Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cluj Napoca-Turda-Aiud-Alba Iulia.

Trip dist: 100 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 13 min. Tot dist: 6,478 kms.

Ha ha, well, I discovered at least part of the reason why I was so tired upon arriving to Cluj. The pass, elevation unmarked in my map, leading up to Huedin is in fact something like 540 meters high. So that explains things at least somewhat...

And I that I had thought I had only "grazed" the Western Carpathians (a.k.a the Apuseni Mountains, for you geography freaks).

Right. So now, I need to somehow head over to Bucharest. This involves, as you know, somehow crossing the Southern Carpathians, also known as the Transylvanian Alps (what an ominous name, eh?). The ominousness of the name is not from the Transylvania part but the "Alps" part, for as it turns out, this mountain range has peaks up to 2,500 meters and one very famous highway, the Transfăgărăşan Highway, built during the time of Ceaucescu, for instance, passes between the two peaks at Moldoveanu and Negion at no less (er, sometimes less, but I meant "no less" as an emphatic figure of speech) than 2,000 meters of altitude!

Of course, I wasn't going to be climbing on that. ;)

So, which way to cross then? Most people cycling through Romania avoid the Southern Carpathians altogether by heading south to Timişoara, thus only barely catching the edge of the Southern Carpathians, then following the Danube eastwards, which I had not done, of course, by heading into the middle of Transylvania at Cluj (because I wanted to see Sighişoara). The ones that do head to Sighişoara on a bike (and I think they're nuts to do so, because the climbing and mountains I saw from the train windows heading there was no doubt a good part of the reason it took that train almost 3 hours to travel the short 150 kms to there), head south eventually through Braşov, and along the Predeal Pass just south of it with an elevation of about 1050 meters.

My cycling predecessors, however, were not lucky enough to stay at the rooms of a little old lady in Budapest. On the corridor right outside my bedroom door, there was a very nice, relief map of Hungary, with Romania all included. A beautiful, terrain map I could study for hours at my leisure and even...touch, thus feeling the elevation surface with my fingers where the eyes were easily fooled! And this map suggested that the 2nd lowest pass was at Petrosani, near Târgu Jiu (elevation, subsequently confirmed on good road atlas: 750 meters), a little bit southwest of Cluj, but the best place to pass, the lowest, where climbing was only 350 meters or so (and therefore nothing since Cluj is already at 300 meters itself!) was between Alba Iulia and Ramnicu Valcea: the highway passes right in between two of the Southern Carpathian mountain chains, weaving in and out of the edges of the mountains, in a deep valley following a river. The highway is so well hidden, at least on the relief map, that it feels like I've discovered a secret.

Or at least, that's the theory. At the Youth Hostel in Cluj, I've asked the various receptionists in turn, which is the best way to pass over to Bucharest. Most people drive by Braşov: it is the shortest route. But...most people also get there by car.

So I'm trusting my little old lady's map, and my Romanian road atlas published by the Hungarian company Cartographia for the actual elevation figures. Off to Alba Iulia I went, not without some chagrin, upon hearing from the receptionist, that the first 10 kms towards Alba Iulia from Cluj would be an unrelentless, merciless climb.

And he was right! But the rest was pretty easy, as you can see from the time it took (pretty flat after the climb, which took a little over an hour!) to get there. I arrived in Alba Iulia at 5 p.m., but then, as it turns out, the only pension in this small town was full, and there were only 3 other hotels--ALL with room prices of at least 50 Euros.

Now, if you consider that according to my Lonely Planet, the average monthly wage in Romania is only 55 Euros, you'll appreciate why this price is absurd. And, you'd think that with 3 hotels competing with each other, at least one of them would have a good price, but no, they all are within 1 Euro of each other. Lonely Planet, by the way, claims that one of them, Hotel Transylvania (ha ha!) costs only 22 Euros. This is not true. I check the date of publication on the guidebook bought just 1 month ago: it is the year 2002.

Anyway, finding all of this out took 3 hours of cycling up and down and around in Alba Iulia, and in the end, I had no choice, but to stay in this communist era Hotel Transylvania, which was, just like the others, at those prices, pretty much empty.

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