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Monday, December 16, 2013

Cabrio ride hints: Transylvania

The rented 9-5 in front of the huge Palace of Parliament.

Many trips in Romania usualy start in the capital Bucharest. Mine as well. After a couple of business trips I've decided to stay for a weekend, rent a car, see more of the city and drive through the countryside.

Actually you can rent a Saab in Bucharest. They don't realise at all, that there are only a few places in the world where you can do that. At one of the major car rental companies. You just have to require it and resist the E-class offer. 

It was not exactly cheap, but I've got a gorgeous 9-5 Turbo4 XWD Aero with only 19.000 km on the clock. Crashed (a bit) from the rear :) I didn't care. And despite that in the papers is written "Lin", leading to Linear, it was an Aero. Every Saab fan knows what that means.

Don't drive in Bucharest, if you want to keep your smile. 

Except your're a stoic personality. I've learned that the more south you drive (in continental Europe) the more chaos rules the city traffic. Bucharest is not an exception. Traffic jams, stressed drivers pushing themselves into every possible gap, honking all the time. Defensive driving ? Forget it.

Instead go outside of the city, if you have a car.

Hints were given by several people, incl. romanian colleagues where to go. The hottest hint was Transfagarasan Highway which was featured and loved in Top Gear, but it's closed in winter. Another hint was Transalpina DN67C, but I've followed a hint from a friend, an experienced motorbiker, organising motorbike tours and knowing this area very good.

View Larger Map

It was a part of a longer journey and also a two in one: a great drive and in the middle of it The Bran Castle, one of the inspirations of  Bram Stoker when writing the Dracula in 1897.

Three hints for travellers:
1) Don't expect everything to be nice. There are many very poor people around, living with nearly no income, many parts of your journey will remind you on it. All the time.

2) The travel is slow. There are very few highways, the "express roads" allow max. 90 kmh and are covered by long villages, where you must slow down. Plan accordingly. Google maps are in general right with the travel time estimations.

3) There are dogs freely living in the countryside. Everywhere. Be good to them, because they will be friendly to you, because of the food they want. Also they are a part of the nature and unfortunately they are often hunted by the people for money. You can't do anything against it, so just be good to them. 

Transylvania is a well known part of Romania. They are a part of the Carpathian Mountains, a 1500km long chain of mountains, starting in the southeast of the Czech Republic / western Slovakia (more or less where I live) and continuing in Poland, Ukraine into Romania and Serbia. [map].

Once you come into the hills, you can get this view:

Luck with the weather. For a while.

The HUD was a nice bonus.
Like on a post card.

You get empty roads, generally in a good condition and wonderful scenic mountain views. Not very fast roads, but that's not what is expected here. Some places to stop are always there.

One longer and recommended stop is the Bran Castle. An ancient castle, which started as a fortress in 1211 and then continued as a castle since around 1388. It has a long and interesting history. You can go into the castle, it's an hour long walk inside and in the courtyard. Beneath that is a small marketplace.

Bran Castle.

The road then continues in direction to the city Pitesti through a wonderful hill drive. The scenery in this, in european context wild area, is just beautiful. Untouched nature, at least in the hills and not too much tourists. Just watch out while you drive, not to look too much around, the road is curvy and the traffic barriers are not everywhere.

Some scenic stops are there. Not many.

A curvy road.

How was the Saab ? Great. The 220hp engine had enough power in the hectic city traffic as well as in the mountains. It has an automatic transmission, so a slight delay is there. But it's a great feeling when the large Saab is angry accelerating. It was great in the curves, the response from the steering wheel is quicker and steeper than in mine 9-3.

The equipment had everything what you would expect from an Aero, except the GPS. Important detail was the AUX input, I had a cable into my phone, means my music, because the local radios are terrible. It made me actually think about buying one. Saab, not radio. Again the repeating heart contra brain fight. It's such a pity GM denies to let them build.

This is a very recommended trip. A strange part of the world, with reported but largely underrated beauty. A world of it's own, kind of peculiar. Why cabrio ride hint ? Because this must be in summer with a convertible a fantastic trip. I plan to do it again in summer if the situation admits.

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