When we finally arrived at the highly recommended town of Sighisoara, and found the best camp site I had ever stayed in (although Dee strongly disagrees). The facilities left a lot to be desired; in fact it was little more than a field, but it was on a hill looking over the city and the view was unparalleled. It was also next to a bar/restaurant that was the oldest in the area and had been on the same site since 1812. We had a platter of 12 meats and a few pints looking over the city, it was magical.
We visited the old town, the torture museum (basically a small cave with a rack), clock tower and birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. All was interesting and made better by the breakfast beers and pizza. The plan was to see the town in the morning and find a horse riding centre we had found out about the previous evening. We followed the directions as best as we could down tiny tracks that led to even tinier villages and people who would have made the “peasants” of Maramures look like royalty. An hour and a half later the only horses we had seen were towing carts of hay, we decided to cut our losses and head over to find a camp site from which we could set off on the Transfăgărăşan Road.
It is well known that Top Gear named this one of the best roads in the world. As usual I could only agree with Clarkson. We had a great day and for the first time I wished I had a faster car than a Land Rover.
After driving the road with only a brief interlude to stop for lunch next to some friendly gypsies, we headed down the rest of the road and found a great wild camping spot over a few rivers and a lovely little dirt track. We then barbecued some chicken and sausages and had a few bevvies, which brought every stray in the entire mountain range to our door. Just after it got dark we had run out of alcohol and I decided to make a run to the restauraunt nearby. It would have been challenging in the daytime, but fuelled by 6 beers I set off and made it there fine, scrambling up the hill on my hands and knees and arriving at the nice little establishment filthy and to more than a few elbow nudges. I completed the mission and booze in hand set back off, unfortunately on the way back, I fell all the way down the same embankment, landing right into the marshy mud beneath and losing two of my four ever-so-precious beers.
Later on the same night I got up for a piss and as I stumbled around the car and dropped trou, heard some rustling and shone the torch around. The scene ahead of me was both incredible and petrifying as my torch illuminated the eyes of god knows how many wild dogs waiting with baited breath for the scraps of chicken I had naively left on the car bonnet. Safe to say I reacted how any self-professed “man of the woods” would, I threw the chicken as hard as I could and dived head first into the back of the car. Unbeknownst to me, Dee had locked the car, unaware of what had taken me so long. Glad to know she’s got my back.
I’m not one for sightseeing too much, but whilst in Romania you have to stop and see Vlad’s castle from where I started writing this post. It was impressive but we still opted out of the full tour. Instead we walked around the outskirts of the town and I got distracted for more time than I care to admit by the loveliest little stray puppy (Sanchez the Second) . He would still be with us now had Dee not played her usual role as “the sensible one”.
At this point we had been in Romania for nearly two weeks, so finally it was time to move onto the capital, Bucharest. We drove in to the centre and quickly realised that the majority of the city (having been rapidly rebuilt in the Caucaseau post-war era) was just decrepit looking concrete blocks. It was by far and away the most difficult driving I had ever experienced, throw that in with intense heat and only a limited idea of where we were going and we were perfectly content to stay at the camp site once we arrived there.
After a bad nights sleep we decided to venture into the city in the car to avoid what would otherwise have been about two hours of tackling Bucharest’s public transport system. To go to where we wanted, the abysmal road system forced us to cross a dual carriageway from the opposite side. It would have been precarious at the best of times as one hundred metres up the road was a pass-over bridge blocking all view further up the road, the only chance was to floor it. Just as I did some Romanian dick decided to cut in and overtake me forcing me to break as another car was flying towards me. I genuinely think it is the closest I have come to death. We made it into thee city but more than a little shaken and the scenery having not changed from the aforementioned concrete blocks decided to give Bucharest a miss.
We started the drive across to Constanta, happy to get out of the city and looking forward to some R&R on the Black Sea Coast. About half way through the 250km drive I pulled into a lay-by and to my horror found that my brakes were completely shot. Not to toot my own horn but I reacted with the cool composure of an absolute bloke. I dropped it a few gears, used the engine breaking to slow it and the hand-break to bring it to a stop and counted my chickens that I had realised here and not when I needed the brakes in an emergency.
It turns out that at some points one of the bolts holding the calliper to the axle had dropped out at some point and eventually the copper hydraulic pipe had snapped. I made a clever little bush repair by blocking the pipe with the head of a screw to return braking to my other three wheels. Unfortunately meaning that the car span me off to the right whenever I braked.
The drive to Constanta was barely manageable and after screaming as I nearly hit the side of three trucks and barely being able to stop my hands from shaking, we pulled into the camp site at the Romanian party capital of Mamaia. We decided to forget about the problem and live it up and party Romanian-style. We tried, but ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’ fall when you try to party on a Thursday night; the only night apparently that everything closes before midnight. After a couple of sleepless nights sandwiched between three clubs that only stopped playing shitty euro-disco for a brief interlude around 10 am, we decided it was time to try and tackle our braking problem. We tried almost every mechanic and auto-parts shop in Constanta, including an authourised Land-Rover dealership and none of them wanted anything to do with it.
24 unsuccessful hours and 25 unsuccessful mechanics later, we gave up and temporarily carried on on the three brakes. We made it safely to the Danube Delta, a place I had been looking forward to visiting since I was a child. The plan was to find a mechanic who would at least offer to order in the part and spend the days waiting by exploring the Delta. The reality was I ended up in desperation trying to braze the pipe back together with my camping cooker. The following pictures illustrate in better detail what the problem was:
VERY long story short; the closest we got was a mechanic telling us he would have the part in the following day, yet when we turned up he looked at me like he had never seen me before, asked me if I drove a Volkswagen Passat and when he finally realised who I was told me it would be 7 days before he could get a part that might fit. At this point my general thinking was “screw Romanian mechanics” and we decided to finish up in the Delta and not bother trying to get the part fixed again until Greece.
Unfortunately we were unable to rent a boat for a reasonable price so ended up only exploring the area on 4×4/foot. Having said this, it was still great and although I was unable to catch the 700 lb Sturgeon (or anything at all for that matter) I had had my heart set on, thoroughly enjoyed the tracks, the wildlife, the rugged beauty and tiny river crossing barges of the area. Driving down dirt tracks and onto rickety, old floating platforms really gave the sense of expedition and adventure that I look for:
Due to the lack of brakes and lack of even the potential of help, the Delta was our last stop in Romania and we pushed southwards towards Bulgaria.
For the exciting conclusion to the saga of the Land Rover brakes read on next week. (spoiler– the other bolt fell out!!!)
I would also like to mention as a little appendix to my time in Romania, my smile game:
Since I first arrived in Romania I was struck by the hostile looks of everyone in the villages. Driving a big 4 x 4 kitted out to tour the world, people tend to stare wherever you go, but here it really does seem hostile. I’m sure people are just interested by the vehicle and are looking stern faced as they are, besides, everyone we have actually interacted with has been more than pleasant.
So I invented a little game. Every time I catch the eye of a man staring, I beam him the biggest smile and wave. Average that at 10 people per village and we must have driven through at least 150 villages over the last few weeks. that’s 1500 people smiled at and counting. So far I have had that returned by two children, a guy with down syndrome standing blankly in the middle of the road and possibly a horse, but that’s just because I asked it “why the long face?”. That joke was shit. Anyway, jus’ sayin’ Romania. Sort your faces out.