Pieces of heaven (reasons to stay in Romania)

Posted on September 6, 2010

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This past weekend I took a trip to Southwest Romania, a region I’ve been wanting to visit for years. It’s been on top of my priority list a long time, and now I finally made it there.

I had great expectations about it. I was especially keen on seeing the “Boilers”, the place where the Danube river crosses the Carpathian mountains, creating unique formations and a gorgeous natural barrier between Romania and Serbia. I always knew this is a place unlike any other.

We get there on Friday night. We lodged near Baile Herculane, a spa resort in the mountains close to the Danube famous for its thermal springs loaded with sulfur and some other gases that are supposedly good for you. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was completely dark, so I could not assess the natural scenery. But I felt that as soon as the night turned into day, a masterpiece of nature would rise around me. I felt like a little boy waiting to go to Disneyland for the first time.

So we wake up, find a map, load up the GPS, and head towards Orsova, a city on the Danube, a sort of gatekeeper for the Danube boilers. We get there and find a delightful little city – not because of any superb architecture, but because it is located right on the bank of the Danube – a paradise for any lover for watersports. Here, we have our coffee and some breakfast right on the water, and after this delighful moment, we decided to head further up the Danube.

We ask about the “Decebal” statue. Not sure why I asked, I heard it existed, and it seemed like something worth visiting. So we asked the waitress at the restaurant about the statue, and she tells us that if we follow the main road, there’s no way we can miss it. As we’re driving towards the statue, we see the Danube narrowing in front of our eyes, as we are about to enter the “boilers”. The sight was incredible. I was really breathless, I got the chils looking at the incredible beauty of the place.

After this moment of real bliss, we continue on the road as the lady told us and, sure enough, after about 15 km of driving, we see a big sign, with “Decebal statue”. We look to the right, and we see the most monstruous statue ever, a hideous creation of “art” that left me breathless, but this time in a semi-vomital state.

The good thing about this stop was that we found there several locations where you could hop on a boat for a trip on the river through the “boilers”. We got a boat, and we spent the next hour and a half on the river, going up and down the boilers and gazing like idiots at the incredible landscape. The gallery will have more pictures from here – the words are really not enough to describe these places.

After we hopped off the boat, we decided to drive along the river, to some cave we heard about. Unfortunately, we didn’t find the cave, but we found a hiking trail to a little summit overlooking the Danube. The hike was quite light, through a very interesting forest, and lead us to a place that took my breath away, again!

After this, we decided to go to the “Iron Gates”, the dam build on the Danube which actually allowed for the Danube to be tamed in the Boilers area, making it a lot more reliable for transportation. However, the dam, impressive as it may be on paper, was a disappointment. Definitely a waste of time, unless you want to cross it and head into Serbia.

After this pointless drive, we headed to the Herculane spa for some dinner and a dip in the sulfur water, and then back to the hotel. We were getting ready for the next day, where we decided to go on the Cerna Valley, a valley I had heard fantastic things about. So we said we’d actually head back to Cluj not via Caransebes, as we went on the onward journey, but take the slightly longer route on the Cerna Valley and then through Baia de Arama, Targu Jiu and Petrosani.

The Cerna Valley is a fantastic place. The mountains overlook the vally, the road cuts through huge rocks and you feel humble at every little step of the way.

As we were driving, my GPS showed a point of interest called “moara de apa” (the water mill), and I was very excited because I remembered seeing a TV show many years ago about a region where there are many houses on a little creek that all have these little water mills. So I took a side road, thinking I’m following the GPS directions, and we started driving uphill on this forest road. Of course, we never made it to the water mills (we did see one deserted, to be pefectly honest), but this was a fantastic experience nonetheless- I loved it, but I’m sure my car wasn’t as excited about it. However, taking this backroad allowed us to see some other fantastic places (including some little waterfalls), and eat tons of blackberries from the side of the road. We actually filled up a full box with them – I still have about a half kilo in my fridge. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

After this, as we drove back we crossed the city of Targu Jiu and stopped to visit the Brancusi sculptures, as they are some of Romania’s most important legacy to the world of sculpture in particular and to the world of culture in general.

Overall, this was a fantastic trip and, if you can afford the time, I completely recommend it. If you want some more advice, or even GPS coordinates, I’d be happy to help. Until then, enjoy the image gallery below – it includes all the pictures included so far, and a few others.

Posted in: english, Travel