One of the first places I want to revisit when I am allowed to travel to Romania again will be the Ciucaș Mountains: a small massif nestled in the Carpathians’ Bend, just southeast of Brașov. Although humble in size, the Ciucaș is generously endowed with natural beauty. Not only do the bujorile de munte – mountain rhododendrons – adorn the green slopes in May and June; the Ciucaș is also known for its vast collection of oddly shaped calcareous rocks, sculpted by wind and rain over time. I visited the Ciucaș mid-May in 2018, when the rhododendrons just started to bloom. And what I’ve seen has convinced me that I need to go back.more “Hiking in the Ciucaș Mountains”
After our five-day hike in Durmitor National Park in northwest Montenegro we felt it was time for a less active mode of existence: beach time! So we board the bus from Žabljak to Kotor again. At the bus station we are greeted by the wonderful Radu, who drives us to his coastal hometown, Bigova. Before we drive out of town, we stop at the stall where we bought our gas for our hike – we have a full canister left and we want to return it without asking our money back. We have a hard time explaining ourselves to the extremely suspicious lady who runs it though, so Radu comes to our help and in the end she accepts the offering. On the way to Bigova, he tells us stories about it: one of the first things we learn is that everyone in the village has the same surname: Lazarevic. As does Ranca, our host who awaits us at the too-good-to-be-true apartment we will be occupying for the next six days. To do nothing much, apart from sleeping late, having breakfast in bikini, strolling to the beach, going for a swim, having dinner at one of the two seafood restaurants, and strolling home again.more “An introduction to Montenegro (3): the coast”
So, Montenegro Part Two. After exploring the ancient coast town of Kotor and getting used to the heat for a couple of days, we ventured on a bus ride to Žabljak – the gateway town to the Durmitor National Park in the northwest of Montenegro. I say ‘ventured on’ because we’d heard a thing or two about Montenegrine roads and drivers, and it turned out to be true: it was a wild ride. After about three hours of fearing for our lives and enjoying drop-dead gorgeous scenery we arrived in Žabljak.more “An introduction to Montenegro (2): Durmitor”
Yes, I’m straying from my first love, finally: this is the first blog post that deals with hiking in another country than Romania! Last summer was my first chance to explore other territories after having done research for the guidebook for three years straight. We ended up picking Montenegro: humble in size but chock-full of mountains and with a stunning coastline to boot. Who said you can’t have it all? It definitely left an impression, and the only reason I haven’t written about it earlier is that other writings (the book) and tasks (the job) got in the way. But Montenegro is still there, and worth your attention, fellow-adventurers! Now that corona is here and the book is published I’ve got a little more time to idle away on the blog. In this post: the old town of Kotor.more “An introduction to Montenegro (1): Kotor”
Last winter I was lucky enough to spend some time in Romania in winter – for the first time ever! After celebrating New Year’s Eve in the Buila-Vânturarița with friends and exploring the nearby Cozia Massif with Wilbert, I headed to Brașov to revisit the Piatra Craiului Mountains with some friends, old and new. Since the winds were too strong on the main ridge we restricted ourselves to do the Piatra Mica circuit. But as you will see, it was well worth it! So here it is: the Piatra Mica in winter.more “The Piatra Mica in winter”
Yes, I am aware winter is encroaching on us in the northern hemisphere, but I still have summer stories to tell. Although I spent just over a month in Romania this summer it was crammed with adventures – and I still have many pictures to share. Time to catch up. Here is a photo journal of my hike to the Piatra Mica, the Piatra Craiului‘s smaller but no-less-gorgeous sister. I’ve added ‘in summer’ to the title as I did this hike in winter as well – so a winter version of this post is in the cards. At some point. Eventually.more “The Piatra Mica in summer”
It’s 7:15. My alarm goes off. I snooze only twice, meaning I’m up, and proud, by 7:25. I do yoga, apply the finishing touches to my pack, have breakfast and call a taxi. It drops me off at Braşov station, where other taxi drivers line up to lure me into one of theirs – but alas, I’m getting on a train. To Râşnov, to be precise. After a short ride on the ridiculously cheap Regio Calatori train I briskly direct my steps towards the Bucegi. After about two kilometres I finally begin to wake up properly and realize I am still for an asphalt road, and that there are no signs of it ending anytime soon. I should definitely have taken a taxi for the first stretch to Cabana Mălăieşti. I could probably still call one, but instead I start flapping my hand up and down Romanian-style to find a ride. It doesn’t take long to take one: I end up in a car with a mountain guide, two Italian tourists and their driver. They are headed for Mălăieşti as well – lucky me. The ride probably saves me two hours of dull walking; as it turns out it’s almost 12km until the start of the trail. Sloppy slapdash planning on my part – I had a deadline to make the night before and didn’t mind the details.more “The Bucegi: other angles”
Yesterday has been a very full day – in the best possible way. I wrote a whopping seventeen pages in my (small) notebook – I brought only one because I thought that would suffice for a month in Romania. But by now I only have eight empty pages left. After only two days in the mountains my heart is full and my head is brimming with stories. That’s why I’m taking today off – or rather, have decided today needs to be a processing day. It’s pouring it down outside so that makes it easier for me to reconcile myself with the fact I’m not hiking today. Not that I feel bad about it – not at all this time. These past two days have brought me so much that I really need to sit down and think, write, sift through the stories, the images, the recollections, the conversations. It’s going to be quite a task, and a long read. If you don’t feel like reading, there’s pictures. I won’t blame you.more “Mountain magic in Măgura”
Hello dear people. It’s been a while. This blog is turning into more of a quarterly than, well, a blog. I’ve been wanting to write a post for a long, long time, but finishing the manuscript of my guidebook to the mountains of Romania and handling the feedback has swallowed me whole. It’s not that I didn’t have the time – but I’m feeling so depleted that I spend 12 hours out of every 24 sleeping and am so tired that I can’t handle much in terms of cognitive and creative effort. But I do want to write. I don’t imagine any one of you wakes up in the morning thinking ‘When is that girl finally going to post again’ but I do feel some sort of duty towards you, and myself – mostly myself perhaps. I want and need to write, and share. So here is a little update on how things are going and I’m going to treat you to some more Romanian mountains – the Ceahlau. So scroll down if you don’t want any of the personal dribble or read on if you do. (You’ve been warned.)
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.
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.
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! So, hiking in the Făgăraş: this is how you do it! 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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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”
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”