Rules of the road.....

April 30th 2013

The majority of the countries we have been to so far share a number of common 'rules and regulations' like speed limits and dipped lights on during the day. But each has its own little quirky rule or regulation we have to remember and adhere to.

We have just arrived in Serbia where it is the law to carry a tow rope. No sooner than we had bought one in Romania ready for crossing the border into Serbia it was out of its packet and we were helping pull a car out of a river ford it had got stuck in!

In Romania is was against the law to drive a dirty car - with the state of the roads we weren't sure exactly how you managed to avoid that. Overtake dangerously whilst on the mobile - no problem, dirty car - you're nicked!

In Hungary you needed to understand how to make an 'Emergency corridor' down the middle of a dual carriageway by moving left or right. Still not sure we understood how that worked but we never found a dual carriageway to drive on anyway!

In Slovenia you must not indicate when entering a roundabout - only when leaving it. Dave found that one really difficult to get the hang of, thankfully we weren't there that long.

In Italy we had to have a red and white reflective board to indicate an overhanging load (the bikes - not my belly!!)

In France you now have to carry two unused breathalyser kits in an attempt to cut down on the problems of drink-driving in the country.

And in Switzerland we were told that you could be fined for driving with snow on your roof  - that is also the case in Bosnia but we are hoping that now the temperatures are in the 30's it is not going to be a problem anymore and Dave doesn't have to climb up onto the roof of the van again with a brush to sweep a foot of snow off the van. I was never entirely sure whether our travel insurance would pay up if he had fallen off!!

'Drum Bun' - Have a nice trip

Monday 29th April 2013

As you drive out of every town and village in Romania there is a signpost wishing you a 'Drum Bun' meaning 'Have a nice trip'...and how we did during our 16 days in the country, covering 1600 miles.  

Having never been to Romania before on our 'transits' through Europe back in the 80's we arrived with no preconceptions and leave wanting to come back and discover more. The landscape, the housing styles, the new and old churches, the people all vary as you travel across the regions of this vast country.

It's hard to pick a small selection from the photographs we took but here's a few with brief descriptions.....
Wide load ahead....
Exterior mural depicting Siege of Constantinople on wall of Moldovita Monastery (dating back to 1537)
New church building going on everywhere - the brasher the better in some cases, gold roof on this one!
Typical roadside houses

Old wooden houses of Northern Romania
Fancy guttering - splash the cash
Bicaz Gorge (with Dave for scale)
Submerged tree stumps in 'Red Lake' - looks green though and was partly frozen when we visited!
Typical hillside in Northern Romania
Danube - forming the border with Serbia
Awful potholed roads - typical of most of the roads we drove on!
Banffy Castle - badly in need of restoration - like the roads!
Beautiful 'wild-camping' overnight stop
We found the Romanian people to be really friendly and extremely hard working. Of a weekend though they like nothing better than to head down to a river, take a picnick and light a fire. They all went back to their cosy homes leaving us in the peace and tranquility of our 'wild-camping' spot on our last night here. We're going to miss Romania....

Dave with a bottle of the local beer and campfire!

Leisure.... by William Henry Davies 1911

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Romania is a huge country and one, we have discovered, with a continually changing landscape, wide variety of architecture and house building styles, traditional and modern farming techniques and people from many different backgrounds. We have really tried to ensure we don’t just drive through in a big rush ticking things off the ‘must see list’ but make time to take it all in at a leisurely pace. It has been a real eye-opener for us, a wonderful fascinating country.

It has also been fascinating to see the locals’ reaction to us passing by in our big white campervan with the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side. In every village and town we have driven through we have been waved at enthusiastically by youngsters, smiled at by the horse and cart drivers and given thumbs up from passengers in overtaking cars. We have been given the nod from the drinkers in the roadside cafés, the shepherds leaning on the fences and the road construction men. We have also been viewed quizzically by the older folk sat on the specially constructed benches which almost every house lining a road has – some smile, some nod and some just stare!

If you go down to the woods today.....

Saturday 20th April 2013

In 1990 we spent 3 months traveling around Australia in an altogether different kind of ‘camper’ - a Toyota Lite-ace panel van with a thin sponge mattress in the back! Dave kept wanting to divert off the main road to see if we could come across any crocodiles in the wild – I wasn’t so keen.  We never found a crocodile but did come across lots of snakes and spiders.

Here we are all those years later with a similar scenario – Dave wants to find a brown bear in the hills. The signs say they are here somewhere - he has the rucksack with the first aid kit and camera in, I have the one with the packed lunches. I was hoping the bears around here don’t have a very keen sense of smell!

We were walking in the Ceahlău National Park in the North Eastern part of Romania in one of the highest mountain ranges in the Oriental Carpathians. Finding a map and information on the trails wasn’t easy as there are few Information Offices out here and the one in the town of Bicaz we did eventually find seemed to be undergoing a major spring clean. The lady was very helpful though and, once she understood what we were after, took off her rubber gloves and found her box of maps and envelope for the money underneath a pile of books, the office doubled up as the local library. 

Having read the odd English translation of the region on the map we felt we had to visit….
‘The legendary aura is fortunately completed by the true majesty of the mountain owing to its massiveness and clear-cut delimitation by wide and deep valleys, dominating the surrounding mountains. Owing to its majesty Ceahlău hides bits and pieces of the millennia-old civilisation under every stone, in every brook and on every trail. Owing to its beauty, Ceahlău has attracted ever since the dim of history the attention of travellers, researchers and nature lovers’

We drove up the valley shown on the map and passing a warning sign of a 3 meter height restriction (the van is 3.1m high) we were unsure as to whether we would even be able to make it to the start of the trail. At the top we found a basic campsite costing 10 Lei (£2) for the night and a park warden who collected another 5 Lei each (£1) for access to the national park – seemed reasonable. The campsite was clean, quiet and deserted apart from us and the birds.

The sun was shining as we set off at 9am, climbing steeply through the dense woods from the campsite at 800m to the top of the plateau at 1800m. We didn’t see another living thing until a solitary walker popped over the hill about 2 hours later but we were rewarded with some spectacular views. 

We wouldn’t make very good trackers as we pondered what animal had left the footprint in the mud, or what creature had scratched away the bark at the base of the tree. We watched a very industrious woodpecker demolishing the bark at the top of a dead tree oblivious to our presence but other than that we didn’t see any of the animals reported to be in the area – bears, lynx, wolves, foxes, wild boars or vipers. 

We ate our picknik on a rock with a close eye out for the elusive brown bears but maybe they were pickniking somewhere else!


Thursday 18th April 2013

Transylvania, for many conjours, up the image of Bram Stoker’s Dracula character based on Vlad the Impaler – a feared enemy of the region, thought to have killed in excess of 80,000 during his reign of terror. Thankfully the tourism industry here on the whole avoids the tacky, mass market merchandising that could detract from what is a fascinating part of the country.

The character of the many towns in the area reflects the changing patterns of settlers in the region and the defensive towers, hilltop citadels and fortified churches date to the Saxons migration to the area. Tourism is being developed around these locations, many are already UNESCO World Heritage sites and some are under major reconstruction. We have visited a number of the villages and towns on our travels through this region of the country, many share similarities but all different in their own way.


A charming city surrounded by old fortified walls with beautiful squares, narrow cobbled streets and lovely churches. Split into an upper and lower part of the town there are also a number of guild towers and we walked up to the top of the Council Tower to get a birds eye view of the city.

A tiny village south of Sibiu with a hilltop fortified church. Inside the partly renovated very plain church is an altar with marble plaques in memory of German soldiers who died in 1916 in battles around Sibiu.


Strategically located near the mountain pass this Saxon town has a large central square surrounded by merchant houses and dotted with churches. Fortress walls line the town beneath Mount Tampa. In case you’re not sure where you are they have a huge illuminated Braşov sign on the hillside – HOLLYWOOD style!


The castle here claims links with Vlad the Impaler, it’s impressive with many towers and ramparts and lies in a beautiful mountain setting but the tourist tat and Dracula tours didn’t appeal to us and we drove on out of town choosing not to stay at the rather ‘dead’ looking Vampire Camping site!


Approaching from the southeast you cannot fail to be impressed with the strategic positioning of the castle on a craggy outcrop with views across the countryside for miles. Under massive reconstruction we could only admire it from the outside but the newly finished car park made a great overnight stop for us and one of the best views to date from our ‘bedroom’ window as the floodlit castle glowed against the night sky.


Another impressive hilltop citadel which we walked up to through the village backstreets, pretty pastures and wooded lane. Although totally ruined we were able to wander around freely (the Health & Safety police would have a field day here) peering down into the unguarded 60m deep well, climbing steps up through archways and wandering around the crumbling towers. It was peaceful, beautiful and free.


Another Saxon influenced hilltop citadel with pastel coloured houses, cobbled streets, an understated town square and a number of cafés, hotels and sadly a few tourist tat shops. The Clock Tower has interesting  figurines and beautifully coloured roof tiles. With the absence in some areas of the town of cables, wires, signs and ariels there are sections where you really feel you are stepping back in time.