Romania – To Retezat

Weeze and Germany were disappearing below us, as Ryanair took us ones more to somewhere new.

This time the destination was the city of Timisoara in Romania. From there on, we would be visiting the National Park of Retezat and the Fagaras mountains. For the flights we had spent a total of 12 euros, for the two of us, there and back.

As usual, we had rented a car to make the moving around easy. The guy from the rental company painted an absolute horrible picture of the Romanian roads and traffic. He spooked us enough to buy an additional insurance, which is something we never do. So with a suspicion in our back bones we headed out of the airport to a night in a  hotel, oh, the luxury!

Our first night we spent in a small village, in the foot hills of the mountains of Retezat. It was a farm, doubling as a hostel. There were lovely dogs running around, a sleeping hotel owner and a friendly drunken man guiding us in. We had a large room, on the upper floor of a hut, leading to it a wobbly wooden bridge. And it was ice cold. The temperature was fast going down and there was no heating in the whole building. Bye bye for the dream of a warm shower in the morning.

In the morning we were faced by a drooping and grey landscape. The temperature was way below 10°C and it was raining. Not exactly the weather you want to spend a wonderful holiday in. But that was all we had, so we packed ourselves in the car and headed up to the mountains.

It was an interesting little road trip, to the southern side of Retezat. The road was taking us through small villages and gravel roads. Until it started climbing on an ill maintained mountain road and reached a dam and a lake behind it. There we needed to pay a small entry fee for the park (15 RON) to a lady who apparently thought we were a little bit stupid, to go there with such a weather. By then the rain fall was closer to snow that water.

From our map we had found a forest hut in the valley, rather close to the mountain peaks, we were aiming to make it our base camp for the following day or two. The hut was looking great. Recently renovated, with plenty of sleeping places and a working stove!

Before we settled in, we went to check out how far on the road we could drive, to have our warm up walk. The road ended after a good half an hour at 1600 meters of height, from there on you have to take to your feet. We packed on our rain clothes on top of all the warm woollies and headed upwards. There was a short climb through a forest onto a meadowy ridge, on the opposite side of the valley from the actual Retezat peaks. My legs were not very excited about being worked inside the not so well breathing rain pants. I was being cooked alive and the short climb was almost taking the better of me.

On the top we got a view over the peaks we would be climbing the following day. Plus it was nicely wintery there, with the mild snow cover on the dwarf pines that grow on the meadows. It took us only an hour or two to finish the walk.

We returned back to the hut. It turned out it was not quite as lovely as we had initially thought. Someone had left bread behind on the table, and that had brought in a nice infestation of rats. There were rodent droppings everywhere and the mattresses were chewed on. Yack. That was anyways our only sensible option for sleeping that night. We saw a set of fairly fresh bear prints just a hundred meters away, so sleeping in a tent was not really an option.

Sleeping with rats? Ooh great!

We walked over the whole hut, cleaned it and checked for a bed that was less rat infested and eventually managed to spend a rat free night after sealing all possible cracks with a foam mattress someone had left behind.

People please, do not leave any food behind in the mountain huts, lodges, where ever you might be staying while going through nature.

The night had been toasty warm and we were both ready for our first proper hike of the holiday. The plan was to get up to the saddle where you find the lake Bucura along with other smaller lakes, continue from there to the ridge of Peleaga and come down from the other side.

We drove again to the end of the road to start our hike from, packed Waffle’s backpack and headed towards the peaks of the day. The weather was getting better and the hiking felt so much easier now than the day before. We crossed a field with a camping ground and a mountain rescue hut. The field was completely turned over by boar. Huge herds of them by the looks of it.

The trail was climbing very gently, passing by one waterfall after the other. It took an hour to get above the treeline but over there the scenery opened into something breathtaking. I was getting flashbacks from our trip to Greece, the colors of the stone and vegetation were very much similar, as well as the season and nature around us.

Soon we made our way to the bowl that is surrounded by several magnificent peaks, Peleaga being the tallest of them. The ridges there look also very beautiful. Kind of a pity that we didn’t have the time to walk them this time. The saddle is riddled with small glacial lakes, where some people were swimming. In freezing cold temperatures. We hadn’t met any people on the way up, but up there tourists were plentiful.

After taking in the views and looking over the lakes we moved on towards Peleaga. The trail should pass by the peak and then take the ridge down on the other side. We strolled through a meadow and some streams and crossed some boulders on the way to a climb to the saddle. After the meadow the climb got steeper and steeper and the trail took us to a rocky slope. We had also reached the freezing point, and everything was covered in frost and ice. The ice had formed weathers on the stones and the colors surrounding us were rather remarkable, we couldn’t help but stop after every corner to take in the views. The peaks were surrounding us and the lakes below us were reflecting the sunlight creating quite an experience!

The icy tor continued on and on, all the way to the top. At some point we lost the trail, there were no more trail markings to be seen, but the peak of Peleaga was not that far away, so it really was just an issue of finding a secure footing to get up there. I hope the doctor won’t see any of the pictures, as he told me not to go climbing anything with the broken hand.

Somewhere before the peak we were swallowed by clouds. As that happened it felt like all the sound in the world disappeared too, there were these cool and moist mittens pressed against our ears.

We could only the landscape drifted in and out of sight as the cloud moved. On the peak it was as icy as on the slopes of Peleaga. It was very beautiful with all the icy tones of colors and we had found our trail again.

We started our way down from there, passed happily our crossing from the ridge back to the car and walked towards another climb. At some point there was a doubt of being lost growing in the back bones of ours. After some searching in the map we located ourselves and noticed, that we were heading straight to the peak of Custura Bucurei, which would mean an extra climb of 100 meters and quite some extra kilometers in order to get back to the car.

We took that route after looking back at the hillside we just came down from, and the estimated spot of our trail cross. It might have ended badly, to go down where the trail would have done. That turned out to be a good decision, there was a barely visible trail going down to the saddle where we had come from, from the saddle in between Peleaga and Custura!

It was nice to return back to our cabin again. There still were no other people and the heat from last night was still lingering in the walls. Waffle was quickly chopping firewood to get the stove going again and soon the gentle smell of smoke and burning spruce twigs was tickling my nose. After a good hike it was so nice to relax in a slowly heating cabin.

Morning came chilly again. We had planned to hike still one more ridge in Retezat, this time on the other corner of it, to have a view on the surrounding mountains too. That hike strated of steep. The trail was following a stream in an ancient forest, up to 50% of climb, so every step we took took us forward as much as it took us upwards. It was also muddy and slippery at times, climbing that felt like real work!

We made it all the way up to the end of the forest and met a view to mountain peaks and a large bowl hosting a beautiful meadow, functioning also as a feeding place for boar. A little higher we had a break and took out our cookies. There we were, munching on them with a warm sunshine and green grass under our feet. Then there was a sound coming form a nearby shrub. It was a snarling sound of somebody big.

My munching stopped, I looked at Waffle and he looked back at me. Was that a bear? Was the question we both asked from each other.

We came fast to the conclusion that it was a definitely a bear, and rather close by, by the sound of it and that it most probably had smelled our cookies. So we packed, swiftly and started moving away. The bear still murmured once before we were gone.

I got quite a spook out of that, we couldn’t help but look back every now and then, to see weather the bear would come out of the bushes. It was hard to keep admiring the view on top of the ridge, once we finally reached it. It was again one of those beautiful grassy meadowy ridge with small ponds all over.

The way back was exciting. We would have to walk straight back to where we had come from. The forest we came through felt all of a sudden more exciting place to be. The warning sings of bears we had seen suddenly had become very real. We started to look around more carefully and indeed, the scrapes in the trees we had dismissed on the way up, were much more meaningful on the way down.

We made it back by the early afternoon to a cabin that has started to feel a bit like a home. The rest of the day we spent looking at the maps of Fagaras, to decide where to go next. We only had the coming night to spend in Retezat. And what a night it was. The scare the bear gave me, made me a little paranoid and I kept jumping awake from every little beep. Poor Waffle, having to sleep with that.

About Fagaras you’ll get to read in the next post. Hang on until then!



A Cacophony in Dutch

elgiumOh, after the weekend my brain was a wreckage. I entered a complete zombiemode on Sunday and Monday came as a relief. It would at least bring some order to the cacophony.

Compared to normal, we had a surprisingly social weekend planned. There was some relaxed campfires and a couple of birthday parties to attend to. As on the go we needed to plan the whole trip to Romania, which is only a few moments away.

Well, it all started very nicely. We camped with our dear friends at one of the bivak zones they have here in Belgium. We chose the one in Stekene in Stropersbos, since it was the only one close by with no forecasted rain. There were a whole bunch of Dutch people too around the campfire. They were apparently hoping to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse that was meant to happen that night. So we chatted over very very inappropriate topics, laughed from the bottoms of our bellies and completely missed the eclipse. partially thanks to the clouds, partially because we were afraid of someone turning into a werewolf. After a busy week of working and studying, we all went to bed at a respectable hour.

The bivak in Stropersbos is a very pleasant camping spot. It is a short walk away from a road and nicely in a middle of a nature preserve. They also heard semi wild Galloway cows and horses there. One of those ruminants were seeing us off, in the morning. Lovely, huge black beast.

On the Saturday morning we needed to get fast up and going. Waffle had finally hunted down the map for Retezat park in Romania and we needed to pick it up. From Ronse, a small town in the Flemish Ardennes.

Saturday had also a birthday party lined up for us. One of Waffles good old friends got older and a celebration was in order. This time without fireworks, oh thank the lord. We arrived into a garden filled with young families. Loads of laughter and noise. We were literally the only couple with no kids, nor any plans of having kids. The reality of those people was so far apart from ours it was even a little scary. Many of them were somehow expecting that me and Waffle would have also a very clear picture of our future, a five year plan on life, with a set of determined steps and all that. They were having difficult time in finding out, that we do not. I was feeling like a bit of an alien.

Well, it was a lot to take in, that evening. The conversations were all in Dutch, loud and quick. I was doing my best to understand even some parts of it all. Difficult! I could hear my brain popping while it was working and trying to find meanings to the words and understand the complete sentences. I was absolutely finished after the evening. And don’t get me wrong, the party was fun, with music, dancing and helium, the normal things, you know.

We returned to Waffle’s parent’s, where we had earlier brought our tent. We thought it would be a nice idea to sleep outdoors, since the weather was great. It felt heavenly to crawl into the sleeping back, snuggle with Waffle and fall asleep with the cool air of summer night tickling our noses.

But why on earth were we sleeping in a tent in Waffle’s parent’s field? Well, there was yet another birthday party. Waffle’s father had turned 70 and the children had bought him a grand gift of a safari in South-Africa! Waffle’s dad was so very happy, he couldn’t stop thanking people.

We had a lunch with grilled nibbles. All the children with their spouses and grand kids were there. I was again faced with a cacophony of Dutch.  The center for language in my brain over heated, packed its bags and walked out of my ear.

We finally got home to the sofa, I was hugging a pillow, restoring my capability to think.As our TV showed us something pointless.

Monday came, back to school I went, for the only day for this week. Tomorrow a doctor is going to go all wise and smart on my wrist and we’ll find out whether I’ll hike with or without cast. Wednesday we are off to Romania, Wheee!!



An Anniversary and Random Thoughts

First of all, before getting into mumbling over the happenings of the weekend, I want to thank you guys, my readers! There are now over a hundred of you, following me! I think that is quite a bunch! I am so happy to know, that I manage to somehow entertain so many of you! I hope to do so also in the future, please tell me to shut up if I don’t.

Well into the porridge of today, the weekend came and the Les Hemmes part of Waffle’s birthday was there to be tackled. I was still feeling ill on Friday, so our take off was postponed to Saturday. We also left the buggies home for wind related reasons. It felt weird to be driving to Les Hemmes without the trailer hanging along. The plan was just to go there, hang around, feed beers to people and just have a fill up on the hippie atmosphere.

That we achieved, strolling on the beach, sipping on our beers and chatting around with people. Though Waffle did most of the chatting, since it was mainly French people around. I sat in my slowly deflating inflatable sofa and enjoyed the wind on my face. Came evening, and the beer kept flowing and the guitar was softly keeping everybody awake. It was almost morning when we finally crawled towards our tent.

As I woke up, Sunday was already eager to tell Waffle, that he had had a good amount of birthday drinks; the sleeping bag next to me was quietly moaning. Waffle pushed some painkillers down his throat and soon there were only some eye bags reminding us of yesterday. We left to hunt down a French bakery, to find some breakfast. It was our anniversary. We have now been together for 2 years. Still going strong, no end in sight. So we deserved some buttery French goodies.

In the hunt for those goodies we ended up all the way to Wissant, which was completely cut off from the world by a running competition. All the roads to Wissant were closed, and of course, since it is France, there is no warnings about the occurrence anywhere. After hitting a couple of the road blocks we made it to the center and to the bakery right before the closing time.

After our breakfast it was time to take Waffles hangover out to the sea air. There was a nice small loop of a walk leaving from Cap Blanc Nez and we decided to do that. The air above the English Channel was clear and we could admire the white cliffs of England, from the white cliffs of France. It was probably the clearest I have ever seen them.

By the way, imagine the first person ever, to wander around the norther coast of France. If it was a normal cloudy day, it is very easy to think, that you are walking along the very edge of the world. That person, walking there, must have been happy, journey of thousands and thousands of kilometers is done, no more world ahead after this point! Woohoo!

Until the sun ruins the moment, takes the clouds away, and reveals a land across the sea. Yeah. No woohoo. Maybe he went and built a boat and became the first Brit, that poor bastard, and continued his search for the end of the world. Too bad for him.

We had noticed an aerodrome in our map, and Waffle being always so enthusiastic about flying and it being our anniversary, we decided to check it out. So we went and asked, whether we could be taken up for a minute or two. That worked out good. The pilot just took someone to take a test first and afterwards we could go and fly a small round of 15 minutes. That, I think, was an excellent way to celebrate our anniversary.

I have told you for a few times how I love the landscape of northern France. Apparently it is very very beautiful from up in the air too. We flew over all the different colors of fields and hills and headed over the sea. I was sitting as a co-pilot and was handling the steering stick while being scared for killing us all.

As we reached the sea, we turned to fly alongside the coast. At some point there, the actual pilot got bored of my shyness, and just pushed the stick all to the left, so that we were falling sideways in that small little can of a plane! I yelled an ugly word by mistake since I was heartily spooked by the sudden tilting. Waffle might have been even more scared, since he didn’t know, who did the maneuver.

But the cliffs seen from the air were definitely worth the money we payed for our flight  (60 euros per two for 15 minutes, Aerodrome de Deux Caps) and I do warmly recommend it. The guys from the flight club are truly proud of their field, saying that it is the most beautiful on the whole coast.

After all that excitement we were ready to return home. We took down the tent, said bye to the beach and drove off. To an amazing traffic jam. There were broken down buses in France, and the rush of people returning from the beach in Belgium, plus a few accidents as a bonus. But we made it home, late in the evening. Now we are deeply into planning the trip to Romania. Nicely in time….