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To Istanbul and Return (The Dears) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

A JOURNEY BY CAMPERVAN FROM THE UK TO ISTANBUL via HUNGARY, ROMANIA, BULGARIA & GREECE - & BACK

Keith & Jenny Dear

Summer 2006

There follows anVD_(26).JPG account of a 6,000 mile journey we undertook in our high-top Autosleeper Symphony, 2.5L Diesel, Peugeot Boxer-based Campervan, in the summer of 2006. We'd had much experience previously in Eastern Europe and wanted to drive down to Istanbul this year. However, we were uncertain of conditions in the countries involved in the land route to Turkey and Greece, namely Romania and Bulgaria. We had been told we MUST visit Romania but had heard and read so much negative comment abouVD_(25).JPGt these countries that we felt we needed to do plenty of research. In this respect, we are particularly indebted to Barry and Margaret Williamson, our hosts on this web site.

Our objective is to present a short account of our experiences in the hope of encouraging others who might be doubtful, as we were. The vast amount of items of cultural interest is very well covered on the host web site and in the Lonely Planet guidebooks, so it is not our intention to duplicate this information here. This was essentially a long journey, through wildly varying cultures, and it has been extremely difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out.

Trip Research and Planning

Our idea was to travel down to Greece by a fairly direct route, then into the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey before moving on to Istanbul. After spending time in Istanbul we planned to take more time, particularly in Romania, reaching there via the Black Sea coast route through Bulgaria. We took 2 months on the road, although maybe in retrospect we might better have ascribed 3 to this trip, the mileage of which, Calais to Calais, was 5,664 miles. However, we have resolved to return, particularly to Romania, in the future. Unfortunately we couldn't take our camper into Asian Turkey, as our insurance didn't allow that. This we later regretted, and wished we'd made more effort on the issue before leaving home.

We had heard lots of negative things about the countries we were to visit, including terrible roads and stray dogs in Romania (BOTH VERY TRUE!!), lots of litter everywhere in Romania, bogus Bulgarian policemen, corrupt real Bulgarian policemen, stray gangland bullets in Bulgarian cities, rip-offs and long delays at border crossings and bird flu' in Romania and Turkey. The only evidence we found of any of these items, apart from the roads and stray dogs in Romania, was the disinfectant troughs at Romanian borders. In fact we found everyone we came into contact with most helpful and friendly – including Bulgarian policemen! We found Romania to be generally less litter-strewn than some parts of England.

It took 4 days to reach Szeged in Hungary, driving through continuous heavy rain, making use of autobahn service areas for overnight halts to speed our passage. We paused at Szeged to draw breath, staying at the Napfeny Hotel Camping site, which we knew from last year.

Entering Romania

There were none of theimg01.jpg anticipated difficulties getting across the border. Everything changed upon entering Romania – we felt we were in a different and thoroughly absorbing world. The cows walking along the dirt village roads at 7 pm, returning from their pastureland, were a sight we shall always remember. We were later told they know their way 'home' and will each turn into their individual yard! Local transport in the rural areas was usually horse and cart, and in thiimg13.jpgs season they were often laden high with hay which had been manually scythed down. Whole families, both young and old, could be seen in the fields engaged in this activity, which is obviously a source of pride here. In the villages the people tended to congregate in the evenings and weekends outside their houses, talking and watching the world go by. In short, it seemed that the clock had been wound back a hundred years or so. This was especially true of the Maramures area in northwest Romania, and we found it all so captivating.

Through Romania to Bulgaria

Having crossed over into Romania on the Szeged-Arad border crossing, we headed for Timisoara and Camping International, which was OK but very muddy after all the recent rains. It was also rather expensive by Romanian standards, as we realised later. We hadn't expected to see the large, sparkling mall we found in the middle of the city. Timisoara is where the anti-Ceausescu movement started in 1989, terminating with his and his wife's execution, but not before a great number of other deaths had occurred at the hands of the communist guns and tanks.

Next we headed east towards Lugoj on route 6, along one of the worst road surfaces in Romania. We were rewarded by seeing an old Dacia car being carried along, presumably to the knacker's yard, in a horse drawn cart! We reached our next campsite, at Aurel Vlaicu on the route 7, one of several sites owned and operated by the Dutch in central Romania. We spent a peaceful night there, enjoying the rural atmosphere of the village and surrounding fields. Next day we had a look at Sibiu where, in the centre, scores of workmen were busily refurbishing the very old buildings and laying cobblestones. It was pleasant enough, and reminded us of similar restorations around Europe.

Carta next, aDear_01.jpgnd the delightful Camping de Oude Wilg, which is approached over a tiny bridge in the centre of the village. We were greeted with the customary glass of home-made liqueur, a nice touch. We now headed for Bulgaria via Pitesti, where we missed the supposed campsite and stayed the night on a motel car park. This would have been fine, but it was a Saturday night and a wedding reception was in full swing, with very loud music continuing until 4 am. Next day, maybe failing to concentrate properly, Keith managed to get the van stuck in soft tarmac, oDear_02.jpgff the A1 motorway to Bucharest. This began to look terminal at one point, but after a delay of a few hours and much digging by two youths (in vain), a large tractor and jovial driver were summoned from the village and pulled us clear. We gave up trying to reach Bulgaria this day and instead fought our way through the often unsigned road 'system' in Bucharest (no mean task this), to locate the excellent Camping Casa Alba, in the northern outskirts of the city between its two airports. This campsite is set in the huge and attractive grounds of the fashionable Casa Alba hotel.

Crossing the 'Friendship' Bridge into Bulgaria

Next day we made Bulgaria, but only after much cursing at the lack of road signing in Bucharest. Finally we located the route 100A which circumnavigates the city in a very wide arc. We were glad we were not travelling in the opposite direction, as a broken down lorry had caused a tailback of several miles. At one stage a helpful local had pointed out the route to us, otherwise we might never have found it! Anyway, by nightfall we had paid our border tolls, including one for the huge old metal structured bridge over the river Danube. We were now in Bulgaria and immediately sought out a TIR park, which we knew existed there. In the event we chose a different one, owned by the haulage company Willi Betz. At 5 Leva (£1.80) for the night this was a useful and secure overnight stop.

So, we had survived our first night in Bulgaria and were getting braver by the hour. The long road to Sofia followed, which we were delighted to find was in much better condition than most Romanian roads. By late afternoon we had covered the 180 miles and then swung left, heading for the southern Sofia by-pass where we believed there was a TIR park. The road still had a good quality surface, but a few miles into the by-pass the surface deteriorated badly for a couple of miles, and it was no coincidence that this was the portion that was lined on both sides by scantily clad 'ladies of the night' awaiting customers. The TIR park to the northern side of the road, a short distance before a McDonalds (which was on the southern side), did not look very secure and was pretty full. Also the accompanying motel, whose basic facilities were rumoured to be available to TIR park users, was closed. We therefore decided to go on, got a bit lost looking for the turn towards the Rila Monastery, and stayed the night on a garage forecourt, with permission "as long as you leave by 7 am" (all in sign language and drawing clocks on a piece of paper).

Next morning, after the eDear_03.jpgarly start, we got badly lost, partly because the signs were in Cyrillic only, as they often are in Bulgaria. We found ourselves passing an outdoor café where lots of workers were enjoying hearty breakfasts, prior to commencing their daily grind at the vast and very run down industrial plant next door. Again, by some wild arm movements and map pointing, the helpful Bulgarians directed us to the correct roads to take. So, on to the Rila monastery, Bulgaria's largest and most revered, hidden away in the Rila mountains some 70 miles south of Sofia. We stayed the night at Camping Zodiac, which is just along the road from the monastery in a pleasant riverside setting.

We took the well-surfaced route 1, a pleasant road down to the Bulgaria/Greece border, stopping for lunch at a good, inexpensive restaurant near to the border, on the Bulgarian side. In fact we found throughout Bulgaria that food did not cost very much and there was usually a ready supply of good restaurants. By now we had relaxed in this country, having encountered none of the nasties we had feared and been told about (told also, we might add, by the residents of neighbouring countries to Bulgaria, who don't seem to like the country at all, presumably for good historic reasons). Maybe we were just lucky, or maybe not. We can only report what we found.

Northern Greece

Guided by the Lonely Planet (our trusty guidebooks of many years' standing) we headed for the Halkidiki peninsula below Greece's second city, Thessaloniki. The peninsula has 3 fingers jutting down into the Aegean Sea. The westerly one, Kassandra, comprises mainly luxury holiday complexes and package tourist resorts, and the easternmost, Athos, is occupied by Athonite monasteries. We chose to visit the middle finger, Sithonia, aDear_04.jpgnd did not regret our decision, making our base at Camping Rea near the village of Vourvourou on the east coast. The weather had now turned very warm and the laid-back beach culture here became most acceptable. After Sithonia we stayed at Camping Municipal, Lerissos, right next to the beach, and just north of the Athos peninsula. This was fine, but the first day was a Saturday and very loud music issued from the beach bar next door to the campsite throughout the night, until 6 am on the Sunday morning! We have found for many years now that the most consistently annoying feature almost everywhere in Europe is loud 'music', often blaring away in the most delightful places, as it was here. However, in spite of this we thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Halkidiki, with its laid-back beach culture, good eating and many well-equipped campsites.

Towards Turkey

After Halkidiki we travelled east towards Turkey, first catching up with our email situation while stopping for lunch at Kavala, before going on to spend the night at Camping Municipal at Asprovalta. Next day we stayed at another Camping Municipal, this time at Alexandroupoli. We liked this campsite and the small town, which was within easy walking distance of it, so decided to remain there for a second night. Having discovered a nice coffee bar on the sea front, we were able to relax for a while prior to reaching Turkey. We also visited the train station, which apparently used to be a stop for the Orient Express on its way to Istanbul. The station is completely unassuming these days, displaying none of its former grandeur.

Into Turkey: The Gallipoli Peninsula

We waited at the borDear_06.jpgder with Turkey for longer than any other borders, the proceedings being suitably chaotic and the purchase of a Turkish one-month Visa (£10 each) not being at all conveniently organised. The whole process, including an amazing amount of passport stamping by various officials, took an hour. Then we were away and into Turkey, passing by huge paddy fields initially. We came to a large roundabout, by which there was a welcoming outdoor coffee bar. We were perhaps not too surprised (by now) that the shopping complex next door was bellowing out Christmas carols, sung in an American accent, and this was June 15th!

We carried on to the Gallipoli peninsula, locating a decent campsite called 'Kum Hotel Camping', situated in the grounds of the Kum Hotel to the south of the former major Anzac battlefields. There was a large party of people here who formed a film crew, no doubt filming in the battlegrounds around here. They were relaxing for the evening, taking advantage of a mobile canteen and of the nearby beach bar. They sprang into action early the next day and were gone by the time we emerged.

The terrain and Dear_05.jpgclimate at Gallipoli was so idyllic that it was difficult to comprehend the terrible killing which went on here in 1915 (half a million men killed, half of these on each side). We had a look at Anzac Cove and while there saw a very unusual sight - another British motorhome. Unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity to speak to its occupants. However, we did manage to exchange cheery waves as they passed.

We also toured the smallimg03.jpg Kabatepe museum, which was interesting and contained actual letters written by the some of the unfortunate soldiers in 1915. We went down to the bottom of the peninsula to see the British monument at Cape Helles, where a British contingent had landed but were pinned down and could not be effective. The Dardanelles presented a handsome sight away to the east of here, with Istanbul unseen but somewhere over there in the distance.

After the moving experience of Gallipoli we carried on, stopping for a meal at the port town of Eceabat, where a Turkish couple in a motorhome just couldn't believe we couldn't go across the narrow strait by the ferry here, to reach Istanbul through Asian Turkey. But we couldn't, due to our van insurance restrictions, so we carried on by road right around the coast, stopping overnight at a friendly restaurant owner's car park for free, as we couldn't locate a campsite around there.

And now into Istanbul …

At last, our journeying had led us to our 'ultimate' destination, the city of Istanbul. We had by this time travelled 3,100 miles from Calais and were experiencing a mixture of elation and apprehension, just like we imagine all travellers should be at these times. Locating Camping Londra was indeed extremimg04.jpgely difficult. We easily located the only alternative, Atakoy Mocamp, but the area around there smelt badly of rotten eggs, just as we had been warned it would. We made an excuse and set off to search for Camping Londra, partly guided by instructions received at Atakoy. In the end we were lucky. We knew we had to turn sharply, 'before the first pump' at a Shell garage (surprisingly, no sign exists that is normally visible from the road!!) and asked at a BP garage, which happened to be some 300 yards before the Shell garage. This was on route 100, to the northeast of the airport, leading towards the city, the site then being located to the south of the road.

Camping Londra was 'OK' for a city site, being located a short (but rather challenging) walk from a metro station called Yenibosna. We found it best to take the metro for 4 stops, to Zeytinburnu, then change to the air-conditioned tram which deposited us in the middle of the city, or alternatively at the ferry boat area if desired. The ferries were cheap, at 40p per crossing, traversing the Bosphorus to the Asian part of Istanbul.

On our third day at Camping Londra, a young couple arrived on img07.jpgcycles and pitched a small tent. They were Patrick and Sophie from Holland, who were mid-way into a cycle journey from Holland to China, and had included Italy for good measure. From Italy they had cycled back up to Venice and down through the Balkans to Greece, before arriving in Turkey. They had covered around 4,000 miles and were heading on through Iran, Pakistan and India. We had been told we were likely to meet some long-distance travellers in Istanbul, but hadn't expected them to be on cycles!

Istanbul isimg05.jpg very well described in the Lonely Planet 'city guide'. We found it every bit as fascinating as we had thought img06.jpgwe would, and it represented a perfect terminus for our journey. The numerous mosques, the huge bazaars, the people (16 teeming million of them), the boat trips, the chaotic atmosphere, all came together to make this a memorable visit. On top of this, the Turks drink black tea, which is Keith's favourite, but good coffee was also available for Jenny! But unfortunately we didn't have enough time left to see the Whirling Dervishes!

Heading for the Black Sea

Our return journey initially took us to the Turkish border near the interesting Turkish town of Edirne, with its huge mosque right in the centre of town. We had a meal in a town centre restaurant, which we were loathe to leave, as its air conditioning was so effective and the heat was once again sweltering. We then sought out Omur Camping, around 5 miles along route 100 back towards Istanbul. The campsite was quite OK but we had a small problem with a large Alsatian dog that was roaming loose and wanted us to walk it out, which we declined to do. Edirne has become famous for its annual oil-wrestling festival, of which the locals apparently disapprove.

Next morning we crossed back into Bulgaria and made for the Black Sea at Burgas via country roads which were for the most part OK. However, due to extensive roadworks, there was a very bad section in the middle, with a series of dust storms being created by oncoming vehicles.

We img08.jpgstopped briefly for a meal in one of the many restaurants in Burgas, then stayed the night at a small campsite near Pomorie, just up the coast. There was not much room, but the friendly owner found us a spot right next to the beach and then gave us each a glass of home-made red wine. All for 6 euros, hook-up and all! By now the mosquitoes were a real menace though (June 25th).

Travelling north along the coast, we concluded that this was surely the next area to be invaded by Northern Europeans. There was much evidence of apartment and hotel building, but as yet not at all on a par with that on the Spanish costas. That night we rented a small chalet on a seaside complex at the remarkable town of Albena and enjoyed a meal sitting outside one of the many restaurants here. We asked someone where the town centre was, but were informed there wasn't a real town here, it was just the holiday complex. A bit like a mini version of Las Vegas, we thought.

Next day saw us go north, over the quiet and relaxed border crossing with Romania. Trucks are obviously not allowed here and we wished all borders were as easy-going as this.

Back in Romania, heading north

Once in Romania wDear_20.jpge headed for the industrial port of Constanta, then kept going straight through the city to the very popular resort of Mamaia, a few miles to the north. It seemed that half the people of Romania were here enjoying their summer holidays, but in reality we realised that most are too poor for this. We stayed the night at Camping Tabara, at the northern end of the strip. This site was located right onto the white sand beach and had an excellent facilities block for a cost of 36 Lei (approx £7).

We now swung inland on route 2A (E60), heading for Bucharest. This route took us through a few miles of the Danube Delta with its virile bird life, and was the area where we saw the most stork nests on the top of poles by the roadside. To cross the old bridge over the river Danube cost us 5 Lei (£1). The river was very wide here, as it idles its way through the Delta towards the sea, up by the Ukraine border.

We were heading for Casa Alba, where we had stopped on the way down, and made it around rush hour time, just to add to the joys of negotiating the ridiculous Bucharest roads! We didn't do too badly though, following the ring road 100A and this time managing to identify the correct turn to reach Casa Alba. The local mayor has decided to have a crash- bang effort to sort the roads out this summer, so hopefully future visitors might be more fortunate.

We spent two img09.jpgrewarding days exploring the old city of Bucharest. We feel it's all too easy to dismiss unrestored cities as 'messy and best avoided', when a peep below the surface shows there's always much to be enjoyed. Whilst here we took a guided tour of the colossal 'Palace of Parliament' (House of the People) for a cost of 20 Lei (£4) each. This amazing place, which is stated to be the second largest building in the world by surface area, was built bimg10.jpgetween the years 1983 to 1989 as a huge ego trip by Ceausescu, to show the rest of the world what Romania could achieve. A sixth of the city's buildings were wiped out to make space, the total cost was 31 billion dollars, and 20,000 people were employed on its construction on a 24/7 basis for 5 years. It has 3,100 furnished rooms spread over 12 storeys. We were told that every material used in the construction of the building was REAL, i.e. gold, marble, hardwood, crystal, silk, etc. Ceausescu had insisted upon this. Ironically, the dictator and his wife were executed before they had taken up residence.

When we got back to the campsite that evening 2 large British motorhomes had arrived. Their owners, Tony and Bob, told us they were heading down to Istanbul, then back to the UK via Albania, etc, regardless of insurance, apart from that purchased at country borders. Brave guys these!

We moved north after Bucharest, along the route 1 (E60), a very wide but extremely dangerous road for the first 50 miles or so, before it became a dual carriageway. The reckless way Romanians drive has to be emphasised, perhaps fortunately in old and fairly slow vehicles. At least the route 1 had a reasonable surface. We reached Brasov, the 'Prague of Romania' according to the Lonely Planet, and located Camping Darste to the east of route 1 as it enters the city. The campsite and the city were pleasant enough. We had a stroll around the welcoming square the next morning and observed the gentrification that had taken place recently in the city centre, a short walk from where we had parked up at the 'Parcal Central' (no charge of course, which is nearly always the case in Romania – at present).

Heading for the Maramures

We were now img11.jpgheading for the pinnacle of our tour, Istanbul apart, namely the Maramures area in the extreme north-west of Romania. Our route took us through Sighisoara, at the heart of Transylvania, where we just managed to squeeze the van through the arch to enter Camping Central, and saw the signatures in the guest book of Tony and Bob, who we had met at Bucharest. We knew then that there had to be a back entrance to the site! The town looked interesting, but we just had time that evening to have a browse around the medieval citadel before sampling a tasty pizza in a restaurant nearby.

Our aim the next day was Vatra Dornei, via Targu Mures and Bistrita.img14.jpg The road wasn't too bad until Bistrita was passed, then it was absolutely DREADFUL all the way to Vatra. It took ages and we thought maybe we shouldn't have spent so long relaxing over our lunch in Targu Mures. The illustrated camp symbol in our new map did not mean what it implied, and we finiimg12.jpgshed up rolling along on an even worse track off the main 'road' until we came to a lake. Extremely scenic but nowhere to stop, the track being right up to the sloping fields. At these moments there's usually some kind person around, and so it was that we met Raluca, a young economics graduate, who let us stay in her driveway off the track. We learnt that the track serviced a quarry further on, which accounted for the dust everywhere. In the morning we spent a long time talking to Raluca. We always try to give priority to moments like this and certainly enjoyed this conversation, learning much about Romania in the process.

We carried on along the tortuous road to Vatra Dornei, finallDear_19.jpgy making it around mid- afternoon. As soon as we drove into Camping Runc (very good, we would recommend it) we saw a 'Four Winds' motorhome which we recognised, from pictures wVD_(20).JPGe'd seen, as being owned by our hosts on this web site, Barry and Margaret. They appeared in person(s) soon afterwards and a most pleasant afternoon and evening was enjoyed with them. Plenty of travel storieVD_(36).JPGs were, of course, flying around between us. In the morning we said our fond farewells to our newfound friends and set off north, then west, towards the Maramures via the Prislop Pass, Borsa and Viseu de Sus. With the very bumpy road our bathroom door catch broke and a running repair was necessary. We must say though that the van had done very well up to now, in spite of Keith's attempt img15.jpgto bury it at one stage!

Eventually we reached Borsa having 'topped' the Prislop Pass (4,272 ft) en-route. The road all the way from Vatra had been even worse than from Bistrita to Vatra, and it had been a very long day. We stayed the night at a garage forecourt at Viseu de Sus (with permission) and next day carried on towards Sapanta. We knew that this village, in the heart of the Maramures area up by the Ukraine border, contained the Merry Cemetery with its carved and painted crosses.

The Maramures

We decided to try the alternative country road through the lush Izei valley, running parallel to the main road. This was an excellent move, since the road was as good as a typical English country road and it passed through a few old and interesting villages. We turned off and entered the village of Ieud, with its dirt road and the 'church on the hill' - the oldest wooden church in the Maramures, built in 1364. To visit this village you have to be prepared to dish out large amounts of sweets (bonbons) to the many children! We were also asked into the home of a lady who spoke good English and were invited to purchase paintings, apparently done by her elderly mother. Having no space for such items in our small van (Margaret & Barry would testify to this!) we declined, but did part with a few Lei for two small bracelets.

By now we were realizing just why the Lonely Planet goes into raptures about this area; it is so beautiful and completely unspoilt. We felt very privileged to be there.

We carried on to the town of Sighetu Marmatiei, where we had a break from the driving. Apart from eating here, we looked for an Internet cafe, got lost and were promptly whisked back and to the door of one such by a local security man, in his car. While we were there we met Timea, who works for a Bucharest-based travel agency and is their director for the Maramures area. This was lucky as we subsequently had an English-speaking tour of the Merry Cemetery at Sapanta and a visit to the workshop of the woodcarver, who was busily carving a cross at that time. Timea also accompanied us to a new wooden church, which is under construction a mile or so from Sapanta, in an idyllic woodland setting.

The Merry Cemetery img17.jpgdeserves a paragraph of its own, although well covered elsewhere. All the graves are marked by a carved and painted cross depicting the life, and sometimes the circumstances of death, of the incumbents (e.g. run over by a tractor). It is generally well kept and you are charged 5 Lei/person to enter, and 5 Lei extra if you want to use a camera. It seems that people from other areas, or countries, sometimes purchase these carved and painted crosses for a loved one who has passed away. We worked out the approximate cost to be around £1,000 per cross, depending on complexity.

While at Sapanta we stayed atDear_21.jpg the small campsite 'Camping Poieni' where we img16.jpgenjoyed a meal (trout) with Timea, perched on a riverbank at the rear of the site. Each day Keith scaled scaffolding poles here to turn ON the tap to obtain fresh water for our tank! This didn't stop us liking the site and the village very much and we wished we could have stayed longer there. We decided we must return at some future date.

It was time to head for Hungary now, which we reached via the towimg18.jpgn of Satu Mare, where we stayed the night. The only campsite in the town was closed, although it was the height of summer, so we took the advice of a local and spent the night on the side of the road in a cul-de-sac. We recall that the summer mid-European heat was still making sleeping a bit difficult, but apart from that we were fine.

Next day we had a struggle to locate the correct road to the Hungarian border and found ourselves on an awful road leading to a village, on the border but without a crossing point. So we returned all the way to Satu Mare and this time found the correct road.

Back in Hungary

We were not detained for very long at the border, and now exchanged the many interesting features of Romania for the smooth roads of Hungary. We made Budapest by late evening, but concluded that the driving was almost as bad as in Romania and the cars generally more powerful. We observed one accident where a car was wedged high above the motorway, among trees. A fire engine crew were working to reach the unfortunate occupants as we passed by on the other carriageway.

We drove on towards Dear_22.jpgBudapest and finally located Romai Camping (in northern Buda) with the help of a friendly local, who drove in front of us to show us the way for a couple of miles or so. We had enjoyed our stay at Romai Camping last year and knew it had a good public transport connection to the city centre. img19.jpgWe spent 3 nights there, escaping the intense city heat on the last day by taking the Cog railway, then the Children's railway into the Buda hills. A great idea is to leave the Children's railway at the fourth station, Janos-hegy, and return to the city via the chair lift from there. This provides splendid views across the city as you descend. However, be aware that there is a long incline on the path between Janos-hegy station and the stair lift. On this very warm day, this walk totally negated the cool we had gained from going up into the hills! At the foot of the chair lift there is a bus to catch to reach the city centre.

Something we stumbled across last year: the over-65's travel on the city transport free of charge. You simply do not need to obtain a ticket for your ride. This does not include the Cog railway, or the Children's railway, but it seems to include all other transport within the city. Note here that a female has to be 65 (not 60) to qualify. A small compensation, this, for advancing senility, but why not take it as it's on offer?!

So that was it. All that remained was the thrash along the autobahns to reach Calais where the Euro-tunnel booking was looming. This time we had sweltering heat for this part of our journey, as opposed to the heavy rain we had driven through on the way down. Keith soon decided he would rather have the rain for this run, as the heat made this type of driving, in a non-air-conditioned vehicle, extremely fatiguing.

IN CONCLUSION …

In conclusion, we can say that we found the complete trip fascinating and very absorbing, in a way no other trip had been for us. We would thoroughly recommend it to anyone contemplating such a journey, but if the northern area (the 'jewel in Romania's crown') is on the menu we would have to say that at present we would not want to undertake this with anything larger than our Symphony (now renamed 'Symbol' by Autosleeper). We would also have to think very hard before taking a caravan into Romania. One day, maybe not so far away, the roads will no doubt be improved to West European standards, but then Romania will not have the appeal it has now. So, if you can, DO IT NOW !!!

A Few Statistics

There follows a table of stats relating to our journey, which might be of interest:

DAYS OUT:

54

MILEAGE:

5,664 (Calais to Calais)

DIESEL COST:

£607 (10.72 pence/mile)

DIESEL CONSUMPTION:

30.37 mpg

SITES COST:

£426 (£7.89/night – inc 14 'free' nights)

BORDER COSTS:

£74 (inc Vignettes & Turkish Visas)

   

AVERAGE DIESEL COSTS

Pence per Litre

France

78

Luxembourg

66.5

Germany

84 (autobahn purchases only)

Austria

79 (autobahn purchases only)

Hungary

76

Romania

68

Bulgaria

63.5

Greece

69

Turkey

83 (sample of one)

 

Credit Cards were nearly always accepted at garages, usually using a PIN number. Once in Bulgaria, and once in Romania, cash was requested. There was no anxiety about obtaining fuel at any time.

Gallery of 29 Images

Romania 

A typical village road

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Romania

The little bridge at Carta  

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Romania

Strange vehicle & wild dogs, off the A1 Pitesti to Bucharest motorway

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Bulgaria

Entering Ruse, having crossed the 'friendship' bridge into Bulgaria

 img02.jpg

 

Bulgaria

The Rila Monastery

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Greece 

Municipal Camping, Lerissos, Halkidiki

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Turkey 

Entering Turkey, from Greece

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Turkey 

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

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Turkey

The Turkish War Memorial at Kabatepe, Gallipoli

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Turkey 

Entrance to Londra Camping, Istanbul

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Turkey 

Patrick & Sophie at Londra Camping

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Turkey 

Istanbul scene, the Blue Mosque in background

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Turkey 

The Grand Bazaar area, Istanbul

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Bulgaria 

Camping by the Black Sea, at Pomorie, Bulgaria

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 Romania

Camping Tabara at the North end of 'strip' at Mamaia, Constanta

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Romania

 “Palace of Parliament”, Bucharest

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Romania 

View from the “Palace of Parliament” balcony

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Romania 

Leaving Camping Central, Sighisoara

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Romania 

Raluca at Colibita in the Caliman Mountains

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Romania 

Mountain track near Colibita

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Romania 

Romania: Typical haycart

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Romania

Barry & Margaret Williamson with their Four Winds motorhome in Vatra Dornei 

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Romania 

On Route 18, heading towards Borsa

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 Romania

Our dining table at Camping Poieni at Sapanta

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Romania 

Keith drawing water at Camping Poieni, Sapanta

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Romania 

The Merry Cemetery at Sapanta

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Romania 

Outskirts of Satu Mare.  This shot says a lot about priorities in Romania!

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Hungary

 Janos-hegy station on the Children's Railway,  Budapest

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Hungary

At Romai Camping, Budapest

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