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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

ROMANIA TO GERMANY & BACK HOME


We have an important date to keep in Germany (our good friend Ingrid has invited us to her 60th birthday party) so will speed our travels up a bit to get there in time. But first we head south to the Danube River mouth at Galati. Actually, we are surprised at how lovely and blue the river is. We decide not to explore the delta but head across country to revisit Bucharest. As usual we plan to get close to the city the night before so we can drive in and find a park easily as tomorrow is Saturday. We find a spot near some very dead factories and sit watching a lovely sunset. In the morning we still have 100km to go to get to the city, but there are still heaps of parking spots near the centre.

We spend a lovely day revisiting the city. Wander a lot, catch the hop on hop off bus, eat yummy food from a hole in the wall place and generally fall in love again with this city. Time to head towards the mountains. We are planning to drive the “Transfagarasan Highway” – a very famous drive that we couldn’t complete on our last visit in 2006 as the road was closed with snow. By dusk we find a carpark in the town of Curtea de Arges beside the famous Monastery there. We can not resist the chance to head in to a local restaurant for a traditional meal. Delicious.

Sunday morning the place is very busy indeed. It seems that everyone wants to see the lovely church. The interior is amazing, but so full of people during the morning service that I haven’t got a photo to show you. Finally, we head north towards our road. We spy an open supermarket (unusual here on a Sunday) so grab a few things. We have parked near a coffee shop, and when we come out the owner calls us inside. Her father has some No plates for John. We stop & chat and admire the coffee shop decorated with all things to do with cars. These unexpected kindnesses are so special.

So, we head up the mountain with countless other Sunday drivers. The road is narrow, winding & steep. We finally find a spot to pull over for photos. From here we can see the real Dracula’s Castle. On our last visit we climbed the 1480 steps to see it – not this time! Then on up to the dam at the top. There is even a tall lookout building for all of us to climb. As we continue we find more spots to stop, but then the mist rolls in as thick as pea soup. Bother! We decide to wait it out as we are near the summit, but after nearly an hour we give up & head slowly through thick swirling clouds. As we pop out of the tunnel we discover the other side is clear! After looking at the views & admiring a lovely alpine lake we decide rather than camping up here we will drive down the amazing hairpins tonight. Who knows what the weather will be like in the morning. So, we twist & turn down until we see a fabulous camp spot near the waterfall. Perfect! The wind picks up in the night – I can hear it roaring, but we are out of its blast here.

In the morning it is down through the forest to the town of Sibiu. We stop to explore this lovely fortified Saxon town. It looks more German than Romanian – and indeed it was German for a long time There is a lovely town square, lots of stunning churches, an awesome tower to climb up to view the city & lots of crazy bug- eyed windows that are exclusive to this town. Another scenic drive before heading towards the Transalpina Highway. We plan to drive it tomorrow – there is a small window with a slim chance of rain forecast tomorrow morning. With that in mind we head through the forested section & find a camp spot for a rather chilly night.

When we wake there is light snow falling. We head off hoping it will get warmer! As we climb there is more snow on the trees, & when we reach the highest part of the mountains & pop out of the tree line we discover even more snow. It is falling heavily now, but we carry on until we see a truck stopped. The locals are rounding up their cattle. The road is covered in snow & a layer of slippery ice. When GR2 slides on the ice we decide it really isn’t worth going further. We put GR2 in to 4WD, carefully make a U turn & ease our way back down. Phew! There is another route we can take – and this proves to be an incredibly scenic drive all the way to Petrosani. From here we head north. Ahead there is a detour to Corvin’s Castle at Hunedorea. From my markings on our map I know we visited it on our last trip, but we don’t remember it at all, making it a lovely revisit. It is one of those fairy-tale castles with a moat drawbridge & a row of lovely turrets.

But we need to keep moving. A few more miles before stopping just past the town of Brad near a soccer field & cemetery. Today is our last border crossing, but first a quick stop at the very underwhelming city of Oradea before hitting the border.  There is a queue of trucks at least 6km long! But mercifully our lane is quick. After all both countries are in the EU. They only check our paperwork. We head across Hungary to the town of Eger where we stop beside a pretty lake, so we can head in to town tomorrow to revisit it.

Well Eger doesn’t disappoint. We park beside the castle & head down to the old town – very pretty & touristy. Then off to the Valley of the Beautiful Women to see the wine caves we visited years ago. We even find the ones we visited previously & a whole new tourist area. Then it is on to Slovakia & The Czech Republic, avoiding toll roads as we haven’t purchased a vignette. It is getting late when we start hunting for a camp spot.  Ahead there is a castle. Perfect – a carpark with a great little restaurant with amazing smoked meat (really must try making this at home!)

Continuing in the morning, still avoiding toll roads we stop at the truly adorable town of Telc. It is a walled town with castle, churches & a delicious row of pastel houses on the town square. Very touristy but oh so cute. But we must move on – we need to be in Germany tomorrow. It is getting harder to avoid the toll roads and we think we are on one for about the last 60 km out of the country. Signage is unclear but there are some serious looking cameras – so we hold our breath and decide to wing it (very naughty), make it to Germany at dusk and find a camping platz at Moosbach for the night.

Saturday, we drive the last leg to Hilpolstein & do a few chores before arriving at Konrad & Ingrid’s place. Tonight, is the party and what a lovely night. We have an amazing time, even though our understanding of the German language is pretty minimal. These Germans know how to party, we don’t get home until 2am Thankyou Konrad & Ingrid for such a lovely time. Sunday is spent relaxing, and Monday finds us heading off on our final adventure for this trip.

The weather is cold. In fact, it is a chilly 8 degrees all day and I am wishing us back in sunny Brisbane. We haven’t quite got enough time to head to the islands in Croatia or to meander through Italy (2 ideas I have come up with) so we decide on Johns suggestion of the racetrack at Nurburgring. We head off, meandering along back roads and stopping occasionally to explore. Germany is perfect for motorhome travel, with heaps of RV parking, lots of camping platz & seriously cute towns. As we head north I remember that our good friends Joel & Cindy (from USA who we meet in France in 2006) were near Cologne a few days ago. So, we contact them and YAY they are still there & will wait for us to visit them. Back on the motorways to get there quicker. A lovely free parking platz, an amazing dinner cooked by Joel & even better hours of chatting. They have now been “on the road” in Europe in their RV for 18 years. Wow!

We both have to leave, so after more chatting we head off & south to Bonn to the very impressive Hans der Geschichte museum they recommended. We are truly impressed – a great audio in English & brilliant exhibits – the reconstruction of Germany from 1945 to 2018. By now it is getting late, so we find a camping platz beside the River Rhein. In the morning we follow the edge of the Rhein until it disappears in mist, then head to the hills towards the racetrack. A quick detour to an Abby at Maria Laach before we arrive….you will never guess what!! There is a race on tomorrow. John is as happy as a Sandboy. We camp with heaps of other RV’s right on the edge of the track. Not bad at 8 euros. We sit in the deckchairs & on the roof.  Time trails in the morning and the 4-hour race in the afternoon. A perfect petrol head day - a fair trade for a day at Bathurst, held on the same weekend back in Aus!

At the end of the race would be “boy racers” can pay to take their cars on the track. Naturally John checks if we can join in the fun – but the answer is: “Definitely no way with your truck!” Instead we find a quiet spot for the night away from the revellers who are still camped near the race track. Wake to cold misty day – winter is really on the way. Time for us to head back home – so we head to the Mosel River for a day of meandering alongside the river. There are literally 100’s of RV’s camped beside the river, heaps of picturesque towns & zillions of grapevines stretching up both banks of the river. Finally, we find our own spot beside the river for the night.

Our last full day on the road – heading across country on back roads. We literally stumble across the airplane Museum at Flugausstellung which has an amazing collection of aircraft. Finally, we decide to return to the motorways to speed up a bit. But one last stop for the day at the huge German Racetrack at Hockenheim ring. (Sadly, for John he will miss the race which starts the day after we fly home) Eventually we reach Hilpolstein where we pack, clean & winterise GR2 before catching the train to Munich. Then it is the long flight home.

Just a few facts and figures from our 2018 trip:

In over 6 months we have driven more than 50,000kms.   Used about 9,500 litres of diesel ranging in price from AUS$0.20 to $2.20 a litre. We have broken 3 springs & blown out 2 tyres.  Visited 27 countries (7 of which were new to us) and endured 21 serious borders – each with 2 sides – we must be crazy!

More travels to come next year – a new continent – Africa.

   

     

ROMANIA TO GERMANY & HOME - PHOTOS

The Danube at Galati

Heading in to Bucharest

Exploring





The Monastery at Curtea de Arges

The Car Cafe

Heading back to the mountains

And on up the Transfagarasan Pass

Dracular's real castle

At the top

And coming down

Town of Sibiu

Sibiu

Love the mountains

On the Transalpina Pass

Woops - the end of the road for us

Crazy ornate houses at Hunedoara

Corvin's Castle

Eger

The same wine caves we visited with Miranda years ago

Lovely Telc

Telc

Back in Hilpolstein for Ingrid's birthday

Overnight in Mainbernheim

With Joel & Cindy & their Flair motorhome - admiring all those no plates

Maria Laach

At Nurburgring

Race Day

Head down to the Mosel River - a bit misty today

Following the Mosel

At Flugausstellung


And at Hockenheimring (race on in a few days - sorry John)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A COUNTRY WITHIN A COUNTRY


Well another new country. It is amazing how different each country can be. Here in Moldova there are the same horse & carts but fewer villages & huge cropped areas looking more like collective farms. And now each village has wells with buckets instead of pumps. That will definitely make getting water more interesting!

We head across country to the Gypsy Capital of the world – Socora. We have been told to drive past the amazing showpiece homes the gypsies have built overlooking the river. Gosh they are amazing – all huge and very showy. Many are empty and nowhere near completed. Then down to the riverfront to look at the lovely restored fortress. It is one of those circular fairy-tale fortresses with 4 turrets. Not much else happening in town, so we head out and find (after much hunting) a tiny lake to camp beside.

In the morning we continue south to the next tourist attraction – the Saharna Monastery. It is a busy place with lots of monks & nuns living here & lots of locals visiting (It is Saturday after all) We plod up the hill for views, look at the monk’s caves & swimming hole/cold bath for the nuns. Inside the cathedral a baptismal service for babies is happening. Time to move on to the next monastery at Tipova – this is a monastery carved out of the limestone cliffs above the Dniestr River. Not too much to gawp at, but it looks like a great spot to camp, but in the end, we decide to carry on (we have run out of milk & I would really miss it at breakfast time), so we head to the city of Orhei & get our groceries. While in town some friendly local guys find John another no plate to tack to the side of GR2. There is not a lot of space left! It is now getting late so head to our 3rd monastery at Orheiul Vechi & find a spot by the river for the night.

This is another Cave monastery set on a lovely bend in the river. It is the setting, rather than the caves that is so interesting (well we hope so as the caves don’t open until 11am so we give them a miss). As we head to Chisinau we see lots of locals have set up stalls to sell their grapes. Can’t resist getting a bag full, plus more yummy plums. Before we leave this wine growing area we stop to look at Chateau Yartely – a gorgeous winery (rather like Siromet back home). Tours are fully booked, but the guy we chat to gives us a quick look around. Then time to head in to the city (Sunday of course – our favourite day to drive in to a city) It is a surprisingly pretty place with lots of parks & heaps of locals out enjoying the sunshine. John as usual spends time chatting to a few locals – end result: A TV interview arranged & an address for a truck workshop as GR2 is again due for a grease & oil change. By evening we head to the workshop & stay in their secure yard overnight – ready for an early start on GR2 tomorrow (we hope) 

Maintenance day today. Grease & oil change done & a few other vehicle related jobs completed. Then time to meet up with Loretta for another interview… (you can find the link on: mobi.protv.md) Dinner at a local restaurant & then the pleasure of finding a spot in the dark. Not one of our best ideas!

We have been trying, very unsuccessfully, to book a tour of the famous Cricova Winery.  Loretta manages to book one for us this afternoon, so we head back in to the city to look around the excellent History Museum before crossing town for our tour. We are taken on those oversized golf buggies through some of the extensive network of roads (120km of roadways apparently) within the limestone caves where the wine is stored and natural champagne is made. After a fun wine tasting session, we are taken back outside. Time now to head to our “country within a country” – the non-existent country of Transdniestria. Moldova thinks of it as part of their country, no other country officially recognises it, except Russia of course. They speak Russian & there are lots of Russian troops here supporting the country.  Of course, we have been warned – people always love to give gloom & doom stories, but the crossing is easy and they give us 2 days (not the usual 10 hours). Actually, we have booked at a camping hostel in case they needed to see a booking.  We head straight to Tiraspol & the Red Star Hostel where we can be registered. It is a great spot – we can park in their yard & walk to the city.

So, the next day is spent wandering around the city. The weather is perfect. It is a warm welcoming place with not too many sights – heaps of statues, a distillery that produces the cheapest brandy in the world (we think.) Later in the day we cross the river on the barge so we can visit the Noul Neamt Monastery – definitely a highlight with some lovely churches & a friendly monk who shows us around. We leave with a huge bag of grapes (these ones won’t be going in to the vats for communion wine). Again, we overnight at Red Star – we highly recommend it to other travellers. Dimitri is very welcoming & has excellent English. He is busy setting up space for more Overland vehicles.

Today it is the army’s day for war games & guns are going off. We even see Russian tanks driving through town, and there are 2 at each border we pass through. Actually, it really wasn’t all that long ago (1992) that there was fighting here when Transdniestria broke away from Moldova and a lot of lives were lost. We have time for a visit to the fortress at Bender before we leave. We must be out before 17.55 to be precise. Again, an easy crossing back in to Moldova – only slip up – we still have some local currency left & the bank at the border won’t change it. Now we are stuck with some crazy monopoly money (equivalent to $1.50 so John was heartbroken.)

Back in Moldova we head south & find ourselves in another Autonomous region within Moldova - Gagauzia. At least there are no guns & no borders. By the end of the day we find a spot beside a lake.  

The next morning, we head to the border. It is just a small one, but as we already have our insurance and vignette it should be easy. Right! But there is always something. They are convinced our Machina Passport (registration papers) are copies. We insist they are original. After all we got in to the country OK. In the end our guy drives over to Romania to get the big boss there to check. He OK’s it all which then makes the Romanian side a breeze. We are now back in the EU and on our last leg of this trip through central Romania & back to Germany.


MOLDOVA & TRANSDNIESTR - PHOTOS


So many wells - all with buckets supplied


Our first church in Moldova

Soroca Fortress

From the fortress - overlooking Ukraine. Car ferry across

Some unfinished homes


Looking down on Saharna Monastery

Cave Monastery at Tipova

Orheiul Vechi


River views near Orheiul Vechi

Looking out over the cave monastery


Grapes for sale at harvest time

Chateau Yartley

Chisinau city

Chisinau's Arc de Triumph


Wine stored in the caves

Our visas in to Transdniestr - exit time clearly stated

Tirasopol - Nothing of great excitement

There are lots of statues

The Bell Tower at Noul Neamt Monastery

The ferry crossing

John & Dimitri at Red Star Hostel

Can you see the tank hiding there - photo snuck near border

Bender Fortress