After my snowy venture into the Călimani during the first weekend of October I returned during the second half of the same month. I walked back up the red cross from Gura Haitii to Poiana Izvoarelui and saw a rare cocoș de munte (western capercaillie) on the way. My goal was to complete the circuit of the Călimani as I had planned to do earlier, so I continued towards the famed Twelve Apostles reserve.
I’ve wanted to travel from Romania to Belgium (or vice versa) by train for a long time, and now I’ve finally done it! I am more than a little pleased. Initially I felt a little daunted by the length of the journey: it took me two days to get from Oradea (RO) to Ghent (BE) via Budapest and Vienna. I decided to split it in two and spent two nights in Vienna. That way I made sure I didn’t get overstimulated by the journey and was able to do some sightseeing at the same time. After all, it would be a shame to pass through one of the pearls of Europe and not see it. I could have stopped in Budapest as well but had already been there several times. In this post I will explain how to travel across Europe by train. It is a little more challenging than booking a plane ticket, but well worth the effort!
One of my favourite ways to start a hike is when I can walk out of a town and straight into the mountains. One perfect base to do this from is the charming town of Vatra Dornei, in the northeast of Romania. I used to be a little scared of the northeast. It is arguably the remotest corner of the country and I’ve had some negative experiences there in the past. Most recently the dog bite, and in the more distant past I thought I wanted to buy a campsite in this area. It didn’t feel right, it wasn’t a good plan and I ran away screaming. Ever since I get a little mental shudder when I think of the northeast. But not any longer: I’ve discovered the northeast is perfectly friendly and perfectly gorgeous.
Let’s just say I got more than I bargained for. More mud, more rain, more wind, more snow. The Călimani Mountains are giving me a hard time… First the dog bite, now this. (I haven’t written about the dog bite on here yet – full disclosure on facebook.) But admittely, they are beautiful enough to revisit. Which I plan to do soon. Here is a report of this week’s three-day endeavour.
In between my most recent hikes with Cârța as a basecamp, I’ve made regular visits to the beautiful Saxon town of Sibiu. Last year I wrote about some places in Sibiu that I really loved, and now I can add a few to the list. Most of them involve food or books: Sibiu knows how to pamper both body and soul.
Just a few days after I had come back from my hike across the main ridge of the Făgăraș, I went back: I wasn’t quite done with these mountains yet. During an earlier hike into the Iezer-Păpușa, I had planned to cross over into the Făgăraș via a connecting spur, but was prevented by the weather. This time round the forecast didn’t look too favourable either; 5-10mm of rain or more was predicted for every afternoon, so I resolved to go on short hikes and pitch my tent before the rain. But I was fortunate: I was much faster than expected (I suppose I’m getting the hang of this hiking thing) and there was less rain than predicted.
Oh Făgăraş. You kept me waiting for so long! But It Is Finished: I hiked across the entire length of the Făgăraş Mountains in less than a week! Five days and a rest day, to be precise. I still find it hard to believe that it went so well. But the pictures, the bruises on my legs and sores on my feet serve as good reminders that this actually happened: the longest hike is down! more “Hiking across the Făgăraş: Romania’s longest ridge”
I intended to write a reflective post after my first month in Romania, but then all of a sudden two months had passed – and then three. This doesn’t mean time flew – it didn’t exactly. Last year’s start was tough – this one was tougher. When I look at my walks list I am not impressed – I only managed one three-day hike in June, for instance. In terms of kilometres it looks a little better – I did about 240km which is almost half of what I did in total last year and the year before – so it looks like I’m getting somewhere. Although that said, I have no idea how many kilometres I have ahead of me. I can only hope that I’m about half way, since in another three months winter will force me out of the country.
After my hike in the Iezer-Păpușa was cut short by the rain I planned to return there, but the rain wouldn’t stop so I started looking around for alternatives – and settled for a hike in the Cozia and Buila-Vânturarița, after lengthy consultations with the 500th liker of my facebook page. So after two and a half months in and around Brașov I set off for Cârța, a lovely little village in between Brașov and Sibiu at the foot of the imposing Făgăraș mountains. Actually my host, Sorin, drove me there – he happened to have an appointment in Aiud that same day and Cârța was pretty much en route. So that saved me a lot of dragging and sweating.
I just came back from a wonderful two-day circular hike in the Iezer-Păpușa Mountains. After even more torrential rain which flooded half the country and even brought down a railway bridge (wettest June in 40 years), I set off towards this beautiful cousin of the Făgăraș, the longest of all mountain ranges in Romania. It lies tucked away to the southeast of it, and west of the Piatra Craiului. I took a bus to the town of Câmpulung Muscel from Brașov over the Rucar-Bran Pass, which took me through the beautiful Țara Branului – the land of Bran. It was by no means a comfortable journey, but it was worth it for the views alone – the rolling hills around Bran, the Bucegi to the east and the Piatra Craiului to the west.
This week I finally got to go on my first full-pack hike, after three frustrating weeks of waiting for the weather to clear up. There were thunderstorms and torrential rains almost every day, and I just couldn’t find a big enough gap to go hiking without risking getting absolutely drenched. Now I don’t mind a little rain – it’s part of the adventure – but I know three days of rain would mean misery. So I was overjoyed when the weather forecasts (I check multiple sources) ‘promised’ three days of reasonably favourable weather from Sunday to Tuesday. So on Saturday I took the train to Predeal so that I would be able to start early Sunday morning. Well, my early – I left at 9am.
I’m back from a long weekend in the Netherlands – my sister got married, I got to spend some precious time with my husband, saw some friends, wandered around my lovely hometown, Leiden, and stocked up on cheese. And now I’m back in my little abode in Brașov. Time to rest and write. The week before last I completed a crazy hike in the Piatra Craiului mountains, as you may have noticed on facebook. It was definitely the most challenging one-day hike I have ever undertaken and is probably one of the most difficult hikes in all of Romania. I’m very proud that I managed to pull this one off so early on this year, and absolutely loved it so am going to give you a full description so that you can do this too, if you need an adrenaline shot. more “A very exciting day in the Piatra Craiului: the Lanțuri route and Southern Ridge”
The big toenail of my right foot is turning blue. My skin is suspiciously red in places. My legs are sore and my head aches. Diagnosis: overexertion. Cause: a 32km hike in the Baiului Mountains on Tuesday (+1611hm -1933hm). It was a beautiful and enjoyable hike most of the time, but a bit longer than planned. This is what happened. more “A very long day in the Baiului Mountains”
Although I like to think I’m beginning to understand Romania and the spirit of Romanians, I realize there is always much more to learn. One excellent way to learn more about Romanian culture is by watching films. As is true for any country, you can’t really understand Romania without getting to grips with its history.
The first hike of the season is under the belt! I am so glad I made it to the start. Of the third leg of this Roamaniac project, I mean. I was far from sure I was up to it. But, as another hiker wisely wrote, nothing gets you fit for hiking like hiking. For starters, I picked an entry-level hike – and although my body protested a bit during the climb through the forest (and afterwards, i.e. now), it went well and I enjoyed it. Here is a description of a hike through the fabulous Șapte Scări Gorge – Șapte Scări meaning Seven Ladders. I combined it with a hike to Piatra Mare Peak and then walked back down an easy path. But the beauty of this hike is (amongst others) that it has something for everyone: you can keep it short by doing just the gorge part, make it longer by hiking up to Piatra Mare cabin or even longer by hiking up to Piatra Mare Peak.
Something incredible happened to me today. I was staying at a friends’ house but felt very uncomfortable there for various reasons. Too big, not so clean, no internet, moderate to bad 3G reception, just one lousy shop, quite a long bus ride from Brașov, etc. So I panicked.
Fortunately, I didn’t just panick – I started listing alternative accommodation around Brașov. I also started looking at AirBnBs again even though I had already done that a few weeks ago.
Suddenly I found myself staring at an AirBnB which I hadn’t seen up there before – and it looked too good to be true. Like a proper fata morgana: nine euros per night for a beautiful little two-bedroom refurbished house on the outskirts of Brașov, close to the Piatra Mare mountains. Bookings per week only – but that’s a good thing for me since I want a base I can return to without having to drag my luggage from one place to another all the time.
I’ve recently taken up the habit of reading one poem before I go to sleep. I started this after I bought a volume of poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke – a selection of his so-called ‘New Poems’. Last night, I accidentally read three (to calm my raging mind). Der Fremde, ‘The Stranger’, was the last one. I found it so comforting, and so relevant to my roaming adventure, that I thought I should post it on here. It also made me wonder why I hadn’t shared any poetry before. I write poetry myself (when I am under its spell – it comes and it goes) so it makes sense to share some poetry on here, too. One possible problem: it’s in German and I haven’t found an adequate English translation. I tried my hands on it but soon realized I couldn’t do it justice. So I will just post the original and then highlight what struck me about it.
When we grow up, we learn to walk – but I am walking to learn. I’m a perfectionist, so I always want to get things right the first time round. But there is no way to do that with an adventure like this: I have to learn on the go. About my surroundings, about myself. About my limits, my body, my fears; about techniques, gear, the weather. In fact, I no longer even want things to go perfectly right from the start; I love the everlasting learning process. I’d probably feel very bored without it. These are some of the things I learned throughout my second hiking season in Romania.
This is an old story – but one that needs to be told. I have so many of these – but they keep heaping up and then I end up focusing on the ‘more important’ posts about routes and the like. But I like stories. And telling them.
31st of July 2016, Poienile de sub Munte. I have just arrived in this hamlet in the Munții Maramureșului, the northermost mountain range in Romania that borders on the Ukraine. I managed to sprain my ankle – badly – in the last 500 metres of my hike from Lacul Vinderel. I have pitched my tent near an abandoned and derelict cabana. Now I need a drink.
I’ve written about the Apuseni before, but I promised to write more – and there is lots more. I haven’t been able to explore everything but there is one route that stays with me: the fabulous hike through the Galbena Gorge. The Apuseni generally makes for gentle walking, but this circular route is a good deal more challenging than most. So if you want to combine some easy hiking through the hills of the Apuseni with some clambering, this one is for you.
So, this is the post I intended to write before the end of last year – but although the clock doesn’t cheat, the way we experience time differs from time to time, person to person. Never mind – January is still a fine month to do some reflecting. These are some of the things I learned in Romania last year. I haven’t read my notes for a while so I will probably do some re-learning while I write. 🙂
I was going to write another Things I Learned post before the end of the year, but that never happened – I’m still emerging from the (fortunately metaphorical) dust clouds that resulted from moving to Ghent, Belgium. So I was going to write it in the first week of the new year – that didn’t happen either. And then I wrote the following. I very much doubted, and still doubt, whether I should post these musings here – after all it is not directly related to Romania – but I did promise to also post musings here. And it is definitely part of the journey I’m on. So I’m just going to give it a go and see what happens. It’s all about attitudes to learnedness and wisdom. And envy. And limits.
I’ve been back in the Netherlands for three weeks now. I was hoping to have plenty of reflection time and therefore also writing time, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve plunged headlong into a situation that is called moving house. Yeah. Me and my husband will be moving to Ghent, Belgium, in a matter of weeks. Which means that I’m travelling to and fro, getting rid of surplus books and clothes, getting lots of things sorted generally, and that my head has turned into a tumble dryer that tumbles all sorts of things that should not go in a tumble dryer: furniture, moving companies, money, paint, wallpaper, friends – to name but a few. But thought I should try to put something up here – even if it’s tiny. So here’s a story about more Romanian hospitality – I could write tons of those but this is one that sticks and just popped up in my tumble dryer mind. So here you go.
Usually when I write about cities – or when others do – blog posts end up including things like “The five best cafes” and “The ten top attractions”. The truth is, however, that no amount of time is enough to do a beautiful city justice and it is therefore nigh impossible to get to know its true character in just a couple of days. This certainly applies to the seductive Saxon city of Sibiu (sorry for the alliteration, couldn’t help myself), which I visited late in September, when the CibinFEST was in full swing. So what I’ll do this time round is just take you on my walks through the city and tell you what I encountered. Perhaps you’ll want to try for yourself afterwards! more “Sauntering through Sibiu”
Shepherds are awesome people. I have met quite a few of them by now and I continue to be amazed. Their lives are tough: they live outdoors throughout the summer season, come rain or shine; they walk many kilometres each day, make cheese, carry sick sheep, and have to fend off bears. Only yesterday I met a shepherd who recounted that last Sunday, two bears killed four of their sheep. And last night we heard gunshots coming from the stâna next to our lodgings – to scare away another bear. Apparently in autumn bears come down into the village to eat apples and plums – to do so they tear down an entire apple tree and then start eating. Enough about bears – here is a short impression of a shepherd in the Retezat Mountains, and a small collection of pictures of various shepherds I’ve met.
Let’s just be clear: the Retezat Mountains should be on top of your list if you want to explore the Romanian Carpathians. Many Romanians will agree with me that it is among the most beautiful mountain ranges in Romania, if not the single most beautiful. I can sum up the facts – like there are over 20 peaks over 2,000 metres, some eighty lakes that gleam like blue eyes – there are bears and marmots and chamois, ancient beech forests and rugged ridges, scrambling sections and lovely meadows. But you should really just go and immerse yourself.
One of the hikes that I’ve most enjoyed so far led through Râmet Gorge, or Cheile Râmetului in Romanian. It is perhaps the most spectacular hike in the Trascău Mountains: walking this trail means actually having to wade through the river that streams through the gorge, for a distance of about two kilometres. The water streams pretty fast and can reach as high as your chest in some places – although in those cases you can always rely on cables and footholds in the wall of the gorge. This hike is absolutely delightful on a hot day and the scenery is stunning. If this sounds like fun, read on and find out more.
I’m supposed to be writing about the mountains mostly, but I just noticed none of my last three posts deal with the mountains in any major way. Time for an itinerary again – through the Apuseni Mountains this time. Not the highest of mountains, but certainly not the least among them in terms of beauty and surprises. I’d been wanting to visit them for a long time – and I finally got to explore them in July. And I was pleased with what I found. Here is an itinerary through the delightful Padiş region.
I have so many stories to tell that I don’t quite know where to start. Some of them are already at the back of my mind – every single day here brings so many adventures that a month ago feels like the distant past. So it’s time I start digging up some of these stories. This post is a tribute to the little village of Runc (comuna Ocoliş, judeţul Alba), where I spent a considerable amount of time in June and July. Here are some little stories I became part of – I won’t go to the trouble of connecting all of them so it will end up looking like a bit of an impressionist painting. Enjoy.
After almost two months in the countryside and in the mountains, Cluj makes a welcome change for a couple of days. Although I’ve visited the unofficial capital of Transylvania a fair few times by now, it still does a good job at surprising me. After some serious hiking in the Apuseni Mountains, me and my hubby – who is flying back home as I write – felt we needed to feed ourselves well. Below is a little culinary tour of Cluj, suitable for vegetarians as well – spending time in the countryside and in the mountains means eating considerably more meat than I’d normally feel comfortable with. So we resorted to restaurants with veggie options – which isn’t at all difficult in Cluj. more “A culinary tour of Cluj”
Earlier this week, I hiked from Râmet Gorge to the tiny village of Întregalde. I knew in advance that there weren’t any pensions and that I would have to rely on the locals – which feels a bit scary for someone who likes to plan everything in detail. But I was in for a pleasant surprise.
By now I’ve spent a month in Romania, so it’s time for a review – and a post. Things haven’t been easy, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering how I want to use this blog. I feel a strong urge to write Real Stories – as opposed to Smooth Stories that may make my adventure sound like a dream come true (which it is) and encourage you, my reader, to come visit Romania, but don’t reflect the hardships that are also part of my dream project and of my life. It’s a lot less scary to write up an attractive itinerary and a cheerful account of all the beautiful moments I go through here, but the truth is that Real Life comes with Rough Edges. more “First Month: Ups & Downs (and two routes to Scăriţa Belioara)”
It’s about time I tried to lure you into visiting Romania again. For reasons outlined in my previous post, I haven’t been able to put much effort into writing lately. My silence definitely doesn’t mean I’ve run out of enthusiasm or destinations – far from it! So here, finally, is an itinerary again – through the Bucegi Mountains this time. If you’re still contemplating where to go this summer and would love to tackle some mountains, I hope with this post I can tempt you to honour the beautiful Bucegi with a visit.
It’s been a while since I last wrote. My computer had a breakdown and so did I. One word: depression. I’m still crawling out of the hole, shedding the lethargy, fear, fatigue and what else one layer at a time. Thought I’d gather some courage and write one last – and belated – post before we jump into 2017. Don’t expect anything profound – these are just some of the things I learned during those four months in Romania that kept me going.
I’m aware of the fact that waterfalls aren’t unique to Romania, and that there is nothing Romanian to the sound of them either – or is there? Like many people, I am enticed by the sight and sound of waterfalls – the sheer power they come down with, the calming effect they have on me – I could spend hours looking at them. more “Sounds of Romania: waterfalls”
Braşov was called Kronstadt by the Saxons for a reason. Many reasons, in fact. To start with, Braşov literally wears a crown: the old city centre is surrounded by a ring of hills; covered in forest on the eastern side, boasting two ancient defense towers on the western side and a fortress towards the north. This beautiful natural crown, which is turning golden at the moment, is worn by what must be one of the prettiest city centres in Europe. Braşov is a great base if you want to explore the surroundings or head into the mountains, but is definitely worth visiting in its own right. Here are five reasons why, for me, Braşov is the king of all Romanian cities; or, as the Romanians say it, Braşov – regele oraselor din Romania. I could list many more, but there probably is a limit to how long you want this post to be… more “Five reasons why I love Braşov”
Want some alone time whilst enjoying splendid scenery? Then the Munţii Maramureşului were made just for you! You will have to make a bit of an effort to get there – but if you clicked on this post I trust you got triggered by the word ‘hiking’. Although there is a lot more to be explored in the Munţii Maramureşului, let’s get started with this beautiful hike from the village of Repedea to Vinderel Lake and Farcău Peak. It’s one of the most rewarding walks I’ve ever done. more “Hiking in the Munţii Maramureşului: Vinderel Lake and Farcău Peak”
Since I keep going on about how wonderful the little village of Breb is, I should probably suggest some places for you to stay at. There’s plenty of choice – but do make your reservation well in advance, because Breb is a popular place among Romanians and international tourists alike. Here are my favourite places – starting with my absolute favourite which also happens to be the cheapest! more “Accommodation in Breb”
I love Romania. I love trains. I love Romanian trains. Hence, I don’t mind arriving at the station early to just watch the train come in and hear the tune that precedes all announcements played over and over again. Here is some footage to give you an idea of the atmosphere at a Romanian station – Gara Braşov, in this case. Hopefully you will feel as thrilled as I do – although I am probably a bit of a train maniac. Enjoy! more “Sounds of Romania: the station”
Sighetu Marmaţiei is the northernmost town of Maramureş, right on the border with the Ukraine. With a population of only 100,000, it is nevertheless an important hub. When you have to do your grocery shopping, it’s either Baia Mare or Sighetu Marmaţiei (most people simply refer to it as Sighet) you go to. But the town offers much more than that. Here are some ideas to spend a pleasant day in and around Sighet. more “A Day in Sighetu Marmaţiei”
If you visit Maramureş, it’s definitely worth making a stop at the wonderful little town of Baia Sprie, just 10 km from Baia Mare. For two reasons: the potter and the Blue Lake. more “Pottering about Baia Sprie”
If the Carpathians are wild, the Rodna Mountains (Munţii Rodnei in Romanian) are truly wild. In the mountains around Braşov, the Fagaraş for example, you will meet plenty of people and find many a cabana – but in the Rodna, you will have to be completely self-sufficient. There are no cabanas except for a (temporarily closed) inn at the Setref Pass in the west, Hanul Pintea, and a cabana at the easternmost end of the ridge, Cabana Rotunda. So pack your tent, food and water, and let’s go… more “Hiking in the Rodna Mountains”
On day one of my hike into the Rodna Mountains last week, I thought I heard a trumpet or other brass instrument in the distance. Soon after, we saw a shelter appearing on the horizon, which turned out to belong to a cowboy and his son. They herded cows and horses; made cheese and kept a little lamb beside the fire in their very snug hut. The cowboy also turned out to be the trumpet player – or whatever it’s called. more “Sounds of Romania: A Cowboy and his Trumpet”
I have to confess I’m beginning to like Cluj. Especially now that Strada Horea has been repaired. It’s not a big place, but cities are soon too big and buzzing to my taste. But now that I’ve found a few places that I feel comfortable at I have actually come to enjoy spending a couple of days there. Cluj is often the starting point of my travels; it’s a good place to do some grocery shopping and acclimatize myself to everything Romanian before I move on to the countryside. In my book, accclimatizing mostly involves sitting at a cafe and letting it al sink in. So here are a few places that I think are worth stopping by. more “Cluj: nice cafes and bars”
I was going to write a longish introduction to this post – about how I admire the farmers in Breb. But instead, I will just introduce you straight away to Maria, Vasile, Marioara and Vasile: two self-sufficient farmer couples who are living their hard, but also satisfying lives in the beautiful village of Breb. I met them during an afternoon of haymaking: a vital part of a Romanian farmer’s life. But I will let the images speak for themselves. more “Farming in Breb: A Portrait”
A beautiful climb from Breb to the Rooster’s Crest
As soon as you arrive in Breb, you will see the Creasta Cocosului, or the Rooster’s Crest, beckoning in the distance: an impressive craggy volcanic rock formation. It promised a rewarding hike, so I went. more “Hiking to Creasta Cocosului”
Yesterday I went to the post office in Sighetu Marmatiei to get some stamps so I can send snail mail to the home front. It was an interesting experience. I’ve never had to wait so long for stamps in my life. But then again I asked for timbri pentru Europa (stamps for Europe) and that turned out to be a difficult request. more “Sounds of Romania: the Post Office”
Breb has got to be the most beautiful and harmonious village in Romania. I felt at home immediately when I first visited it in 2014, so I didn’t have to think long where I’d start my travels this year. A walk through the village is never the same. Here are some of yesterday’s encounters. more “Breb revisited”
The voice of freedom and hope
“To deny 20 million people access to information and to keep a whole country in ignorance for years has very serious consequences.”
3000 films. That’s how many ‘western, imperialist’ films Irina Nistor had dubbed by 1989. Sometimes she dubbed as much as six films in a row. Now that’s what I call binge-watching. And binge-dubbing. But why did she dub? more “Review: Chuck Norris vs Communism”
Why I keep returning to Romania
People often ask me why I keep returning to Romania. To which the short answer is that I have simply fallen in love with the country; but of course that still leaves a lot of explaining to do. So here is an attempt; which will hopefully convince you that you need to go there and fall in love yourself! more “Farmer Hoggett knew…”
Hi, I’m Janneke. I am a self-declared Roamaniac: I am utterly and completely in love with Romania, and I suffer from what the dictionary describes as ‘a strong desire for freedom’ (aptly called eleutheromania). Over the next couple of years, I will be hiking and trekking through Romania. I will focus on the various mountain ranges but will need to rest in between, so will also report on the joys of the Romanian countryside and its beautiful medieval towns. more “So, who’s the Roamaniac?”