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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

18 September 2016

Fortress Vlad

The Transfagarasan Road

The Transfagarasan Road

13 September 2016

I’m not sure why Top Gear would have voted the Transfagarasan Road the greatest road in the world. Certainly, once you get to the top there are some amazing views back down the twisting ribbons of tarmac you have just ascended. But crunching down into 2nd gear for the fiftieth time to crawl around another switchback, then up to 3rd for ten seconds until you reach the next switchback, is surely no-one’s idea of the most pleasant driving experience in the world?

I don’t know why I’m grousing, I loved the views and enjoyed puttering around Lake Balea in the clouds at the top. Even the slightly grey and chewy wiener schnitzel in the lacy interior of the lakeside restaurant was surprisingly pleasant. That might have been the delicious roast and pickled bell pepper that came with it, maybe. I’d definitely recommend the road.

Lake Balea in the mountains

Lake Balea in the mountains

All the way down the other side, we finally succumbed to the Transylvanian curse of Dracula and visited Poienari Fortress. There’s vampire stuff all over Transylvania, of course, most of it with the flimsiest excuse (Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad Dracula, might have stayed at Bran Castle for a few nights once… hence the heaving bustle of a hundred vampire-themes souvenir stands, restaurants, guest-houses and tourist activities around the foot of the castle) but at least the Poienari Fortress was indisputably one of Vlad Tepes’ bases, the site of several of the many lurid legends, folk tales and likely facts from his 15th century reign – known as a terror to the rest of Europe and a folk hero to local people. And the Poienari Fortress is largely free of tourist paraphenalia too… probably because it’s mostly ruined and is at the top of 1480 steps. Yes, that’s a lot of steps! It’s just as many coming down, too. The views from the top are amazing, although they really do beg the question: why the heck would you ever build a fortress on top of such a lonely and inaccessible emminence?

Still a very common sight

Still a very common sight

Hours of driving over the pancake-flat hazy plains of Wallachia later, we reached our airport hotel in Bucharest, ate dinner, and jumped into bed. Our alarm was set for 2:30am, after all! Who on earth books a flight home at 5:25?

So how do I summarise Romania? Or more properly, Transylvania? Since that’s where we spent 90% of our time, and the dusty flat farmland of Wallachia that we drove through looked like dusty flat farmland everywhere. Prosaically, I’d say it was very easy to like Translyvania – low key, lots to see, splendid landscapes, good food and all cheap. More poetically, I’ve never been anywhere whose landscapes, villages and towns pulled me closer to fairytale and a deep sense of dirt-under-fingernails history as Transylvania. Definitely returning.

Transfagarasan

Transfagarasan


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