August 18, 2005 GMT
The roads....

The first few miles in to Romania were indeed pretty poor. Big holes, patchwork repairs - bad ones - and loose sand and gravel everywhere. Still, I could maintain about 30mph so it wasn't all bad. I passed my first horse and cart within a few minutes - after half an hour they were no longer a novelty. Men over 40 are wearing pork pie style hats - apparently Madness are still popular here. Very little traffic about - mostly old Dacias, which are copies of Renault models from the 60s and 70s. This is like stepping back in time - and the sun is still shining.


Once I got on the major road to Oreadne, long sections were actually quite decent. There were bad patches, especially in villages, but nothing too outrageous. Polio seems to have been active fairly recently and the looks on some of the faces suggest a few other problems - I know serious pollution caused a lot of birth defects years ago. A middle aged man gives me a 'go faster' wave and a big grin - rather similar to the banjo player in Deliverance. Hmm..... A new Bentley Continental passed in the opposite direction. That would stand out even in Knightsbridge - god knows what its doing here, but I don't think it had any plates. I later saw a recent Ferrari wearing Italian plates in Cluj - that would take a real hammering on these roads.

Turning on to the major route to Cluj, the road gets a lot worse as we go through a series of diversions. An Alsatian launches an attack as I approach his yard - luckily I'm going fast enough to breeze past before he gets there. A couple of trucks flash me as I come in to a village. Universal language. I go past the police car at 50 kmh with no other traffic around and he is shaking his head and laughing at me. The sign language seems to suggest 'stop taking the piss and get out of here....' Then we start climbing. The road surface improves still further - two lanes up, one down. Endless smooth curves, multiple hairpins and everything else is so slow they instantly pull over. This is the best road I have seen so far. New tyres now nicely scrubbed in, the lean angles get very impressive. And then....I'm back in Romania - fully committed to a lovely bend, peg just off the tarmac, and there is a medium sized dog standing just the other side of the centre line. She has 3 puppies playing around her legs and is about 6ft from the line I need through the corner. She hears me and turns - I get a nasty flashback to the Alsatian incident - she looks harmless, but she could easily wipe out my front wheel. Luckily she doesn't move, and just stands there wagging her tail as I pass. Hopefully she moves before the next truck passes.

Down in to the valley, it is single lane only. Hunting down trucks and taking them on the brakes in to bends, in short stretches no car could take advantage of. Surface gets a bit rippled as heavy trucks have given their braking area a hard time. As it flattens out, the traffic slows for a series of villages and I see two Super Teneres in my mirrors. A great riding day just got better - sport ! I know these bikes very well and considered buying another one for the trip - better on rough roads, lighter and nimbler. But we are on good roads - I have significantly more power than them and better tyres. After the villages we have a great time tearing along the valley curves - there is a third bike behind them and he seems to be struggling. I offer them the lead in the next village but they decline...... good, they got the message then :) I lose them when we start heading upwards again - more beautiful curves, but often only one lane. They don't have the power or the brakes to do steep uphill overtakes in the short spaces available. Guess I bought the right bike then.

I get in to Cluj at what I thought was 6pm - and later realise is 7. I crossed a time zone. Its a run down place with an attractive central square. It starts pouring with rain as I check in to the hotel....someone must be on my side.

Breakfast next morning... still raining. Its 8.30am and the guys on the terrace have finished breakfast and have a brandy each. They are wearing cowboy hats and huge moustaches. Inside, the diners near the door are still on beer with their breakast. The waiter gives me four photocopied sheets of paper and I ask for a coffee. No - I must choose a breakfast. But coffee is on all the menus - can he get that while I decide ? No. Every item is individually priced, right down to one small butter and the half a tomato which goes with each type of fry up. Each of the 4 options comes to exactly the same price, but my rate included this and I'm not hungry anyway.... if I had company, we could have hours of fun asking him to leave off the tomato, extra egg, extra..... no, no, no..... The coffee is an espresso and the rest of it can be ignored..... time to go.

I had a quick walk around Cluj before it dries up for the ride. In my opinion, writing this after having seen a number of other places in Romania, give it a miss. Its claim to fame is having some trendy London-style bars. It does, but thats not why I came to Romania.

Posted by Kevin Payne at August 18, 2005 08:15 PM GMT

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