Roadtrip – crossing the Carpathians

Posted on October 1, 2010


Last weekend, I went on a little roadtrip with my dad, with the explicit goal of driving on the “transalpina” highway, the highest road in Romania, linking Transylvania with Oltenia. I’ve heard of this road for many years, but everyone told me you need a proper 4 wheel drive to go there. However, recent news were that the road’s under a lot of construction and small cars can now go.
The final trigger was a friend’s travel report. (actually, it’s pictures, not a proper travel report) that showed some fantastic scenery.

Off we go. Friday evening we head out towards Sebes, as we were scheduled to stay at a little inn I found online near Sebes, at the entrance to the mountains. Seemed very nice, bungalow style lodging. It’s a nice place, but they don’t serve food (their concept is you cook your own food), and they still have room for improvement at the detail level. However, I think it’s a great place for a team building activity, or just to go there with a bunch of friends for a few days of fun. A few pictures:

In the morning, we wake up, and head towards the mountains. The road was spectacular – and we started climbing quite abruptly, until we crossed a pass and arrived at Obarsia Lotrului, a little cabin in the middle of the mountains. Here the weather turned nasty, but we still hoped that once we climb, the skies would clear.
Unfortunately, as we climbed, we found ourselves in the middle of dark clouds, heavy rain and fog so dense we couldn’t see anything more than 5 meters in front of the car. We climbed all the way, until the GPS read 2140 m altitude but, although I knew the scenery up there was fantastic, the fog made it very gloomy, and we couldn’t see absolutely nothing. It was pointless to stay up there, so we kept driving until we started our descent towards the city of Novaci. Although we had planned on spending the night in a mountain resort nearby, we decided we’d drive all the way down and see what else was there do to in the area.

After we finally get out of the clouds (at about 1,500 meters alt) we picked up a local hitchhiker, who recommended some attractions and also sold us some freshly picked porcini mushrooms he had just brought from the forest.

In the end, we decide to go to The Womens’ cave (“Pestera Muierilor”), a really nice cave, with many interesting formations and a very cool feel to it. Although it was a bit crowded, I enjoyed it, and the bats flying around us gave it a real mysterious feel. And of course, in the little pool where people throw coins, we saw the marks of some of the “proud” Romanians who threw not coins, but bills, to prove their worth.

As we exited the cave, at a souvenir shop, a little mascot reminded me of the Romanian Prime Minister

After the cave, we had lunch and then headed to Maldaresti, a little village near Horezu where a friend recommended we visit the “cule”, some type of fortified homes built by the Romanian bourgeoise families in the 16th through 18th centuries to protect from thieves and other little criminals.

What’s outside is nice, but what’s inside is what impressed me. The furniture, the paintings, the frescoes, very nice, simple and original design.

Even more interesting about these houses were their heating stoves. These stoves are very simple, yet beautiful. Something I’d definitely want to build one day in my 17th Century home.

This museum is also home to the I.G. Duca Memorial Home, as the Duca family had actually owned one of the “cule” in the beginning of the 20th Century.

The Duca Family is one of the leading political families of the late 19th/early 20th Century Romanian politics, and I.G. Duca was the Prime Minister of Romania who was assassinated in the 1930’s by Romania’s Legionaries – the Romanian Fascists. Also, the Duca family was one of the leading families of the Romanian Liberal Party.
However, what was also interesting is that I.G. Duca’s son, Gheorghe Duca, was the person who donated a very valuable archive of documents about Romanian history to the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in California, and we talked a lot to the museum director there about this topic, and found common acquintances. I realized, again, what treasures of Romanian history are stored in Stanford, and how the Romanian public knows so little about the history of the Romanian ruling families and how these families helped Romania evolve.

After this, we spent the night in Horezu, where nothing interesting happened, and the next day we decided to head back to Transylvania via the regular route, with a stopover in Sibiu. What I noticed about Sibiu this time is that it is the only city where you can comfortably have a nice coffee while sitting in a phone booth

Overall, this was a very interesting trip. I am sad I could not actually enjoy the “transalpina” because of the weather, but I certainly plan on repeating this trip soon enough. However, this way, I discovered things I wound’t have discovered otherwise, so I am overall happy. Not the most exciting of trips, but certainly an educational one – especially the Maldaresti museum. Yes, if you’re already in that area, it’s definitely worth it.

Posted in: english, Travel