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A Taste of Rural Romania & The Danube

We spent 6 days cycling through Romania from Hungary to Bulgaria, mostly along the Danube and through industrial towns or peasant villages.  We met Dutch cyclist Moshe along the way and cycled with him for about a week.  There was not much stunning scenery in this part of Romania, but the people were amazing…

Length of trip:

778km (daily av. 130km BOOM!), 6 days (6 cycling, 0 rest), 27th August – 2nd September

Route:

Cenad (entry point) → Lovrin & Gotlob → Timisoara → Bocsa → Resita → Anina → Iablanita → Orsova → Drobeta-Turnu Severin→ Zaval Bechet → Zimnicea → Giurgiu (exit point)

Highlights:

Friendly people. Nowhere on our trip so far have the people been as friendly as in Romania. You get used to being weary of people who approach you in the street when you travel, thinking they are trying to sell you something, etc; but in Romania they’re just being really friendly.

Roadside watermelon stall

Moshe and Phil at a roadside watermelon stall

On our first night in Romania we were invited by Anna and Gheorghe (a Russian-Romanian couple) to stay at their house for the evening in the small town of Gotlob, (there was no accommodation in the town and wild camping options were sparse). We couldn’t speak any Russian or Romanian and they couldn’t speak English, but we managed to get by with some German, our phrase book and the Point It book! Anna showed us her amazing vege garden and cupboards full of homebrew vodka, pickled everything and tomato juice. She then cooked up an amazing feast for us. Their guest room was huge and much nicer than many of the hotel rooms we stayed at, their hospitality was amazing.

Cycling into Timisoara, we stopped at a café where the waitress was very impressed with Phil’s attempts to order in Romanian. She told us a bit about Romania and how the people like to be seen to know lots of people, so that is why they wave or say hello as we pass. They also like to work little and party hard!

In Resita whilst we were standing in the main square, Serggio a young student from there came up to talk to us. He rides a mountain bike and was excited to see us as he had also met some English cycle tourists the day before who were heading to Transylvania. He was really friendly and just happy to ask about our trip and hopefully we have inspired him to one day do a similar trip.

Along the Danube cycle route we mostly passed through peasant villages, almost every child will wave and call out “hello”, “hola”, “ciao” or “buna”. Many of the adults, particularly those harvesting the corn in the fields would also call out and wave. It was really cool for the first few days, after a while though it became a chore waving back to them. They must see a few cyclists come their way over summer.

Horse and cart

Friendly people in peasant village along the Danube

The Danube Boom Train. We met our new Dutch friend Moshe on the outskirts of Drobeta-Turnu Severin. He was completing the Danube route and we decided to ride together for a few days. With Phil and Moshe at the front and me drafting behind, we boomed along the Danube for good 400km until Giurgiu where we turned south into Bulgaria. So although the scenery was boring, we managed to cover big distances quickly and we enjoyed the company.

Kat and Phill climbing hill

Kat and Phil climbing one of the few hills along the Danube

New roads are in good condition. We cycled down a few amazing new roads in Romania, the best and most beautiful was between Anina and Iablanita. The road is very quiet and follows a river through a beautiful green valley of peasant farms and forest. They have repaved and barriered the road to make it suitable for trucks, the only reason we could think is as a connection to Serbia. The road was one of the best and most scenic we cycled on, you hardly had to pedal!

The route 6 which has a lot of trucks had been redone, there is a very narrow shoulder on the side, but sometimes it disappears! They’re redoing the bit between Orsova and Drobeta-Turnu Severin, the road works were a bit difficult to get through as we held up a queue of traffic for 500m. The roads along the Danube were really good, mostly quiet and good surfaces; however they do deteriorate the further east you get.

Dirt track

This road was marked as "sealed" on our map

Valleys around Anina. The valleys around Anina were the most scenic we passed in Romania and we were pretty pleased to see some hills. The peasant farms in this area are beautiful, most of the farmers are old and we passed a lot of old couples in their horse and carts taking in their harvest. It was quite noticeable that there were no young people around, they must all leave or they’re locked in the basement…

Cheap, new hotels. It was really hard to convince ourselves to wild camp when the pensions were so cheap at around €20 per room with breakfast, WiFi, TV, etc. And a lot of them were new or recently refurbished.

Lowlights:

Cycling the Danube. Basically it’s flat and boring. Don’t get me wrong, the Danube route is good, particularly for those who are new to cycle touring, but I’ve always heard that after Budapest it’s not quite as good as the other parts; really don’t know why anyone would bother. From Drobeta Turnu-Severin to Guirgui, we covered 370km in 3 days easily, and it was quite fun being able to chat whilst riding two abreast for most of the way. But the scenery was dry, flat and much the same the whole way… yawn.

Few camping opportunities. We camped once in Romania and the campsite was located next to the village’s football field with a bar and some small cabins to rent as well. It also seemed to be along a stock route with many people herding their cattle and driving their carts along the river. We were the only guests camped here with our Dutch friend Moshe and two German guys who we met along the way. It was a strange campsite as you had to wonder who on earth would camp here or use these cabins apart from a few cyclists each year?? I was woken in the middle of the night by gypsy music playing from a phone and lots of laughter and walking around near our tents. This was accompanied by many horse and carts going by all night with lots of howling and laughter. I was really worried we were being raided by gypsies, and was lying in our tent hoping our bikes would be okay. When I finally had the courage to poke my head out of a small gap in the tent, I saw a man in his underwear dashing from one of the cabins to the toilets. Then sometime later when I had the courage to go to the toilet myself I saw the couple walking to their car and driving off. So our gypsy attack was really just a midnight rendezvous in one of the cabins which I think answered our question as to what they are used for!

Herding cows

Herding cows across the village football field

The rubbish and pollution. Romania is full of litter. There are bins all over the place, but this can’t persuade them to put their rubbish in it. They treat rivers as a conduit to take their rubbish away, so they’ll dump all manner of things in there; sewerage, washing machines and no doubt chemicals. Some of the lovely valleys we went through were spoiled by all the fly tipping of crap into the streams. The couple of industrial towns we went through were horrible, not only visually but you were afraid to breath. They really need to clean up their act!

Roads/ paths:

The only bad experiences we had on the roads in Romania were the road from the border to Cenad. It’s quite busy and narrow with some cars passing quite close. One car in particular passed at 80+ km/h with another car coming the other way giving us what felt like a foot of room. Other than that the cars and trucks were quite good, usually because there wasn’t much traffic around.

We also took a route on our second day in Romania where the street map we had insisted it was paved, but it was really 5km of potholed, dirt track between two towns.

See above for comments on the Danube Cycle route and the road conditions.

Food & Drink:

The one thing you’ll notice in Romania is that there are lots of bars but not many restaurants, as people can’t afford to eat out, (but it seem like they can afford to drink… at any time of the day). In most towns, the only place to eat would be in the hotel/pension.

The only memorable food in Romania was Mich, some small kebabs with a mustard sauce that seems to a popular option at bars. Apart from that the choice was pork or chicken.

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