If I had been seeking adventure on this epic journey, then Romania certainly provided it. My first stop was the capital, Bucharest. A fascinating city with a vibrant centre and plenty of history. It was still quite affordable and so it was that I was able to continue indulging in fine food and drink.
I was excited to meet Jon Florea, the very maker of KIT690 (the rally kit I had built on my bike). Jon had been following my journey (via blog and Instagram) and was most helpful along the way with advice on managing my engine heat issues. As expected, Jon and his girlfriend Anna were (are) amazing people!
Side note: It’s pretty cool to think you order this kit from the other side of the world, then after building it on your bike, actually ride it over to the guy who made it! I’m pretty sure Jon was pumped about it too.
We initially caught up at Jon’s place where I would store my bike for my time in the capital. Seeing Jon check my bike meticulously (like it was his baby) was a great novelty. Reminded me of my mate Rob Wallace! He even gave me a 7/10 rating for my build quality. I was satisfied with that. We had a great dinner that night and shared travel stories. Jon and Anna have done their own epic motorcycle and bicycle adventures – far more incredible than mine – including Africa, remote Russian, the ‘Stans and some of the Middle East. (At least I beat them to Iran!)
Bucharest was a lot of fun. I was staying with a glamour couple (ex-models) in an AirBnB and they were the loveliest people. (I had started using AirBnB a lot and it proved to be a great experience every time). Along the way I met a young Polish guy (Mateus) and some hilarious Romanian girls and of course with a walking tour in between, Bucharest felt like a place I could stay awhile. Of course, the taxis did their best to rip me off on every occasion and I quickly learned what was market price and what was tourist price. The funniest encounter wasn’t one of my own, but my friend’s, Mateus. We’d been out drinking and he decided it was time for home at some early hour of the morning, so I was quite surprised to find that he was back in the bar looking furious barely a few minutes later. He informed me of the taxi’s attempt at extortion and such was his offence at this crime he decided to abandon his potential chariot home. I laughed and said he’s be home by now and he should just suck it up. “Cost of doing business” I always say. But it gets better. He made a second attempt at departure, but this time I equipped him with some savvy advice. I told him if his driver tried to get clever, simply ask for his name, take a photo of his ID on the dashboard and tell him you’ll be reporting him to the authorities. As fate would have it, he duly received an attempted “fleecing” only to proceed with my counter-measures. The taxi driver was less than impressed and, after the exchange of a few harsh words in both directions, decided it would be better for this Polish guy to get out there and then, no charge applied! And so it was the young Polish man achieved what I never thought was possible in Bucharest – a free taxi ride home!
The walking tour for Bucharest was another great experience. I learned several things including the horrendous excess of Nicolae Ceaușescu in building (but never completing) the Palace of the Parliament – a huge monstrosity of a building that goes several levels underground and to this day is neither complete, nor even 30% occupied. It houses parliament, government bodies, museums, offices, shopping, theatre and a whole lot of empty space. Apparently, only the Pentagon has a bigger surface area. And in true Dictator style, Ceaușescu wanted a promenade wider than the Avenue des Champs-Élysées leading to the building. This meant many impoverished Romanians were evicted so housing could be torn down to widen the existing road.
Random fact: According to Wikipedia ” In 1990, Australian business magnate Rupert Murdoch wanted to buy the building for US $1 billion, but his bid was rejected.”
After Bucharest, Jon, Anna and their friend Julian invited me to a cabin in the woods for a couple of days. It was Julian’s birthday and this is how he wanted to celebrate it. So Jon and I used it as an opportunity to have a blast on our bikes. (His being the newer, sexier Husqvarna 701 Enduro. Consider it a new generation KTM 690. Same manufacturer, but some slight tweaks for the better and a blue and yellow livery.) Jon had also kindly attended to some maintenance needs for my bike and the “Shah” was well and truly in good order! The respite in the countryside was wonderful. Every day the sound of the stream flowing nearby and the cowbells dinging as the herd casually walked along getting their fill of chlorophyll, every night the fire blazing inside along with a barbeque for our feast preparation outside. Julian and I had taken to consuming a shot of Palenka before breakfast each morning. He convinced me it was good for the digestive system, so I braved the rocket fuel dutifully.
Jon and I had some fun riding even if we didn’t have long stints due to early nightfall and the odd mishap (two flat tyres for Jon). The countryside in Romania is stunning and according to Jon there is so much to explore. To prove his point, he uploaded some offroad routes onto my gps and after my farewell I headed off for the last of adventure. After a short visit to the famous Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) nearby, I found myself exploring the back roads and tracks of northern Romania.
At first it was quite exciting. But not being able to replace my spare front tyre tube which Jon had used made me particularly nervous about getting a flat in the middle of nowhere. And it sure was nowhere. At one stage I was on a dirt road when about 12 dogs ran out of a farm house and chased me. Who even has that many dogs? Riding gear is like armour, so I never felt too threatened. Further along I couldn’t even distinguish the track at all and just had to have faith that sooner or later something resembling a road would reappear. It was fun, but tense. I’d come so far without injury or damage and the last thing I wanted to do was get stuck somewhere.
I eventually came across some loggers (perhaps illegal as Jon had previously indicated existed in many parts of Romania) and I felt more reassured that help was at hand if things went south. The riding had been tough in parts and the heavy luggage didn’t make it any easier. As approached a more civilised riding surface, I was able to enjoy the little towns. Perhaps the saddest moment was when I slowly rode past a walking funeral procession. Out of respect, I chose not to take a photo, but it was something I had never seen before. It’s worth also noting just how poor these villages are. The standard of living between city and some country areas seemed quite significant. The dirt roads and horse drawn carts were the easy giveaways. I overnighted in the beautiful town of Sighișoara well and truly ready for a deep sleep.
More adventure was in store. Jon had uploaded some exceptional routes including the Transfagarasan and the Transalpina. I would make the first one, but time caused me to skip the second. I didn’t regret it either. That particular day’s riding was so phenomenal and exhilarating I barely had the energy (or daylight hours) to get through all of it.
Side note: There was a stretch of road (whose name I can’t recall unfortunately) that borders the Transalpina. It proved to be the fastest and most exhilirating, winding around the foot of the mountains beside a beautiful river. If I can ever work out the name of it, I’ll add a comment to this blog post. Certainly worth a drive or a ride for those so enthused.
The first day however, was all Transfagarasan. I hate saying this, but a visit to Romania almost isn’t complete without enjoying this majestic drive or ride up the Fagarasan mountain. With incredible switchbacks, snow scattered here and there and cute lake on top it is a true highlight of this incredible country rich in nature. Even the ride down the other side is a joy to behold. The day was finally capped off with a stay in a beautiful hotel on Lake Vidraru. It may have been too cold for a swim, but it certainly wasn’t too cold for a contemplation! I sat out there in the Autumn chill just taking it all in… the entire place to myself. Continuing my ride around the lake the next day before hitting the [Name I can’t bloody remember!]. It was simply a continuation of the joy I’d had the day before.
Sibiu was my next pitstop and again it was a lovely town. I’d missed the motorbike shop by 5 mins, so I was still without a spare front tube, but my return to surfaced roads had greatly increased my confidence. I woke up ready for the next highway journey, but my stomach had other ideas. After breakfast I was beset with the worst and most relentless diarrhea. Checkout wasn’t until midday so I decided to return to bed and see how I felt. The situation didn’t improve. Finally, I decided it would make more sense to stay another night. Unfortunately, the hotel was sold out. Whilst they offered to book me a room down the road, my laziness overrode my common sense and I thought if I have to pack up my entire bike just to ride 5 minutes, I may as well ride three hours. I would come to regret that decision. And so it was I was off. As usual, the weather was cold, but the hotel was not. And me being me, meant I’d probably sweated half a litre just loading the bike. Walking in and out of the hotel fully geared up, down and up stairs carrying heavy bags. It’s not pleasant. So by the time I got going I was already wet underneath. Again common sense would indicate someone not feeling well would simply change their under garments. Not me. I was too impatient and headed off. An hour in I couldn’t take it anymore and finally changed shirts. Not a simple procedure with motorbike packing either I might add. I’d managed to keep my lower region from exploding (one consolation) and I made the cold journey to Timișoara in less than good health. I’d felt pretty rubbish, but adrenalin has a way of disguising ailments. It wasn’t until I got off the bike at the hotel that I realised how bad I felt. My energy was gone and I certainly felt dehydrated. (The tiredness was a given.) I got my gear upstairs to my room and crashed out. Such was my exhaustion I hovered in and out of a delirium for hours. Too tired to sleep and too tired to get out of bed. The diarrhea continued and I did my best to stay hydrated. Fortunately, electrolytes are part of my essential packing list and despite a fever that came and went I felt very glad to be off the bike in the warmth of a hotel room. My overnight turned into a three night stay. With minimal food in the first couple of days and the slow return of health, I was in no hurry to get going again. I spent most of time sleeping, reading and watching movies on the laptop with a diet of bananas and bread. Romania, nevertheless, was an incredible country made even more so through the hospitality and friendship of Jon and Anna – true kindred spirits. I’d had 12 days making my way through this glorious country and as I look back at all that took place in such a short time, I am overwhelmed by what a wonderful time it was for me there. I was now well into Europe and, for this journey, Romania will forever be etched into my mind as the last of adventure.