I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Transalp over the Transalpina in Transylvania

Friday, 12th June

Did I mention that we stayed at the motorcycle-friendly boutique B&B 'Labagola' in Zagreb?

..which was just the ticket. Top accommodation, meticulously well-managed by the the owner, Dubravko Primorac (pic above), "Dooby" for short. Top bloke.

Sort of reminded me of one of my nicknames in times past. Easy to understand why, one particular endearing term, derived from my surname briefly started life as the appellation, "Pooper." Take into account the initials of my forenames ('SK'), and subjoin with a rhyming follow-on name .. and you end-up with the full compellation of one of my most unfortunate and tiresome nicknames .. "Pooper Skooper."

And I'm not sure why I just mentioned that!?!

The nickname, thank goodness, is now quite forgotten and very dead. Needless to say, anyone who trys to use it again now .. WILL BE!

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Dooby gave me some terrific riding waypoints from Zagreb to Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Crossing into that war-torn country, we received one of the warmest greetings ever from a very amiable customs officer, Aleksandar Pavkovic, who spoke with a perfect 'BBC English' accent - "How so?" I enquired. 

"Because I avidly watch the BBC World News sir, on quite a regular basis .. actually," was the reply.

'Proper Job Mate.' I thought.

That night (Fri-12th) we stopped-over in one of the oddest places yet, the Motel Dani in Travnik, Bosnia.

The landing walkway to the bedroom (above.) A damn weird place all right.

Saturday-13th

A quick scoot the following morning of 85 km [53 mi] from Motel Dani took us to the centre of Sarajevo.

In the 1990s the city of Sarajevo was besieged by the neighbouring Serbs for 1,425 days and was on the edge of annihilation. 14,000 people were killed during that dark period of quite recent European history. How could we forget that dreadful newsreel footage at the time?

A reminder: Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, where and when the dance skaters couple, Torvill and Dean, earned across-the-board perfect scores, utterly obliterated their fellow competitors, and easily won the Ice Dancing Competition for Great Britain. How could we forget?

Listen - Ravel's Boléro is now playing in your head:

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Perfect 6. A feat that's never been repeated.

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All afternoon that day (Sat-13th) we wandered, in the stifling summer heat, around the city centre and through dismal ranks of bullet-scarred apartment blocks.

The city has done well to recover from most of the war damage .. BUT the following generation appears to be hell-bent on defacing every wall and vertical surface in sight with mindless graffiti.  It's everywhere.

Hardly 'Banksy' eh? .. but they (the idiots), together with perhaps the heart-broken locals who might actually still give a sh!t, now have to live with it.

 The view from the restaurant terrace of our Sarajevo-based hotel, looking upstream over the Miljacka river - so the city isn't too shabby in some places, eh?!

A plaque outside the Sarajevo National Library.

Which reminded me at the time ..

.. that the following day, we had plans to ride further east and cross the Drina river .. into Serbia!

Sunday-14th

The Bosnian countryside is a very green mountainous terrain, gouged with river canyons.

You don't need to travel very far at all to see countless abandoned dwellings. The scars of war? .. maybe .. probably?

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Serbia

We crossed the Trina into the contrasting vast northern plateau of Serbia .. and then headed straight for the capital, Belgrade.

It was a Sunday. The roads were relatively quiet, which allowed good progress. We reached the urban sprawl of the city by mid-afternoon.

You can't really describe Belgrade as a 'pretty' capital. Again there's too much graffiti.

We had no intentions of staying in Serbia for much more than 24 hours. It was never going to represent much more than a 'pit stop' on the way to Romania. 

Monday-15th

The Danube is Europe's second-longest river. We followed its southern bank, on-and-off, for 240 km [150 mi] until we reached the Iron Gate Bridge that crosses the boundary between Serbia and Romania.

At this point - just a few kilometres short of the Iron Gate Bridge - the river separates the southern Carpathian Mountains from the north-western foothills of the Balkan Mountains. It was reminiscent of the Colorado River, on a different scale.

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Another very fast border crossing. No more than ten minutes, both sides. In this part of the world, I guess it helps if you're carrying a European passport.


'Welcome to Romania!'

.. and the odd stork or two, nesting on roadside telegraph poles, feeding their near fully-fledged babies.

The first night - and first restaurant - on the outskirts of a small Romanian city called Târgu Jiu ..


I ordered the 'Brine of Crap'

'Er Indoors typically had the 'Brain egg and onions'

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Tuesday-16th

32 km [20 mi] east of Târgu Jiu starts the southern end of National Road (Drumul Naţional) DN67C, otherwise known as The Transalpina Highway - and 'The King's Road' by the locals - which cuts a high altitude pass over the Carpathian Mountains.

Had we turned-up two or three days earlier this spectacular road would have been closed.

Between 2007-2012 this formally exclusive military road was re-built .. and re-paved with the highest quality asphalt.

Heading north, just ducked-under the cloud base.

It was cold, dank and windy up there, that morning of Tuesday, 16th. But worth the effort.

The highest point, the Urdele Pass, where the elevation is 2,145 m [7,037 ft] above sea level. Actually into the cloud base - it was a near white-out situation.

Glancing at my GPS screen, as we were twisting down the northern side of Parâng Mountain group in the Southern Carpathians.

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Wednesday-17th

Another day .. another mountain pass. This time, the infamous Transfagarasan Highway (DN7C), described by the BBC's Top Gear presenters as 'the world's best road.'

Riding on this occassion, from north to south.

Ascending the northern slopes, the visibility soon reduced to no more than a few metres.

At the summit - 2,042 m [6,699 ft] above sea level ..

.. it was still mid-winter.

At the top the highway passes through the Bâlea Tunnel, which is the longest road tunnel in Romania (884 metres long)

On the other (southern) side, magically, like flicking a light switch, as we emerged from the tunnel the seasons changed. In an instant, it was summer again.

I peered over the edge ..

.. down to where we would be ..

.. and what we would be riding around within the next few minutes.


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At the tail-end of the pass it soon became obvious that we would be in for another soaking if we carried-on much further. We therefore called it a day and stopped-over in one of the sleepy Corbeni commune villages along the southern end of the Transfagarasan.

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Is the Transfagarasan Highway "the world's best road", as rated by Jeremy Clarkson & Co?

Probably not. The Transalpina is the more exhilarating of the two Carpathian passes, in my humble opinion.

If you ever go there, just remember that thanks to Jeremy's misguided quote, these highways are now firmly on the "bucket list" of nearly every motoring enthusiast ".. in the world", as himself would say.

We were fortunate enough to be 'doing' these passes during ordinary week days, and early-on in the season. We had clear runs all the way.

I should imagine that trying to 'do' these highways any time during the course of a mid-summer weekend, and ... well, it's likely you will be taking part in nothing more than a frustrating, slow-motion procession; behind and in-between a continuous ribbon of cars, motorbikes, camper vans, pedal cycles .. and maybe even the odd skateboard and pogo-stick for good measure. Phuck that for a lark!

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Thursday-18th

Riding through rural Romania ..

.. towards the landmark township of Bran ..


.. home of the medieval fortress, Bran Castle - commonly known as "Dracula's Castle"

We did the touristy thing and paid the entrance fee to take a look around inside the castle, which is now a museum (and up for sale .. if you're into that sort of thing.)

The excessively cruel 'evil-bastard' Wallachian ruler, Vlad the Impaler (1431–1476), who was associated with the castle, is the alleged inspiration for Bram Stoker's "Dracula" - although the facts suggest this is just made-up fantasy .. and a load of bollocks.

Later that night, after dark, I walked back to the castle and took a long exposure photo, which turned-out reasonably well.

Details
ISO:                    200
Focal Length:     38mm (76mm in 35mm)
Aperture:            f/6.7
Exposure Time: 10 seconds


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What's left?

On Sunday-21st we should arrive in Budapest, capital city of Hungary. From then, there will be just 11 full days remaining until our flight back home to England, from Wroclaw in southwest Poland.

11 days to cover a total distance of a less than 750 km [< 466 mi]. But we'll do this, with some considerable ease in 4-5 (or less) leisurely days - and finish this part of the trip by the weekend commencing Friday-26th.

This will allow plenty of time to see what the city of Wroclaw, with its 130 bridges over the River Odra, riverside parks and Gothic architecture has to offer; leaving enough spare days, I hope, to get the bike all cleaned-up spick & span, routinely serviced and stored somewhere safe until the end of the summer (c. late September.)



On the way to Wroclaw we will stop-by and visit:
  • The High Tatra Mountains
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine (Poland); and
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Thus far, since leaving home 35 days ago, nearly everything has gone exactly according to plan; fingers crossed that it will continue as such for the remainder of this penultimate leg of my special ride of a lifetime, from New Zealand to England .. 2-up on a 650 cc motorcycle.

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