I’m not sure what to say about today – except that it was the strangest, and one of the hardest yet.
We had not intended to start the day in Sebes, so there was some rethinking of route to be done. The direct route was 32 miles straight down the D1 – yesterday’s nightmare road. From about halfway, at Miercurea, there was the possibility of a parallel route on small roads. Alternatively there was a 52 mile route up and over numerous ridges on higher ground, giving 2500 feet of climbing. And the sting in the tail was that an unknown percentage of all the small routes would be dirt track – which made the 52 mile route seem very daunting.
The Sebes hotel was magnificent – a beautiful place with really helpful staff. They recommended the bus! We even went to the bus station with the thought of taking the bus to Miercurea and cycling the parallel route from there. But somehow we never quite got on the bus. We had noticed that the traffic volumes were well down on the previous day, and the logistics of (crowded) bus travel with bikes just seemed too much. Just get on and pedal. So we did! Back on the main road.
Well, we were right about the traffic – there was less of it. But after a shortish distance the reasonable run off on the right of the road that had been just about ok the day before, suddenly narrowed. This was now very dangerous indeed. Lorrys were passing us within feet at 60mph and we felt very vulnerable. Just then the bus that we could have caught came past us. I have to say that this was something of a low point! But we made it the 15 miles to Miercurea in one piece – vowing, never again.
The change to a quiet, tarmac road was instant and wonderful.
But it didn’t last 5 minutes. After coffee in a tiny bar (where we met a lovely German man who was helpful and impressed!) we were straight onto the dirt road. Just doing 5 mph was difficult because of the bumps. But at least there were only 20 miles to go!
The villages here were, again, in another age. It was like being back in Nepal.
Leaving Amnas the dirt road went steeply uphill and we climbed our first series of graded hairpin bends since Switzerland. But apart from the gradient and the hairpins they had little in common! I was beginning to have fantasies about nice smooth asphalt, white lines, crash barriers and, above all, chalets for buying coffee and cakes all the way up! We stopped for lunch on grassland at the top – with expansive views of the distant, clouded, Carpathians – but with grey leaden skies that made photographs impossible.
We followed the broad dirt track downhill. It wasn’t going in quite the right direction, but we couldn’t see any realistic alternatives on the ground so we had to keep going. Unfortunately, after 20 minutes we were back to the D1 again. This time I managed to navigate an alternative route on the south side of the road, but there was no avoiding a final 4km stretch of the D1 before we could get off it again just before Sibiu.
On this section the run off strip had been widened so as to allow horses and carts to use it! But there weren’t any – so that the cars and lorrys were treating it as a narrow, additional lane – turning the road into a 4 lane highway with no central crash barriers and no hard shoulder! Madness.
We retreated to a roadside garage for a think. We got a helpful bloke to ring taxi companies in Sibiu – but noone had a vehicle big enough. We had a coffee and thought some more. I talked to a mechanic who assured me that the problem section was just the 500m or so that we could see, and that after that it was better. He couldn’t see what the problem was. So we cycled in gaps in the traffic, pushed along the grass verge at other times, and made it to the safer section. As I climbed the final hill behind Helen I noticed that she had a slow, rear flat. But I didn’t say anything and we reached the turn off safely. From there we limped into Sibiu, physically very tired – but more mentally exhausted!
First impressions of Sibiu were dire! The outskirts were the most filthy and dilapidated we have seen and our small pension is on a grubby backstreet. But the room is ok (in a brown, 1970s kind of way) and this evening we have been into the centre of town for a meal. The main squares are actually very grand – at last, a medieval town centre that is original and unbombed. It was smartened up for the Year of Culture in 2007 (as we had been led to believe) and we found good food in a pleasant restaurant. So we are finally looking forward to our day off tomorrow – having covered about 200 miles of the most difficult ground so far in just 4 days.