-speakers in dressing gowns seeking a cure at the thermal spa. So we followed the Danube east for 30 miles to Sturovo, where the next bridge spanned the swollen river to Esztergom, its mighty neo-classical Basilica visible for miles. There were no weight limits and we crossed into Hungary with just a passport check.

We eventually found Esztergom's Gran Camping just half a mile west27_Esztergom_Basilica.JPG along the river, but neither directly accessible nor signed. Did they take Euros – No! Did they do change – No! Did they take credit cards – No! Did they have a place to empty the toilet – No! Did they sell bread – No! Right, welcome to Hungary.

At least the camp seemed quiet and was just a short walk along the bank of the Danube from town. We settled in and almost slept through the loud music and fireworks of the Whitsuntide festival!

5/6 June   At ESZTERGOM Gran Camping

Visiting Esztergom, Writing Letters, Meeting 2 Cyclists on their Way to India

Next day the Danu41_Esztergom_Camping.JPGbe was threatening the campsite with some flooding from a side-stream, which very gradually receded! As the cold showery weather improved, we took a break in Hungary's former capital. After being destroyed by the Turks, it was largely rebuilt in the eightee28_Esztergom_Basilica.JPGnth and nineteenth centuries and there is some fine Baroque architecture.

We explored on foot, finding most shops closed on Whit Monday but able to get currency from an ATM (264 Forints to the Euro34_Esztergom_Basilica.JPG, 370 to the Pound). A small Whit funfair had rides and stalls, and there were plenty of tourists up at the RC Basilica - Hungary's largest church, its ecclesiastical capital - on the site of the former royal palace high above the river. Inside we paid homage to the skull of King/Saint Estvan (Stephen), founder of the Hungarian state, who was born and crowned here in the tenth century. He was recently declared an Orthodox saint, with a newly painted ikon sent from Greece's Monastic Peninsula of Mt Athos. Entrance was free apart from climbing to the dome, not recommended for those with agoraphobia (a fear of slippery marble steps).

We also spent a fascinating half-day talking and eating with a young (ie t42_John_and_Sally_at_Esztergom.JPGhirty-something) couple passing through. Sally and John are cycling from the UK to India via Turkey, Iran, what are known as the 'Stans' (Uzbekistan, Kergikistan, Tajikistan - you get the idea) into China and over the Karakoram Pass into Paki-stan and then India. They were very well prepared, thoroughly thought through yet very modest and, above all, i49_John_and_Sally_at_Esztergom.JPGntelligent and well read. Their website is: www.cyclingtoindia.com.

Meeting people like this is a privilege of travel and certainly gives us a sense of proportion about our own version of the great adventure! They are raising money for a medical facility in north-west Romania which they are visiting on their way. As part of their preparations, they met round-the-world-the-hardest-possible-way-cyclist Alistair Humphreys who is now back in the UK, still claiming that he did it all on noodles and $2 a day! Visit: www.roundtheworldbybike.com

7 June     58 miles   ESZTERGOM - BUDAPEST Zugligeti Niche Camping 5,580 Fts (€21 approx)

Around the Danube Bend and into Budapest, to cook bacon-on-sticks round a fire!

Along the Danube on route 11 all the way to Budapest – simple enough until we met the crazy traffic jams in the capital, not improved by a nightmare web of roadworks which have been going on since Christmas!

The road Szentendre_2[1].jpgeast ran close to the brimming Danube on our left, through wooded national park land to Domos and Visegrad. Here, high above the river, is a magnificent hilltop citadel (1259) - well worth the climb for the view over the Danube Bend (where it turns suddenly south), which we photographed on a previous visit with Ian and Judit. The river divides here, with Szentendre on the west bank and Vac on the east, separated by a long thin island. Szentendre (St Andrew) is a charming little town, about 12 miles north of Budapest, and again we have visited the old centre (and the marzipan museum) with Ian and Judit. Today we just stopped at a brand new Lidl store for supplies.

Once past the Roman remains at Aquincum, we negotiated the chaHROM_(10)_for_web[1].jpgos of central Budapest, with fine views of the Parliament across the river on the Pest side. Staying on the hilly Buda side, we made our way to Zugligeti Niche Camping (an old tram shed area tucked in the woods by the foot of a cable car). We had again come to see old friend Ian Shires (originally from West Yorkshire) and his Hungarian wife Judit, who live near Zugligeti, though we first met in Edirne on Turkey's border with Bulgaria.

They had our mail, sent on by Ian in Bournemouth, including the Green Card from Comfort Insurance for Romania and Bulgaria (and for Slovenia and Croatia if we come back that way and for Poland and the Baltic Republics in case we return that way), something from the Inland Revenue and 4 past articles about New Zealand from Barry Crawshaw, Foreign Travel Editor of the MMM. This is so that we don't repeat their coverage when we write our own New Zealand piece. We are also to write one about our motorhome journey last year in the American West and Barry C already has one about our favourite campsite in Greece.

In the evening, 57_At_the_Sausage_Fest[1].jpgIan and Judit took us to a meeting of KECS, their 4-wheel-drive-based Catastrophe Relief Team (Ian has a long wheelbase Land Rover). It took place in a field in the Budakesi Vadas Park, a wild life reserve on the edge of Budapest. The reserve was aptly named for the club but not for its reserve!

We had a large bonfire, sat around in the field 60_At_the_Sausage_Fest[1].jpgwhile it got dark, and raided the reserved woods for long sticks on which to spear sausages wrapped in stringy bacon to offer to the flames. Their preferred device for chopping wood, cutting sticks and preparing food was a Kalashnikov bayonet! A burnt smoky feast followed, perhaps recalling the days when the 7 Magyar hordes invaded Europe from the steppes of Asia on their ponies. The real treat was a lump of white pig fat 56_At_the_Sausage_Fest[1].jpg(lard?) stuck onto a stick over the fire until it started dripping into the flames, withdrawn so that it dripped a few drops onto a slice of bread and then put back into the flames to melt and drip a bit more, and so on. Took about an hour per slice of bread and dripping, but we are told it is very nice. It made the genuine (ie non-tourist) Maori hangi we attended in NZ feel quite civilised and we are now looking forward to our next opportunity for some Australian bush tucker!

8/9 June   At BUDAPEST, Zugligeti Niche Camping

Time to catch up with writingHROM_(16).JPG and laundry. Our neighbours were international – French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Swiss, English (Ben, his partner and dog in an old campervan), even a South African with a land rover (marked ZA) and roof tent who had driven overland. The Niche has a homely bar/restaurant and a handy bus into the centre of Budapest from its gate. Tucked into the woods at over 800 ft, open all year, it's expensive by our standards but position is everything!

We spent more time with Ian and Judit, at the Niche and at their lovely apartment, eating, talking, viewing photographs and sharing experiences, of which they have had many. Last summer they toured Italy and took the hydrofoil from Sicily to Malta, camping on that tiny island's first (brand new and excellent) campsite. Another good idea for a cycle tour!

In the course of one evening, and before our very eyes, Ian and his Mac made a film (with soundtrack) from the video shots he had been making of the sausage fest and of his visit to our motorhome. We treasure the memories the CD holds!

10 June 58 miles BUDAPEST to KECSKEMET Hotel-To Autoscamping 4,340 Fts (€16.40 approx)

Escaping Budapest, we head south to the Centre of Hungary

Leaving Zugligeti Niche in heavy rain (again), we avoided the congested centre of Budapest (on Ian's good advice) by going away from it. We climbed north-west along Road 1102, following it past the entrance to the Vadas (Game) Park where we'd enjoyed the sausage-sizzle and through Budakeszi to a junction with the outer-ring-road motorway, M0, which is toll-free.

After turning east and crossing the Danube, 25 miles from Zugligeti, we left M0 to join road 5 south towards Kecskemet and Szeged (the last exit before reaching the M5 south, which requires a 'toll vignette'). Road 5 was quiet enough on this Saturday morning and had the familiar 3-part sign banning tractors, horse-drawn carts and bicycles. This applies to all single-digit roads in Hungary and has caused us considerable inconvenience as cyclists (sometimes bike paths link villages, but not always). In the first little town, Dabas, we parked to buy rolls and eat lunch. We had another break a couple of miles before Kecskemet at an enormous TescHROM_(21).JPGo Hypermarket.

The fine town of Kecskemet is halfway between Budapest and Szeged, at approximately the geographical centre of the country. Here, between the Rivers Danube and Tisza, we're on the Great Hungarian Plain, at about 400 ft – the Puszta (Prairie) drained by these 2 mighty rivers, currently both in flood. The big level grassy campsite is about a mile south-west of the centre, next to a thermal baths complex, clearly signed off Road 52, a side turning off Road 5 which we are following. The reception was welcoming (credit cards accepted, chemical-toilet-point accessible) and we initially had the large grassy site all to ourselves.

11/13 June At KECSKEMET Hotel-To Autoscamping

Dry and Sunny at last, in Kecskemet

A convoy of Dutch carHROM_(19).JPGavans arrived to share the campsite – retired and retiring, they were no trouble until their satellite dishes showed Holland winning a football match in the early stages of the World Cup! A low cost outing, they had no coach tours, set meals or guide. Their highlight would be a pancake-based get-together at the end!

We walked into Kecskemet (about 4 miles return), HROM_(20).JPGenjoying ice creams (Fagylalt) in the central square, Kossuth Ter, surrounded by monumental Baroque-style buildings. A massive Town Hall stands opposite the Big Church (both 19th century), near the older St Nicholas Church, originating from the 13th century. The most imposing pile is the 1896 Theatre. Tour groups played follow-my-leader around us in the Sunday afternoon sunshine.

Later, cycling into HROM_(23).JPGthe town to post some letters involved riding 5 miles of uneven pavement, kerbs, avoiding pedestrians and stopping at every intersection and side street for cars, waiting for light-controlled pedestrian crossings. Cycle paths are a good idea – in theory! In practice, they are the worst of all possible worlds!

This website gave rise to serious problems for the first time since we started more than a year ago. The first symptom was an inability to create new Galleries for images; then came an emailed warning from Bliksem that the hosting disk had failed and websites were being transferred to a new disk. We were assured that backups had been made daily!

Suddenly, MagBazTravels reverted to a version dating from the end of February 2006 and Rebecca, the designer of the website, up in Cairns, became involved. It turned out that all the Bliksem backup copies had been corrupted but luckily, Rebecca had a copy she had made herself at the beginning of June. Overnight, she got us back on track but warned of possible future instability as Bliksem may have to change the host disk yet again.

For lighter relief, we watched some videos kindly recorded for us by Margaret's Mum and Ian of Bournemouth. An episode of Inspector Morse was followed by a tribute to John Thaw the day after his death. Bob Geldof took us on a personal, raw and deeply poignant tour of an Africa which is permanently racked with tragedy.

14 June 127 miles KECSKEMET, Hungary to SOFRONEA, Romania

Over the Romanian Border to Arad and the Village Home of the Fizedeans

Still avoiding the M5 toll-motorway, we continued south on highway 5 to Szeged, via Kiskunfelegyhaza (Kis=small, haza=house, the rest we leave to Hungarian-speakers). Buying diesel at the new Tesco there, the receipt called the town KKF-Haza and the friendly assistant's name-badge read Attila (honestly!)

From there to Szeged, we passed many signs for camping, usually combined with a hotel, motel or restaurant, but now bypassed by the M5, which ends about 4 miles before Szeged. This large city, about 45 miles from Kecskemet at the confluence of the Tisza and the Maros (known as the River Mures in Romania, where it rises), sprawls in confusion. We left road 5 and turned east on meeting the Ring Road, across the Tisza and on to Mako on road 43. The rivers are all in spate and we wondered if Szeged's campsite on the banks of the Tisza was flooded. We'd stayed there previously, but it's unsigned and difficult to access in a large motorhome.

We shared the road with Romanian cars and trucks along the 20 miles to Mako, through villages where onions and potatoes were on sale at the roadsides. Crossing the River Maros just before the town, we lunched in Tesco's car park (always spacious!) From Mako it was another 14 miles to the Hungarian/Romanian border, marked by the villages of Nagylak and Nadlac.

Leaving Hungary (and the EU) without formality, we put our clocks forward an hour and went back several decades in time to enter Romania, following a truck of live donkeys! We paid €5 to be sprayed with 'disinfectant', then there was a short queue at Passport Control, but no customs inspection, no interrogation and no interest in our Green Card insurance. At one of several exchange booths, we converted our remaining Hungarian Forints into Romanian Lei (a currency which is now stable at about 5 New Lei to the Pound or 3.5 to the Euro). Until recently it was 50,000 Lei to the Pound, but the new currency has knocked 4 zeros off. Confusingly, both old and new notes and coins are in circulation until the end of 2006.

On our most recent visit, 2 years ago, we were also charged a few Euros for road tax at the border, but the system has changed. You now have to buy a 'vignette' (Roviniet) to stick in the windscreen, but there is virtually no information about this and we could find no-one speaking English, German or French. Nevertheless, you risk a large fine if found without both vignette and receipt – the only thing to show the valid dates! We bought ours at the first filling station, price €2 for one week or €5 for one month. Foreigners must pay in Euros, in cash. (Romanians buy one for a year in local money.) Probably by the time of our next visit the system will have changed again, or even been abolished if Romania joins the EU. Signs declared that the new road we were driving on had been built with EU money, so we might have insisted that we had 'already paid'!

We headed eastHROM_(42)[1].jpg towards Arad on E68 (about 30 miles away on the River Mures), but turned left onto the Ring Road (signposted Oradea) about 4 miles before the city centre. (in a large motorhome, it's best avoided!) Turning left off the Ring Road (signposted Curtici), just before a railway crossing, we followed a bumpy and potholed country lane northwards for 5 miles to the first village and railway halt, Sofronea, home to our friends Dan & Cristina Fizedean and their young boys, Mihail and Radu.

The village is a delight: traditional agriculture continues, with horse-drawn cartsHROM_(25)[1].jpg and hand-milked cows. We asked a trio of women clad in headscarves and pinafores for help with remembering the way to Dan's house. The one who spoke a little English (she has a sister in Detroit) grasped Margaret firmly by the hand and led her all the way to Dan's gate, Barry slowly driving behind. Such warm, genuine kindness is one of the unexpected joys of this country, which we've grown to love over the years (this is our seventh visit, the first being on bicycles in Ceausescu's era).

With our motorhome paHROM_(27)[1].jpgrked in the dusty lane outside (the talk of the village), it was time to catch up with our friends. We last saw the Fizedean family 3 years ago and it was good to meet again, eating and talking together until past midnight. Dan (then a student) and his parents had been our hosts and contacts when we came to Arad in 1990, making a total of 3 trips with aid for orphanages in the aftermath of the December 1989 Revolution. They are devout Baptists and gave us a great deal of much-needed help at that tumultuous time, putting us in touch with their Pastor, John, and with other Baptist ministers in remote Moldavia.

15 June At SOFRONEA, Nr Arad, Romania

Photos, Fruit and Fellowship

Dan's mother, Lucretia, arrived after breakfast (by train from her home in Arad) HROM_(57)[1].jpgand we had a tearful reunion, as Teodor (her husband for 43 years) had passed away last year. He was a big man in every sense, the head of a loving family, who all miss him.

Lucretia worked all day at hoeing the large, productive garden. Margaret picked strawberries and cherries to make jam and pies. It was the last day at school for the boys (until September!) and the last day at work for Dan before a 2-week vacation.

We walHROM_(65)[1].jpgked round Sofronea, taking photos of the timeless village life. The nearest lamp-post had a stork's nest with 2 young (and numerous sparrows squatting in the basement). An old man walked by, bent over under the bundle of brooms he was carrying, crying his wares at the gates of the cottages. Much more interesting than our modern version, the Betterwear man!

A good meal followed, with the whole family excited about their departure on holiday tomorrow, to visit friends in Belgium (and maybe even Eurodisney!) Another world from the Communist days, when Romanians were not even allowed to speak to a foreigner, much less leave the country.

16 June 160 miles SOFRONEA to GARBOVA, Romania Poarta Oilor Camp €15.00

East from Arad along the Valley of the Mures

Dan prayed for safe journeys as we bade each other Drum Bun (Good Road). We drove 5 miles back to the E68 Arad Ring Road and turned east, across the extremely un-level crossing (by which the sellers of wood carvings and glassware had their stalls, knowing traffic would be held up there). Road and railway continued along the Mures River valley towards Deva, climbing very gradually from 380 to over 1,000 ft. This is the main road from the border to Brasov and Bucharest (over 350 miles away), with plenty of motels, rooms and restaurants, as well as fuel and TIR-parking places for the lorries.

The Latin-based Romanian language is certainly more accessible than (for example) Hungarian. Village shops have signs like Alimentara, Magazin Mixt, Posta, Farmacie or Veterinara, though some words are more inscrutable – Biserica for 'church' or Raul for 'river'. It was haymaking time in the fields, with horse-drawn carts and ploughs. We saw beehives in the meadows and cherry-sellers by the road. The signs banning horse-drawn carts on E68 were not observed and we passed several intrepid wagons!

After 86 miles we parked for lunch in Savarsin village, just before crossing the Mures. The busy mining town of Deva, 14 miles on, was overlooked by a ruined 14th century citadel but we were more interested in finding diesel - our best price so far, at around 3.3 New Lei per litre (66 pence or just under a Euro), credit cards accepted.

In Simeria, 9 miles further along, we saw a camping sign pointing 2 km down a narrow left turn towards the River Mures, then a sign for camping/tourist accommodation to the right after crossing the railway and a small river.

Another 11 miles to the well-signposted left turn for the nearby village of Aurel Vlaicu, where we know a good Dutch-run campsite. Entry to the camping area there is via a low arch and larger vehicles have to drive round the edge of a field to enter the back gate. A phone call to Camping Aurel Vlaicu yesterday revealed that the recent heavy rains have made this temporarily impassable so, sadly, we can't get in just now!

Continuing to Sebes HROM_(70)[1].jpg(a Saxon town also known as Muhlbach), where E81 turns north to Cluj via Alba Iulia, we stayed on E68 eastwards towards Sibiu. Ten miles from Sebes, in Miercurea Sibiului, we spotted a large sign pointing right to a brand new motel/camping in the village of Garbova, 3 miles south along a narrow but sealed road. WHROM_(74)[1].jpgith difficulty (a low entrance, about one inch higher than the top of our roof-box!) we entered a superb complex - camping and motel now open with first-class toilets, showers, washing machine and internet; the restaurant and swimming pool hopefully ready next month. The site is Dutch-owned but run by a German/Dutch-speaking Romanian couple from this village of Gabrbova (also known as Urwegen). The only guests, we enjoyed a warm welcome (with coffee), patted the tame deer (which lies under the shade of our awning) and settled in.

17/23 June At GARBOVA, Romania Poarta Oilor (Sheep's Gate) Camping

Stepping Back in Time, Experiencing New Friendship and Hospitality

We walked round the HROM_(79)[1].jpgextensive village of Garbova, on the edge of the Carpathians at 1,150 ft, buying bread and taking photos. The main street into the centre is lined with big Saxon houses, many of them recently restored. (Saxons cleared the forest and settled hHROM_(82)[1].jpgere about 800 years ago.) Swallows are nesting under the eaves (their old nests sometimes taken over by sparrows) and all seemed quiet behind the massive gates. There is a fine Saxon church by a remnant of the old wall. In the centre, we found a school, post office, a couple of small shops and a little cafι. The housing at the far side is much simpler, with an Orthodox church and cemetery (no German names there). The poorest of all are the gipsies on the fringe of the village.

Romanian and Garb_(101).JPGGerman-speakers alike were very friendly, keen to shake hands and know where we came from. Horse and cart is the only local transport – the milkman drives a small white horse pulling his milk-churn cart, and at dusk we watch a line of horses returning from the surrounding fields with their loads. An older Saxon church, noHROM_(84)[1].jpgw roofless but surrounded by stout walls, stands abandoned on a hill above the village, its graveyard still finding some use.

We learnt that 80% of the villagers are officially unemployed (with no benefits except child allowance - about €7 per child per month). Some people work at a wood-yard or on the land. A good old-age pension would be €80 per month, a wage between €100 and €200. Many of the younger people seek work in Western HROM_(86)[1].jpgEurope, in the bulb-fields of Holland or the orchards of Spain. When qualified teachers can earn more by picking strawberries in Austria, the country has real problems persuading people to value education. Kindergarten and village schooling are free, but attending beyond the school-leaving age of 15 (after only 8HROM_(90)[1].jpg years of schooling) means travelling to, and perhaps staying in, a large town, which few can afford.

At €15 per night (€25 per motel room), this campsite will not be used by many Romanians, though it does provide some employment. It is owned by Dutch Christians, who organise conferences and gatherings here, as well as some charity work such as holidays for poor children. The administrators, Daniel and Rodica Pop, are themselves devout Baptist Christians.

On the Sunday morSibiu_Baptist_Batism_5[1].jpgning we went with Daniel and his family (they have 2 delightful young boys) to a baptism service in Sibiu, 25 miles away. We all travelled in his newly washed 6-speed VW Passat and we thanked God for our safe arrival. The modern Baptist Church of Sion was packed for the 10 am service, culminating 2.5 hours later in the baptism of 8 new adult members. There was plenty of joyous singing of traditional hymns, with a long and fiery sermon by an Elder fSibiu_Baptist_Batism_7[1].jpgrom Timisoara. Then the young Pastor slipped off his shoes and stood in knee-high water in the baptism tank in front of the congregation (the scene being visible to those at the sides on 2 video-screens). First he baptised his own sister, Maria, then the others, including a family of 4 (parents and 2 teenage sons), and the widow of a member who died recently. All wore white satin robes, were asked if they believed in Christ as their Saviour, and were then fully immersed, leaning backwards. We learnt that a new baby is brought to their church for blessing but the decision for baptism has to be made by the individual, once old enough to choose.

After the service, Sibiu_Family_Meal_1[1].jpgwe were all invited to lunch at the home of Daniel's friends, Marian and John, who live with their 4 children in a comfortable flat opposite the church. It is a privilege to experience RomaniSibiu_Family_Meal_6[1].jpgan hospitality in this way. Marian was unphased at feeding 6 adults and 6 children, with a feast of dumpling soup, pork, chicken, chips and salad, followed by coffee and home-made strawberry cake. It was also a privilege to talk with Daniel (in German) and John (via Daniel) about their faith and the modern world. John, a very gentle man from the mountain village of Poiana, had to move his family to Sibiu 10 years ago, as he needs twice-weekly kidney dialysis. Marian works as a dressmaker. We were touched by the obvious devotion of the family, singing songs in praise of the Lord after our meal. There is no way to repay such a welcome, but at least we were able to give copies of some of the photos we took.

Daniel and Rodica sang alongGarb_(127).JPG beautifully to a Christian radio channel for most of the drive home. We also attended an evening prayer meeting at Daniel's own small Baptist church in Garbova, where he accompanied the hymns on electric organ while singing with the small choir, which included his 2 sisters, Olivia and Maria. We were touched when a gentle 78-year-old gave part of his reading in German for us (English is very little spoken here).

With Daniel's friendship, help and fellowship, we had a unique experience of life around his native village. Garb_(217).JPGHe introduced us into the traditional courtyard home of a friend who runs the ironmonger's – her little daughter, Roxana, drew us pictures and practised English words while we drank home-made wine. Daniel also drove us to Saliste (half way to Sibiu), where Olivia and Maria work at a Swiss Mission which provides meals-on-wheels to the villages, as well as holding children's camps. From there, he took us high into the hills, to the sheep-rearing village of Poiana Sibiului. We visited the beautiful old home of 4 sisters - the mother and aunts of John, our recent host at the Sibiu Baptist church. They were busy with their work as dressmakers but we were again received with genuine warmth. When a woodcutter delivered a pile of logs for their winter stack, he was not only paid but given a warm meal. Important, in a place where so many have so little.

Many men hung aboutGarb_(218).JPG street corners in hope of a day's work, their homes little more than hovels – some with no glass in the windows and gaps under the roof. We returned down to Garbova by a short cut on cart tracks, passing expanses of washed white wool laid out to dry on the fresh green hillsides. Shearing provides just 2 months' employment for the mountain villagers, who also make and sell bGarb_(195).JPGrooms.

Daniel is a man of many parts and talents. He showed us his field strip (growing animal fodder) and we had first-hand experience of his carthorse (a strong 6-year-old mare named Carina). With his friend, Samuel Lascu, at thGarb_(249).JPGe reins, we had a horse-drawn 3-hour local tour, pausing in the woods to cool our feet at a cascade and returning via an avenue of tall white-cherry trees, where we joined the villagers in picking a feGarb_(245).JPGw. We returned to the lovely picnic area by the cascade one evening, when Rodica had prepared a barbecue party for friends and family – 11 adults and 5 children. We travelled (with the table and grill) by horse and cart, while the others drove part-way and walked. We played with the children as wood-smoke drifted across the stream and Carina grazed under the trees. We feasted on pork, chicken and spicy sausages, cooked over the fire and accompanied by Rodica's special potato salad. We learnt some Romanian and German songs, accompanied by Daniel's enthusiastic accordion. A fairytale atmosphere - we have never had an evening like it!

Under our own Garb_(140).JPGsteam (and the weather was indeed sultry), we cycled north-west one morning along a hilly, barely surfaced, potholed track. Starting at 1,150 ft in Garbova, we rode 3 miles along to Rociu, aGarb_(142).JPG smaller Saxon hamlet, then climbed to 1,500 ft before dropping 400 ft to Cilnic, a village 4.5 miles further, not far off the main Sebes-Sibiu road. We were surprised to find a newly opened World Heritage Site there, the Saxon 'Burg Kelling'. For a small fee (less than €2 including camera permit) we wandered round the little walled fortress, its church and folk museum, featuring traditional dress, wool-spinning, sheepskin coats, ceramics and a wine cellar. We returned in an hour, having ridden a total of 24 km and climbed 1,000 ft.

The occasional Dutch caravan or Swiss tent arriving at Garbova for an odd night certainly missed a wealth of experience! We came for a short visit, stayed over a week and discovered another world with Daniel as our gatekeeper. Sorry if it sounds like a clichι.

24 June 57 miles GARBOVA to CARTA, Romania Camping De Oude Wilg €12.20

From Village Camp to Village Camp, via Sibiu

After sad farewells to Daniel and Rodica at Garbova, we drove 3 miles back to join the E68 at Miercurea Sibiului (aka Reussmarkt). After following the highway east, past Saliste, for a further 23 miles we pulled in to the Metro cash & carry on the outskirts of Sibiu (aka Hermannstadt). However, we were refused entry (the rules had changed 3 months ago – on previous visits, we were given a day pass on production of our passports and allowed to shop for all kinds of food and non-food provisions). We could only buy from the private bakery stall in the entrance, before exiting the busy car park with some difficulty. Another new lesson learnt!

Sibiu is to be the European Cultural Capital in 2007, but we saw none of its reputedly pretty 12th century Saxon centre as we made our way round the TIR-transit route, trying to avoid a 3.5 ton limit. Sadly, its only campsite closed some time ago. As we left the city, about 30 miles from Garbova, an XXL Supermarket proved more willing to take our money (or credit card), so we shopped and lunched in the car park.

At Vestem, 10 miles south-east along E68, we turned north-east on the old highway 1 towards Brasov. Stalls selling local cheese and honey dotted the roadside. A sadder sight was a group of men with ropes, trying to lift a horse which had fallen on its side between the shafts of a cart. About 16 miles from Vestem, after passing the right turn which climbs into the mountains for the Trans-Fagaras Highway, is a left-turn for the village of Carta, with a sign for Camping De Oude Wilg (the old willow tree), just a mile away. We crossed the Sibiu-Brasov railway line by the tiny station, Carta Halta, then turned left and crossed the small flat concrete bridge over the stream, watched by a gaggle of geese and goslings. The welcoming gates of Oude Wilg had been widened since our last visit, easing our entry through the garden to the camping area, tucked behind the home of (Dutch) Manette and (Romanian) Tudor Dragai.

A few Dutch caravans were gathered (including Arnold and Thea, met at Garbova). We settled in the quieter second field, to be greeted by Manette with a sample of her powerful blackcurrant liqueur. A young couple from New Zealand, in a campervan hired in Berlin, reported on the Baltic Republics, which (as new EU members) appear to have advanced rapidly since our visit in 1999.

Carta (aka Kerz, another Saxon village) is about 20 miles west of the town of Fagaras, on the left bank of the Olt which rises in the Fagaras Mountains (Romania's highest). The river borders the back of our field, with the snow-flecked peaks visible in the distance.

25/30 June At CARTA, Romania Camping De Oude Wilg

A South African Overlander, Saxon Kronefest, Soaring Temperatures and a little Cycling

Over 2 fascinating Kevin_(14).JPGdays we got to know Kevin Bergstrom, originally from Johannesburg, who arrived at Oude Wilg in his white ZA-registered Land Rover plus roof tent. We'd seen the vehicle at Zugligeti Niche in Budapest but not its owner, to Ian Shires' disappointment.Kevin_(19).JPG Kevin had actually driven it overland (South Africa to Europe, taking one year to reach Egypt!) He had also travelled extensively in South America and in Australia/New Zealand.

We shared some of our meaKevin_(22).JPGls with Kevin, while he shared some of his amazing experiences. Stories of climbing, spear-fishing, diving, travelling by bus, Kombi-van, motorbike, Land Rover … Hold on, could we do that (Land Rovering through Africa from Cape Town to Nairobi)? Lots of advice, suggestions and tips followed, which we can work on. We showed him the video of Joe Simpson's 'Touching the Void' – an incredible (true) mountaineering adventure in the Andes, and also an episode of Bob 'Geldof in Africa'. (Both taped for us by Ian Kenyon and much appreciated.)

On the SundCarta_(23).JPGay, the 3 of us walked into the village to witness the annual Krone-(Crown) Fest – or Kruinefest in local Saxon dialect. It began at noon, with a service in the church by the ruins of the 12th cenCarta_(14).JPGtury Cistercian Convent. A free lunch was provided for all comers, at long tables under a marquee. We joined visitors and villagers (many in traditional black & white costume), tucking into pork and sausage, potato salad and sauerkraut. Then the brass band led a procession to the centre of the village, carrying the 'Crown' – an elaborate double-arched wreath of oak leaves and wild flowers. This was attached to the top of a tall wooden pole, before hoisting it aloft (about as high as a telegraph post).

To our great suCarta_(35).JPGrprise, the chosen young man (in costume, minus shoesCarta_(40).JPG) climbed the smooth pole, sat in the branches to get his breath, made a speech, had a good swig from the bottle of Schnaps hidden there, threw sweets to the gathered chldren and slid back down to great applause, a speech by the Burgermeister and more music, singing and dancing. Presumably some kind of pagan midsummer rite from the forests of the Vaterland. Margaret was intrigued by the words on the song-sheet: a hymn of praise to the Siebenburgen (Saxon Transylvania), all about the crops of vines and corn, and a second song in inscrutable Saxon dialect.

The weather got hotter, drier and more settled, temperatures climbing abovCarta_(62).JPGe 90 degrees F each afternoon, and we ran the air-con to cool the roof. Must be getting used to it, as we enjoyed a very sunny cycle ride, out past a hydro-electric dam on the Olt River, round to the next village, Nou Roman, and back through the hayfields – about 14 miles in 1.5 hours. It was very quiet, with no shops to be seen, but women were carrying loaves, eggs, fruit and veg, so they must know where to go!

A second short cCarta_(74).JPGycle ride (22 miles, climbing from 1,300 ft up to 2,550 ft) was towards the Balea Cascade, through the village of Cartisoara with its folk museum. The first 6 miles were a gentle incline up the Balea Valea, then a more serious ascent of zig-zags. We cooled our feet in the stream and were glad of any shade from the forest.

Each evening the sky was lit by flashes of lightning from the mountains, accompanied on our last night by a sudden storm which ripped the awning, just as we leapt outside to roll it in. Luckily, we had already ordered a replacement for the worn fabric, to be fitted at Motorhome Medics on our next UK visit. Barry also had to pop-rivet the motorhome's outside step, which collapsed.

One afternoon our site was invaded by a flock of sheep, who broke through the fences into the neighbour's cornfield, then came to help Tudor with the grass-mowing! Our hosts at Oude Wilg offer a home-cooked 3-course evening meal for €9 per head, which we sampled one night. Very tasty - a mushroom salad starter, pork kebabs and sausages with interesting vegetables, a delicious cherry/blueberry cheesecake – all prepared with local produce and herbs, eaten in their cosy home. Pity about the loud 'Double Dutch' at the next table, though!

Time was also spent on cleaning, baking (a Black Forest-type cake, made with cherries we'd picked and tuica – fruit brandy), and internetting. Margaret worked on translating and adding to a Romanian campsite list (from the Dutch and in Dutch), ready to update it for our website. Starting with 46 campsites, the final total became 64! Click here to see the list!