We’d not researched anything about Bulgaria – originally planning to simply transit the country enroute to Romania. This would have been more than achievable, as Google Maps suggests that the 650kms from Istanbul to Bucharest can be done in a little over 8 hours, which has become normal day of riding for us. But a day or two out we thought we should at least stop for the night – after all, when were we likely to visit Bulgaria again? And so it was with blissful ignorance that we crossed the border of Turkey and Bulgaria and officially entered the European Union and our third continent.
People often say how remarkable it is that landscapes and culture seem to change instantly as you cross a border, and we couldn’t agree more. Suckers for the seaside, we took the most scenic route down to the Black Sea and were amazed at the solitude of the place – during our first 100kms in the country we saw only two or three other vehicles. The road was literally overgrown with greenery, a stark contrast to the arid landscapes that we’d grown accustomed to over recent weeks.
It’s incredible to think that only 26 years ago, communism was the norm in this part of the world – communist era infrastructure can still be seen in their buildings, buses and trams and road maintenance. We didn’t spend nearly enough time to get a solid appreciation of the way of life, but people do seem to have moved along way forward from communist rule.
It was also strange to see Cyrillic script printed everywhere – thankfully we had our GPS, otherwise we might not have managed to navigate our way across. After spending our last night on the sea as two Blokes we saddled up and enjoyed a fantastic day’s riding as we pushed towards our commitments in Bucharest.
My wife’s family is Romanian and our sponsor Remedia is also based there, as such Romania was always an important stop on our itinerary. Valentin, my father in law, was watching our progress on our Spot Tracker and met us on our way into Bucharest – we were almost run off the road as he enthusiastically waved us down! He escorted directly to a Bavarian Beer Haus where we caught up over sausages, sauerkraut, and erm, beer. But it wasn’t all about food and drink and our attention quickly turned to more responsible matters.
Not wanting to stop there though, we also made a short presentation at Automobile Bavaria Otopeni, who in return very graciously gave the bikes a much needed service. Emanuel and the team were fantastic to deal with and gave the bikes far more attention than they deserved – if you’re in Romania and on a BMW that needs some TLC, you can’t go wrong to pay them a visit. Really!
We did take the time to soak up some of the things Bucharest had to offer which included a walking tour of the city and a visit to the communist dictator Ceaușescu’s palatial residence. It was quite incredible to walk through this simple but opulent home, knowing that whilst occupied, people outside it’s walls were starving.
Ceaușescu began his rule as a popular leader and initially Romania prospered under his stewardship. His public condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by other communist nations won favour in the US. This led to Romania’s membership in the International Monetary Fund from whom he proceeded to borrow a staggering $13 billion. The debts got out of hand, and determined to reign things in Ceaușescu decided to export everything. Needless to say when you export everything (and don’t import anything) people are going to run out of things to eat, and the once popular leader became the most hated man in the country. Remarkably though, just weeks before he was overthrown and executed, the debt was fully paid off – Romania remains the only country in the world to have achieved this.
With our media commitments behind us and our thirst for recent history quenched we got back on the bikes for Drew’s final leg to Vienna. During our trip planning one of the only roads we’d marked as a ‘must ride’ was the Transfagarasan, which crosses the Carpathian Mountains and was famously declared “the best road in the world” by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. With a declaration like that, we’d be fools not to include it on our way west, right? Needless to say we were pretty heartbroken when we found out the road was officially closed still for the winter (yep, we were there in May!) and wouldn’t open until June. We met fellow overlander Florea Ionut (aka Jon, from Into The World) at Automobile Bavaria, and he mentioned that we might have more luck with the Transalpina. Sure, it hadn’t featured on a TV show, but we were assured it was no less spectacular. And that was all we needed; after a fantastic home cooked breakfast provided by our outstanding hosts in Bucharest we were back on the road again.
And blow me down if Jeremy wasn’t barking up the right tree when talking about Romanian roads. Un-f&^king-believable! We didn’t even make it all the way over the Transalpina either, because it was still covered with a metre of snow! But we had bloody sensational time trying.
We had so much fun in fact, that the following day we decided to try our luck from the other direction, knowing full well that we’d eventually hit the snowline again – we didn’t care, we just loved every kilometre on the roads of the Carpathians. Gorgeous green mountains, fantastic tarmaced roads, picture perfect villages and fantastic (and affordable) food made Romania our favourite country so far for motorcycling. If you like motorcycling, you will love Romania!
But all good things must come to an end as they say, and we needed to continue towards Hungary. My bike was determined to stay in Romania however. The morning of our last day a strange noise was coming from my bike’s alternator belt, and at times like these, it’s always comforting to travel with a bloke like Drew.
Initially planned as another transit country, we squeezed a night in Budapest in as our last hurrah as two Blokes – the following day would see us ride into Vienna where I’d be reunited with my wife, and Drew would depart to Australia to reunited with his. A vibrant city with incredibly rich culture and history, ironically we were both so tired from abusing our motorcycles in Romania that our last ‘big night out’ finished at around 9:30PM. History and culture came a boring second place to sleep.
And so, with mixed feelings of achievement and sadness, the two of us saddled our bikes in Budapest for our final ride together on this epic adventure…