From The Exhilarating Transfagarasan Road to Auschwitz Memorial Site

"Real Dracula's fortress", Poenari castle was conveniently based on another one of Romania’s famous roads; the Transfăgărăsan. Its grey tarmac can be spotted zigzagging for miles from the top. Stopping at one or two of the panoramic viewpoints is definitely a must. Jamie and I ended up doing something even better: free camping on the side of the iconic mountain road (Click on the link to read a brief review of the camping spot)! With wild horses for neighbours and a dramatic view only disturbed by the few motor- and pedal vehicles adventuring it up and down the mountain, it was one of the best wild camping spots we’d ever overnighted on.

The first stop before the big climb up the 7c: the dam at Lake Vidraru. It was very busy with tourists.

It is the second largest dam in the country.

One of the remaining Soviet-era sculptures to celebrate this feat of engineering.

Then, it's the slow climb up through thick forest. Mist keeps coming & going, but no rain.

The wild horses keeping us company.

The view from our camping spot: the sharp bends of the Transfăgărăsan.

Rain finally comes and cool us down for the night.
We both had read that cycling the Transfăgărăsan would be great fun. I’m not normally a big downhill cycling fan – I get too scared and so feel that I’m “wasting” the experience” by going too slow. I guess, this time around, it did look a lot of fun; like a snake swirling down an amazing scenery. Sheepishly, I asked Jamie if I could do it. He said “YES”! It was super duper fun! I set off early, this way Jamie didn’t have to wait for me at the bottom. It was pretty quiet which made it all more fun and less scary when getting on hairpin bends. I wish I had been a confident driver to let Jamie do it.

Ready to go!

20min after I'd set off, I stopped at Lake Bilea. A busy stopover with coaches-load of tourists.

I kept stopping to take pictures of the amazing scenery!

Two hours later, I was on flat lands.
On that day we set camp at the Dutch/Romanian-run Camping De Oude Wilge (click on the link to read our review of the campsite). Tucked away in the back streets of the small village of Carta, the campsite was the best one we stayed at in Romania. The lovely couple Dutch/Romanian couple had put great care in making it a nice and cosy place with quirky corners/decoration.

On our second day we took the local train to Sibiu. Timetables were usefully displayed in the kitchen/dining area of Camping De Oude Wilge. Sibiu’s a beautiful old town. Many buildings date back from the Austro-Hungarian occupation, some have been renovated, but most are in need of repairs. We familiarised ourselves with Romanian painters at the Muzeul National Brukenthal; the unknown Rembrandt, Monet and Picasso of Romania. After a long walk around town, Grand Plaza Restaurant on 9 Mai Strasse near the train station was our last stop. The place was beaming with local families and businessmen. A good sign! Our traditional Romanian dishes of stuffed pork (Jamie) with roast potatoes and stuffed cabbage leaves (me) with polenta and vegetables were delicious. For only 74Lei, it was a real treat.

Once cycled down the Transfăgărăsan, we set Camp in Camping De Oude Wilg in Carţa.
In between two thunderstorms, we have a look around the small village of Carţa.

We have a look at the ground of Carţa's monastery first built in 12th century, Kirchenburg Cetate.

The grounds house grave stones of First World War soldiers.

Next day, the weather's on our side, we take the train to Sibiu.

An hour and half ride later, we're in Sibiu.

The city is a mix of very different architecture from art deco here...

... To Austro-Hungarian buildings.

When discovering a new city, we just love strolling through the squares, admiring the architecture.

We stop for some lattes at the cool "Ghetto Lounge".

After a dose of caffeine, we're ready to discover some of the art collections of the Brukenthal Museum. 

Further on, we explore the older part of the city which dates back from the medieval ages.

Lack of funding means that many buildings are in need of repairs.

After our long walk, time to fill our bellies up.

Camping De Oude Wilge was made even more special to us as we built a great friendship with fellow travellers. At 50 years of age, Jon and Chris were motorbiking across Europe and Morocco for nine months. Izzy, the motorhome looked slightly incongruous next to their single tents and basic camping equipment! I felt a little spoilt and wondered what they must make of us travelling with such a big vehicle in comparison.

Our new friends were never judgemental. They accepted us as we accepted them for who they were; inspiring dads/men going on a midlife adventure. As I went back to the van after a long journey exploring Sibiu, Jamie stayed out until late talking with them and a couple of young bikers. I fell asleep smiling. I knew he was in good hands and pleased he was having a bit of male company for a change! It pissed it down with rain the next day. As the grounds became wetter and wetter as the day went on, we invited Jon and Chris to take shelter in our van. We spent the whole afternoon drinking tea and sharing stories about our respective “nomadic” experiences and tribulations, but also our lives and families back in the UK.

To warm us all, I made brownies. This time around I stayed up late too and joined the conversation until the wee hours of the morning. It was sad to say goodbye in the morning especially since Jon and Chris were the first people we had really made friends with along our travels. We hoped we could meet again.

Jamie gets to have a go on John's motorbike!

Bye Bye!

After an hour tour in the surrounding countryside, they're back.

Time for a mechanic session with John and Chris!

Our last days in Romania were spent driving across small villages, cycling in the Ceahlău National Park, visiting Sighişoara and Cluj-Napoca. Whilst the first is a small tourist hotspot for its old medieval town, the latter, Romania’s second city, is a bustling and vibrant student city with a growing economy. As we set off for what we thought was going to be a short walk ended up being a 16km-loop around Cluj. We explored its architecture from Austro-Hungarian in the centre to Soviet-era influenced buildings towards the train station. We pushed on to the student “ghetto” area for a special curry at Indigo (100Lei or £16 for poppadoms, onion bahjis, two chicken curries, rice and peratha); one of the few things we missed from the UK. We wondered about having drinks in one of the bars next to the restaurant, but decided not to as we still had a long way to go back to the campsite.

 After spending nights in Camping Aquaris in Sighişoara dodging its busy small pool with kids-jumping-and-body-conscious-young-ones; weird Camping Ursuleţul in Durău near the National Park and the unfortunately-named Camping Faget with falling apart 1970s-style facilities in Cluj-Napoca we longed for the nice Camping De Oude Wilge. And we missed our friends.

The Holy Trinity Church just outside Camping Aquaris in Sighişoara.

The church is along the Târnava Mare River.

We cross the bridge to the explore Sighişoara and its UNESCO World Heritage medieval town.

Saxon settlers from Germany settled here as early as the 13th century.

Jamo's checking we're on the right track whilst cycling in the Ceahlău National Park.

Before we get back to the campsite, we need to sort out Jamie's puncture!

The National Theatre shares the same building with the Romanian National Opera. The first performances opened in May 1920.

Memorandists monument. Commemorating the campaigners' fight against the denationalisation measures by the Austro-Hungarian government.

St Michael's Church built in 1349.

Jamie's embracing the Revolutionary Monument.

The memorial cross monument on top of the hill overlooking Cluj.

We get a splendid view of the city.

A few hours later, we're finally reaching the student quarters where we get some food.
We were on our way back for the MOT, but still had quite a bit of time before catching a ferry back to the UK. We were looking at the different routes we could take to drive back to Calais. When Jamie suggested we drove through Poland and Germany, I asked if we could go to Auschwitz. I thought Jamie wouldn’t be interested as he’d already been to the former concentration camp. After discussion and coffees, we agreed to go whilst discovering the Carpathian Mountains of Southern Poland.

We’d been keeping in touch with Jon and Chris on Hangouts. As we were heading home and Jon & Chris had another month to enjoy travelling, we realised we were actually following the same route and may well meet up again! A few exchanges later, we agreed to meet at Camping Jazy in Maków Podhalański where Jon & Chris were staying and arranged to visit Auschwitz together.

Nobody would have guessed we’d only been apart for a few days as we celebrated our reunion like we hadn’t seen each other for months! That evening we cooked and shared a huge curry together and poured drinks until late/or early depending on how one would see it! As we emerged in the morning with some of us feeling worth for ware, it took us a while to set off to Katowice. We’d  planned to camp at Camping 215 near the city and take a train to visit Auschwitz memorial site the next day. The plan “crashed” as I got somewhat confused at the bus/train station from which platform our train was leaving from. I couldn’t find any help either. By the time I did, our train had long gone and the next one was too late for us to visit the site and catch the last service on time. In indsight, it would have been much easier to just stay at Camping Jazy to rest and kill our hangover and then drive to the memorial site. This is part of the adventure. Not everything can go smoothly.

In the end, it probably was for the best. The three-hours mandatory guided tour would have been hard to handle and follow with heavy heads. Even though I had watched documentaries, read articles and books about the Holocaust and Hitler’s final extermination program, it was still a painful visit.

The basic Camping Jazy in the small village of Maków Podhalański where we met our bikers friends again, Jon & Chris!

Crossing the river next to Campsite 215 en route to Katowice.

Chris, John & Jamie walking ahead.

From left to right; Jamie, John and Chris. When we still thought we could make it to Auschwitz...

As our plan gets changed, we walk around Katowice. Poland's first skycraper (Drapacz Chmur) built in 1934.

Next on our tour of the industrial town is the Jewish cemetery which unfortunately looked derelict.

As the main gate's locked, we walked around to try to find low enough walls to take a look at the grounds.

A little bit later, we walk further on to the commercial streets. 

One of the remaining old buildings in the industrial city.

The crowds of tourists coming from all across the globe waiting to start their tour at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site. 

After an hour, our English tour starts. Our guide walk us to the first extermination site, Auschwitz I.

The "Arbeit macht frei" gate ("Work sets you free").

The 24 red-brick building blocks here only housed a few of the more than one million people who died in the concentration camp.

Each family were allowed to bring 25kg of their belongings. Luggages were expected to be retrieved after they were "showered".

The Nazis collected and reused everything from those dead and alive.

The frames are some of the thousands men and women who lost their lives in Auschwitz I.

Most of the people who came to Auschwitz never returned home.

The execution wall.

A larger view of the main alley across the blocks.

The gas chamber.

It's only when we get to the second site, Auschwitz II Birkenau that we realise the scale of the Nazis' "Final solution".

Here, most of the blocks were wooden ones such as the ones on the left-hand side to reduce costs.

Only the fittest could make it through the harsh Polish winters in such conditions.

The original red-brick buildings...

...Were quickly replaced with those.

Prisoners slept on bare plank of woods.

Memorial candles on the site of the three gas chambers which could each hold 2,000 people at once.

Back at the car park, we were lost for words. This time we had to go our separate ways for good. Jamie and I hope we will meet up with John and Chris again in the years to come. It was a sad end to the second part of our travels which had brought us across Morocco and Western Sahara, Portugal, Northern Spain, France, Southern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Southern Poland.

Thank you John and Chris for putting up with us, inspiring us and your endless mechanical tips.

Your nomadic friends, Jamie and Sylvie.