Passing the Ukrainian border was easy and fast. Unfortunately a big queue of cars awaited us on the Romanian side. Luckily the locals didn’t seem in too much of a hurry and told us to jump ahead of the queue. After the coldness of Ukraine, both in terms of weather and people’s general behaviour, entering Romania was like entering a new dimension!
Locals smiled, returned our hellos and cars and trucks welcomed us with the sound of their horns. Plus I could read and understand the signs again, without having to decipher every sign letter by letter, like a kindergarten kid! Before we had even reached the border town, my chain broke again, for the third time in one week, and it was time for another road-side repair.
We took the small roads again and after a hot and long day of cycling we reached the city of Suceava. Before getting there we took a little detour to see the Dragomirna Monastery. Unfortunately it was being renovated under walls of scaffolding so we couldn’t really see much (as a matter of fact the whole area surrounding the monastery had been or was in the process of being renovated using European Union funds). But the cycle there was worth the detour alone. Lush green hills covered in either little forest or hordes of sheep. Simply beautiful.
In Suceava we stayed at the High Class youth hostel run by Monica, a private tour guide of the Bucovina region. Monica was Michael Palin’s guide when he visited the Painted Monasteries while filming one of his New Europe travel documentary episodes. She wasn’t there when we arrived but we randomly met her in the streets of the city while looking for a supermarket. We learned that the hostel was first opened in the countryside outside the city, so that travellers could discover the rural side of Romania. When the lorry traffic became too important in the village, she decided to move back to Suceava, but unfortunately couldn’t afford the extremely high rent prices. Luckily the owner of a house situated in the centre liked her project and simply asked her to pay what she could afford. We were a bit disappointed to be the only guests that night (we had been looking forward to meeting other travellers) but finding out the details behind the story of the hostel made us proud to be part of it.
The detour we took in order to cross into Romania meant that we had to miss all the painted monasteries which were situated west of Suceava. But Monica suggested that we visit the Probota Monastery on our route to Iasi. We arrived there at lunch time the next day and were not disappointed. The monastery, built in 1530 and added to the World Heritage List in 1993, has some of the finest interior paintings in the Moldavia region. Every inch available is covered in painting depicting religious scenes. I’d never seen anything like it before.
We arrived in Iasi at the end of a long day of cycling on a large and busy road: I wasn’t sure whether it was a motorway or just a normal road with extra-large shoulders… Car and lorries certainly treated it as a motorway and it was the first time during our trip that I felt in danger while riding the bike. Once in Iasi we had arranged to meet Eugen, a bearded Warmshowers member who had agreed to provide us with a roof for a couple of days. After the quality time we had spent with Slavik in Lviv, we were looking forward to staying with our next host! He welcomed us in his house outside the city with arms wide open and cooked some delicious grilled fish for lunch. Eugen is a photographer and his wife Zamfira a painter. Their house, which they have been building for seven years now, adding sections whenever they can afford it, was quaint and cosy. We spent our time there relaxing and talking about life in Romania and cycle-touring, while playing with their baby dog Balchik. On the second day Eugen took us to see Iulian, another Warmshowers member. Iulian and his wife Marcella were hosting Amandine and Michaël, a French couple cycling on their recumbents around Europe and Asia for their honeymoon. We spent a great afternoon with them, exchanging tips and stories about our respective trips while drinking milk and eating eggs produced by Iulian’s goats and quails.
At this point of the trip we were still wondering whether we should cycle to Moldova or head straight down to the Danube Delta. Amandine and Michaël had just cycle through Moldova and told us that if we had spare days we should rather spend them in Turkey, since Moldova looked quite similar to this part of Romania anyway. On top of that Eugen told us that we should spend at least three days in the Danube Delta in order to really enjoy it. We didn’t need any more convincing and headed straight to the Delta the next day. Just like Slavik back in Lviv, Eugen decided to come and cycle the first part of the day with us. And just like in Ukraine it was hard to say goodbye and sad to see him ride back towards where we’d just come from…
After two days of cycling and two nights of wild camping (successful this time!) along the Prut river again (we had cycled along it in Ukraine already), we arrived in Galati. The next morning we headed down to the port and saw the Danube for the first time since leaving Vienna last March. As we waited for the ferry to cross to the other side, I thought of all the countries and cities this water has flown through already since the Black Forest, some 2800km upstream. Amazing! On the ferry a young Romanian came over and started chatting to us. He had noticed our bikes and told us that he had just bought himself one too, together with touring equipment. He was about to go on his first two-week cycling holiday around Romania and had lots of questions for us. He was amazed by our trip and told us we were his heroes! His job in the pharmaceutical industry didn’t seem to excite him too much and he told us he couldn’t imagine of a better way to feel free in life than to cycle wherever your heart takes you… After saying goodbye and as we got off the ferry, I looked at the mighty Danube one last time and caught a glimpse of something in the water. I think it was a pilgrim’s walking stick.
That same day we arrived in Tulcea, the main gateway to the Danube Delta. In Iasi Eugen had told us that he knew someone in the town of Crisan who owned little guesthouses and had arranged for us to stay there. We had no idea where the guesthouses were or how much it would cost us, we just knew the man’s last name and that we had to get the one o’clock passenger ferry to Crisan. Luckily once on board a woman who had noticed our loaded bikes came over to us and told us that the man we were going to stay with was her father! After a four-hour boat ride on the Sulina arm of the Danube we finally arrived in Crisan. Mr Costin, the owner of the guesthouses, came on his little motorboat to pick up all the luggage and goods that his daughter had brought and we then followed her to the Costins’ house. The whole family originally came from Constanta but the parents had moved to the Delta about seven years ago.
We stayed there three whole days and had an amazing time. It was relaxing and quiet and Mrs Costin cooked us a delicious fish-based dinner every evening. M. Costin arranged for a guide to take us around the waterways and lakes of the Delta on his boat. I didn’t know what to expect at first, not really excited by the prospect of seeing lots of waters and a couple of birds flying around… How wrong I was. There’s something mesmerizing about the Delta: riding through the narrow and quiet waterways and suddenly seeing the reeds and trees around you disappear as you enter one of the many lakes. Even bird-watching becomes interesting! We spotted many herons and egrets in the canals and lots and cormorants and pelicans on the lakes. Again it is like entering a new dimension: you stop thinking about anything else. You’re just happy to be there.
Some interesting facts about the Danube Delta:
– It’s the second largest in Europe, after the Volga one.
– With an average density of approximately two inhabitants per km², it’s one of the least inhabited regions in temperate Europe!
– It hosts over 300 species of birds as well as 45 freshwater fish species in its numerous lakes and marshes.
– It nearly stopped existing! During the Communist era, Ceaușescu had plans of transforming the delta into a large agro-industrial zone…
– In 1991, the Romanian side of the Delta became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that around 2,733 km² of the delta are strictly protected areas.
– It became a Biosphere Reserve shared by Romania and Ukraine in 1998 (if you can’t remember, that’s when France won the World Cup).
Feeling more educated now?
On the last day of our stay M. Costin arranged for the guide to quick us up in the morning, together with all our kit, for one last tour around the Delta before dropping us off in the town of Murighiol in the south. This gave us the opportunity to explore the wonderful wetlands one more time and saved us the trouble of having to go back to Tulcea, which meant 35km less to ride. Two birds one stone. After a very hot day of cycling we arrived in the town of Jurilovca, just in time to avoid a mighty storm. Arriving in the area we had noticed that the town signs were both in Romanian and Cyrillic and that people spoke Russian in the streets. A couple of German cyclists, who we met that evening at our motel, told us that it was because this area of the Moldavia regions was inhabited by many Lipovans, Russian emigrants from the Russian Empire who had fled to avoid persecution from the Russian government and the Orthodox Church.
The next morning Angela woke up feeling totally sick. It seems that her stomach did not appreciate the delicious pizza of the previous night. There was no-way she was going to be able to cycle that day so we decided to stay the day in Jurilovca with nothing to do but read and watch series on the netbook. At some point during the morning Angela started feeling nauseous and legged it to the bathroom. I followed her just in case and as she entered the bathroom I could see that something was wrong… She wobbled, tripped and collapsed on her knees. By the time I got to her, her eyes were rolled in the back of her head and she looked like she had stopped breathing. Totally freaked out I started shouting at her and slapped her in the face to get some kind of reaction, but nothing. Suddenly she regained consciousness, covered in sweat but totally unaware of where she was or who I was… After a few seconds it all came back to her and she greeted me with a succession of vomit spurts, redoing the bathroom decoration. At that point I noticed that her foot was stuck in a weird way underneath the bathroom door. Great, not only was she sick but she had also twisted her ankle! I managed to get her back to bed and asked the hotel in a mixture of Polish and English for ice and a bucket… Holly crap, I had never been so freaked out and scared in my life before! My girlfriend really needs to toughen up.
After a day of rest Angela was weak but better. She insisted that we carry on so we did, cycling slowly and taking lots of breaks. After meeting a young German couple cycling around Europe (exchanging some maps in the process) we left the Danube Biosphere behind us and finally reached the Black Sea. After the Delta, this was the second milestone we had been looking forward to before the beginning of the trip. We stayed at a campsite in Mamaia, right by the beach, and had our first dip in the Black Sea! After dinner some Austrians who had parked their campervans right beside our tent invited us over for radlers and schnapps. A perfect end to an almost perfect day!
The next day we cycled into the centre of Constanta to see what it had to offer. Although there wasn’t much to see, it allowed Ange to rest a little bit, as she was still feeling weak and her belly was still playing tricks on her. We carried on south towards the Bulgarian border along a quiet motorway. Before we reached Vama Veche, our goal for the day, we took a little detour to Olimp, Neptun, Jupiter, Aurora, Venus and Saturn, a bunch of beach resorts built in the sixties and seventies where communist workers came to spend their holidays. I expected something tacky but was pleasantly surprised by the setup of the places. Of course the buildings were typical communist ugly concrete blocks, but most of them were hidden behind lush green trees and had a quiet and peaceful feel to it.
We had planned to sleep on the beach in the small hippy town of Vama Veche, but all the beach-side facilities were still closed and Angela’s belly still required quick and easy access to toilets, so we found a little deserted campsite. The owner seemed desperate for customers, a hunch that was confirmed when we saw him cut down half a tree to accommodate a German campervan that had just arrived. Once Angela had passed out in the tent I went for a little stroll around the dead streets of the town and as I sat down on the quiet beach, I thought to myself that Vama Veche would be a cool place to hang out in the summer…
All in all Romania was a nice surprise. People were friendly and joyful, the landscape beautiful and diverse. It’s a shame that we missed most of the painted monasteries in Bucovina and if we’d known that we were going to skip Moldova we would have chosen a more interesting route through the Carpathians. But looking at the Romanian map now, I realise that we’ve only covered such a small portion of the country so we will definitely come back some day to see the rest of it!
– Bucovina and its painted monasteries!
– Eugen, our Warmshowers host and the delicious food he prepared for us.
– The Danube Delta with its fauna and flora, its delicious fish and its wonderful relaxing atmosphere
– The water wells and fountains every kilometre or so along the Moldavian border, perfect for cylcing.
– Meeting other cyclists almost every day after the Delta.
– Angela’s delicate belly.
– Nothing bad to say about the country itself! Cycling on the motorways maybe, but that wasn’t that bad… And maybe that one day when kids weren’t too friendly, shouting what seemed like abuse at us or showing us the middle finger…
– Playing action heroes with Robi, M. Costin’s grandson, while he’s talking to me in Romanian, not caring that I don’t understand a word of what he’s saying.
– Swimming in the Danube with a lifejacket on with Toni, M. Costin’s son-in-law, while drinking beer from a two litre plastic bottle which we would throw back and forth to each other.
– Longest day: 99,9km (day 19)
– Highest day: 460m (day 15)
– Most climbed in one day: 789m (day 19)
– Hardest slope: 13% (day 15)
– Fastest downhill: 73km/h (day 19)
Enjoy the rest of the photos here!