The Transfagarasan Road
After the beauty of northern Romania, the Happy Cemetery, the ride on the old Steam Train of the forestry railroad, and the touring of a few of the many painted Monasteries in the region, we decided that we needed a day of driving that was a little more then just going from sight to sight. We needed a day where the drive was the main attraction, and luckily Romania has a couple of roads that are rated as the most beautiful and greatest drives in the world. Luckily, or because we planned our touring around it, the Transfagrasan road - which winds its way up and over the Carpathian mountains - was just south of the city we stayed in as we came south from the Monastery tour section of our trip.
We stayed at a small home that had a great kitchen and a nice outdoor patio where we enjoyed a nice pasta dinner and then quick breakfast before heading out for our day of driving.
From our overnight in the town of Cartisoara, we headed directly south on route 7C, the Transfagarasan road. The road south from the town is closed overnight and generally closed from October through to about May, depending on the snowfall each season, and when you leave in the morning you've got a short drive across flat fields before you start your climb up into the Carpathian mountains.
And then you're into it, climbing up through the winding road and hairpin turns. We started up behind a tourist who felt like 30 kmh (18 mph) was a proper speed, and with a winding road you don't have chances to pass them, however there are an amazing amount of turn outs where you can stop and enjoy the view, or just give that slow driver some time to get far ahead of you so you can enjoy the drive yourself.
We drive up enjoying the winding roads, then stop to get out and take some photos. We see what appears to be a German camera crew filming a guy in a little Mazda MX-5 as they do runs up and down through the fun turns. Looking it up later we find that there is a post on YouTube of there test runs, but we can't see our car driving by in the background. We did at least film them doing one of their many runs -
It's a fun ride up to the top, and as we said the views are amazing. We turn around once and head back down through a few corners before turning and running back up through them again, there is a massive pay parking lot at the top with lots of stands selling food and souvenirs. Don't bother to pay for the parking, there is parking along the sides of the road right before the tunnel at the top, and if it's full just do another run or two up and down the road, spots open up pretty frequently.
Once over the top, you've got just as fun a run back down the south side, just slightly less picturesque as you start to get into forests and lose the wonderful sights of the winding roads.
Heading down you wind along the edge of Lake Vidraru and finally you get down the massive hydro-electric dam that is what created the lake.
Just past the lake is the Poenari Fortress, something that we had read up on and planned on climbing up for a visit. The old castle is high upon a hill, 1480 steps to climb up, but it is one of the few castles that Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) actually used.
When we get to the fortress, we find that it isn't just the 1480 steps that make the trip to the top something hard to do. The gate to climb up is locked with the following note attached:
So, it's not open from 9am to the now taped over 6pm/8pm as advertised. We think about waiting the 90 minutes for the 3pm hike up, there is a restaurant nearby and we can easily eat a nice lunch and then do the hike to the top. But then we also noticed the "Shooting Fee:" on the main entry board stating that it would be 60 lei/hour ($15 USD) to take photos once we were up there, or $30 USD total if we both wanted to take photos. We are one a budget, that was enough for us to just look up at the castle, shrug and head back to the car to continue on our way.
For our last night in Romania we stayed in Drobeta-Turnu Severin, a city right on the Danube and the border with Serbia. It was a quaint city, another place where we booked an apartment so that we had a washer for laundry and a kitchen so that we could cook ourselves dinner. As an added bonus, the city was having its annual medieval festival so the area down by the old fortress walls was crowded with most of the town and guys jousting and people in period dress doing archery shows and the like.
The next morning we headed out of Romania and into Serbia, via the border crossing over the Iron Gate - the power station dam built into the Danube River. But first, we took an additional 20 minutes to detour and see the giant rock sculpture of King Decebalus. This is a 42.9m (140 ft) face carved into the mountain side. It was paid for by a Romanian business man in 1994 and built in 10 years, so still fairly new but you can see all of the new roadside stands that have been built up to accommodate (take advantage of) all of the tourists that now flock to the area to grab some photos of the giant rock head.
From there we headed out, spending an hour on the Iron Gates Dam bridge, sitting in limbo after leaving Romania and before we were officially checked into Serbia.