Day 25 (2) - Transfăgărășan - the words

Sunday 20th July 2014

We awake to another cloudless sky. The day soon warms up and at 8am we repair to Madame's kitchen for breakfast of eggs, yoghurt, cheese, tomatoes and cucumber. Coffee and tea to drink and bread and home-made jam to finish.

Bike all washed and ready to go

Conversation continues in French. I learned later from her son that Madame had been a language teacher in her younger days. After breakfast we wash the bikes and pack our gear. It's very warm now as we set off. We stop at The Transylvania Bank for more cash then ride east on country roads heading for Ramnicu Vacea. The plan is to ride north through the Faragas range to Sibiu then approach the Transfăgărășan Highway from the north.

We encounter a lot of traffic and slow to a crawl. It soon becomes apparent why, as we pass through the biggest open-air market I have ever seen. It's like a gigantic car boot sale with parked cars squeezed onto every available road side place for a mile either side. The entire local population is milling around the stalls or wandering in the road.

The Cabana Capra hotel

We crawl through this chaos, finally reaching a main road, and now making better progress as we ride on to Ramnicu Vacea.

From here the DN7 road crosses the mountains on a low pass between the Transalpina to the west and the Transfăgărășan to the east. It turns out to be a horrible road, most certainly not worthy of a grand name like the roads that flank it.

It's Sunday and there is a lot of traffic including many heavy lorries causing tailbacks and fumes. It's a hot and unpleasant two hours as we progress slowly to Sibiu.

There's a very modern complex of filling stations and eateries at the roundabout at the top of the DN7. We stop and eat at a Subway outlet, then it's a fast 20 kilometre hop to the turning for the Transfăgărășan.

The road was built by the Romanian military at the instigation of the communist dictator Nicolai Coucescu supposedly for tactical reasons, but it is nowadays thought to be his pet vanity project. He set out to create an Alpine drive to rival the best in the west, and he surely succeeded.
Donkeys on the road

A lot of money was spent and a lot of lives were lost in the construction. It climbs and twists and swoops over viaducts and tunnels, past lakes and sublime mountain peaks. The surface is flat, though a little bumpy with occasional grooves. It's a road for riding gently and taking in the awe-inspiring vistas.

Clarkson reckons it's the best driving road in Europe. It's not a road for knee-down exhilaration like the Nockalm or Grossglockner, but it's so beautiful I have to agree with him.

There is very little commercial exploitation, just a few busy souvenir sheds and coffee stalls and occasional alpine hotels in the high peaks. It is glorious now but I fear what it will be like in years to come when tourism realises what a gem is here in the Transylvanian Alps?
And sheep on the hillsides

For now we just glory in the ride. Lots of Sunday traffic flooding back down homewards on the lower slopes but after a while it gets pretty empty as we climb higher.

After the first tunnel and first summit, arrived at via an amazing series or switchbacks that attest to the engineering skills of the road builders, we drop down a valley and find the Cabana Capra hotel and check in.

It costs 170 Lei (about £30) for a twin room with balcony on the 2nd floor and breakfast in the morning. We park the bikes out of sight round the back and have dinner in the restaurant.
The soundtrack

As I sit writing this on the balcony at 6:30am on Monday morning, the sun is stroking the peak high above as it works its way slowly into the valley. It lights up a flock of sheep slowly following a shepherd high up near the peak. It's chilly and two waterfalls provide a constant soundtrack. Four donkeys amble slowly up the road. There's not a cloud in the sky. It's supremely peaceful as the new day starts. 

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