Transfagarasan Highway and a Run to the Border

This morning I said farewell to Iulian (owner of Salisteanca Campsite) and to Rob and Pauline (my table tennis opponents from the Netherlands for the past few days) and headed out for the next chapter in my journey.

I left Saliste about 10.00am and drove to Cartisoara, the northern end of the Transfagarasan Highway. From Cartisoara I drove up the many hairpin bends until I reached Balea Lake, the highest point of the highway (2,034 metres), and just before it enters a tunnel. I was at the ‘peak’ by about 12.15pm, so it was good timing for lunch. After taking some photos, I had a nice grilled trout on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the mountain lake. Couldn’t ask for a better lunch spot really!

Looking north at part of the highway I had just driven.
Looking north at part of the highway I had just driven.
Part of the highway on the northern side of the highest point
Part of the highway on the northern side of the highest point
The row of stalls at the peak, selling food, souvenirs, etc.
The row of stalls at the peak, selling food, souvenirs, etc.
Meats and cheeses for sale at one of the stalls
Meats and cheeses for sale at one of the stalls
Various crystals and semi precious stones for sale at this stall
Various crystals and semi precious stones for sale at this stall

Interestingly, whilst I was eating lunch I watched a guy walk into the lake and go for a swim. Within ten minutes he had been escorted away by the police! I didn’t see any signs but I guess swimming in the lake isn’t allowed.

Balea Lake at the highest point of the highway
Balea Lake at the highest point of the highway
Balea Lake
Balea Lake

After about 90 minutes hanging about at the top, I started my descent through the tunnel and down the southern side of the highway to its southern end at Bascov, passing a large reservoir and driving along the top of a dam along the way.

The tunnel that starts the descent on the southern side
The tunnel that starts the descent on the southern side
Part of the road on the southern side of the peak
Part of the road on the southern side of the peak
Part of the road on the southern side
Part of the road on the southern side
The road works its way down the mountain to the valley below
The road works its way down the mountain to the valley below
The reservoir on the southern side
The reservoir on the southern side

The guys on the Top Gear TV show have called the Tansfagarasan the Best Road in the World. It was a nice road to drive and the Defender took it in her stride. She really handles switchbacks well, taking them in either 3rd or 2nd gear, depending on the tightness and the incline and maintaining a good pace. Also, nobody on the road was in a hurry. Everyone seemed to be in a relaxed driving mood, taking time to enjoy the experience. There are plenty of pull-offs where drivers can stop to admire the views and take photos.

So – do I think it is the best road in the world? Not really! But I probably have different criteria to the Top Gear guys. They were driving an Aston Martin, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, so I’m sure it was all about speed and a fun factor for fast cars. Personally, as much as I enjoyed the drive, it wasn’t even the best road of this trip. That honour still goes to the Kaldama Pass from Kazaerman to Jalal-Abad in Kyrgyzstan. The Kaldama provided more thrills, more enjoyment, more adventure and better views. And it wasn’t paved! But I’d like to ride the Transfagarasan on a motorcycle!

Once I’d finished the Transfagarasan at Bascov, I headed to the town of Craiova to pick up the E79 road. I was thinking that Craiova would be my final destination for the day but when I got there I checked the Garmin and realised that the border town of Calafat was only another 80km or so. I pushed on and made it to Calafat around 8.30pm, just as dusk was drawing in. There were only three hotels listed in the Garmin  – one was closed down, one was full but the third had vacancies, so I checked in.

There was an accident on my route to Calafat. Looking at the skid-marks, the black car was overtaking (so was on the wrong side of the road) and met an oncoming car!

Collision scene near to Calafat
Collision scene near to Calafat

Tomorrow, I cross over the fairly new ‘Danube Bridge 2’ to Vidin in north-west Bulgaria. I will then follow the E79 south through Bulgaria, past Sofia and to Thessaloniki in Greece. This is the route that I came up with yesterday. It differs from the original plan and means that I skip a visit to Bucharest in Romania and to Plovdiv in Bulgaria. But I got a great tip about a cool destination in Greece from my Netherlands friends in Saliste, so I’m hoping to fit that into my amended route.

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