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sâmbătă, 21 februarie 2009

My first real tour of Romania by bike (june 2003)

Five years I had to fight, to cry, to dream and to carry on cycling till finally in 2003 when my beloved mentor Marco Pantanni was still alive, I succeeded in fulfilling my ardent dream of touring my wonderful fatherland, the fabulous and fascinating Romania.

It was on the 1st of june when I started that tour, the first one of over 3000km and one of the most interesting and adventurous from my entire life.
The tour was started at Ineu, a little town in the county of Arad where I live. After only 10km I was attacked by some flying ants. My first halt was at Taut lake where I had a nice swim in the lake.

At the beginning I crossed Zarand mountains on unmodernized forestry roads. Very interesting and wild region, where I met a snake and some deer.

Then I crossed Poiana Rusca mountains again, starting at the village Romanesti, then on a wild forestry road that went up in hairpins to an altitude of 1000m then going down at a moment the road was flooded by a violent stream, so 1 km I had to walk my bike on that rocky flooded unrideable road.

Then at Ruschita village I slept at a small monastery where I became friend of an interesting young orthodox monk. So nice it was.
My next interesting moment was at Oravita, a nice town from the Banat mountain region. There I met Gheorge Azap and Ionel Bota, two outstanding poets and writers from Banat. I had such a nice conversation with them on a terrace drinking something and when I had to go, Azap sponsored me with about 3 € and gave a book of great poetry of his own with special dedication.
Then on the Danube Defile which is the longest (about 140km) and the most spectacular from Europe, after Svinita village I was caught by a terrible hail storm.

I hid my loaded bike under a bridge and I went for a swim in the Danube fighting the huge and nervous waves and the hail breaking painfully against my head. I also hit my back against some rocks. Quite an experience, anyway!
Then after visiting Orsova harbour, a sort of San Tropez of the Danube, very picturesque town, I headed for Herculane, one of the oldest spa in Europe, that was exploited by the romans 2000 years ago. I enjoyed the thermal waters in a flooded grotto for a few hours talking to some old pensioners. Then on my way towards the Godeanu Pass ( 1050m), I went through a very strange situation. That was near a storage lake.

One moment I stopped to rest a bit, as it was very hot I took off my T-shirt which was very green as a leaf, a gift from a friend of mine from Seynod. I placed my T-shirt on the back of my bike over the panniers. Then a cow drew near to my bike and snatched my T-shirt with her mouth, then it ruminated it and ate it and then the cow threw it out. What a horrid scene!
The Cerna Valley is magnificent indeed and I saw many great views among which the Iorgovan's Rock.

Then going down towards Baia de Arama, I was invited by a family to spend the night at their place, and I accepted and I found the best hospitality from my entire life. This happened in the Stanesti village, I can’t believe how kind-hearted these people were. God bless them! I promised them to return one day.
I also visited the wonderful monastery of Tismana, one of the best from Wallachia.

At Targu Jiu I visited the fantastic masterpieces of our best sculptor Constantin Brancusi. I was quite impressed by the Endless Column and by the Kiss Gate.

Quite a giant among the world’s artists, this Romanian sculptor who was the disciple of the great Rodin. Then I visited a town of great craftsmen, Horezu and the best monastery made by the great hero and voivode Constantin Brancoveanu.
In the county of Gorj I met wonderful fields of maize.

20km after the municipality of Ramnicu Valcea, bad luck hit me, when going down a slope with a gradient of 10% down the Comarnic hill, my brakes suddenly broke, for my bike was a cheap and modest one, and there was a truck coming from the opposite direction. In order to avoid the collision I rubbed my left shoe against the asphalt to slow down and then I threw myself into a moat on the left, escaping death but scratching my right elbow and knee. I felt horrible there in the moat, the blood running, my bike on top of me, but I was happy to be alive. Then I walked my bike slowly down the slope, and to my sheer joy I found out a camping at the foot of the hill. I decided to spend the night there, to get over my fright and to recover from the fall. A good bottle of wine and a tasty roast beef were enough for me to forget my sorrow and to feel merry and happy again.

Next day I visited the monastery of Curtea de Arges, which is the best one of byzantine style from all Romania founded by the great ruler Neagoe Basarab at the beginning of 16th century. From here I had to head for endless Romanian Plain, for I had no brakes anymore.
Entering Dobrudja I found a very interesting Deltalike vegetation near Smardan.

My pace was pretty good and 3 days latter I was enjoying the fine sand at Mamaia resort, the best from our country. But first I visited Constanta where I saw a great map of Dobrudja.

I was so happy to reach the Black Sea by bike, for the first time in my life, a dream came through and I felt like floating for nothing can compare to the feeling of crossing all your country, in my case more than 1000km and reaching this marvel of the divine creation, the romantic and the fabulous sea.
The statue of Ovidiu, the poet banished to The Pontus Euxin, impressed me a lot.

I stayed 2 days on the seaside to enjoy the sun, the sand and the sea and then I continued my journey. I also visited the ruins of the Histria citadel which was the oldest certified human settlement that dates back to 7th century BC and was founded by the greek. Very interesting ruins, indeed.
But, as I was quite in a hurry I had the misfortune to stumble upon a stone and to fall into a ditch, seriously spraining my right arm’s wrist. So I suffered for about a day till in a village I met a man that pulled my arm and fixed it and then dressed my wound. Lucky me, I was feeling better. In Braila, an important harbour of the Danube River, I had the pleasure to visit the memorial house of Panait Istrati, a great writer that traveled a lot and that ignited my imagination and my wanderlust in my teenage. So, there I was, finally a traveler by bike, quenching my heart’s desire and fire.
After The municipality of Buzau, following the homonymous river I entered my beloved Charpatians again. One night I stayed at Radesti Monastery. Here I saw such a splendid wall painting.

At Cheia ski resort on the terrace of a nice chalet I came across a young couple of Belgian cyclotourists with whom I cycled for the next 2 days. They were touring Romania, but unlike me, they were just at the beginning of their trip, for they started the adventure in Bucharest. We climbed together the Bratocea pass in Ciucas Mountains (1257m) and then we went down, arriving in Brasov, great touristy town with a gorgeous medieval and historical center dotted with architectural jewelries. In this marvelous town situated at the foot of Charpatians, I saw the light of day for the first time, 30 years ago, being for ever spiritually bound with the mountains, the nature and the high culture that dwells in this particular area.
I served them as guide, the Belgians liked very much this town and we also went on a touristy path that has 24 hairpins and goes up to a magnificent and scenic view point where the people can gaze freely at the entire area as far as the eye can reach. Pretty amaizing! I will strongly recommend to everyone to go and visit this fabulous town. I accommodated my friends at my granny who was 80 years old at that period. The Belgians was impressed again by the hospitality of the Romanians, and then after spending one day in Brasov we headed for one of the best touristy routes from Romania, the Bran – Rucar Corridor. 28 km from Brasov lies the illustrious Bran Castle, the dwelling of the Count Dracula, which is the most notorious castle of eastern Europe being erroneously associated with a very acrimonious and just, but cruel ruler of Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler, who won great battles against the Infidels in the 15th century, even if he ruled only a few years. Nowadays the castle houses a museum which is very popular with tourist from all over the world. The Belgians loved it and took plenty of pictures of it and also bought some handicrafts before leaving. Afterwards we had to climb the Giuvala pass (1275m), on a very panoramic route between 2 ranges of mountains: Bucegi and Piatra Craiului, an area that can rival with the alpine one.

After 12 km of climbing in hairpins we arrived at Fundata, a lovely touristy locality situated at about 1250m. There we stopped at chalet and then we parted for they needed more privacy. Near Podu Dambovitei village, I had the honour to meet a great genius, one of the best artists of Romania, the playwright Paul Everac. I had the great delight to be accepted by him to read him some excerpts of my travel diary and I also recited to him 2 fine poems of the master Azap that I met at Oravita. It was such an experience! Then the distinguished master Everac sponsored me with a night in a guesthouse.
Here I saw so beautiful flowers.

Next day, cycling in a magnificent area, I also had the chance to visit an interesting mausoleum built in the memory of our heroes from the 2 world wars and near Campulung Muscel I visited a great monastery who has a wondrous icon. In the same village Namaesti, I also visited the memorial house of a great Romanian poet George Toparceanu.

The next interesting tourist attraction was the Olt Valley, which is one of the best in Romania, offering breathtaking views.

There I visited Cozia monastery, one of the best from the orthodox world, founded in the late 14th century by Michel the Brave, a very important voivode from Wallachia who frightened the turks.
Then at Sibiu I met a good friend of mine, Cosmin and I joined him on a biketrip of 200km around the Cindrel mountains. It was just great, we had plenty of wild and scenic landscapes and we reached an altitude of 1725 m (Steflesti Saddle), but we also had a lot of pouring rain.
After that I headed for home, crossing the Western Charpatians and when I got home I rested for one day and then I continued my tour cycling through Maramures and Bukovine, 2 fabulous historical provinces of Romania, but that will be another story.
I strongly recommend you to come and cycle in Romania and you will be delighted and thrilled, I assure you. Sometimes you will feel like cycling in times of old, when you were young. But I tell you, it’s worthwhile this trip in Romania. It’s like living a fairytale.
It is a land of the contrasts, one of the best to be found everywhere in this world.
This article I dedicate in the memory of my mentor Marco Pantanni, that I will always remember gratefully. God rest his soul!

Best regards,
Pantani Carpaticus