Transylvania: Turda and Cluj-Napoca

Sunset behind our RV

Let’s start with what we don’t like about Romania – THE DRIVER’S.  We actually avoid taking our bikes on roads with a lot of traffic as we do not trust the driver’s here.  I think Mike is getting more and more frustrated with the drivers, the longer we stay here.

A quick editorial comment.  This post was written over the course of a few days and I kept adding to it.  This means that the timing is a little funny and “today” refers to the day I wrote that section.

The majority of the campgrounds in Transylvania are really just large backyards where the owner has added some electricity and can take, possibly up to 10 campers.  Since it is not yet prime season we are often either the only camper or one of just two or three campers.  The owners are all so very friendly.  Tonight, we ate lovely cheesecake that was brought to our door.  We are often given snacks or drinks to try.  As I sit here and write this, Mike is outside with the campground owners and a couple from Britain, having a glass of wine and some homemade snacks.  It is really nice.  What isn’t so nice is getting into these campgrounds.  They really are just backyards, so you usually enter through a small driveway with buildings on either side, often at weird angles to one another.  Two campgrounds ago, I panicked as Mike had maybe 4 inches between the RV and a wall.  It got worse.  In the last campground we had maybe two inches to spare.  Remember that the backend is 37 feet away from where the driver sits, and two inches is tiny in a side view mirror.  I told them that that was the tightest campground we had ever been in.  I spoke too soon.  To get into this campground we drove over the edge of the driveway and broke the 20 cm thick concrete slab over the open culvert.  At least we didn’t end up in the culvert.  Mike, with no other choice, then drove over part of a flower bed and the stones that surrounded it.  All this with the metal eavestrough ONE INCH from scratching the side of the RV.  I am not looking forward to trying to leave here.  The RV is not symmetrical when it comes to turning and maneuvering because so much of the back of the RV is beyond the rear wheels.  This means that just because you got into a space with ONE INCH to spare, it doesn’t mean that you can get out.  I get very concerned.  Mike thinks that I take this worse than he does since I can’t do anything other than yell at him as he gets too close.  Personally, I think that the secure truck parking lots near the highways are looking good.  We might miss the lovely people, but I wouldn’t have a heart attack every time we move.

Update: Mike and I are now looking at a truck spot for our next camping site.  Just as we plan this, the owners of this campground have invited us to lunch in an hour.  Hopefully we can still find some campgrounds we can get to easily in northern Romania.  It would be really too bad to miss this local hospitality.  The roads are supposed to be even smaller in the north.

The good news, my bike is working great again.  Mike installed the controller that was shipped to us.  I think the controller got to Romania faster than we could have got it across Toronto.  We are hoping to take the bikes tomorrow to a huge gorge or cut in the mountains.  The plan is to bike about 9 km to the gorge and then go hiking.  We have two concerns.  We have been told that there are a couple of steep hills and we don’t know how much traffic there is in the first 3 km.  After that we turn off onto minor roads.  We know that we can always turn around and get the car.  Of course, that only works if the steep hills are uphill on the way to the gorge.  If the road is downhill, then it will be a little late to turn around by the time that we find out that it is too steep.  We will probably be back to our camper/home before I get this finished and posted so I might add an update at the end.

Gorge view where biking ended. Car park way below.

Update: Mike and I did get to the gorge today.  On the way there we decided to avoid the main road entirely and ended up on a shepherd’s path going through fields.  That was fine until we saw a herd of sheep and a sheepdog ahead of us.  We didn’t want the dog to think we were attacking his sheep.  Luckily our path had the sheepdog between us and the sheep.  It wasn’t the greatest path, so we decided that we would take the road back after our hike.  Being able to talk using our in-helmet headsets is super.  There was a very long, winding incline up to the gorge (2 km, 7 degree incline).  Again, Mike’s bike overheated and quit working 3 or 4 times on this slope.  He had to walk it up quite a bit of the hill.  It would always start a minute or two after it quit.  My bike ran just fine but last time this happened mine never had a problem until it truly died and needed a new controller.  Neither Mike nor I know if the new controller will switch off when the bike is subjected to continuous heavy load (like going up a long 7 degree slope).  This does worry me.  We got to the entrance of the gorge area and parked our bikes and walked around, looking at the great view.  We then saw that the cars were continuing down a very, very steep hill (3/4 km and 12 degree slope) and parking at the bottom where the entrance to the actual gorge was.  There was no way that I wanted to have to walk up that hill after hiking in the gorge for an hour or two.  We decided to bike the 9 km back to the RV and switch to our car.  That sounds like it was a problem, but it wasn’t.  We enjoyed the bike ride and it was a short car ride back to the gorge.  The walk was quite rocky and rough in parts, but we had a good time.  The gorge is about 1 ½ km (1 mi) in length.  3 km or 2 miles doesn’t sound much but we were certainly feeling it by the time we were done.  The trip into the gorge was up hill. In quite a few stretches we were hiking on a rocky ledge 10 meters above the river.  There were 6 suspension bridges on the trail where you crossed back and forth over the river.  Suspension bridges are not Mike’s favourite.  We haven’t hiked much at all this year.  It appears that my foot, which I hurt quite badly a month ago, still isn’t completely better.  I have no problem walking on pavement, but cobblestones and rocks aren’t so good.  Oh well, if that and my two broken back teeth are the worst things that happens to us it will be a good year.  We met a group of people on the trail, who told us that it was very difficult, and they had turned around.  The other campers at our campsite didn’t make it through the gorge to the far side.  I am pleased to say that we made it through the entire length of the gorge.  I did use the hiking pole that I bought last year.  It makes a huge difference on this type of terrain.  I so wish that I had had one when we climbed Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock last year.  That was much more difficult, and I hurt for days that time.

Wedding photos in the gorge

I almost forgot to mention the big surprise at the end of the gorge – in the midst of the hikers there was a bride and a groom who had entered the gorge from the opposite end.  In addition to taking pictures at the end of the gorge they actually walked quite a ways into the gorge to have more photographs taken.  I have no idea what state the wedding dress would be in by the end of the photo session.

Mike feels all these bridges are unsafe
Very tired but happy

The two major sightseeing activities in this area where the gorge and a salt mine.  My sister sent me an internet article on an amusement park underground in a salt mine.  The locals never say that, they only talk about the salt mine.  There are some activities for kids underground in the salt mine, but I wouldn’t call it an amusement park.  There is a small Ferris wheel, a few paddle boats in the “lake” created by condensation and some other small happenings.  The salt mine itself was quite interesting but it didn’t compare to the one in Krakow.

The other day Mike and I saw (another) lovely Romanian Orthodox church.  Every spot on the walls and ceiling was covered with paintings.  Some areas where just designs or patterns while others where actual pictures.  The work that goes into these churches is phenomenal.

One thing that is happening to us, that I really don’t like, is that we are forgetting what we saw where, things are blending together.  We retain the overall knowledge and impressions of fortresses, churches, medieval towns, rural villages etc.  We are learning a lot, but I couldn’t quickly tell you which town had which fortified church for example.

At our last campground we went with the campsite owner to visit a house right across the street.  It was a typical village house on a lot about 70 feet (20 m) wide.  The property was much deeper than it looked from the road (perhaps 3 or 4 hundred meters). It was a village farm.  Whereas the larger farms do have tractors and other farm equipment, the small village farms still do everything by hand.  They had chickens, pigs, two goats and one cow.  They grew grapes, strawberries, onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, plums, apples and cherries (can you guess that that list came from Mike ?).   It looks like really hard work for the people who live there.  They sold their milk and cheese locally.  We had had some of their extremely fresh cheese just a few days earlier.

Scenic ride to dinner and back

Mike and I have come to the conclusion that the very friendly campsite owners often help arrange things for their campers to do, to encourage them to extend their stay in the area.   One day Mike went north with our host for a day of bear hunting (photography and sightseeing).  They were gone for the entire day.  The pictures that I saw afterwards where of lovely houses, a fancy restaurant etc., nothing that looked remotely like the habitat of a bear.  Maybe “bear hunting” is a Romanian euphemism for a men’s day out.  Our hosts also asked if we wanted to go for a ride on a local horse and cart with the two Americans we had met previously.  We would stop for dinner and be out for about 4 hours.  Of course, we went and had a great time.  And yes, we stayed an extra two days ?.

View from cart ride

We just visited Cluj-Napoca, which is the unofficial capital of Transylvania.  It is a good-sized university town.  There is a lovely, large park with a lake and paddle boats in the centre of town.  A lot of the trees in the park had black bands and rings around them.  It turns out that these are for people to hook their hammocks up to.  People bring their own hammocks, which fold down really small, hook them up to the trees and relax in the park for the afternoon.  It is lovely to see.

A large production of Mamma Mia is being performed in Cluj this year.  We have been told that everything will be in Romanian, including all of ABBA’s songs.  Also, in Cluj, a portion of one street has been designed to be completely symmetrical on both sides.  The buildings, balconies, plaster designs etc. are identical.  It is known as Mirror Street (at least in the tourist books).  In the photo at the bottom you can see the entrance to Mirror Street on the right.  One of the buildings is having some restoration work done but you can get an idea of the symmetry.

It looks like Mike and I will be meeting friends that we met in Norway last year, in Croatia around July 11.  That gives us a deadline for finishing our touring of Transylvania and getting to Croatia.   On March 2 we thought that we would be in Croatia within the week.  On April 12 we were about 1 hour from the Croatian border when we decided to make a quick change of direction.  Who would ever have thought that a little side trip to Transylvania could have us concerned about making a July 11 date in Croatia.  We could easily spend many more months in Romania.  We met another couple who came to Romania for about two weeks and stayed 3 ½ months.  We completely understand.

Mirror street on right

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