The Sixth Week of My Romanian Adventure

Chisinau, Moldova

Week 6: Spontaneous trips are best – 2.000 km in one week

Wednesday 13 September

Since I finished the meditation course earlier than planned, I sort of found myself on the street for a while, and had to quickly come up with a contingency plan. The past week has really been very tiring and I feel I’ve had enough of traveling for now. I have many, many crazy stories to share, nevertheless, now I’m happy to be back in the Piatra Craiului and stay again in one place for some time.

Spontaneous trip to the Apuseni Mountains

Wednesday 6 September

I’m super happy that the couchsurfer girl was so nice and I could stay at her place again, calm down, and think about my next steps. About my next adventures. I came quite late yesterday and too tired to think about anything so I just went straight to bed and crashed out. I’m awake at 6 o’clock already, though. Of course, after 4 days of being woken up by a gong at 4 a.m., I’m not used to sleep so long anymore. Okay, so what now…? What’s the plan…? I don’t have any hosts’ responses, and I can’t stay here, I have to leave the place on Friday at the latest. Should I stay here till Friday, or make a trip in the meantime? And where do I go afterwards? I contact the host from the last place in the Piatra Craiului and hope that I can still come back for a few days, as we discussed before I left.

Now I have a few days to fill anyway. I’m super tired, perhaps I can just stay in Cluj and relax more. But there is not much left to see for me here, I know the city pretty well already. It would be good to use the time to see something new. I still haven’t been to the Apuseni Mountains, which have really lots to offer and are located not far from Cluj. The problem remains the same – basically impossible to get to some places without a car. Impossible for most of people, you know 😀 There is an ice caveScărișoara – I would like to see, among other things. I’ve thought many times about a way to get there, even when I was passing by yesterday from Brad, but these places are really not easy to reach without a car. That’s why I never managed to visit it. Now I’m thinking the same. Maybe I should leave it for some other time. But I just can’t help, you know. I just woke up and felt like I want to do it anyhow. Exploring new places is always so tempting to me!

Let’s check the map and connections again. I see that the cave is in sort of a walkable distance from the “main” road going along the mountains, and there are many guesthouses in the area. So if I find out how to get there, I could perhaps stay over night, visit the cave next day and come back to Cluj in the evening. It sounds like a nice plan, it has a little catch, however. How do I get there and how do I get back to Cluj? I find some connection, which shows 5 and a half hours with one change. I see quite a cheap guesthouse in Gârda de Sus, where also the bus stops, and which could also be a good starting point for a hike to the Scărișoara Cave. It’s a pretty long ride, considering it’s “only” 150 km far from Cluj, but what can you do….it’s the only possible way to get there. The only problem is that there is no connection back tomorrow. So if I go, it will be a real adventure again 😀 Whatever! Real fun starts behind your comfort zone. I’m tired, but I want to see it. I have no idea how I will get back, but I will figure out. There is always a way! I book a room in the guesthouse and go for the bus.

I have to say that Cluj is one of the cities where they do have ticket inspectors. I ran into them twice (!) on the same bus on the way from the airport, today I was checked on the bus again. And I did not have a ticket 😀 I shouldn’t give you this idea, but very often I don’t buy them and play a foolish tourist. This time I actually wanted to buy a ticket, but there was no ticket machine at the stop I got on. I saw them coming on the bus, went to them and said that I didn’t have a ticket because there was no machine at the previous stop, and if I could buy it from the driver then. The guy didn’t speak English, but someone else translated it for me. No, you can’t buy it from the driver. I kept talking to him and eventually he just got tired and told me to get off and buy one at the next stop. 🙂

I reach the bus station. Of course, since this bus is the only connection, it’s totally full. Three hours ahead, and I went this way yesterday so I know what to expect. The road connecting Turda and Câmpeni, or Brad respectively, is still quite a busy one, but the asphalt on it is just terrible. It feels like a real roller coaster, the driver can surely never fall asleep here. Nobody on the bus can. The distance between Cluj and Câmpeni is almost 100 km, yet this vehicle feels like a city public transport bus as it has a stop everywhere. Literally everywhere. Also in the middle of a field. Really, a few minutes after leaving Turda, when passing through a middle of nowhere, there are two people waving at the bus, and the driver stops. Well, I’m already used to it, I know that this is how it works in Romania, but this time it’s even funnier. These two people have like ten 20-kilo bags full of potatoes, which they apparently want to transport. Seriously. 😀 The full bus waits for them to load it all, then they hop on the last free step on the bus, and we go on. In the next village they get off and unload it. What a service! Unbelievable. The buses in Romania serves basically as taxis, but also as carriers.

On the way to the Apuseni Mountains, Romania
Passengers with a quintal of potatoes to load, on the way to the Apuseni Mountains, Romania

I get off in Gârda de Sus, as the only one, of course. It looks like this place is only a few guesthouses and that’s it. It’s off-season, so everything looks pretty dead. While walking to the guest house, first time in Romania I occur in an unpleasant moment. A very weird gipsy guy catches up with me. He keeps talking to me, I don’t understand him a word, and he apparently doesn’t understand that I don’t understand him. I have no idea what he’s saying, but I feel really unwell. He continues walking me by and I can’t get rid of him, even though I try to ignore him. He gesticulates something like “can I have your cell phone?”. Food. Eat. Money. All these typical things, insisting on me showing him my phone. Honestly, he’s getting on my nerves and I feel like giving him a slap, but of course, I don’t want to start any problems here. Luckily, after a while I already reach the guesthouse, enter the garden and finally get rid of the weirdo. It’s the only time I feel really uneasy here.

I have to wake up early again. I really don’t know when I’ll sleep it all up. But if I want to see at least the cave and come back to Cluj by the evening, I have to do it. There are certainly many other interesting places to see in the Apuseni mountains, but for those I would need to have a car. Or have much more time at least. There is, however, one more place, which is not so far from here. It’s called Groapa Ruginoasa and most likely I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t been given a lift from Brașov to Sibiu by the guy who actually told me about this. Let’s see if I can find a way to get there.

The mountains are in a fog, but it seems that it’s falling down and it’s going to be a nice weather soon. After two hours of walking and ascending, I arrive at the cave and hope that it’s open. It’s 9:40, so they still have 20 minutes. I can have my breakfast in the meantime. After 10 minutes, other people come as well, and someone who opens the door, too. Great, it looks promising.

Scărișoara Cave, Romania
Scărișoara Cave, Romania
Scărișoara Cave, Romania
Scărișoara Cave, Romania

Well, the cave was worth a visit, but it wasn’t actually as good as expected. Once in a life is enough. I’m leaving the cave thinking how I’m going to get back down, and mainly back to Cluj afterwards. And I’m still playing with the thought of quickly visiting also the other place – Groapa Ruginoasa – even though that would be a really challenging. But first I somehow have to get back down to the main road, then I will see how it goes. Walking another 7 km down would be a big loss of time now so I seriously need to get a lift. There aren’t many people here at this time of the year, most of the co-visitors already left…Well, let’s ask the guy who took a photo of me, he looks sort of like a traveler as well, he is my chance. I wait for him and start a conversation. I tell him my story, what I’m doing here, how I got here, where I need to get today, and also mention that there is another place I was recommended to visit. The guy says: well, if you wait like 10-15 minutes until I talk with some people and take photo with them, we can go to the guesthouse I’m staying at, and I have a car so we can take it and go to the place you mentioned.” Cool! Sometimes you just must’t be lazy or shy to open your mouth. Yous simply have to step out of your comfort zone.

We take the car and go together to a village called Vârtop, and take a walk to Groapa Ruginoasa, the place I was recommended by the driver who got me a lift from Brașov to Sibiu. It’s an interesting place – a pretty deep hole created after the ground fell in. We have some snack, take a few pictures together from his drone, and go back to the village. I give him my contacts with a wishful thinking that he will send me the photos one day. Guess what…like in most cases, I haven’t heard from him anymore. Perhaps he lost/deleted my e-mail address, or I don’t know….But let me send some greetings to the random German photographer Rainer. Perhaps you will run into my blog one day….

Groapa Ruginoasa - The Apuseni Mountains, Romania
Groapa Ruginoasa – The Apuseni Mountains
Groapa Ruginoasa - The Apuseni Mountains, Romania
Groapa Ruginoasa – The Apuseni Mountains
Groapa Ruginoasa with the random German guy :-)
Groapa Ruginoasa with the random German guy 🙂

Okay, so even though it seemed almost impossible, I managed to visit both the Scărișoara cave and Groapa Ruginoasa. There is only one last little thing to complete the mission – find a way to get back to Cluj. No bus from this shithole, and a very, very low traffic here. Thus, I decide not to go back the same way, but instead go around the Apuseni through Oradea, and back come to Cluj from the other side. This way is like 100 km longer, but also “safer” in terms of traffic and connections. First step is to get out of here to a busier place. When I see the traffic here, I don’t think I have any other option than ask the German guy for one more favor. He helps me a lot by bringing me to a town called Ștei, the first cue point for me as it lies on the main road going to Oradea.

I walk to the petrol station to the end of the town. The traffic here is not so low, but nobody seems to be going to Oradea. It makes me a bit nervous because it’s still a long way and I may miss even the last bus in Oradea, which can be my last ditch. Well, sometimes you don’t have anything more than the patience. It takes me one hour, but then a couple going to Oradea takes me with them. They bring me to the by-road of the city where I can easily continue hitch-hiking to Cluj. It’s getting quite late, but the last bus to Cluj has just left anyway, so I have to take a risk. Otherwise I’m gonna need to stay somewhere in Oradea for tonight.

But this is one of the busiest roads in Romania and even at this time of the day the traffic is still so high, so there is quite a good chance. It takes only a few minutes and a car stops. The driver is pulls down the window, asking for money. How much? I have only 20 Lei with me. That’s too little. Well, it depends, but I don’t have more. Hmm, they wave their hands and leave. Well, isn’t 20 Lei better than nothing? These people….But I’m not disappointed, the road here between Oradea and Cluj is super busy and I still have like 40 minutes until it gets dark. It takes only a few more minutes and another car stops for me. It’s a young couple going to Târgu Mureș. They are very nice people, I’m very lucky again. We talk all the way, they listen to my crazy adventurous stories, and, believe it or not, as an icing on the cake, these people even offer me a place to stay. Yes, even such things happen sometimes. I keep on saying that, you NEVER know who you can run into! The biggest things happen when you step out of your comfort zone!

What the hell are you doing in Chishinau?

Friday 8th September

I have to admit that I feel really really tired these days. It’s been too much of traveling, wandering and other adventures recently. But I have to leave this place anyway, and I still have a few days to use, so I head east. I check the bus connections to the eastern part of Romania, but no surprise. Basically impossible to get there, it shows like 8 hours, with a couple of changes. No way. I check the map and take a bus to the airport, which is located just at the east end of the city. I take my tag with Reghin and stand up by the intersection. Of course I have another competitors there. This is Romania 😀 The traffic is not so high at this time, in this place, but I’m fine, I’m not in a big rush. And after like 15 minutes a car pulls over. With two gypsies inside. I hesitate a bit and, seeing the crew, this time I ask the driver: “How much?” “Ah, it’s fine“, he answers. I get in the car and hope I’m going to get where I want to get in all pieces.

You know, these prejudices. You never know what to expect from these people. However, everything goes well. They don’t speak English much, but the driving guy keeps trying to make conversations with me. He seems to be happy that he’s taken a foreigner 😀 I try to explain him that I’m not going to Reghin, but want to get further to Piatra Neamt, or perhaps Iași, if I manage. “Oh, wow, ist difficult. Gut lück.” Yeah, you don’t know what’s difficult man. If you only knew where I was able to get, I say to myself silently. I’m brought to Reghin. I just quickly go through the center to a better hitch-hiking spot.

It’s a quick one again. After like 10-15 minutes there is a guy coming back for me. Great. “Are you going to Piatra Neamt?” He shows me to get in. I’m happy. Today it’s going quite quickly so far, so I can still decide if I want to stay in Piatra Neamt today, or continue to Iași. “Do you speak English? A bit?” “No.” Deutch?” “Ich kann ein bisschen deutsch sprechen”. Cool. But I can’t 😀 It seems like a silent ride again.

There is no much talking during the ride since I can’t really speak German, but at least I understand what he says. He seems a bit strange, looks very serious, and drives his metallic-blue BMW like he has just stolen it. Seriously, I never get sick in the car but his gas-break style with a constant speed of 90 km per hour, no matter the road, really makes me feel sick. I just want to be there because I feel like I’m going to faint soon.

We are passing by Toplița and I suddenly notice that he turns left. This isn’t really the way to Piatra Neamt I thought we would go. That makes me feel a bit uneasy. I check the map again and see there is another road which I didn’t realize, he just have to turn right again a few kilometers later. The problem is that I’m going to miss the ride through the Bicaz gorge. I wanted to see it at least from the car to take some photos. Hmm. I feel sorry for a while, but then tell myself what I’ve already told a few times here, and what eventually always worked so far. “Best is deceiving“, maybe this is for my good even though I don’t see it right now. Well, and I can still hopefully see the gorge on the way back.

However, at the mentioned crossroads behind the Bicaz dam, he doesn’t turn right to Piatra Neamt, though. Now it’s obvious that we are not going there and I’m confused. “Fahren Sie nach Pitra Neamt?” “Nein, Târgu Neamț, aber es ist näher”. Hmm, okay, it’s true that I can still hitch-hike the remaining kilometers from there. I just hope I will be able to get out of the car there, because this guy looks like a mafioso constantly speeding to get his ransom. I check his GPS and see it shows like 120 km more. Hmm…where can this guy be going, there aren’t so many other big cities. “Fahren Sie nach Iași, I try to asked? “Ja”. Ehm, this guy is going to Iași. Perhaps I can go all the way there, and stay there over night then. “Ah, km kann ich mit Ihren nach Iasi fahren”.Okay”. I don’t care or something like that he says. “Okay, I will decide.” Well, then I guess I go to Iași as well and visiting Piatra Neamt stays for the way back as well. Perhaps that’s the “good” I meant.

I compare his GPS with the map again, and see he must be going farther. “Okay, I will mit Ihren nach Iași fahren. It doesn’t matter to me if I stay in Piatra Neamt or Iasi. Morgen, vielleicht wolle Ich nach Chisinau gehen”. “Warum morgen?” I don’t how to answer this in German. I can’t find my words, but then he says: “Ich fahre jezt nach Chisinau”. Whaaat??? Funny, vielleicht dann kann Ich jetzt met Ihren nach Chisinau fahren. I don’t believe it. Now I remember the gipsy guy saying it’s difficult to hitch-hike so far wishing me good luck, then I stop someone who goes a different way than planned and feel sorry about not seeing the gorge, and now it turns out that I can get a lift for other 200 km, all the way to Moldova. This is crazy. But I got the biggest proof I possibly could. Very often the things are happening for a reason, even though it’s usually very difficult to see it at the moment. Best is really deceiving, trust me. Very often, there is a better way for us which we don’t see at the given moment. But as hard as it sometimes seems, if you stay positive and believe that it’s happening for something better, things will finally ALWAYS work out for you.

We stop at a motel to have a short break, and he even buys me a soup. I quickly activate the phone Internet, as long as we are still in the EU, and book a hostel. With the border check it’s still like 4 hours to Chisinau, with his speeding riding style it’s gonna be a long and fast ride at the same time. Long for me because I’ll probably trow out any time soon, but since he’s all the time riding 100 km/h much faster than the Google maps show 😀

We crossed the border, it’s so exciting to be charged 1€ for outbound calls and 25 cents for an SMS 😀 It’s 9 pm and we are reaching the city. He doesn’t go to Chisinau, but continues his ride (for the ransom) a bit farther, so I show him to bring me to a petrol station at the border of the city. Now I’m super happy that I downloaded the offline map earlier, otherwise I would have been totally screwed up. I would have had no idea where to get out, then where to go, how far it is to the city, to a bus stop, or anything. With the map I at least know the direction. It says around 6 km to my hostel, but perhaps I’ll come across a bus at some point. I start walking towards the city center. No public lights at all. It’s a total darkness. First I’m afraid of the cars passing by pretty fast, then of whoever or whatever may show up from the darkness. Seriously, I have to turn on my flashlight. I’m glad that new phones already have this feature. After ten minutes I finally get to a more lighted up location, furthermore, I even see a bus stop. And it seems that I’m lucky because there are some people waiting. Yes, there is a bus coming. I don’t know where it is going, but I’m sure any bus from here can take me closer. I don’t care about the ticket, I don’t know how to get it. Well, when I get on the bus, I see there is a lady checking the people who get on, and selling tickets. The ticket costs 2 Moldavian Lei*, which is….I have no idea how much this is. No idea at all how much I’ve just paid. I only exchanged a few last Romanian Lei I had for the Moldavian one at the exchange office at the frontier, but have no clue about the exchange rate.

*it’s less than 10 Euro cents, unbelievable….

The bus brings me to the center. I have to say it again, I’m really glad that I have the offline map in my phone so I know where to get off. I get to the the street where my hostel is supposed to be, which is just a few blocks from the main boulevard and, I swear to God, there is no light at all! I don’t see a damn thing. No public lights, no lights on from the houses. The whole street as well as the streets perpendicular to it totally dark. I only hear some voices but I don’t see anyone. Only a small light at the end of the street, like 500 m far from me. Apparently that street already has some light 😀

The street with the hostel…

I turn on my flashlight again and walk according to the GPS and the offline map, assuming that in the hostel the lights must be on and I should see it then. I pass by but I don’t see any hostels. I turn back and try to get to the point where the hostel should be according to my map. Nothing. I continue to walk for just a few meters and hear some people talking in English, and behind their silhouettes now some light in the yard. “Are you looking for the hostel? Yes, it’s here, in the yard“. “Heh, pretty tough job to find it here :-D” Great! That was a very very long ride today. I’m dead.

Chișinău – the most boring capital I’ve been to so far

Saturday 9th September

I have only one day to see the city, tomorrow morning I’m going back to Romania again. One day is normally not really enough to explore a capital city, but from what I’ve read for Chinisau it could be sufficient. I didn’t even do any research of what to see here, my only preparation was a quick check on my phone in the morning. I thought I would ask at the tourist info, but as the guys at the hostel assured me, there is none here. 😀

I leave the hostel for another one. This place wasn’t that good, plus the other hostel has on Booking.com rating 9.6. The guy is really working hard on providing the best service and creating the best low cost hostel. Moldova is not really a popular tourist destination, but if you ever happen to pass by Chisinau, it’s Ionika Amazing Hostel. I check in and go to explore this amazing city.

I don’t know how much you know, and how much you ever heard about Moldova and Chisinau, but it definitely doesn’t rank among the most touristy places in Europe. Yet, it’s a capital city so if there is something to see, then the chance is much higher here than in the rest of the country. However, as much as it’s usually thought that Moldova is rather a poor European country with not so much to offer, I have to admit it’s true. I mean, we are still in Europe so it’s a not such a disaster, it’s still a civilized country, but Chisinau does look quite poor and soulless to me. There is no historic center with all the nice monuments we know from most of the European capitals, it’s basically a main boulevard with shops around, one main square with the parliament and the “arc de triuph”, a huge open-air market, and only old, communistic, neglected buildings everywhere. Not really much to take pictures of, either.

Chișinău, Moldova
Chișinău, Moldova
Chișinău, Moldova
Chișinău, Moldova

Anyway, I walked around and saw pretty much all I could here. The square, boulevard, parliament, arc de triuph and the memento park. A cool thing is the big market – Plata Centrala, you can find there everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, pastries, meat. to electronic, dry goods and whatever junk. Then I visited the museum of etymology and went to take a rest to the city lake. It’s a nice place for relaxing, but that’s not what you usually come for to see. There is also a lookout tower nearby, unfortunately it’s closed on weekends so I didn’t visit this one.

Great Market in Chisinau, Moldova
Great Market in Chisinau
Chișinău, Moldova
Chișinău
Chișinău, Moldova
They even have a Czech pub in Chisinau

After the whole day of walking, I go back to the hostel, get pretty cheap dinner and since it’s a Saturday, still want to explore the Chișinău “nightlife”. There happen to be happening an event in the main square with Fedde le Grand performing so I get a nice free bonus for visiting this city 😉 Of course, the entire city is packed in this place tonight, but other than that, when walking around the city, I didn’t really feel any nightlife. I’m not saying there aren’t any in Chinisau, but I didn’t run into any bars bursting at the seams, nor a typical bar street with clubs with loud music going out.

Fedde Le Grand in Chișinău, Moldova
Fedde Le Grand rocking Chișinău
Fedde Le Grand in Chișinău, Moldova
Fedde Le Grand saves the night in Chișinău

Well, all in all, it was an interesting experience to see again something different. It’s really crazy how much the countries within relatively small Europe differ so much from each other. If I had had more time, I would have gone to a place called Cricova. It’s a town just a few kilometers north of Chisinau with wine cellars in the underground, where you can experience a wine tasting of the local wines.

Back to Romania – Enforced hitch-hiking to Iași and Piatra Neamț

Sunday 10th September

I wake up very early today because I have a whole day of traveling with a few stops ahead of me again, and I don’t know how long it will take me to get to my final destination for today – Piatra Neamț. I walk to the main boulevard and take a bus for two stops. I get off at the intersection with the road going to the bus station, but since I don’t know how to get there, don’t feel like walking again with my two backpacks, and still have some Moldavian Lei to get rid of anyway, I decide to take a taxi. It’s really cheap here so even a low-budget Czech traveler can afford that 🙂 There is one going the correct direction which stops at the traffic lights. I make good use of the situation and knock on the window, “can you bring me to the bus station?” “Yes“. The ride takes a few minutes and I give him my last 30 Lei, which is like 1.20 € or something. It’s like a bus ticket in Prague.

I come to the bus station. It’s like a huge chaos. Tens of buses lined up without any logic. I look for a Iași sign and I see one minibus standing there. When I come there, I see that it’s full, of course, and there still many people with baggage waiting. There is no chance to get on now. I look around and see a bigger bus arriving. The chance is a bit higher now, but the bus still looks quite full and when I see all these people trying to get on…..aaand I don’t have a ticket. I mean, often you can buy it from the driver, but everyone around seems to have a ticket in their hands. Now I’m lost, I don’t know what to do. This bus to Iași wasn’t listed anywhere, but it’s obviously going there. Everybody’s pressing their way to the bus, I don’t know what to do. I ask around but nobody speaks even a bit of English. “Iasi? Ticket? Billet?“. After like two minutes of explaining my simple question, someone sort of shows me to go to the office. I give up on this bus and go to ask there. “Do you speak English?” “No.” Hmm, okay, time for the offline Google translator again. I don’t know how this tool translates that, but she doesn’t get it even from the translator. I really don’t know what’s so difficult to understand on “When is the next bus to Iași?”. I really don’t know and this place starts to piss me off. The answer I actually get out from here in the end is 1 o’clock. No way, you are kidding me now. The guy at the hostel told me it goes like every hour, there are a few buses shown on the Internet too, and there are now two buses at the same time waiting outside, it’s 8 o’clock and you are telling me there is no bus earlier?!

I leave the bus station pissed off, take a few deep breaths, stand by the road and start hitch-hiking. I have 5 hours, I can surely make it faster even if it’s not quick from here. It’s not the busiest road and it’s Sunday 8 am, not the best timing for a hitch-hiking in this place, but I keep telling myself: “It’s fine, you have time, you need only one car”. It doesn’t matter how many there are passing by, you only need one going there. It doesn’t matter what the situation looks like, you just need one car. Ten minutes, twenty minutes. Sometimes it’s about the patience. After 30 minutes a car reverse back for me to take me to Iasi 😉

Everything went well. I arrive in Iași at half past 11, so like 4 hours earlier than the stupid bus. I have a couple of hours to see the city, and afterwards I continue to Piatra Neamt. I leave my backpack at the train station and go to find a nice place to finally enjoy my super late breakfast-late lunch.

I have to say that when you cross the border to Moldova, there is no difference between Moldova and the cities here in the east of Romania. The buildings look very communistic and have been many years without any restoration. The city center of Iași with the Palace is really nice, though.

Iași, Romania
The Pallace in Iași
Iași, Romania
The Pallace in Iași
Iași, Romania
The Palacce in Iași

I enjoy my late lunch in the shade in the park in front of the palace, afterwards pick up my backpack, and take a tram to the last stop from where I start hitch-hiking again. If I’m not successful, there should be a bus in 15 minutes, which must go this way anyway. But this is not the option I want to go for, so I stop thinking about it. However, after 15-20 minutes I start to think again. If the bus comes, I will take it. I just don’t know where it is, because it should have passed like 10 minutes ago already. And there are two lanes so if it goes in the further one, I won’t be able to stop it. Ah, let’s just forget it and concentrate on cars. Finally, a car stops. Two guys from Moldova going to Piatra Neamt.

Piatra Neamț, Romania
Piatra Neamț, Romania
Piatra Neamț, Romania
Piatra Neamț, Romania

Throught Lacul Roșu back to Brașov – When the luck is on your side again

Monday 11th September

Piatra Neamț is not really a very known city, there are many more popular places in Romania, which sort of overshadow this place, but I find it quite nice. The coolest thing in Piatra Neamt is the cable car going up to Mt. Cozla. In the morning I climb up to the other hill called Dealul Pietricica, located right in the city, from where there is a view of the city and the Bistrița river. I walk down to the city, and with the intention of making a shortcut if I go straight down, I get totally stuck in the bushes, surrounded by dogs. Yes, when I reach like half of the hill, I run into a pack of dogs barking at me like crazy. Probably they’re dogs of local homeless people, but since I don’t see anyone around, I don’t dare to go on. Being bitten by a wild dog with rabies is the last thing I wish. I have to climb back up the slope and find another way down. I go through the bushes, branches, gliding slopes, and making my way through thornbush. After an hour I finally find a way to the road again. Great shortcut! Now I’m sweaty, scratched, dirty and my T-shirt is torn. I walk through the city and take the cable car to Mt. Cozla. In winter this place serves as a ski resort.

Piatra Neamț, Romania
View over Piatra Neamt from Dealul Pietricica

Piatra Neamț, Romania
View from Mt. Cozla

As usual, I take a bus as far as possible to get outside the city. I get off at the last stop and just when I’m about to rise my hand to stop a car, I see there is a bus going to Bicaz. I wave at the driver and he brakes down. Great, it’s like half way to Lacul Roșu so I can save some time, because from there, there is no connection anymore. It’s probably the least comfortable bus ride in my life as I’m standing by the door, on the first step, squeezed in between my backpacks a grilling in the sun.

Anyway, I get to Bicaz and continue with hitch-hiking to Red Lake. Eh, still a long way ahead, as usual. I don’t like these places, the traffic is not really high, not many people take this way, but you know, you are still far from where you wanna get, it’s already afternoon, but you have no other option anyway since there is no connection at all. There are really not many cars going this direction, but I stay patient and after some 30 minutes a nice couple stops and brings me there.

Lacul Roșu, Romania
Lacul Roșu

I can finally get kind of a lunch. I find a nice spot by the lake, take a rest and enjoy the moment for a while. The silence is interrupted soon by a bus of retired Dutch people who just arrived at the lake. Fortunately, they just shortly pleasure in the lake, take a few photos and continue to walk farther. Too bad I don’t have much time to enjoy this place. It’s really lovely. It’s already 5 o’clock, and getting out from here to Brașov probably won’t be that easy.

Lacul Roșu, Romania
Chilling by Lacul Roșu
Lacul Roșu, Romania
Lacul Roșu

I stood up on the road and take out my Brașov sign. Brașov is quite far from here, but they can always bring my closer down to Gheorgheni at least. From there I can hopefully take a bus or something. Well, apparently I occur to be in another tricky situation. There are only very very few cars passing, but the time is passing faster and faster. As always, I keep telling to myself: It doesn’t matter how hopeless the situation looks, you just need one car. But for that there would have to be some cars. It’s only a few tourists around, who are, of course, not willing to take a random hitch-hiker. I’m thinking what to do. Perhaps I go to someone and ask. Or I ask a bus. Or just stand in the way of the next car and stop it at all hazards. They all go down for sure, there is nothing else this direction. Okay, 45 minutes gone, now I may be getting in trouble. I do what helped when I was stuck in Cartisoara when hitch-hiking to Bale Lake. I take out some money and start waving at cars with the money in my hand. I really need someone to take me out of here now. It doesn’t really help, the traffic is really low. Ok, I need to stop someone who looks nice in any way. I see there is a young guy coming a walk more into the road and wave at him, looking really hopeless. The guy is about to pass but then he stops. “I’m not going to Brasov.” “I know, but can you at least get me down to Gheorgheni?” “Okay, get in.” Thanks God. I’m not at all saved yet, though.

We talk about my adventures, about Romania, my plans and stuff. Then he says: “Well, actually, I’m going to pick up my girlfriend in Gheorgheni, and then we are going to a party to Miercurea Ciuc, that’s closer to Brasov, isn’t it? So if you go with me and wait like 15 minutes, I can bring you there.” Cool! We pickup his girlfriend and his friend, who doesn’t get that I don’t understand Romanian and keeps trying to make a conversation with me. We are reaching Miercurea Ciuc. but the journey doesn’t end here for me. I’m starting to be a bit nervous, because it’s 7 o’clock and I don’t think there is any bus connection to Brașov at this time anymore. Plus, it begins to get dark. We arrive at the train station of Miercurea Ciuc, it’s 7:15 and I’m still 100 km far from Brașov, in a city which most likely doesn’t even have a hostel, in case I got screwed up here. I run to the bus station to find out that there are no more buses to Brașov today. I run back to the train station and see there should be a train in like 25 minutes. It will be a long ride by a shitty, super slow train, and not really cheap, but at least I will get to Brașov tonight safe and sound. I ask the cashier to be sure I won’t miss it. Yes, it leaves in 20 minutes. OK. I’m about to buy a ticket, but then I think I still have 20 minutes, I can still give it it try until it gets fully dark. I tell her that I will be right back, get out and stood up in front of the station. I’m going to give it 5 minutes, then I’m going for the train because if I miss it, I’m totally screwed up. Believe it or not, just when I’m about to put down the tag and go to buy a ticket, a car pulls over. “Are you going to Brasov?” “Yes.” Holly crap! This is unbelievable! It really does work when you believe unshakably.

So I made it to Brașov. This was a crazy journey again. I’ve occurred in unpleasant situations like three times today, but I stayed patient, I didn’t think about it even when the situation looked tricky, never admitted to myself I wouldn’t make it, and things have worked out for me in the end. It’s 9.30 pm, I search for a wi-fi connection to find a hostel which can still put me up. I see there is one just two bus stops from here, with the reception open till midnight, that’s all I need for tonight. Ah, and there is a bus coming, thus I decide to follow another super spontaneous decision and hop on the bus. I’m accommodated in a room with three girls, that sounds like a traveler’s dream, doesn’t it? 😀

After traveling the world, back to the Paradise

Tuesday 12th September

I still have one and a half day to spend before I return back to the family in Magura. Since I’ve already seen pretty much everything in Brașov, I plan to spend tonight in Zărnești, and tomorrow morning visit the local bear sanctuary. Finally.

I go to buy some food to bring with me. And I have one more interesting experience to share. When I go to Lidl and I’m about to pay at the cash desk for the stuff I’ve bought, I get into an awkward situation. My card is rejected. It seems that there is not enough funds on it. The cashier splits the bill, I pay something in cash and she tries again. Rejected again. The people in the line start to be nervous, you know that feeling, I’m sure 😀 I pay another part in cash, but this is already a big problem for me since I probably have no money left on my account, and now also in my pocket. OK. I have last 10 €, I can’t give her that because I need something for the bus. Well, everything is paid but I’m broke heh (I transferred some money to my account later online).

I get a bus back to the hostel, pick up my stuff, and go for a bus to Zărnești. Zărnești lies around 25 km west of Brașov and it’s a very popular starting point for hikes in the Piatra Craiului National Park. I found a cheap place to stay through AirBnb. It’s a really nice one. It’s located in the center of the town, it’s very cozy, and both Alexandru – the guy renting out the place – and his mother are very nice people. His mother doesn’t speak English but she is super nice and it’s so much fun to try to converse with here with hands and legs 😀

Visiting the Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești

Wednesday 12th September

Too bad I can’t enjoy this place longer and need to wake up early again, because the sanctuary is open only between 9-11 am. The thing is that it’s located sort of outside the town, so if you don’t have a car, just like me, it’s not that simple to get there. Typical tourists pay like 50€ for excursions from Brașov. But I’m not a tourist, you know that. I will find my way.

In fact, the bear sanctuary is situated near the road between Zărnești and Brașov, on a small hill like 1 km behind Zărnești, so the convenient thing is that there are quite a few bus connections between these two places. And that’s actually my way to get there – I take a bus from Zărnești in the direction of Brașov and tell the driver to stop me at the intersection below the hill. That’s simply how you do it in Romania 😉 Then I walk 2 km up to the sanctuary. There are some cars passing, but I feel like walking and have time anyway, so I get all the way there on foot. The next excursion starts at 10 a.m., I can have my breakfast in the meantime.

Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești, Romania
Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești

As mentioned, the sanctuary is open Monday – Sunday with one-hour long excursions starting at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. The entrance fee is, for Romania, rather expensive (40-50 Lei = approx 8-10€), but this is the way the shelter is funded. It’s a nonprofit organization, so all the costs for saving the bears and running the sanctuary are covered from the tickets and souvenirs and state support. They save and put here bears who are no longer able to live on their own in the wild nature. Very often they are abandon bears from circuses or so. And they have a couple of wolves too. The strange thing about this place is that you aren’t allowed to use your camera, unless you pay 10 € fee, but you can take photos with your phone. I asked the guy and he said it was because it’s difficult to distinguish between a professional camera and a regular camera so they wanted to avoid misunderstandings. It’s an interesting experience and I strongly recommend you to drop by when you are around. You can find out more about the bear sanctuary in Zărnești here.

Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești, Romania
Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești
Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești, Romania
Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești
Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești, Romania
Bear Sanctuary in Zărnești

I walk back down to the town enjoying the surrounding scenery. From the road it’s still like 7 km to the center of the town, so I just keep walking towards Zărnești and hope to stop a car, or a bus. I walk only a few meters and then a women pulls over and brings me closer to the town. I still have to walk 2 km, but better than 7.

Zărnești, Romania
Zărnești, Romania

I’m walking towards the center and all of a sudden, I see a guy walking behind me. I mean, it’s normal that there is someone walking behind you sometimes, but this is still outside the town and there is literally nothing here. But whatever, it may be someone like me. After a while I stop to take a photo and the guy catches me up, and starts talking to me. “What are you taking a photo of here?” “I just like this idyllic view with the horses and the mountains in the background.” “Interesting. What are you doing here? I’m sorry, my English is not very good but I like to talk with foreign people.” He walks me to the town, while I tell him my story of the adventurous guy. Well, that’s another thing I always say. When you travel, it’s so much easier to start a conversation with people. And you never know who you can run into.

Zărnești, Romania
Zărnești, Romania

Hitch-hiking from Zărnești to Bran would be a bit complicated and there are quite a few buses here, so I get on the bus to Râșnov and catch a connection to Moieciu. Since I know what to expect now, this time I really really don’t feel like walking up again these 4 km with my two backpacks. I get off the bus at the intersection again and notice a taxi standing by. “Hi, I need to get to Magura, would you take me there, I don’t want to climb there with my backpacks? How much would it be?” Hmm, hmm. It’s a bad road, it’s a very bad road…well, that’s like 20 Lei” Hmm, you know me already, don’t you? You know I always negotiate… 😀 “Well, I give you 10 Lei for bringing me half way to the transmitters over there, that’s the hardest part, the rest I can already finish by myself.” “Ok, 10 Lei half way is okay for me.”

Welcome back to the mountain paradise! After two weeks spent by traveling and silence at the meditation center, I came back to this lovely place again. In these two weeks I managed to make unbelievable 2.000 km. I’m going to stay for one more week, recharge my batteries, then I plan to travel a bit through Serbia and Budapest back to Czechia.

Speak to you next week!

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