A song of Ice and Campfire: Romania

We left Hungary in the rain, and in the rain we arrive at Satu Mare in the very northwest of Romania. To dry our wet tents and clothes we rent an apartment. And since the weather doesn’t promise any improvement the next day, we make two nights out of it. So we can take a day break to let the rain pass by and get onto the TransEuroTrail in the dry. We visit the city centre to get some food, but we can’t find the highlights promised in the slogan “More than you think”. What we do find is a kiosk that looks suspiciously like a former KTM dealership.

Two days later the promised weather improvement is still to come. We reluctantly put on our rain gear and let our bikes take on the Trans-Euro-Trail for the first time. The trail first leads over asphalt through some villages to Sighetu Marmaţiei, but the pavement quickly changes to a pothole plastered road, then gravel and finally clay. Due to the persistent rain in the last days the road is completely softened and the tires are completely covered in the sticky mud, front and rear wheel are striving in different directions and suitcases and bags experience their first ground contact. After a few hundred metres one thing is certain to all three of us: there is no getting through here today. The view into the distance reveals some steep climbs, which our motorcycles can’t cope with under these conditions. Wet and dejected we book a hotel with sauna and take a shortcut on asphalt. After the first steps with our loamy boots into the lobby there is a frightening realization: The whole hotel floor is covered with carpet, there is no elevator, and our room is right at the top! With a bad conscience we carry our bags up on quiet soles and the whole staff can follow our traces to our room. After the rainy day we finally want to warm ourselves in the advertised SPA and sauna, but the next disappointment follows: Everything is closed, allegedly because of maintenance work. Suddenly our conscience is not so bad anymore because of the dirty hall.

The next morning we set off again to the next entry point into the TET, and ascent an asphalt pass into a closed ski area. With every bend we climb, the temperature drops. At the top it’s not even 1°C anymore. There is still snow everywhere, and on the whole pass we encounter only two more vehicles. 

A little later we find our jturn, and in narrow gravel bends we overtake a clearing team that frees the road from fallen trees and broken branches. The higher we get, the more snow covers landscape and tracks. We fight our way through individual snow drifts until a fallen fir tree blocks the road: the clearing team has probably not made it this far yet. Some nimble axe blows later we have overcome this obstacle as well, just in order to get stuck 50 meters further in the big snow drifts. Beneath the 30cm of snow we don’t find gravel this time, but a thick layer of ice. The GPS data promises a rescuing asphalt road behind the next two bends, about 500m away. But if we don’t want to drag each bike through the snow individually, we have no choice but to turn around and use the slightly longer, paved road. 

Tired by the day, we turn into a forest road and set up camp for the night at a fortified shelter next to a rushing stream, which sings us to sleep.

Awakened by some welcome sunrays, we follow the track further south in good weather conditions. The thermometer peaks at 15°C again and today we make some good distance. And although rain is announced for the next day, we turn into a closed, but empty pasture in the evening and have the Romanian vastness all to ourselves. After an evening at the fire and a quiet night we wake up to the raindrops crackling on the tents and the ringing of cowbells. Sometime in the early morning shepherds probably drove a herd onto the pasture, and under the curious gaze of some cows and horses we pack our wet camp.

Since we left without breakfast, we stop at a promising Trdelink stand as soon as we get out of the forest. Today’s destination is Brașov, the second largest city in Romania. Already on the way there we notice first changes in the country. While the north of Romania seems to live only from forestry, car and tyre service stations, on the way to the south planted fields line the roads for the first time. Arrived in Brașov, we confiscate another apartment to dry our things. On the way to the next shopping centre, a cross-section of all age groups is roaming the streets for the first time, while the north of the country seems abandoned by the younger generations. The city, on the other hand, shows signs of strong growth. Newly built apartment blocks, and some still under construction, line up along the roads.

In general, we have noticed some things in this country that we would not have expected:

  • Half the country is a 30 zone. However, this seems to be seen as a recommendation, as every 30km/h vehicle is more of a mobile road blockade.
  • In contrast, level crossings are an almost insurmountable obstacle to Romanian drivers. Every time railway tracks cross the road, a small traffic jam is created because the vehicle brakes down to walking speed or just stops. Rust and proliferating undergrowth are evidence that these tracks have not been in use for a long time. But maybe we are only spoiled by our Enduro .suspensions
  • Romanian dogs hate motorcycles from the bottom of their hearts! Every time we pass a pasture or a yard, our rattling single cylinders are seen as the ultimate threat and must be chased away immediately. We’re still waiting for a particularly zealous guard to run between our tires.
  • Horse carriages are by far a more common means of transport than expected. While the first prohibition signs on the main roads made us snicker in our helmets, we knew better after pqssing the first small villages.
  • The horse carts are a good example of the great span between rich and poor in the country. Modern German cars also drive through the same villages, and fenced villas appear again and again between poor looking houses.
  • Some places seem to be designed for tourism, but we didn’t find any guests anywhere. No matter if we stay in a hotel or visit a bigger restaurant, there usually is more staff thanguests. And they spend their time smoking or watching Youtube videos at high volume.
  • Motorcyclists on adventure bikes seem to be a rather rare sight in Romania. Whether passing through a village or on the supermarket parking lots, everywhere we and the motorcycles are stared at. And if you look after them while shopping, you will be approached more than once by curious people. Surprisingly mostly in brittle German, because many Romanians seem to have worked in Germany or have relatives there.
  • No matter who we are talking to, the Trdelnik vendor on the side of the road or the landlord of an apartment, we find little understanding for our trip. The first skeptical look is followed by the question: “Why, the streets here are so bad after all”. And explaning that we rather drive through forests and mountains does not help their understanding.
  • The children are easier in communication, no matter where we drive through, we are shown the throttle hand. We are happy to comply with their wishes.
  • The concept of sidewalks does not seem to have arrived in most villages yet. Either there is none at all or it is completely blocked. From mothers with a prams to the grandfathers moving wheelbarrows, all walk on the street.

After Brasov and all the bad weather we actually want to drive directly towards Bulgaria, but a few sunbeams lure us back onto the tracks. We pass a garbage dump, dig up the mountain when it starts to rain, and meet the first people here, who are in the mountains just for pleasure, like us. A group of Romanian mountain bikers from Bucharest slips and slides down the slopes. They warn us of snow ahead on the next kilometres, but we say goodbye to try anyway. We should not see the group for the last time. Up to 1600m we are still able to ride the track, until we really have to turn around again because of snow and ice on the road. In the higher altitudes we expected snow, but not that there is still so much snow on the tracks. On the way back to the valley we pass the laughing and waving mountain bike troop again. Then we accidentally turn into a steep footpath, and while we still have trouble turning the bikes around, the mountain bikers overtake us again. As soon as we get out of the mountains we get unusually warm, and a look at the thermometer reveals temperatures above 15°C for the first time. We start looking for a place to spend the night, which is made more difficult by the dense villages close to the capital Bucharest. At a remote river we finally set up our tents and to finally go to Bulgaria the next day.

Which probably surprised us the most: Despite its popularity with Enduro riders we have not seen a single one in the whole country, we are probably travelling far outside of the riding season.