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Photo by George Guille, It's going to be a long 300km... Bolivian Amazon

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by George Guille
It's going to be a long 300km...
Bolivian Amazon



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  #1  
Old 12 Aug 2023
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The Carpathian Tour - 7000 km in Central & Eastern Europe

DAY 1: EDAM - WURZBURG: A pint of heaven

There's no better time to set off for a 7000 km trip to Romania than during a massive heatwave. Or so I must have led myself to believe at one point. There's no other reasonable explanation why I would be sitting here cooking away in 40 degrees Celsius, in a three-piece motorcycle suit, on a piping hot motorcycle swiveling over molten tarmac. Right? Right.

When I'd left home, the weather had still been reasonably mild. There were some thunderstorms predicted over southern Germany, but I had a cunning plan. I wouldn't take the usual route over Frankfurt, instead I would stay on my way east to Kassel, and then swiftly drop down south to Wurzburg. A few 100 extra kilometers, not worth making a fuzz about.

And here's me, somewhere south of Kassel, riding through the scenic hills of Hessen, burning my skin off. Well, somewhat. I'd forgotten that thunderstorms tend to push hot air out in front of them. Since Kassel I'd definitely remembered. I'd also remembered that it would have been useful to get my cooling vest out about a 100 km's ago, at the last stop. No use now. I decided to hold out for a few km's more. That thunderstorm would surely show up at one point

It took another 100 km's of sweating and swearing, and then it did. The rain came down like a waterfalll and I couldn't see a thing. No mind. The ice-cold raindrops running down my back were a blessing, at least this once. The thunder and lightning were a bit less comforting. But I managed to escape the worst of it, by hiding under the roof of an abandoned gas station. The roads smoked, as the rain turned to steam on the hot asphalt. When the rain lessened and I rode off again, the mist took a while to clear.

Final relief came in the form of a 400 year old inn called Gasthof Zum Schwan. Located in Franconia near the Bavarian border, in a small village near Wurzburg, the Swan has all the features that make the best German inns so fabulous: a cosy old room, a great menu (go for the impeccable Pfifferlingen steak) and last but not least, a freshly drawn pint of Weizen. Which is, for all matters, about as close to heaven as you can get after a day like this. Sitting out in front and sipping at another Weizen, I watched the next thunderstorm coming in. Let it roll.
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  #2  
Old 12 Aug 2023
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Great start. Looking forward to this
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Old 12 Aug 2023
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You have a great turn of phrase - looking forward to more.

I got caught in a thunderstorm on the autobahn a few weeks ago - zero visibility, couldn't even see the side or the central reservation. Lunatic German cars going nearly as fast as me. But I was chasing a ferry so no Gasthof or for me.
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Old 13 Aug 2023
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Good start, liking your writing style
Weizen is great, especially the Hefe Weizen, enjoy

Wayne
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Old 13 Aug 2023
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My trip towards Hungary in June started in poor weather, which never really improved. Eventually I headed south to Croatia and France and back homewards to UK. Meanwhile at home they were enjoying an unseasonable heatwave, and since I've been home the poor weather has continued to keep me company. Completely agree about the Bavarian hospitality though, one of the few enjoyable parts of a rather disappointing tour
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Old 13 Aug 2023
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DAY 2: WURZBURG - MELK: The solace of Habsburg

When I left for Austria this morning, I realised I had taken this particular route before. I was following the path of my own footsteps about 30 years ago. Well, the path of the wheels of the Euroline bus that regularly took me to Budapest in the early nineties, when I used to be living in Hungary. In fact, I crossed paths with that same Eurolines bus today, just before the border crossing in Passau. Waived to the bus driver, which he seemed to appreciate. Funny thing, I never actually layed eyes on that particular border crossing until now: we always used to pass it in the dead of night.

During my time in Hungary I got acquinted with what one of the English expats described as 'the solace of Habsburg'. He was referring to the cafe culture in the old Austro-Hungarian empire in general, and to its particular proponents in Szeged, where we were living. We partook of the solace of Habsburg everyday during lunchtime, meaning we bought ourselves the best possible lunches (dirt-cheap at the time) and enjoyed them on the balcony terrace of the Cafe Vienne. We thought ourselves to be very refined. Lucky bastards we were.

Well, crossing the Danube on my way to Lower Austria, I felt I was definitely in need of some Habsburgian solace again. The day was heating up to 36 degrees Celsius, the asphalt had already reached 55 degrees as the Austrian police sign next to the highway drily told me, and I had managed to put on my cooling vest backwards. The magnificent view towards the Alps on my right was somewhat lost on me. After a gruelling 200 km, I consoled myself with a molten icecream from the bottom of the freezer at the petrol station. No Habsburgian romance there, but it did the trick.

Arriving at my hotel for the night, I was a bit nonplussed to find the doors shut and no-one there. The hotel was closed for the season. During the summer holidays? A bit odd. A quick call assured me that there was indeed a room made available to me, but that I would have the place to myself. Somewhat like the hotel from The Shining, Alright, no problem, we go with the flow.

Imagine my surprise when, late in the evening, a few other guests turned up, Lithuanians who seemed to be lost in time, space and language. Confusion reigned. In the end, I decided to act as hotel manager myself and showed them a room. A few hours later I was awakened by some noise coming from the kitchen. When I went to take a look, there was nobody there, but spread out on the table lay some paperwork. Which turned out to be a hotel bill for me, with an 50% price hike! Somewhat irate, I sent a message to the ghostly hotel owner. Though seemingly very busy in his spiritual realm, he did manage to convey to me that it was all a misunderstanding. Which was the least he could do, considering it took him until 2 a.m. to come up with a reply.

After my delayed sleep being cut short by Lithuanians banging on pots and pans in the kitchen to achieve their breakfast, I decided now was the time to evoke the solace of Habsburg. I rode down to the town of Melk, put the bike on the town square and sat down at the first available table of the Cafe Madar. A Viennese breakfast please! And so it was promptly served up, by a waiter in a pinguin suit. The eggs benedicte were perfection, the coffee beyond compare. Solace indeed!

Why did I go to the town of Melk? It's a gentle historic town that basically owes its existence to the huge Benedictine monastery that has been sitting there on a steep hill in its centre since 1089, in some form or other. Its current incarnation dates from the 18th century and is considered to be a prime example of Austrian Baroque. What mainly drew me there, was its library, which is said to contain more than 100.000 books, many from medieval times, or earlier.

It was definitely a magnificent place to visit. Though there were a lot of tourists groups (the busses from Vienna unload them in the morning), their number was made insignificant by the size and grandeur of the building complex. I made straight for the library and waited a while for the guided tours to pass by. And then, just for a minute, I had the place to myself. Thousands of historic books in elegantly designed cabinets, a painted ceiling to rival the Italian pallazo's and the sun shining through rounded windows. A glorious dream. And a moment I would wish to carry with me into eternity.
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Last edited by Blue Fox Travels; 13 Aug 2023 at 17:58.
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  #7  
Old 13 Aug 2023
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GPZ View Post
You have a great turn of phrase - looking forward to more.

I got caught in a thunderstorm on the autobahn a few weeks ago - zero visibility, couldn't even see the side or the central reservation. Lunatic German cars going nearly as fast as me. But I was chasing a ferry so no Gasthof or for me.
I had a situation like that in Finland last year, chasing the ferry to Germany. I arrived at ferry port completely soaked, only to be made waiting 2 hours in the rain. Glad I took some whiskey with me....
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Old 13 Aug 2023
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Originally Posted by Tomkat View Post
My trip towards Hungary in June started in poor weather, which never really improved. Eventually I headed south to Croatia and France and back homewards to UK. Meanwhile at home they were enjoying an unseasonable heatwave, and since I've been home the poor weather has continued to keep me company. Completely agree about the Bavarian hospitality though, one of the few enjoyable parts of a rather disappointing tour
You're right, the weather has been pretty crazy. Never expected it to be such a dominant factor during the trip, especially at the end, when I revisited Bavaria. I'll write some more about it later on.
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Old 14 Aug 2023
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Szeged is a nice town, I was there in Nov 2015 during my Balkans trip when the winter market was on.
I thought the town was very picturesque

Wayne
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Old 14 Aug 2023
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Originally Posted by Lonerider View Post
Szeged is a nice town, I was there in Nov 2015 during my Balkans trip when the winter market was on.
I thought the town was very picturesque

Wayne
Szeged is nice indeed, though a little bit less rough around the edges nowadays. In the 90s, during the Yugoslav war, it was a hub for smugglers and you could buy old Soviet machine guns at the market on the other side of the Tisza river. Never needed one luckily...
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Old 15 Aug 2023
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DAY 3/4: MELK - BANSKA BYSTRICA: From 61 to 52

Coming in from Lower Austria, the main highway brings you into Slovakia over the Danube river and into its floodplain. It's a flat expanse that almost feels unnatural when you come in from the Alps. The road either takes you to Budapest of Bratislava. I chose the latter.

It was sweltering. According to a digital sign next to the road, the temperature on the asphalt was now 61 degrees Celsius. I was worrying about my tires. I had put on some Anakee Wilds for the gravel roads ahead. The heat seemed to get to them. The back tire felt like chewing gum.

Then suddenly a panoramic view on Bratislava. It's a city that has developed like quicksilver in the last 20 years. The skyline is filled with gleaming skyscrapers, looming over the floodplain. Impressive, but also somewhat unsettling.

I had no business in Bratislava, having my sights set on the Tatra mountains. So I passed by the city and rode on into the countryside of central Slovakia. Now there was a sight for sore eyes. Rolling hills of green and gold, with a dash of red-roofed farms and villages here and there. The fields of wheat, stretching to the horizon, were close to harvest, but yet to be disturbed.

Slowly, in the west, the first mountains started appearing. Not like the dramatic peaks of the Alps, but lower and ostensibly older. The highway slowly took me in their direction. As I closed in on the town of Banska Bystrica, I entered the first forested valleys. The temperature finally dropped to an acceptable level. The back tire seemed to regain its strength somewhat. I certainly did.

I'd rented an apartment in the outskirts of Banska Bystrica from Ivan, whose girlfriend had turned the lower floor of their house into a wonderful little treasure cove. It was definitely comfortable and I decided to stay an extra day. A bit of rest would do me good. Ivan was happy that I liked the place and gave me a bottle of his own home-brewn slivovica, which was a tad on the strong side, "probably 52%". Well, that would do me good as well.

Having sufficiently recovered, the next day I decided to take on the High Tatra. Straight out of Banska Bystrica I rode up the first available mountain pass. Cue a few fabulous hours of unadulterated two-wheeled joy, swooping from one curve into the other, racing up to the peaks and sliding back down to the valleys like a hawk. Pure motorcycle heaven.

Then I took the road to Dolny Kubin, up in the north. I wanted to see Orava Hrad, a castle perched high on a pillar of rock. It turned out be as beautiful as reputed, but also swarming with tourists. With so much motorcycle fun to be had, I didn't see the need to line up for a crowded group tour, so I continued on my way through the mountains.

South of the mining town of Ruzomberok, I happened upon a small road leading into the mountain range. Could I, should I? I would. So up the road I went, and though it wasn't in a great condition (welcome in the land of Potholia), it turned out to lead to a very interesting destination. Up on the mountain lay the village of Vlkolinec.

Vlkolinec is famous because people end up spitting their teeth out as they try to pronounce its name. Sorry, bad joke. No, it's actually one of the last mountain villages with original Slovakian wooden houses, and it's a lovely little place, very rustic and welcoming. For a small fee I got to explore it. The village is still inhabited and I understand why, it has an indelible charm to it. The local inn serves up some great Harul'a brundzou, potato pancakes with sheep's cheese. Truly very enjoyable.

Yes, I could get used to this. The Tatra has a lot to offer to an unsuspecting visitor. I hardly met any other foreigners (except at Orava castle, where they;'d been shipped in by tour bus from Bratislava). But for me, it's the good life.

Now give me some more of that Tvrdsie Napoje, and a bit of Slovnaft for the bike, please!
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Old 18 Aug 2023
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DAY 5/6: BANSKA BYSTRICA - PRESOV - DUKLA: Andy Warhol is a Ruthenian

My itinerary would take me to eastern Slovakia today: "Day 5, east to the border", my notes said. That was all good and well, but I wasn't willing to let the mountains go just yet. So I jumped on the bike and took a detour to Brezno. I spent the morning racing up and down the unnamed roads in the mountains there. When that was out of my system, I made my way up to the top of the Vysna Boca pass, where I found myself a pleasant little nook at a mountain lodge with a nice view over the Tatra and a decent coffee to enjoy it with. That got things sorted.

Then it was time to finally leave the playground behind. There were some fairly nice places to visit further up the road. So I came down from the mountains, maybe somewhat despondent, but also eager to honor the spirit in which this journey was conceived (explore!). I pursued my way east, along the valley between the High and Low Tatra ranges.

The valley makes for a 100 km corridor between the Danube region and the plains of Upper Slovakia and Ukraine. As such it has a strategic significance for those who want to move from the Eurasian plains to central and western Europe, or the other way around. Unsurprisingly that has led to an endless amount of warfare, which has plagued this region for the last 2000 years or so. A major witness to this has been Spissky Hrad, a grey-white castle on top of a lonely hill in the middle of the valley. It's an imposing structure that has put up with about 1000 years of armed struggle. No wonder it's a ruin now. In Slovakia the castle has been perceived as a symbol for the country as a whole. I can attest that, at this point in time, Slovakia luckily is in better shape than Spissky Hrad, but let's not forget there's a major war going on just over the border...

Then again, you wouldn't know about anyting of that, if you had to go by the gentle nature of Presov, which was my next destination. Presov is a quiet little university town, tucked away in the Tatra foothills, with pretty pastel coloured houses, a neat square with flowers and a few cosy cafes and restaurants. Apparently that was exactly what I needed, because I decided to stick around for an extra day, dawdling around the square, listening to some local music and generally being very much non-productive. I think it's called a holiday.

At the Avenue 7 Penzion, I had found a place to park my bike safely and an hotel owner to listen to my travel stories in the worst possible German I could muster. Stefan, in turn, told me about the sights around Presov (in much better German). This gave me the necessary impetus to stop dawdling and start exploring again. Venture north, up to the Polish border, Stefan said; you will definitely move beyond pastels and flowers.

So next day I did venture north, in the direction of Bardejov. At first, things seemed fairly inconspicuous. Lovely hills, a winding road, quaint little villages. I stopped over in the village of Hervartov, which is home to the oldest wooden church in this region. This region, by the way, being Ruthenia, home to the Ruthenian people, somewhat related to the Ukranians but mainly in search of their own country. Which is basically everbody's passion in this part of the world, but more of that later. The wooden church was a true marvel. The local gatekeeper opened it up for me, and I was introduced into a quiet, intimate temple of dimmed light. The walls were painted in bright colours, depicting scenes from the Bible. Centerpiece was an imaginative painting of George and the Dragon, replete with the skulls of the dragon's other (would-be) slayers.

I continued on my way, being suitably impressed. But a dark undertone had been introduced, and more would come my way. As I said before, this region has been an anvil on which the powers of the east and west hammered out their differences of opinion. In the final stages of World War II, the Russians decided to take the fight to Nazi Germany by way of Ruthenia. A major tank battle ensued in the hills south of the Polish town of Dukla, on the border with Slovakia. The German panzers were duly destroyed by the sheer mass of the Red Army's tank divisions. The last vestiges of the Slovakian army were crushed in between. The area is strewn with the remains of destroyed tanks, and with monuments to commemorate the loss of so many lives. Though the flowers are blooming there again, it's a saddening sight, even more so if you consider that not so far away, similar battles are being fought today in similar hills, with similar outcomes no doubt.

I decided to ride around Ruthenia some more. A small road through the hills took me through bear country (none in sight though). I crossed the border with Poland. And then I rode on to the town of Dukla itself, where I made a small stop-over. There I was accosted by three Polish motorcyclists. Was I doing this all by myself, they inquired. Yes, I answered, just like I made a solo trip in Scandinavia last year. Well, they had been to Greece and former Yugoslavia together, they said, but they would never think of doing it alone. 'Then again, you are quite young', they added somewhat dismissively.

I took the route back to Slovakia and made my way through the green hills. It's a lush, quiet landscape and it seems largely unexplored, as I met no other riders, or any travellers for that matter. The hills are perfect for motorcycling though, and I made a mental note to maybe explore it further on a later occasion. That goes for the entirety of Slovakia by the way. It's really a great destination, if you take your time to visit the backroads.

My final stop in Ruthenia was the village of Medzilaborce, near the Ukraine border. Andy Warhol's parents grew up here, before they emigrated to America. Both his parents were of Ruthenian descent, like most of the original inhabitants. His mother was quite religious and a regular visitor of the Ostro-Catholic church in the village (yes, Ostro-Catholicism is an actual religious denomination, look it up on the Interweb if you're interested). After relocating to Pittsburgh, she continued to visit church regularly and took little Andy with her. Apparently it's where his fascination with icons came from.

Next to the original church that his mother frequented, now stands the 'Andy Warhol Museum'. Well, only for a few days more, or maybe hours even. It's literally being demolished right now. The museum hasn't been able to weather the Covid pandemic, and the village doesn't seem to have any ambition left to keep it going. Penzion Andy across the road is boarded up.

So what did I think of my little excursion to the north, Stefan asked when I returned to my own penzion. Very interesting, but also a bit intense, I replied. Stefan nodded knowingly.
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Last edited by Blue Fox Travels; 18 Aug 2023 at 19:29.
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DAY 7/8: PRESOV - BAIA MARE - SIGHETU MARMATIEI, Hot and Merry

As intense as the day before was (read all about in the last report about Presov), the next day I had to pucker up: I had 600 km's ahead of me. I would leave Slovakia, find my way through the northeast of Hungary and cross into Romania. I was hoping for a smooth ride.

It did start out that way. When I had passed the border south of Kosice, I ended up on the brand new highway to Debrecen. I was moving so fast that I got ahead of schedule, so I made a stop at the aptly named 'Angel Station'. After some coffee and a piece of one of those legendary Hungarian pies (if you've never experienced those, buy a ticket to Budapest now), I got on the road again with a big smile.

However, the pristine asphalt was soon replaced by something more closely resembling a newly formed lava field. Cracks the size of continental fault lines and potholes as big as craters on the moon slowed the traffic down to walking speed. Cars around me crept up the embankments to avoid the worst spots. I had to adjust my GSA settings to off-road. Didn't mind that, always in for a bit of fun.

The closer I got to the border, the worse the road became. The route to Romania clearly does not have a warm place in the heart of the Hungarian ministry for infrastructure. After about 100 km's of this, the game was up: all traffic had definitively come to a halt, resulting in a long line of trucks and lorries all the way to the border post. Romania isn't part of the Schengen area, so border controls are still common. The line clearly hadn't moved for a while. Truck drivers were sitting by the side of the road, playing cards or enjoying a meal.

Waiting in line, I noticed the inside of my right leg started to .... well, burn! A quick look at the dashboard informed me the engine temperature had reached boiling point. Just at that moment, a border guard walked up, demanded my passport and instructed the engine to be cut off. I stalled as long as possible, to allow some time for the engine temperature to stabilize (oil-cooled, so engine has to run), but to no avail. Explaining was no use, as the border guard didn't seem to understand much of it. In the end, the guard checked my passport and gave it back to me with a VERY disdainful expression on his face. Then he told me to get out of there. I happily obliged.

Riding on to Baia Mare, I remembered that yesterday I had been a bit suspicious about the petrol that I had the GSA filled up with in some village in eastern Slovakia. It smelled off, and the bike had had problems starting up that morning. Could it have caused this as well? Don't know, but the engine has normalized after filling her up with some decent new petrol and the problem hasn't returned since.

Anyhow, I had safely arrived in Maramures. This region is where the Carpathian mountains first cross into Romania from Ukraine. And it's known for its staunchly rural character and traditions. So after a good night's sleep I jumped on my bike and headed off into the foothills of the Karpaty, to go looking for some of that authenticity.

It turned out to be a one of the highlights of this tour. I rode through the villages of Budesti, Breb and Calinesti, and they were incredibly scenic and sweet, with their many coloured wooden houses, finely carved gates, little orchards, horse carts and very gentle people in traditional dress. As I passed by, everybody waived and smiled, some people stuck up their thumb. I was pretty stunned and a little moved, to be honest. It was such a beautiful experience, that I repeated my ride the next day. With the same result.

It hasn't been uniformly like that though. In the bigger towns of Baia Mare and Sighetu, the atmosphere was markedly different. When I parked my bike and sat down for a cup of coffee at Sighetu, a very suspicious-looking guy sat down at the table in front of me, staring me straight in the face, evidently trying to work out how to get something from me. It didn't faze me and I calmly proceeded to drink my coffee, after which he shuffled off. On another occasion, while I was having a meal at the central square in Baia Mare, two young sporty looking types at the next table struck up a conversation with each other in Romanian about how 'huge' I was and if they would take me on. What they didn't expect, was that I turned around and said 'maybe eat a little first, eh?' They weren't interested after that anymore.

Generally though, people were kind and I'd been made to feel welcome here. So I explored some more. In the afternoon, I went to visit a place called the Merry Cemetery. It's indeed a cemetery, where all the graves are marked by beautifully painted crosses in blue. Each shows a portrait of the deceased in his or her former prime, busy with a favourite pastime. So you get Mihai with his fast car and Elena with her finest sowing machine. If I were to end up here, I would undoubtely be pictured with my GSA. The Merry Cemetery is a popular tourist attraction and a big market has sprung up around it. Interestingly, there is another cemetery a few kilometers down the road, where the victims of communist workcamps are buried. Though its presence is signposted all over Maramures, there was nobody there. Seems we prefer our cemeteries to be fun.

But to end this report on a 'merrier' note: all things considered, Maramures has impressed me with some of the most wonderful places I've seen so far on this tour. I would definitely visit again, if given the opportunity.
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Old 26 Aug 2023
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DAY 9/10: HIGH CARPATHIA - TRANSRARAU - BICAZ, Flight of the eagle

After a wonderful few days in central Maramures, I left the foothills of the Carpathians behind me, to journey onwards to the Rodna and Calimani mountain ranges. These sit on the border with Moldavia (the Romanian province, not the country beyond that).

I first took the opportunity to pay a visit to some of the more eastern villages in Maramures. It was Sunday morning, and everybody was out in their best Sunday dress. That meant the traditional colourful skirts and headdresses for the women and girls, and the farmers blouses and black hats for the men. When I came up to the village of Barsana, I was lucky enough to run into the celebration of Sunday mass at the local monastery. It took place outside, in the morning sun, in the lush and wonderfully decorated monastery grounds. Flowers everywhere. A large crowd of probably a 1000 of more, had gathered to hear the priests speak and the choir sing. Orthodox mass is not unlike Catholic mass, but even more beautifully presented. It was impossible not to be moved by its magnificence.

After this I travelled onward to Prislop pass (1400 m). I joined the road over the mountains at Moisei. Attempting to find a decent lunch there proved to be fruitless, so I rode on to the town of Borsa. The sweetness of Maramures was definitely behind me, being replaced by a more familiar Alpine vibe, with pine forests and skilifts. Borsa maybe wasn't as beautiful as the villages in the valleys below, but it was certainly more practical. After a satisfying lunch and a friendly chat at La Boddega, I had regained all the necessary energy to go up Prislop. It's not a difficult ascent, but the trucks and lorries made it complicated to keep the pace. After the highest point I was glad to have the road almost by myself. Swaying through the Rodna mountains, my 'mental jukebox' got to work again - read all about that in last year's travel report about my tour around the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia: https://new.horizonsunlimited.com/ts...-2022-10000-km. I was singing all the way to Carlibaba.

NB: If you want to know what was playing on the jukebox, I've made a new playlist on Spotify to give you an impression. Check it out at:
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3Q...urce=copy-link

When I arrived at my destination for the day, the spa town of Vatra Dornei, I was happy to park the GSA in the flower-filled garden of the Alexandra hotel and have a good lie-down. Slept like a rose.

The next morning I got myself some breakfast at Pico's mini-market (basically an old-style, overly stacked grocery store like you find all over Romania, and which I love dearly). Then it was onwards into Moldavia province, or more specifically the Bucovina area. Bucovina, as well as being a historically important region that straddles both Moldavia and parts of the Ukraine, is famous for its painted monasteries. I went to visit the Voronets monastery, which has richly detailed frescoes outside and in. Most impressive is the fresco on the western wall, about 7 meters high, which depicts the Final Judgment. It's been called the Sistine Chapel of the East, and though it doesn't possess the finesse of Michelangelo's work, it's certainly very evocative. While the blessed and holy are sent to heaven, the demons are waiting by the scales, to take care of the sinners that are not deemed worthy of ascension. The devil sits down below in hell to patiently receive his share of the deal. It's made very clear you don't want to end up there.

Though it's definitely worth exploring, I didn't venture further into Bucovina; that will have to wait for another trip in the (hopefully near) future. Instead I took the road south, through the Rarau mountains. This route, called the TransRarau, had been on my priority list for this tour. It's not as well known as the Transfagarasan, but that's all for the better, because it means having one of the best mountain roads of Europe all by yourself. It's still quite rough at places and definitely takes some effort and skill to navigate. So I came down the mountain feeling pretty exhausted. Nevertheless it was one of the highlights of this trip.

Then I followed the road to Bicaz. This ended up skirting the eastern shore of Lacul Bicaz, a wonderful green blue-ish, relatively big mountain lake, that would not look out of place in Switzerland. And it proved to be another thrilling ride. Man, how lucky I felt, shwooshing through curve after curve and enjoying the magnificent views. An eagle flew out over the lake and decided to join me for a while, following the same path. Glory.

I arrived pretty late at the Pensiunea Aurelia, probably looking a bit, let's say, over the hill. They asked me if I would like to enjoy a cold while getting some rest on the balcony overlooking the Bicaz valley. Well, if you insist...
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Last edited by Blue Fox Travels; 26 Aug 2023 at 10:16. Reason: Adding referrals
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Old 30 Aug 2023
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DAY 11: BICAZ - CEAHLAU, Mac and dust

Having only caught a glimpse of the Bicaz area yesterday, I decided to stay on for an extra day. It certainly helped that Penziuna Aurelia turned out to be a very comfortable base of operations. Host Jenni and her family made sure that every time I appeared on the balcony or returned from a trip, there were all kinds of treats waiting for me. The coffee and cookies (cu mac, sweetened with poppy seed) alone were enough reason to never leave the house.

But I wasn't to be persuaded, as hard as they tried. I wanted to explore the surrounding mountains, specifically the Ceahlau Massif, which was right on our doorstep. So I headed out to find a cross-country route that would take me over the range.

First, I visited the Bicaz Gorge. This very narrow ravine through the granite rocks has a road running through it and is a popular tourist destination. Those places are usually not my cup of tea, but Bicaz Gorge is impressive all the same, the walls of the ravine running up to over 300 meters high. I almost bought the t-shirt.

Next stop down the road was the Lacul Rosu, or Red Lake. Apparently this mountain lake colours red because of the blood that was spilled when a picknick party was brutally disturbed by falling rocks somewhere in the 1700's. That tragic story may well be true (is it?), but the lake nevertheless turned out to be a somewhat underwhelming experience for me. It's a small lake. More of a pond. Which is green, not red*. You can row a small boat on it, if you want. Have some fun. And stuff.
I rode on.

* (A little bird told me that the lake usuallly IS red, but depending on the light and/or season it sometimes loses this quality. For the sake of it, I chose to believe this bird. Tweet tweet.)

'So you want to have fun', the mountain said to me while I was racing on. 'Well, I'll give you some'. And then it threw me down to the town of Georgheni. It was so hot and dusty there, I immediately started to cough. And then I almost flew over my steering bar. Georgheni, it turns out, is the official European Pothole Capital 2023. They have about 4000 of them, all proudly laid out on main street for every visitor to enjoy. It certainly makes for an entertaining ride, somewhat like an 80's video game, where you have to evade all the space invaders. Or their blast craters, more like. I coughed all my way through it.

'Is that the best you can do', I shouted to the mountain as I roared my way down the dusty foothills. 'Of course not', said the mountain. A small road to the right opened up. Temptation. Yes, please!

So I took the bait and made my way past sleepy villages and increasingly steep valleys and ravines. And then, the road stopped. Well, the asphalt did. The road serpentined on, over gravel and rock. I saw some jeeps disappearing in the distance, a trail of dust behind them. I can do that, I thought. The GSA's got the right tires for the job (I've been testing them for the Arctic trip next year). So away I went and had my fun, slipping and sliding all over the place. I jotted past the jeeps and took a run over the pass. Let the dust blow in the wind!

After that, I renewed my effort to find a way over the Ceahlau. After some searching I found a route at the side of the mountain on the western shore of lake Bicaz. The trees were densely packed, almost like a rain forest. I didn't encounter any bears, but I wouldn't have been surprised if I had, it's bear country here. In the end, all the effort was rewarded with a majestic view over the lake and a sip of that slivovica from Banska Bystrica.

An serpentine road down the mountain delivered me right back on the doorstep of Penziuna Aurelia. The day had heated up to 35 celsius, but a cold on the balcony solved that. Mission accomplished.
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Last edited by Blue Fox Travels; 31 Aug 2023 at 11:55.
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