After a good night sleep and less than an hours drive we arrived in Braşov. It is the first big city north of Bucharest and the hub of a large area. Tourists come to see the citadel and historic center but mainly use it as a base camp for activities in the surrounding mountain ranges.
We arrived on a Sunday which meant free parking for Trevor next to the central park where he could watch old men playing chess while we explored the rest of the city. The historic center has got two large streets, (one of them pedestrianised) running from either end of the already mentioned park with lots of smaller streets connecting them (all pedestrian zone). At the far end is the main square, with the black church at one corner. As we reached the square we found we had just made it to the last day of a folklore and culture festival. On this day the main attraction was a traditional dancing competition which groups from different countries and regions showcasing their local dances. Their costumes and dresses were beautiful and colourful and some dances very fast and difficult. We were truely impressed with the coordination and precision of some of the groups despite the fact some dancers were children of about 8 years old.
After a while we moved on to visit the black church around the corner but found it closed. There were signs about entrance fees but others declared it was under major restoration until 2019. Slightly disappointed we wandered on to see the rest of the pedestrian zone. Overall the city was buzzing and had a strong café culture with a strong preference for Italian cuisine. An hour later we had reached Trevor again but moved on to the other side and made our way up the castle hill to the citadel. It was great to find most of the walk in the shade because the sun was fiercely beating down upon us. This fact only added to the frustration we felt at the top. The fortress was rather small and unimpressive. It was made of red bricks and could definitely do with some restoration. On top of of that it was closed without any info as to when it would open again. The views from the hill must have been really good in the past until growing trees blocked more and more of it off. So without any further delay we went back to waiting Trevor and headed for Bucegi National Park.
This park consists of a horseshoe shaped mountain range surrounding a big high flat valley opening south. The best places to start exploring from are Buşteni and Sinai, both located on the east side.On the way there we encountered our first major traffic jam. We couldn’t find the source of it but we got a over an hour more of watching the valley and villages. The map of the area which we had bought in Braşov showed two campsites in near Busteni (one of the two gateways to the national park. Like quite a few times before on our trip we found it turned out that neither of them existed (no idea where those map people get their information from). One of them was marked near a cabana (mountain hut) at the end of a valley. As soon as we left Buşteni and entered the valley we saw people spreading out everywhere either barbecuing, picnicking or camping. What started which small families at the bottom turned into two big caravan cities near the top. Caravans and motorhomes had been set up seemingly permanently with awning tents, separate shower tents and fenced in gardens; some even had electric fences. We were absolutely shocked to see this beautiful bit of countryside ruined and abused by Romanians escaping the cities for the summer. This reminded us of the conversation we had with an English tour guide about how little Romanians care about their nature.
Partially due to the lack of other alternatives we decided to spend the night near the cabana. This gave us not only easy access to their facilities but was also a good starting point for the walk we intended to go on the next day. In true MuZ style we decided not to faff about and went straight for the highest peak in the Bucegi mountain range: Omul with 2505 meters. We had considered sleeping in cabanas in the mountains but since Zoë didn’t have her sleeping bag and we couldn’t find much useful information about them our only choice were day trips up and down.
Walking up and down roughly 1600m promised to be a long day out, so we were super keen to get up and leave as early as feasibly possible. We managed to start before 7am and slowly fought our way up a surprisingly steep path through mixed forest to the beginning of a higher valley which would lead us to the summit. Parts of the path went a long a temporary river but it was all dry without any signs of recent water flow. It was lovely walking in the shade of the forest and once we left the trees behind we found ourselves in the most beautiful alpine field we had seen in a long time.
All flowers were in full flower and the air was filled with the humming and buzzing of bees and other insects. By this point we had kind of forgotten about the fact that the map showed a very steep and rocky final ascent to mount Omul but we were positively surprised to find nothing of the sort. It was relatively steep but a nice zig-zagging path to the top. In the end we reached the peak after four and a half hours; two hours less than the sign in the valley predicted. We would have been faster if we hadn’t followed some old markers and ended up scrambling up a peak two meters lower 150m away from the actual Omul. This was easy enough to rectify and soon we enjoyed lunch and a coffee outside the cabana on the actual peak.
Watching the clouds move in from both sides made us move on rather quickly and we chose the shortest path back to our cabana. The first part lead us along the top of a mountain ridge which was fairly wide at first but soon became narrower and rockier. Unlike our way up this time the rockface marked on the map actually existed and soon we found ourselves walking up to signposts with only clouds beyond it and only see the path upon reaching the post continuing more than 50m below us.
After 6 or 7 such ‘steps’ we left the rocks and the botanics took over. Our relief and joy didn’t last long though. What originaly had been a path had been taken over by water and washed out to Zoë’s hip height with dense bushes and shrubs all around us. The only other hikers we met during this descent didn’t boost our sense of security by proclaiming ‘only bears go down here’.
Slowly but surely we made it down the muddy mountainside and sighed a big breath of relief when we reached the other path running along the mountain almost horizontally. Finally we could walk normally again and stretch our legs out properly. We still had quite some height to get down to our hut and the last hour of our walk got our legs and knees aching again by steep slopes. Tired and with very aching legs we reached Trevor 9 hours after we left him. We were even too tired to care about finding accommodation down in the town, so we went for convenience and bucket showers before collapsing into bed.
The next day our stiff legs forbid any thought of longer walking and an empty larder had us heading down to Buşteni for breakfast and shopping. Matthias also had his first travel haircut. After lunch we drove to Sinai to visit Peleş castle. The 500m uphill from the carpark to the castle turned out to exhaust the capabilities of Zoë’s legs. Thankfully the castle was worth it and beautifully perched on a hillside with fountain terrasses.
Tourists have the choice to visit only the ground floor or add on the private apartments on the first floor costing 30 RON each. On this day only the ground floor was open to visitors making our choice easy. It turned out to be more difficult to find the entrance so we ended up with an English speaking guided tour for free. The interior of Peleş is absolutely beautiful and features a lot of wooden carved design elements from staircases over pillars and statues to inlay pictures of castles of the family of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen who built Peleş. All the furniture was original and easily made this the best castle we’ve visited in terms of apperance and homely feel. We highly recommend to visit this and the other two palaces (Peleşoir and Fogesoir) that are located only a stonesthrow away. We would have visited them as well but got there to late (last entrance is at 4.15pm).
With the weather set to take a turn for the worse the next day we decided to leave the rest of Bucegi for another time and drive back towards Raşnov and Braşov for some bear watching.