Roamin in Romania. From Iasi to Brasov via Roman and Bacau
After the protracted border crossing, it was 10:30 p.m. before we arrived in Iasi (Pronounced Yash). Catalin, our Warmshowers host, had ridden his bike down to the station to meet us. Just as well! We only had about 15 minutes to retrieve the bikes and luggage from the train, and the train dudes still weren’t helping! Catalin enthusiastically boarded the train and helped us scramble everything onto the platform. That was one train ride we were glad was over!
We assembled the bikes and followed Catalin back to his apartment which was about 1.5 kilometers from the station and on our way out of town.
Catalin’s partner Stefana had cooked dinner for us. Delicious rolls of rice and meat wrapped in cabbage leaves – it was awesome, and certainly unexpected! The local name is Sarmale if you get a chance to try them.
As we had seen nothing of Iasi, we arranged to stay three nights instead of two so we could do the place justice. They seemed more than happy to have us for the extra night, and we stayed up until the wee hours, chatting about our adventures on bikes and gleaning lots of local knowledge from our gracious hosts.
Iasi was a pleasant surprise. It’s a University City; full of young people with a vibrant atmosphere. Many of the historic buildings in the city’s heart were undergoing major renovations to restore its former grandeur. Our biggest surprise was the ultra-modern shopping and residential complex, and surrounding parklands behind the Palace. It couldn’t have been any more removed from Moldova if it tried. Romania was far from a developing country. We were back in Europe proper.
Catalin and Stefana took us to the “Rock ‘n’ Rolla Pub, situated in the middle of a park, near to the Palace. Dedicated to all things rock and roll, it was a sort of local, no frills version of the Hard Rock Cafe; but much more rock and roll!!
Later we sat in a local park, listening to a young guy play on electric guitar to a backing track. We gave him some change and a couple of beers for his efforts which was appreciated. He was very talented, and we weren’t the only ones about enjoying his performance. I posted a picture on Facebook, and it turned out it was one of Emanuela’s friends from Roman (who you’ll meet further on in this post) What are the chances of that?
The next day the guys took us up to the Botanical Gardens, high on the hill, for views, cool and tranquil surroundings and a sneaky couple of beers. ( Sneaky because there’s no drinking in public apparently!) As the sun set, we headed for dinner and drinks at a traditional-style brewhouse not far down the road. Having translators was a bonus when choosing the delicious local specialties from the menu. There’s was no English and nothing looked in the slightest bit familiar. Much to Catatlin’s pleasure, we ordered a beer tower for the table and spent the rest of the evening, emptying it.
The weather had fined up since entering Romania and the next morning it was quite hot as we farewell our new friends. We made our way to a service station and filled all our water bottles before heading out onto the busy, shoulderless highway heading South.
It was our first ride for a while, and we had planned to get to Roman, about 85 kilometers away. But the heat, combined with a few long uphills, zapped our energy, along with our desire to keep going. We sat at a service station in Targu Frumos for an hour, trying to rehydrate. The traffic had been very respectful and mostly careful, but another thirty-five kilometres in the blazing heat wasn’t an option. There were no listings on the usual accommodation sites. Thankfully, we managed to find a hotel with the assistance of a young local lad who spoke very limited English but was extremely keen to help. A shower and a rest gave us the energy to head out for dinner.
As it turned out, it was the right decision to halt that day’s ride at Targu Frumos. The next day saw us challenged by the first real hills since Norway on day one. All things considered, we didn’t do too bad. We rested often and drank lots of water, refueling where we could.
Romania is “Gypsy Central”, and we had our first experience of tailgating a very rustic horse and cart; using it as cover from the traffic. The very old gent, nudging the bag of bones along didn’t seem to notice us at all, but we were most appreciative.
We rode past mile after mile of sunflower fields and eventually rolled into Roman just after one p.m. We’d arranged to meet our Warmshowers host, Adrian, at a service station on the main road through town. Busy at work, he sent his partner over on her bike to find us. The very charming and athletic Emanuella soon tracked us down and took us back to get settled.. Once again we had lucked out. It was a lovely house, with very friendly and accommodating hosts!
Emanuela took us to the local supermarket, to buy some beers to enjoy in the Grapevine covered garden until Adrian finished work.
When Adrian came home, we chatted for a while, then headed out to a nice restaurant in the city centre for dinner. Even though we’re quite accustomed to taking an educated guess and pointing at what we want in no-English speaking countries, having a local translator was a bonus once again.
The highlight of Roman; apart from the lovely Emanuela; came after dinner when Adrian took us to his friend’s pub. It was situated down a maze of narrow one-way streets and had no visible curbside presence. You really had to be a local to find this place!! Adrian introduced us to his mate Adrian, the publican; his friend Adrian who lives in Italy and, another dentist named …Yep, Adrian!! No, I wasn’t trippin! – true story!
Of course, this made it really easy to remember everyone’s name no matter how many beers you’ve had! And great blokes they were too. Our only regret was that we had to ride out the next morning, so no late night shenanigans were possible, unfortunately.
Adrian, the publican, proudly gave me the guided tour of the surprisingly large, and very popular Pub. He had decorated it himself and had done a pretty decent job of it. It was the sort of place you’d like to come and drink with good friends. He had called it “Terra Peutique” which doesn’t translate to anything. He chose the name because he liked the sound of it. A good enough reason I guess.
The next morning, Emanuela rode with us out of towards our next destination, Bacau. She farewelled us on the side of the road with a much-appreciated bear hug that firmly imprinted itself in our memories. We’d had a fantastic introduction to Romania and Romanians, and felt very humbled to have met such welcoming people.
The road to Bacau was straight and flat. There’s not much to talk about on the 40km ride. It followed the train tracks and had a pull over lane that allows slower traffic to get out of the way and let the speedsters past. This lane was magic! It effectively gave us about three metres of room on the highway to ourselves. Nice!!
About fifteen kilometers out of Bacau, we were making excellent time, so we stopped at a truck stop for something to eat and drink. As we parked the bikes in the shade, a man came over and, in pretty good English, asked us about a trip. We chatted for a while and then he went over to the waitress for a serious chat. He returned and told us to order anything we wanted – food and drink, it was on him! Now, I think we could have milked this for anything we wanted, but not being assholes, we elected to just rehydrate with an iced tea. We tried to pay too, but the waitress looked horrified and almost begged us to put that money away! Somehow we think he was the owner and not to be messed with. Needless to say, we were really loving Romania!!
Bacau is a pretty big place with lots of Gypsies in the city center. They’re a touchy subject with many non-Gypsy Romanians, who don’t seem to have a good word to say about them. But apart from a bit of hassle from begging , they never posed any problems for us. They do have a casual disregard for the rules though, and seem proud to live outside the control of mainstream society, yet it within it at the same time. They certainly looked at ease walking their own path; swimming in town fountains and walking through tunnels that were major traffic routes as if they were out on a Sunday stroll.
Bacau is situated at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains and we were at a decision point. From there to Brasov (our next destination) was one long, steep, continuous climb and then descent, that would take us about 3 days! A few people had already told us that the road was narrow and very busy, so not really suited for cycling. We did the profiles on the computer and it did look daunting. It seemed this challenge was beyond us. We thought about lightening our load but we had nowhere to send it on to. Frustrated, we almost chose to miss Brasov altogether and return to the highway, southwards to Bucharest.
Common sense prevailed however and we decided to put our bikes on a bus over the mountains. It wasn’t as easy as it should have been, though. The first bus of the day was a small one and the driver refused to load the bikes. I’m not sure where they would have gone actually. We waited another 2 hours to see what the next one would say.
I can remember hating bus stations from way back. This one was no different with its seedy little smoke-filled bars, drunks, homeless people, stray dogs and squat toilets. We breathed a sigh of relief when the driver of the Transbus Codreanu bus agreed to take us, and our load. We slid our bikes into the luggage compartment and made ourselves comfortable for the 4-hour ride over the mountains on the E574.
Almost immediately, we began ascending up a steep, narrow road with plenty of large, oncoming traffic. We looked at each other in satisfaction and relief. It was an excellent decision to take the bus. Not just good, but smart. That road is no place for cyclists that want to stay alive. There’s no shoulder, very steep inclines, and very few breaks in the traffic either way; much of which is buses and trucks! Even if I wore the Polka dot jersey, there’s no way I’d be riding that road unless someone was regulating the traffic.
Handy Hint: For other cyclists who might want to take this out. The bus company that accepted the bikes was Transbus Codreanu. We bought our tickets on the bus and gave the driver an extra 20 RON ($5 USD) for the “excess” luggage. You can find bus schedules HERE.
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