"The Carpathian Mountains run in a great arc across Romania, rising to over 2500 meters in Transylvania and include some of the wildest mountain walking in Europe", so said the trip notes that I rather foolishly only read on the plane to Bucharest. My latest jaunt wasn't going to be any walk in the park. You'd have thought my adventures throughout South American and more recent climb of Jebel Quiwi in Oman would be ample training. However, Transylvania trekking (including the knife edge ridges of the Fagaras and the plateaus of the Bucegi Mountains) is pretty tough. None the less, with the help of several "Desert Island Discs" and episodes of "Elaine Paige on Sunday" downloaded on to my ipod, (if anything and anyone can spur you along it's a few jolly show tunes and Elaine's good humored banter ) I made it to the top of Moldovenau at 2545m, the highest peak in Romania.
A walk in the Piatra Craiului National Park also in The Carpathians is a more gentle, rural experience. It's here that Jude Law and Nicole Kidman filmed Cold Mountain, the park doubling up for Virginia and North Carolina. It's supposedly how the latter would have looked at the time of the Civil War or in fact the UK as it was hundreds of years ago, covered in forest. If anywhere warrants the term "bucolic" then this was it. Scythes as opposed to machinery are often used to cut the hay and therefore wildflowers are able to grow in abundance. The multi coloured meadows and pyramid like haystacks, unique to Romania all add to the pastoral scene.
One of my main reasons for hiking in Romania was the opportunity to hike from hut to hut as opposed to camping. I like a roof over my head. The sleeping arrangements within the huts were on the cosy side and more suited to the seven dwarfs than 17 strapping walkers. However, after 10 hours of walking sleep came easily and our accommodation was luxurious in comparison with the local shepherds.
My namesakes would be spending the night with just a bit of tarpaulin for cover and the company of their trusted sheepdog. The latter looking increasingly like the sheep they were guarding!
When food isn't readily available and you're required to carry your lunch, you do tend to obsess about it. In preparation, the night before the trek I lined my stomach with enough calories to last the week with a papanasi. A papanasi is Romania's answer to the doughnut, a fried pastry filled with soft cheese and jam, very sweet and very filling. More healthy were the wild raspberries that lined the foothills of the mountains whilst our guide sensibly brought along his own homemade loaf of bread, cutting of slices with a penknife to be eaten with zacusca, a traditional pepper and tomato spread.
I'd come to Romania to see an unspoiled part of Europe and to challenge myself with some serious trekking. The fact that it was very cheap also helped, just over £1 for a glass of wine, as a Londoner used to London prices I'd question the bill several times before merrily ordering another. Poor Romania and the Romanians themselves get such a bad press that our guides pointed out that anybody visiting, has such low expectations that they always come away pleasantly surprised. For me the towns in Transylvania were a revelation, no Disney recreation these (although Brasov does haven it's own Hollywood sign) but the real fairy tale deal.
As a child I loved fairy tales by the brothers Grimm and as an adult was enchanted by Brasov, where legend has it that the children sent underground by the Pied Piper re-emerged. In the market square, you're surrounded by Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical houses and it made for a a picture perfect place to unwind after the rigors of The Carpathians.