Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Transfagarasan Road - a huge heart in my throat kind of day - for all sorts of reasons.

We had arrived at the Complex Europa Transfagarasanwith the intention of driving the Transfagarasan Road down to Bucharest.  This is the road that Top Gear has stated as the world's best road to drive!

We arrived late on Sunday with the sun behind us from another warm summer's day and with clouds rolling in over the Carpathian Mountains.  There is a little stream trickling along behind our hostel styled accommodation where we actually have a two bedroom 'suite'.
Just as I finished uploading the blog last night, the storm that had been thundering down the mountains hit.  Had to find the wet weather jacket just to get to dinner!
The Hotel is full and as we sit having dinner they turned away no less than eight groups of people who seek solace from the rain and turn up on speck. No Joseph, there is no room at this inn - try down the road 4 kms!

Dinner was an interesting affair. Nothing fancy, nothing flash. Just down to earth good traditional food. We began with soup - tripe (shudder) for Michael and Vegetable for me (and Michael!). We both had pork - Michael's a flattened grilled rib steak and mine Schnitzeled - both with mashed potato.

An hour later we return to our room in the top of the cabin to find that babbling brook has risen two feet and become a boiling angry raging monster! You would not believe how much it has changed. And by the morning, it had lost its anger and was again, a happy little tumbling stream. How quickly things change in the mountains.

Despite the rain stopping, the clouds hang low over the Carpathians this morning, with the mist so heavy that it might as well have been raining. Its in this weather that we head up the most spectacular drive in Europe, if not the world. We share the road with crazy cyclists (what is it about riding up ridiculously steep slopes??), lots of motorbikes and plenty of cars.

Warnings abound about falling rocks, rough surfaces and accident zones. The speed limit on the Transfagarasan is 40 kpm and I wonder how many people stick to that?

We leave with 240 kms worth of fuel to travel 97 kms from near Cartisoara in the north to Curtea des Arges in the south. And there is a reason I tell you this now!

Its such a pity that the fog and mist are so heavy - for much of the trip, we look out into white as we crawl our way up the mountain in traffic. 40 kph is barely  doable - if not for the traffic, then for the condition of the road - can't say we weren't warned! We pass through a series of snow tunnels - not sure why they would bother with them as the road is closed in the winter - in fact it is usually open for only a few months a year - which might explain the intense interest at this time of the year!

After about an hour, we reach the access point to the first of two glacial lakes - the Cascade Lake, an the inevitable souvenir and refuelling stop. Amazing here is the cured meats hanging in the open, the cheeses, potatoes and corn roasting in coals and the bric-a-brac that people seem to want to collect.  Michael takes off to walk to the lake, but returns when he sees the condition of the cascade crossings - can't say I blame him!

Parking is haphazard and anywhere you can squeeze in. Some people - especially those in expensive cars - porsche, audi, bmw, mercedes - seem to give little regard for their cars or for the safety of passing motorists - they just nose in, leaving their rears exposed to being hit, so long as they can park close to where they want to be!

So up again we head. We get the very occasional glimpse of the road above us as we twist and turn through hairpin after hairpin after hairpin. The switchbacks are so close that often, the cars on the next stretch are literally right above us.

Despite the weather still being very close, there are a number of people heading off to walk in the mountains. They are certainly very awe-inspiring and evocative.

The road continues to challenge - it is quite tiring driving it.  Safety rails are not in all places, not a problem given that we are averaging well less than the stipulated 40 kph - in some places we are down to 20! And after about another hour or travel, we reach the peak and the site of the Blue Lake - not a hope of stopping here - the parking is even worse, and the local Police are on hand milking the cash cow that are parking infringers! They must make a financial killing for the few months that the road is open. Once we pass the peak, we get our first glimpse of the famous road switches as we look over towards the southern road. O.M.G. how stunning is this - too bad the day is not clear and sunny - the view must be absolutely jaw-dropping!
Now, I have been watching the fuel gauge with interest and a wee bit of concern. We have reached the top with now just over 100 kms worth of fuel left. Much of the ascent has been in 2nd gear, albeit not very fast.

The views are stunning - there is something about being in high mountains and looking down on the work of mother nature - something that you just can't fathom.  Locals and tourists seem to appreciate it as there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of people out read to take serious walks in this mountainous terrain.  We pass the Mountain Rescue base, complete with Fire Brigade, Ambulance and rescue vehicles and I just wonder how often they are called to the rescue of some foolhardy person/s who have misjudged the conditions, their preparedness or the gravity of their jaunt!

Life goes on pretty much as normal here on the southern side. A flock of sheep grazes on the side of the road with a foolhardy few dashing to greener pasture on the other side of the road, leaving motorists to brake even more suddenly.  A group of bikers conglomerate at the base of one of the climbs - of course, the road speed limit doesn't apply to them as they defy gravity on some of the corners - today they can have it - does not appeal to me one little bit in this weather!

And we are heading down down down - with me coasting where I can - my trip meter is no longer telling me how much fuel I have left, and the fuel light has come on.  Tell Michael who says "Oh well, not much we can do about it". F***, me, I'm starting to quietly panic.

Still we press on - there are not so many uphills now (which is good, given our circumstances) and I watch the road markers that we pass every km with hope and dread - we are still a lot further from Curtea des Arges than I am comfortable with.

The road continues to twist and turn, travelling alongside the Arges River as it works its way to Lake Vidrarul - a man made dam that feeds a hydro electric scheme. The road crosses at the dam wall and again, the police have their hands full trying to keep the traffic moving, and those blastered parkers off the roadside.

Still travelling close to empty, but as the last reading was at 80km of fuel, and we had less than that to reach the southern destination, I am hopeful that we will get there.  We pass a number of small hamlets and tourist resorts, though none with fuel. Finally we come in to Căpățânenii Pământeni and lo and behold - there is a serv

ice station - doing a very brisk trade. Whew. We have never been so pleased to see a dirty, grungy little establishment!!!!  The lack of care when it comes to disposing of rubbish is disheartening - people just throw their litter from cars and abandon water bottles and trash wherever they are. Roadside stops are always filled with overflowing bins and heaps of rubbish piled beside them. It is such a pity in such pristine conditions.

So we reach Curtea des Arges and make the turn for Bucharest. Pears, garlic and tomato sellers line the road, the farmers are busy on their drays and they hay is in the barns drying out.

The main national freeway cuts in from here and today, I am happy to take it, getting up to speeds of 130 kph to make up for the almost 5 hours it took to travel the first 90 kms today. We are a little over an hour for the capital and I can't wait to get there.

We enter into Bucuresti proper, and with it, into the traffic chaos that is a capital city. Horns, sirens and screeching, along with trams and trolley buses and those infernal tram lines to cross and travel along. We arrive at the location of the office of the Bucharest Apartments, but can't see it straight away, so I slip into a side street, park illegally as Michael makes a phone call (on international roam) to the office. We are literally just around the corner and Marcus eventually comes down to find us - Michael gets out to meet him as he is having trouble seeing us.

Finally he returns to the car - the apartment is just behind us, parking at the rear. Old he says, but clean enough and literally a 10 minute walk in to the Old Town. Marcus told him we have the perfect location - turn left at the intersection for the new town, turn right for the old town!

 Yes, the exterior of the block is something from the communist era, but inside we are comfortable. There is a washing machine too - so we pt everything through a wash. A pizza store provided dinner and a patisserie downstairs gives coffee and pastries for later.

We manage to make contact with Diana - Lorena has been holidaying in Greece and we plan to meet for dinner tomorrow night. Hopefully Lorena will be back in time to join us.

I'm off to bed after a very full, eventful and exhausting drive today.  See you on the morrow!

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