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joi, 12 martie 2009

Joe Dassin - the great romantic singer

Bike trip in Central Europe (august 2008)

For 10 memorable and unforgettable years I have cycled all by myself in my long journeys on 2 wheels till finally last year in 2008, a deep dream of my youth came true: namely I managed to convince my very first, my oldest and my best friend (Marius Reghis) from my childhood to take up cyclotourism and to join me on a biketrip of over 1000km in the Central Europe. Marius had a good office job at a prosperous company in Timisoara and in the past he could afford luxurious and classic holidays in Europe, in expensive hotels. He even had the great opportunity to go on a long trip to Australia. He is a lucky young man who traveled a lot and is always willing to experience new things.
So there we were, in the morning, on the first day of august, ready for a great adventure. We set out from Ineu, the town where we grew up. Only 7 km away at Sicula, we stopped to have a beer. Marius was a bit worried for he had plenty of pain in the ass for he hasn’t been cycling for 7 years when we had our last bike tour in the Banat region. We had to cycle quite slowly so that Marius could get used to the new situation. We would stop quite often and sometimes he would salve/rub his ass with a special cream to sooth and to ease him the pain. He would do this hidden after a bush, and I must admit I couldn’t help laughing when I saw this amusing situation. I tell you this because I want to prevent you all what you may go through if you go on a long bike trip without no previous training as was his case. Cyclotourism can be a real delight but you have to be ready for this, you have to practice some cycling before you start touring for the most important and difficult thing is to get used to sitting on your saddle for many hours every day and to even feel confortable on your saddle, so that the journey will be just great.
We entered Hungary at Gyula, a nice town that has a great balneal complex and a wonderful medieval castle. As soon as we were in Hungary we were happy to find bike tracks, especially through the localities, so cycling became a real pleasure. After Doboz we met a funny and strange old man that was riding an out-dated bike who wanted to have a bike race with us; so we for a few km we were pressing pedals hard, gasping and screaming, it was just great and I was the winner, of course. The old man wasn’t speaking my language, so I was shouting in English and he was shouting in Hungarian. Quite a nice experience, anyway! Then we camped near a swamp behind some reeds, we didn’t put up our tents and sleeping only in our sleeping bags, the awful mosquitoes rushed upon us, seriously stinging us. The next day we cycled through the endless Hungarian steppe, which is the largest in Europe. We had the pleasure to spot some deer, hares and pheasants. The night fell and we cycled till midnight when we pitched our tent next to Tisza River. The next day we got to the Matra Mountains, at Matrafured village we met an old couple of dutch cyclotourists with whom we cycled and talked for a few km. we had to climb a lot and we set up our tent in a forest on our way up to Matrahaza village.
The following we day we had to climb another 8km, the last 4 having a gradient of 10%, till we reached the very top of Hungary, namely: Kekesteto, the only place in Hungary with an elevation over 1000m. We were very happy to get there, we were impressed by an enormous TV relay and we celebrated at a restaurant with a lovely view over the surroundings. Then we went down a few km before we had to climb another 8 km till we reached Galiateto, another climb included in the list of the prestigious international cycloclimbing club BIG Challenge, where me and my friend Marius are members. Finally my friend got used to the position in the saddle and stopped complaining about his pains. I was very glad to see that he was making steady progress. Such a nice and long descent followed and then he had to climb another hill before getting to slovakian border. In Cered, the last village in Hungary we took refuge in a pub to avoid a violent storm and after that we could gaze at such a lovely rainbow that we immortalized. Then we entered Slovakia through a sort of ghost check-point, nobody there so we couldn’t exchange any money so we suffered from hunger a bit, moreover it started raining again and after we sheltered on a bench under a balcony we carried on cycling till midnight when we set up our tent on a pasture next to a wheat field and in the morning a flock of sheep woke us up. We were so free, so close to nature! What a great feeling!
At Jesenske we exchanged some money, then after buying some supplies and indulging in a real feast, we visited the town of Rimavska Sobota which we found pretty interesting. We continued our trip and we entered Muranska Planina National Park, ideal place for biking, low traffic,scenic landcapes. We felt quite great there, but after Tisovec, Marius had a flat tyre and we camped on a lovely meadowland overlooking a stream. Nothing compares to wild camping in areas like that. We spent a lovely evening, drinking some beers, chatting about our last adventures and about our adventurous childhood, and gazing at the starry firmament. It was just sublime! Real friendship is what that matters most in this life!
The following day was the hardest day, we had 5 consecutive passes, some of them of over 1000m, it was the hardest route in Slovakia and some slopes had gradients of 12%. Not so easy for my old german bike for women that had only 2 speeds. But I managed all the slopes by bike, for I am an avid climber. Marius strove as a hero and having a good bike with 21 speeds he succeeded in climbing the passes quite well. Congratulations to him! He is the living example that if a man desire to do something strongly and makes up his mind to do it, he can achieve it by means of hard work and determination.
From Hranovnica we had another hill to climb before we went down to Poprad, a great town that houses a wonderful Aquatic Park, a world-renowned spa. From here we could admire at the mighty High Tatra Mountains with its majestic peaks: Gerlachovscky Stit (2663m) and Lomnicky Stit (2644m). On the top of the latter one there was a huge metal globe that housed a restaurant that could be reached by cable car. The atmosphere was like in the Alps, great infrastructure, plenty of foreign tourists. The best ski resorts were: Tatranska Lomnica, Stary Smokovec and the most luxurious that caught our eyes, was Vysoke Tatry. From Tatranska Polianka, we turned right, daring to try climbing the hardest and the highest modernized road in Slovakia’s High Tatra. The climb was awesome, in a height difference of only 660m, the road climbs from 1010m till 1670, in only 7 km, with an average gradient of over 9%, and a maximum one of 16%. It is much more difficult than our highest modernized road (TransFagarasan). I was so excited to climb it and the views were gorgeous: fabulous switchbacks, monumental spruces, great alpine flowers, sparkling streams and so on. On the last section of it the slope decreased a lot and we had such a magnificent vista over the rocky Gerlachovschy Peak. Finally we reached Sliezsky Dom chalet (1670m). Here we could admire a wonderful glacial lake and a nice waterfall that was running into it. What a fantastic view! We stayed here for an hour on a terrace drinking a beer and eating a sort of cheese pancake, then when we wanted to go we found out that Marius had a flat tyre, and moreover, to our dismay, I couldn’t find my pump so we couldn’t fix the bike. Nobody had a pump there so we decided to use the good bike by turns till we got down to the main road. When it was my turn to walk the broken bike, I would simply run beside it in order to save time. So we descended quite fast and we were lucky to meet soon a group of Slovakian cyclists on the main road who lent us a helping hand and fixed our bike. Very kind of them!
Then it was time for us to return home, on our way back we crossed Slovakia again passing through Slovensky Raj National Park, where we felt like in our beloved Bukovine, the landscapes were quite similar: rolling hills, lovely grasslands full of countless flowers, great infrastructure and low traffic. We crossed another 2 passes and when we entered Hungary, at Aggtelek we were forced to stay there an extra-day because of a tremendous downpouring that lasted for 24hours. So we rented a bungalow for a day and we had a day off to recover. Here at Aggetelek there is a great tourist attraction: the Baradla Cave, the most visited cave of Hungary, found under Unesco patronage. Here we found a great tourist complex. Then we crossed Hungary again, visiting Eger and Debrecen, 2 lovely towns but what impressed us more was Hortobagy village that genuinely depicts the life of the endless Hungarian steppes. We felt great there, great rural museums, nice restaurants, beautiful landscapes,a lovely lake.
Then after cycling one more day in Hungary, this time facing a strong headwind, we entered Romania at Bors check-point and we spent our last money at 1 Mai spa, enjoying a lot and recovering in this tourist complex with thermal water. Afterwards we spent one more night in our tent, we cycled one more day and we got home.
It was a bike trip of 1200km that we made in 13 days. I must thank my friend Marius for this trip for he helped me a lot and he made some sacrifices for this trip to prove a real success. He liked the tour very much and he promised me he would join me on some other tours, too.
See you on 2 wheels!
Best regards,
Pantani Carpaticus

vineri, 6 martie 2009

Gilbert Becaud - un ami fabuleux de mon ame

My 2nd biketour of Romania (2004)

After my first tour of Romania by bike, I was so touched, bewitched and bewildered by such a tremendous and awesome experience that I swore to myself that I would discover the entire world by bike and that I would be a legendary cyclo-adventurer so that I could serve my country and my people.
In 2004 it was time for my 2nd tour of my beloved country. I started on the 21th of may from Ineu, the little town where I live. My first stop was at Dezna, quite an interesting township at the foot of the Codru Moma, the most western mountains of the Charpatians. From there I had to cycle 20 km to cross the mountains on an unmodernized road. Not far from Dezna I met such a beautiful clearing.

The landscapes were great especially on the other side of the mountain where I found so beautiful dolines.

Then after climbing the Vartop pass (1140m) I cycled on the Aries Valley, one of the most spectacular from Romania, great rural and touristic area strewn with scattered villages all along this sparkling river.

This magnificent land is inhabited by the offsprings of the free dacians, who were the bravest from the Thracians. Moreover great Transylvanian heroes, such as: Avram Iancu, Horea, Closca and Crisan were sprung from this region. This modern people are proud of their history and of their ancestors and piously preserve their traditions.
I remember when I was a student at Sibiu, I used to travel by bike quite often through this magic land, and every time I had the pleasure to feast my eyes on these unrivalled beauties I grew to love it more.
At Albac I stopped to have lunch at a nice guesthouse. After the town of Campeni, that is the heart of this fabulous region, I stopped to visit a village museum at Lupsa, where I was impressed by the peasants’ artifacts.

Then after cycling another 50 km, at Buru village I turned left and in less than 2 hours I got to Cluj Napoca, one of the biggest towns from Transylvania where I had so many adventures in my turbulent and eventful youth. From here I continued my trip through the Transylvanian tableland and I stopped at Nicula Monastery, where I was accommodated in a room for guests. It is said that at this monastery there is an icon that works wonders. I felt so good there and a generous monk sponsored me with about 8€. Also at this monastery, in the 15th century was founded the first school of wood painted icons.

Then I passed through Bistrita, another important medieval town whose center liked me a lot, especially the gothic cathedral that reminded me of my beloved Sibiu. Then I entered the mountains again, this time the Eastern Carpathians. From Josenii Bargaului village I turned left, climbing a hill and going down to Ilva Mica.

Then I continued climbing up the Somesul Mare Valley, passing through Sangeorz Spa, where I had a delicious pizza. Then at Rodna village I liked very much an old wooden church.

Here in the Rodnei Mountains I happened to go through quite an interesting and tough experience. Suddenly at an altitude of over 1000m when I was climbing towards Rotunda pass (1271m) I ran into a man that was the owner of a poor-looking hut. He invited me to have lunch with him and he talked me into accepting to work for him a few days. He promised me a good wages of 10€ per day, as my budget was rather low I accepted the job. Then I worked as a dog for 3 days, helping him collect the logs with his horse, and cut the logs. When after that I asked for my money for I grew sick and tired of that work, he grinned and sneered at me scornfully and kicked my ass. Great reward for my work!
I felt so dejected and forsaken, and I left very nervous and cursing him a great deal.

But everything is possible in this part of Europe in the enigmatic and underdeveloped Balkan Peninsula. Then after the pass I went down in the Golden Bistrita Valley and my trouble was dispelled by the wonderful landscapes.

At Ciocanesti village I found very nice painted houses and I met hospitable folks. Then after Vatra Dornei spa, which is well-known in Romania, I cycled till the Zugreni Chalet, situated in such a beautiful spot, next to the Bistrita valley and there after enjoying a few hours in the company of some funny tourists , and then I went to sleep in my tent.

Next day I headed for the Rarau Pass(1450m), one of the steepest climb from Romania with gradients up to 20%. On my way to the top of the climb I stopped at Rarau Monastery, where the monks were very kind to me, one of them gave me a blouse and there I received a tasty meal. I also met there a young man, called Daniel who was a cyclist, too and he joined me by his bike another 50km till Gura Humorului where he lived. He knew very well his native land and he taught me many legends and interesting things. Together we went to the famous Voronet Monastery, that is surnamed the “Sixtin Chapel of the Eastern World”. The wall paintings of this monastery, which are second to none, impressed me a lot and made me very proud to be Romanian. Then I had to bid farewell to Daniel and I continued my journey, visiting Humor Monastery, that is also endowed with fabulous wall paintings, and is found under Unesco patronage.

Then I headed for Putna Monastery, maybe the most well-known from Romania, that is a princely necropolis and here lies to rest for evermore, the greatest and the most illustrious and glorious voivode from Moldavia and from Romania; our unforgettable Stephen the Great who ruled between 1457 -1504. It was such a holy and a solemn moment for me, to be there present after having crossed Romania by bike, exactly 500 years after his death.

It was a dream come true, for he remains for me one of the most influential personalities that really had a profound impact on myself. He taught me to be brave, to love my country and to believe in God that will favour the righteous. He also taught me that the good will prevail against the evil in the end. I will never forget this voivode who defeated the conqueror of the Constantinopolis. I recall the most special moment, a mystical and very vibrant one, from my entire tour was my kneeling in deep prayer before the tomb of the great hero and saint, Stephan the Great, tears rolling down my face, entreating God to bestow upon my country Romania, and upon my people, a magnificent and thriving future as we deserve among the nations of Europe. God bless Romania and set us free from the tyranny and slavery of the turbulent times we are living!

Then I headed for Radauti and Siret, beautiful towns where I admired 2 old medieval churches from the 14th century.

Then I slept one night at Gorovei Monastery in the county of Botosani, where some of the most outstanding figures of our country were born, such as: the greatest poet: Mihai Eminescu, the greatest musician and composer: George Enescu, the greatest historian: Nicolae Iorga, one of the greatest painters: Stefan Luchian and so on. A great spiritual and cultural place for Romania and not only, indeed!
Then I went to Suceava, where I visited some churches and the ruins of the Princely Court of Stephen the Great.

Then I halted at Falticeni, another cultural town where I visited the Art Museum, where I admired many works of art of the great sculptor Ion Irimescu, who is considered the 2nd sculptor after the great Brancusi.

At that time the great sculptor was living his last days in a house next to the museum. He was 101 years old. I must admit that I worship him, as I adore art. I tried to pay him a visit but the director of the museum told me he is too old and too sick to be visited. What a pity! Off I rode. Then at Targu Neamt I visited the memorial house of Ion Creanga, the greatest narrator from Romania, who was such a good friend with Mihai Eminescu and charmed and adorned my childhood with his spellbound fairy-tales and stories.
Then in Piatra Neamt I visited some museums and I was impressed by the historical centre where I liked very much a medieval church founded by Stephan the Great.

Then I passed through Moinesti and Comanesti, where Cristian Tzara, the founder of the Dada Trend, was born. Then at Targu Ocna I ran into an old guy who was a friend of Nadia Comaneci’ s family and he told me how he had the privilege to visit and to talk with the young girl who would turn into a legendary gymnast. It was so interesting! Then I passed through Onesti, the town where this goddess of the gymnastics, was born.
Then after climbing Oituz pass (866m), I got to my beloved Transylvania again. At Brasov where I have some relatives I stayed a few days, but every day I would go on a short tour climbing a pass such as: Bratocea(1257m), Predeal(1000m), Poiana Brasov (1000m), Sinaia Quota 1400m or Bran(1275m). I love cycloclimbing so whenever I am close to nice climbs I always approach them, for nothing can surpass the feeling of reaching the top of a climb, exhausted but proud and overjoyed, being a real friend with the glorious nature, a real son of the almighty God.
Then I continued to Campulung Muscel, one of my favourite route in Romania. Then I cycled along the scenic Olt valley, to Sibiu, again. Then after cycling in lovely saxon villages such as: Rasinari, Cristian, Gura Raului, Orlat, Sibiel and so on, I headed for the mountains again and I passed through the highest townships of the county of Sibiu: Poiana Sibiului and Jina, inhabited by the richest and the most industrious shepherds from our country. Then after 10km of descent on unmodernized road with hairpins I reached the Sebes Valley, one of the most picturesque from Romania. I cycled upstream, and I started climbing again. On my way I came across 2 gorgeous storage lake at Tau and at Oasa, then I halted at a chalet for lunch. After that I climbed Tartarau pass (1678m). This route is one of the wildest and among the most spectacular and best preserved regions from Europe. It’s a heaven for cyclotourists and the traffic is very low. The landscapes are magnificent and the wild life is well preserved.

Then I stopped at Obarsia Lotrului chalet where I met a large group of Czeck hikers. I had a nice talk with some of them while I was eating a tasty trout, they seemed very satisfied with our mountains. Then I had a difficult climb on my way to Urdele Pass (2145m) which is the highest from all the Carpathian range. The views from the top of it are breathtaking, you can see glacial lakes, variegated flowers, snow-capped peaks, lovely pastures and so on.
On my way down I stopped a bit at Ranca ski resort, then I continued my journey at high speed till Novaci where the steep slope ended. From here I went to Bumbesti then I followed the Jiu Valley, some of the best of Romania, where the boisterous and noisy river seems often engulfed by huge cliffs and deep ravines. On this river you can go rafting from Petrosani to Bumbesti Jiu. On my way I stopped to visit the Lainici monastery, then I continued my trip to Hateg, then on my way to Caransebes I stopped to see some ruins of a roman settlement at Sarmizegetuza. I was impressed by an amphitheatre. Then I followed a busy road to Orsova, where I reached my beloved Danube again. I enjoyed a lot cycling along the Danube Defile till Moldova Noua, a small and poor town, where unfortunately I had a big misfortune. While I went to a toilet into a restaurant, somebody stole my small bag where I had my money, my cell phone, my identity card and so on and. I was stupid enough to let this bag in a unzipped side pocket of my pannier and the bike was propped against a wall next to the restaurant. Stupid me and what a loss! I went to the police headquarters, but it seemed I only lost some times there, nothing concrete could be done for me. I remember the policeman laughed at me, calling me such a fool to be so mindless. He humiliated me by giving me about 0.3€ to have for a small coffee to calm down my broken nerves. So funny situation, I was at 300km away from home, with a penny in my pocket, no food, and run down after over 2600km of cycling. However I was lucky to be understood at the first monastery where they gave me a meal and 3€, then at Ticvaniu Mic village, I was helped by the great poet Gheorghe Azap who was so hospitable to me, and who sponsored me with 15€. Long live this generous artist who predicted me a promising literary future!
Then in only 3 days I was back home after 2900km and 42 days on my bike with so many adventures in my wonderful country.
Long live the cyclotourism!
Pantani Carpaticus