Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 323: Transylvania ......

After the rains in Medias had stopped, we crossed the river that had earlier been a road and headed to Sibiu, the 2007 ''European City of Culture''.

The centre of Sibiu has a beautiful charm. Clearly a lot of European money has been spent here but none of the character has been lost. The buildings have been renovated and acres of cobblestones laid to give pedestrians priority. It'sa mixture of medieval and modern but there isn't an international brand name in site. No McDonalds, no KFC, no Starbucks and that's the way I like it. They've created a cafe society where a 'Tall Skinny Latte' is affordable to most people and it all seems to work wonderfully well. I like Sibiu and it would be great to spend a little more time here, but sheltering from the rain in Medias has eaten into the day and it's already late in the evening.

It had been dark when we'd arrived at our hotel, the 'Pensiunea Sibiel'. It had been almost 10pm when six soaking bikers had arrived on their four-star doorstep, but the welcome could not have been any warmer or the beer any colder. It's only in the light of morning that I can really appreciate just how beautiful the hotel and location really are. It feels like it's at the centre of some enchanted forest. The noise of the wind rustling through the trees and the rushing waters of the stream could have been created by Enid Blyton herself. It's not yet 6am but the staff are already on duty. Smiling and silent as they prepare everything for breakfast. They're the same staff who served us dinner last night, a dinner that didn't begin until well after 11pm and ended some time later in a confusion of empty beer bottles. I hope they pay them well.

As we fill the bikes with fuel, our guide Alain explains the sign that's attached to every fuel pump. It asks the customer not to pay the young attendant who kindly fills their tank and washes their windscreen, because they don't employ any such attendants.

We stop for coffee. It's mid morning and a perfect day for riding. Not too hot, not too cold and perfectly dry. Today is the day that we'll ride the Transfagarasan Road. I ask Alain where the road begins. He stamps his foot into the earth and points upwards into the mountains ... 'we are here my friend'.

'Trans' meaning over and 'Fagaras' being the mountain range, the Transfagrasan Road was built between 1970 and 1974 as Nicolae Ceausescu's response to the USSR invasion of Czechoslovakia. Ceausescu feared that Romania would suffer the same fate as Czechoslovakia and needed a means of moving his military forces quickly to the required borders. It runs for 90 Km, links the two highest points in the Carpathian Mountains and not a single kilometre of the road is straight. Because of the cost in monetary and human terms, the Tranfagrasan Road is often referred to as 'Ceausescu's Folly'. One mans 'Folly' is another mans 'Fantasy', but your perspective on that might well depend on what kind of bike you're riding .

Engage first gear ..... disengage reason ..... and let the fun begin

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