Monday 24 August 2015

Vidraru Dam and Transfagarasan Pass

Romania, 18th – 20th August 2015

Seeing the Vidraru dam and driving the Transfagarasan Pass got set back a day due to the weather turning and bringing a lot of rain. We heard it in the night and it continued until lunchtime so we stayed put at our camping spot by the river. When it had faired up in the afternoon we walked around the corner to the nearby Poenari Fortress, another one that’s sometimes referred to as Dracula’s Castle. There’s 1480 concrete steps set into the hillside to get up to it and it’s 5 Lei (81p) to get in when you get to the top, but I managed to get a 2 Lei (32p) ticket with my student ID card. The building didn’t have a lot to see but there were great views from here over the start of the Transfagarasan. Near to it is a hydroelectric power station which will be for the Vidraru dam,
 presumably this is the nearest flat area it could be built on. A chap came to collect money for camping in the evening so we paid our 10 Lei for the two nights, a bargain. It rained again and continued during the night, quite heavily at times.

As it was only light rain in the morning we headed to the Vidraru dam anyway. It was busy so we had to park further along the road and walk back to it. We walked over the dam and up the tower to get some different views of it and took some photos, visibility wasn’t very good though as we were in cloud.

The poor visibility on the way up to the top of the pass
Moving on from here, we travelled along the Transfagarasan Pass which is featured in many lists of top driving roads and became well-known in the UK after featuring on Top Gear as “the best road… in the world”, that they brought a trio of supercars to. The south side of the Transfagarasan is like any other mountain road. As we got further towards the top it got very cloudy and visibility became very bad. After driving through the tunnel at the peak we pulled into the first car park on the left. Here there are two car parks and a row of huts and stalls selling corn on the cob and the usual things. From what we’d heard we were expecting parking to be about 15 Lei for the rest of the day and then be able to stay the night, however the ticket guy said 20 Lei and another 20 Lei for the night. With that we turned around and tried the alternative across the road. At 4 Lei/hour we parked and had some lunch and looked for a viewpoint down over the main north side of the pass. It was very cold up there at 12°C outside with wind and rain so we had to get our jackets out. There was a good view down from here except the cloud restricted the view into the far distance down the valley.

Balea Lake at the top of the pass, looking considerably eerie for the middle of the afternoon!
After the twisty section snaking down the mountainside the valley gradually opened out and the road became flat and straight with fields at the sides. As the weather hadn’t been good for it we stayed nearby so I could drive the 33km north part again the next day in the uphill direction and then back down it again. The weather was better but as we got higher we went into cloud again, then in places came out of it and it was completely clear, which luckily the main part of the pass was. We filmed the drive up (which we may upload later), broken into sections by catching up with other vehicles. We stopped at a few places to take photos then turned around at the top and headed back down again. It was better driving the Transfagarasan in the uphill north to south direction as you can actually drive it rather than coasting and braking the downhill way. This could be different in a car though rather than a 3.5 tonne motorhome! The road surface is quite rough and gets worse with potholes in the lower part of the north end which I was surprised hadn’t been repaired with it being such a well-known and used road.

For the overnight nearby we’d spent a while driving around looking for somewhere free with no luck so ended up following signs in Cartisoara for Casa Duse which advertised camping (GPS: 45.73176 24.58269, 60 Lei). It turned out to be a nice spot at the end of an unsurfaced road at the edge of the village. There is a grass camping area that was well-kept with wooden tables and benches under shelters in the middle. Toilets and showers were shared with the smart wooden holiday huts. There was one German van here when we arrived then a group of Land-Rovers with roof tents and a Swedish motorhome joined us shortly after.

Our next stop was Sighisoara where we arrived in the evening. Spotting signs for the Citadel/Berg, I turned off to look for a car park and we found a small parking area and roadside parking on a cobbled street (GPS: 46.21827 24.78693). We parked up here at the side of the road for the night near two Romanian campers and a German one further along.

- Matt

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