Category Archives: Romania

Alone: to MD and UA

Apologies.  I havent had internet for 5 days.  We havent looked for it specifically and ended up staying in very out of the way places.  But I am now here in a cafe in Odessa (Ukraine) eating pizza with wi-fi access so here goes 5 days updates.

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Day 12: Good Friday

A look out of our window early in the morning said the weather would be good, so Marcin and I rose early to tackle the Transfagarasan.  This road had been built as an escape route across the carpathian mountains to provide and escape route for communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, in case the Soviets invaded as per Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.  Romania is split in two by the curved Carpathian range.   The plains along the Danube to the east and south of the country, including Bucharest, could be easily invaded by the soviets.  But the land within the curve of the Carpathians would involve crossing the Carpathians somehow.  The road is said to be a feat of road engineering up there with the best of them , and very scenic to boot.

The Transfagarasan road is supposedly only opened in mid May each year as the high pass is around 2030 metres up.  I had just ridden the Arlberg pass in Austria last week and was feeling up for it.  As we climbed up from the base of the mountains at about 500 metres to the level of the first lake at about 850, the temperature dropped dramatically.  In theory, temperature should drop about 1 degree C every 150 metres in altitude, subject to a couple of variables, but in this case, it must have dropped 7-8 degrees in just 350 metres.  By the time we would our way around the lake and climbed up through 1000 metres, the snow was becoming more and more abundant.  By 1300 metres there were avalanches across the road, with narrow paths just wide enough to fit a car cut through them. and by 1580 metres, the road became impassable.  Snow covered the whole road, to a depth of several feet.  we were defeated.  We turned back dejected for the one and a half hour ride back to the bottom of the mountains.

At Curtea de Arges, Marcin and I parted ways.  He had to head North West to get back to Poland, and I had to head East and get to the Ukraine.  24 hours earlier, we had been 3.  Now it was just me – “And then there was one”.  The first half an hour was strange.  For the first time in the trip I had no-one in my rear view mirrors; No-one in front of me; No-one to bounce ideas off; No-one to tell me my ideas are stupid.  As much as I love the freedom of riding alone, I will surely miss the company of Jonathan and Marcin.

I decided to head to a bizarre double border crossing at the southern tip of Moldova.  Due to the Danube estuary and delta, there is no border crossing between Romania and Ukraine, to the south of Moldova.  I had to go through Moldova… but recent Romanian news reports were of revolution and demonstrations in Moldova.  One voice even said the borders were closed.  I took a chance and headed for the Romanian city of Galati, near the crossings I wanted to try – from Romania into Moldova, then about 1.5 km later, the Ukranian border.  I wanted to be in Ukraine for the night so it was head down 120km riding all the way to Bucharest.  Then I hit the ring road.  If there is a worse capital city ring road anywhere in the wolrd, I have yet to see it.  It took me 30 km of reckless gung-ho riding through the worst traffic and most  rutted bitumen roads I have ever seen to get to the other side of the city.  What should have taken 20 minutes according to Garmin, took over an hour.  If I had ridden responsibly, I may still be there.

When I finally exited the ring road from hell, it was straight back to 120 km/h head down riding, with the little X-Challenge screaming away beneath me.  I had been scanning the trucks I passed and those which came the other way for Ukranian number plates to confirm the border was open, despite the on-going revolution, but I had seen nothing in the hundreds of kilometres I had been on the lookout.  Then, 70km from the border, a stroke of luck.  I saw two Ukranian trucks parked by the side of the road pointing in the direction of Ukraine, drivers engaged in social chat.  I slammed on the brakes, did a u-turn and chatted to the drivers in Russian.  The border was indeed open.  They assured me that all this revolution business is only in Kishinev, the capital city, and way down on the southernmost border there would be no problems.

By 7pm I made it to the Romanian border.  The 10 km from Galati to the border was deserted and felt like a no-mans land.  By 7:45 I was into Moldova, having been made to buy a 20 EUR insurance policy (from 4 lovely women who I photographed below) for the 1.2 km ride to the Ukraine border and then the Ukranians held me  up for over an hour while they went through bizarre paperwork rituals.  My passport was checked half a dozen times under ultraviolet light.  So too were my registration papers. By the time I was set free into Ukraine it was around 9:30 and well and truly dark.  The border guys recommended a cheap hotel in the town 6km down the road.  After a quick search I found it.  It was extremely soviet,  Very bare. But at this hour I didnt have a lot of choice.  And at 100 UAH for a room for the night (about 10 EUR) I didnt complain.  They even had secure parking for the bike and opened up the kitchen for me.

Texts came in from Jon and Marcin.  Marcin had made it to Hungary, and Jon who we had left just after midday yesterday (Thursday), had ridden non-stop though the night and made it to his girlfriends parents in Linz (Austria) at 7am this morning while Marcin and I were still thinking about waking up.  A remarkable piece of iron-man riding.

A couple of minor milestones came up today, day number 12.  Kilometre number 5000 of the trip came and went, as did the 200th litre of fuel, as well as the 22nd country and the 30th degree of longitude from the start of the trip in Wales (3 degrees 46 mins west to over 28 degrees east.)   This is where the rate of border crossings slows dramatically.  In the next 5 weeks there will only be 5 more countries to add to the list: Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.  After that, no new countries for about 3 months.

Bulgaria and Romania

Another fine day dawned as the 3 of us awoke in Kosovo – Jon and Marcin in one room, and me in another.  We had worked out a deal where we got 2 rooms for 40 EUR. As breakfast hadn’t been included in the price and we had a hell of a lot of miles to try and do due to the Serbian intransigence, we packed up the bikes and prepared to head south again to Skopje, the Macedonian capital, from where we could head west into Bulgaria, and then north again to Romania.  The detour would add at least 250 km to the route and delay progress by 2/3 of a day or more.

As we were about to leave, the staff of the Hotel, disappointed that they would not get a chance to say goodbye over breakfast, insisted we come in or a coffee, on the house.  We accepted and rewarded them with a sticker 🙂

And so back south we went – past the Swedish and Italian forces clogging  up Kosovo’s roads.  I had entered a electronic black hole.  My compact camera and small video camera were both not working.  Frustratingly I missed a great conversation between Marcin and some Polish troops just before the Macedonian border.  On the positive side, the weather was fantastic.  It had been pretty much perfect since that first morning in Croatia, many days ago.

An hour or so later, just before crossing the Montenegro – Bulgaria border and re-entering the EU, Marcin had to stop for a 45 minute business conference call.  By co-incidence, I blew two fuses, continuing my electrical black hole of a day, and stopped to sort that out.  With Marcin on the phone for a while, i took the chance to superficially strip the bike down to try and find why I was blowing so many fuses.  I still don’t know  the answer, but I did find some original wiring under the seat that had been rubbed bare.  I taped them up as best I could and kept my fingers crossed that I had solved the problem.

Bulgaria was a blessing and a shock.  As a new EU member, the border crossing would be easy (as we all had EU passports) and things like petrol stations would be more likely to have machines that accepted credit / debit cards.  To our surprise, while the roads were still very “Balkan” – lots of up passes and down valleys, twists and turns, the surfacing of the roads was the worst we had experience on the trip so far.  By sundown we had reached the Bulgarian border town of Vidin, on the banks of the Danube river, just across from Romania.  The last hours ride, from a town called Montana, was really impressive.  The road was in top condition and the scenery as the sun set was like riding through somewhere in the US midwest or outback Australia.  It didnt seem like we were in Eastern Europe at all.  We pulled into a truckers motel, 500 yards from the ferry boat across the Danube to Romania.  A 3 person room was just under 10 EUR a night and we wondered if there would be any knocks on the door during the evening.  Being a border town in Eastern Europe where truckers pass through it wouldnt have surprised me.  We had seen a number of girls by the highway soon after entering Bulgaria from Macedonia.

Thursday we woke after an uneventful, undisturbed evening and did a little bike maintenance.  I had stayed up past 2 am while the otheers slept to cull my baggage.  I had known a few days into the trip that my fears re taking too much baggage were indeed true.  Jon was going to be heading back to visit his girlfriend in Austria today and in needed to give him whatever I no longer wanted to take, so that I could lighten my load.

We packed up after breakfast and minor bike maintenance to headed to the ferry.   We waited, and waited and waited.  Over and hour we waited for the ferry.  It only runs when its full and the roads were eerily quiet. At midday a ferry finally pulled in and we paid out 6 EUR each crossing fees.  The crossing itself was over half and hour and I took the opportunity to cut thee wires to my side stannd.  I had been told the best bet is to short them so the occasionally troublesome switch is bypassed.  I did that on my back on the ferry across the Danube only to reach the other side, start the engine and have it cut on me when I put it in gear.  I had shorted the wrong wires (there were 3 wires, and two of them had to be shorted.)  So after pushing the bike uphill to the customs shed, I shorted a different two wires and this time it seemed to work.  We powered on into Romania, our 20th country of the trip so far and headed for a petrol station to fill up.

So far on the trip, I had been getting about 25 km / litre which translates to 70mpg UK language, or 60mpg in US gallons, or 4 l / 100km for those who use that system.  Jon was typically filling up with 7-8 % more fuel than me at each stop and Marcin 15% -20% more on his carburettored KTM.  Jon carried a 5 litre tank with him strapped to the back of his bike and so had a total capacity of 21 litres and a range of about 430 km (270 miles). That was the smallest range of the 3 of us, and we based our fuel stops around that.  We had done pretty much that range when we had pulled into Vidin the previous night so we knew we had to top up with fuel on entereing Romania.  Jon topped up with 20.65 litres … he had at best 0.35 litres (about 6 km) left in his tank.  Throughout Eastern Europe fuel was universally just under 1 EUR a litre.

15 km into Romania and we had to say farewell to Jon.  He had to get back to Austria for easter evening tomorrow night, and there was a quick road back from this point.  Jon christened his own experiences in Eastern Europe as “Balkan Extreme” and certainly after surviving the likes of Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, I hope he sticks with that title.  There is a lot more to see and write about this part of the world re motorcycling than I have time for right now and I am sure Jon, who took a lot of pics, will document this all over the next few week once he has returned to sunny England.

With Jon heading off North West, Marcin and I headed North East.  We had almost 300 km to cover to get to the start of the amazing Trans-Fagarasan highway through the Carpathian mountains.  We took some interesting dirt back roads through hills and villages before being halted for an hour by rain.  Fortunately, just as rain fell, we came across a series of covered roadside bar-b-q stalls as we crossed a highway.  We paused and ate for an hour before resuming our journey.  We reached the Trans-Fagarasan just as darkness was falling and decided to overnight before the highway, saving the highways glory for tomorrows sunlight.