Sunday, 6 June 2010

Transfagarsan FAIL: Life on the [ok, probably not actually] open road.

Written 4th June

It seems that since we decided to try driving over the Transfagarsan Pass, one of the highest roads in Europe, some virtually unknown motoring journalists from a little-watched automobile consumer review programme, known to its small audience for its sensible test drives and factually accurate reviews of ordinary, everyday vehicles, have aired an episode where they too decided to drive over it...

Yes, apparently TopGear have been here.  Presumably racing around in either some low-slung sports vehicles, or cars they had to buy and convert to sports cars for under £100 or some such thing and generally finding amusing ways to sabotage James and piss off the locals... I love top gear!  We haven't actually seen it, just had several people ask us if we've seen peasants in funny hats (we haven't) and read one thing on the internet from a Romanian who found it very funny but said that the audio of the interview with the funny hatted peasants is just a looped recording of someone saying hello...

Bet they didn't have as much fun in whatever they were driving as we did in Jules...

The lp says the road opens sometime in June and we couldn't find anything on the internet about it so the plan had been just to turn up and hope for the best.  Unfortunately, the tourist office in Sighisoara had given us to believe that we could only go as far as Balea Cascada and would have to get a cable car up from there but undeterred, we set off anyway and were soon in the foothills of the mountains.

We had just passed our first rock slide, when we came upon something rather less expected, a UK reg fiat something, stopped with its bonnet open, with two lads peering into it and two more just setting off up the hill on foot.  Of course we stopped.

We weren't sure what nationality they were - english certainly wasn't their first language and we have actually seen a surprising number of UK plated cars here definitely driven by locals - but it seemed that they didn't really know where they were going, were just following where the satnav said - they asked us when the road started going down again...! - and had stopped because there was smoke coming out of their engine...  Will had a good poke around, couldn't see anything, found they were low on oil, and came to the conclusion that they probably had a slight oil leak on to the engine, which had overheated under the continued strain of lugging four strapping lads up such an incline causing the leaked oil to go up in smoke - the midget has the same problem occasionally.  So he topped them up, it started and revved no problem, we told them the road was probably closed so they would be better off going round a different way and we headed on up.  They seemed happy enough and we didn't see them again so we can only assume they got at least as far as the main road again...

So onwards and upwards.  We found a small resort town, didn't see a cable car, saw a sign which indicated that as expected, the road was closed between Balea Cascada and Balea Lac, and decided to keep going untill we got to where it was closed - well there were still cars coming down, well one anyway....

So on through the avalanche tunnel - with a small avalanche of its own inside it - and upwards.

The road was ok, a few small(!) rocks in it from time to time,

until we rounded a corner with a view down into the valley,

saw the waterfall and the cable car and concluded that we must have been through Balea Cascadea already...  But the road seemed fine, as I say, someone had come down it,

so we decided to carry on and see whether they really meant closed.

From something I read on the internet, the the northern side is the steep, switch-backy side, with smooth curves and gentle inclines on the southern side.

And switch backs there were.

And rocks.  And suddenly the beginnings of snow.

But it wasn't on the road, so we kept going,

up the switch backs.

A bit further on, it was on the road.

in big chunks, and the snow on the verges had narrowed the road to one lane,

but it was clearly still passable... So we kept on.  Well if they meant the road was closed, there would be a barrier or something... Wouldn't there?

up the switchbacks

I have to confess, that by the time we were driving on snow,

through walls of snow

and round snow covered corners,

where the snow had swept the safety  barriers over the edge, with the cloud coming down, I was a bit scared, just a teensy bit.

but the road was still clear, just a bit, umm, surrounded

But we rounded a corner, under the cable car

and came to a carpark.  although there was no one collecting tickets today!  Where we met some germans in a passat who confirmed that it was indeed closed, 100m up ahead.

Of course we didn't believe them - they might just have been scaredy cats -  so we parked up

and set off on foot to investigate

and found the by closed, they actually meant that the whole tunnel was shut off.  Bother.  There was a small walking door open so we had a poke around - we saw several motor bikes coming down the very early part so we don't know if they just wheeled the bikes through, stuck their headlights on and went for it - but clearly no through passage for small vans :(

We had a brief wander through the snow around the top - there was a café pumping cheesy 80's music into the eerie fog and some people doing building work but by this time the cloud had come down to the point where we could barely see 2m in front of us and certainly couldn't find the cable car station,

so we headed down again, in the rain, so not even any good views down.  But it was still pretty impressive.

Hey Bill, send this one to your boys and see if they're still quite so keen you should drop everything and head over here...

Although by the time you get here from france, it should be fine...  or maybe not ;)

We seriously toyed with the idea of driving round to the other side and seeing how far up we could get from the south, but then figured that we didn't need a 300km detour and anyway, it couldn't be more fun than the bit we did... :)

I don't know what the top gear boys made of it - maybe someone will tell us.  Two years ago, on their recommendation, we drove over Stelvio Pass in Italy, their top gear, top driving road for that feature (can't remember where two and three were).  It was good, but at the beginning of september, more a slow crawl in a procession of cars and coaches up the switchbacks than a race - well, it was for Paul and Cathy in their sensible Honda Civic, we roared past coaches and up the outside of irate germans in their mercs and beemers on the corners, some of them really didn't like it! - and then cruised down the sweeping curves of the south side and up and over Gavia, a slightly lower but much more desolate and less travelled road - that would be my recommendation out of the two anyway.

We also don't know how far we got (we think the tunnel goes under the very top) or what there was up there, due to the clouds, but it was certainly better now, avalanches notwithstanding, than being stuck behind loads of other people.  One for the midget another time...

So, down into Sibiu

past the now clear topped mountains

and out for dinner again in a restaurant serving  'no nonsense romanian food at great prices.  Well when you get more food than you can eat and a beer for the equivalent of €7.50 in total why wouldn't you?  And its a celebration of sorts, a year to the day that we decided to do this crazy thing. 

Honestly, if you had asked me on that night,  I probably would not have believed that we would actually go through with it, let alone be, one year later,

eating delicious veal stew with marmaliga

and scrumptious pork knuckle with cabbage in a restaurant in central Romania having just driven through 3m high walls of snow on one of europe's highest roads... 

I mean, would you?

No comments:

Post a Comment