This won’t be a regular type of post, but I’m willing to break the rules a bit. I know that this is a cafe/scrambler/restomod blog… And here I’m writing about touring in Romania. But in general – I went there on my neo-classic (Kawasaki ZRX1200R), so it has come common denominator with what this website is about.
It will be more “travel” oriented text rather than a motorcycle feature. We can assume that the conclusion will be – that a naked muscle bike with a retro design – is a capable touring machine. And let’s get to the topic.
I am still, after almost three weeks after coming back from the trip, overwhelmed with the 8-day voyage as a whole. I love Romania, almost everything about it from a motorcyclist perspective. And I probably wouldn’t be in such a good mood if I went there by car though.
I designed the 6-day route based on Youtube travel guides and other motorcycle blogs. 2 extra days from the title – were used to get to and from the destination country.
Few landmarks were chosen as a must / nice to see. After agreeing with two other riders – Michael and Andrew, some common interest and travel style – the route was confirmed. We were mainly focusing on nature and mountain roads (especially the most famous ones: Transfogarasan and Transalpina,) but there was also a place for some historical landmarks – old towns and castles (Brasov, Cluj-Napoca).
The entire plan was for about 3200 km / 8 days. Sleeping: hotels and pensions. No reservations further than a couple of hours ahead were made. So – we pack pretty light (no tents or sleeping bags were needed). We avoid riding in the dark. That’s pretty much it.
Day 1 – Warsaw – Satu Mare 680 km
We launched at 8 am from Warsaw. The meeting point was in front of a Triumph dealership. The goal was to arrive in Satu Mare, Romania.
It was the first time we rode together. As dull as the first day was – we needed to learn and know each other habits on the road, The machines were as different from one another as possible. My muscle bike went with the legendary tourer BMW GS, and a more urban-oriented version of Ducati Scrambler.
We agreed on keeping the speed below 140 km/h in general. Every machine was capable of maintaining even higher values, but this was supposed to be fun. The navigation was set to the shortest route – on purpose; we resigned from highways as soon as it was possible and travelled from Warsaw close along Ukrainian frontier through Slovakia, Hungary to Romanian border.
The road went smoothly. The first day was the hardest on the distance value. Without any particular rush, stopping often, we needed about 12 hours to get to the border.
It quickly turned out that it won’t be the Scramblers fuel capacity that caused the extra stops (as it had the same range as my ZRX due to lower fuel appetite that compensated having only 13,5l tank) – it was Andrew’s bladder capacity;)
The day was scorching
(and it stayed this way for almost entirety of the trip) – so I was happy that I used the spare room in my luggage to pack a Held Tropic II jacket. Taking this extra piece of the motorcycle gear was the best decision I could have made with the additional space. At the second stop – I switched from the touring Modeka to this lightweight city clothing. It made the trip so much more bearable (as the travel speed was between 60-90 km/h – which was too slow to cool the rider on such a hot day). Even on a naked bike…
On the way, during the first dinner, we tried booking the place for the night… it turned out that there are hardly any places available in Satu Mare (probably as this is quite common “first-day” destination for the travellers from all over Europe), we needed to stretch 40 km further into Transilvania – to Baia Mare, where we booked 2 rooms in a hotel. Romania is in the European Union, so we can travel using just a personal ID, and no passports are required.
The border control is still mandatory, though.
The officers were very friendly: while the Romanian guy took the vehicle documents for checking, one of the Hungarian controllers needed to listen to the brilliant custom exhaust of Andrew’s Ducati.
It got dark shortly after we crossed the border. Here, a breath of modern motorcycle tech, which was Michael’s BMW LED headlight was very handy. We arrived at the hotel at 10 pm. At 11 pm we went to a gas station to buy a few local beers. The first day was over. 110% of the plan was completed.
Day 2 – Baia Mare – south of lake Bicaz
And it started. Romania – here we come! Quite rapidly … once we hit the tarmac outside the hotel, dressed full armour, as the parking lot was flooded with sun from the morning. I’ve never put the luggage on the bike so fast, to start moving.
Immediately after leaving Baia Mare we knew what was all the “go-to Romania on a motorcycle!” about. We started climbing, the first turns and serpentines appeared. So far it happened in a small village – so we couldn’t go fast. But the views were getting better, the traffic… hardly any. We didn’t take the main road. Probably it was a mistake, as we struggled a little through numerous villages and towns – 50 km/h is not enough in 35 degrees of temperature. Not all of them were interesting…
But on the other hand – it was Sunday. And instead of beautiful sceneries and forests, we’ve met the countryside. People were going to churches dressed for the occasion. Their clothes very old fashioned and traditional — most of the girls – from 10-90 year old were dressed the same. So cool that the fashion didn’t evolve with the regular speed there 😉 Miramare region is known for its culture, heritage and architecture. Beautiful wooden churches and impressive gates to enter the property. Some even taller than the house behind it.
Of course – it wasn’t all countryside and fields of barley. We went through a few quite impressive mountain (or hill) passes.
And it was fun!
Midday we ate some traditional food in a near the road restaurant and headed for the Bicaz lake. We arrived at the final road crossing, leading to Motel Cristina quite late. It turned out to be another spectacular spot, with a long bridge decorated with arches. We were tired by the hours spent on the motorbikes in high temperatures.
Turned out – that the road the navigation was leading us for – was closed due to construction work! The alternative to this last 30km was about a 100km on the tarmac or about 70km on gravel. Either way – we were talking about 1,5 hour of additional time to get to a destination. And we didn’t even have a booking made.
Fortunately, the local driver stopped near us and suggested that we ignored the “no entry” sign, as the road is a mess, but it’s passable for local traffic – all the way south – to the other side of the lake. Saved!
We arrived at the motel/camping site after about 40 minutes. We were all covered in dust from the construction patches, thirsty for a local beer. The reception lady was kind enough to change some Euro for local currency (Leu). We booked the cheapest available accommodation – tiny bungalows (called “Popas”, not even one electric socket was available there!). Put the stuff on the beds… And we went for supper.
Day 3 – Camping Cristina – Brasov
This was supposed to be a relaxing day. The distance to cover was only about 250 km. Considering how late we get up, and the average travelling speed we should get to Brasov for sightseeing the old town at about 3-4 pm.
After just taking 2 or 3 turns, and ignoring no-entry sign (the same reason – construction continued). We discovered that we were sleeping near quite a big dam – Bicaz-Stejaru Hydroelectric Power Station. It turns out that Romania is utilising the natural landscape, as in the following days – we will be passing many other concrete monsters like this one. Almost 30% of their electricity is generated this way. Not bad – considering that these were built in “different” times and reality, and are still running.
We stopped again after yet two more km, to do some money exchange. And we then pushed further.
The road was excellent
— the weather – again 30+ Celcius. After driving for about 30min to 1 hour, we started climbing… But this time, the walls surrounding us, were “rockier” than the day before. We weren’t expecting what we were about to see in a couple of minutes and turns. We entered the Cheile Bicazului – Gorge of river Bicaz. It was amazing and a little scary. For the positive side – there were about 20 degrees only – it was a moment of relief. The natural beauty, the river, the noise – were terrific. But… all was ruined by the traffic and tourists that wanted to stop somewhere, but everything was packed. On top of the crowd and cars everywhere – there were these tiny huts and souvenir shops, that how to put it: ruin the natural beauty of the place a little. But well… this is how they do it in Romania.
After leaving the rocky part, the road was exciting up to the town of Gheorgheni. From there, it was over an hour commute. The road was flat and quite dull. And it stayed like this to Brasov.
We booked an apartment shortly before coming to town. Quickly unpacked the bikes after arriving at the place… a quick shower and Uber to the city.
What can I say about Brasov? Well. It is quite an old European city. Meaning that… I felt like in any bigger and more historical city of Poland… that we have so many of. Don’t get me wrong. It is a cool place — full of life, restaurants; vintage “hand made stores”, live music… The old town is excellent. The surrounding terrain is beautiful. But… it’s nothing new. It’s not why you come to Romania.
Day 4 – Brasov – Transfogarasan
Today is the day. We visit the most iconic and well-known road in Romania. But the day shouldn’t be defined by this one place. We are in Brasov. Right outside the city, there is route 1A… Which already, after 15 minutes of driving, gave what we wanted. The curves, views. This was the Brasov I really liked.
There was some morning traffic, but it’s not a big problem when you ride a motorcycle. Quickly overtaken taxis and buses opened the beautiful road ahead. It was like this up to the Rasnov fortress. We passed the fort and headed for Bran Castle. We considered stopping there, to make a few photos near the most known castle in Romania. But considering the traffic in its surroundings… and a fact that it’s all fake (the connection with Vlad) we decided to take a quick photo from the road and push further.
And almost immediately after leaving the area, crawling with tourists… We took the road 73. And it was amazing — the second mountain pass of the day.
We turned to 73C and headed to Curtea de Argeş, where the south end of Transfogarasan road was located. We turned north. This was it. The road 7C. We made the last stop for fuel, on the last gas station before
the fun was about to begin.
It didn’t take long, the turns started. It wasn’t long until you do recognise the first landmark on the road. When the first turns appear (and traffic, unfortunately), You pass by the real castle of “the Dracula” – Cetatea Poenari. To get to it – You need to climb about 1500 steps. Considering the motorcycle gear, we were in and the temperature – without thinking much, we decided to ignore this castle too 🙂 And went for the Vidraru Dam. Took some pictures, and pushed on.
And it was fun! The road was pretty neglected and full of patches. But it didn’t matter. The turns were coming, the cars we passed by were disappearing in rearview mirrors. With every turn, I felt more confident about the Kawasaki I was on. And the traffic wasn’t that bad. We had so much fun. Some of the potholes were quite dangerous, and You need reflexes to avoid them while keeping the throttle open – but
we made it.
The first stop was shortly after we left the forest. The trees started disappearing – meaning that we were over 1600 meters over the sea level.
I do have an issue with Transalpina. As it truly is fantastic, this is for sure. But… once you hit the top part of the route – You hardly appreciate the road. You stop, take pictures, avoid the drivers that also stop. Plus – the tarmac there is awful… It’s somewhere in between of a good quality road, and bad road. It is half fixed – and for motorcycles – it’s worse than a bad road.
This fact settles for me that Transfogarasan wasn’t the best ride of the day. It definitely wasn’t the best route of the trip… This was about to come the next day. And it’s not what you would expect.
We did some last-minute shopping in the tourist stores near the northern route entry sign and headed for the night to Pensiunea Flora (a pension right after the last turn of the route).
Day 5 – Penisunea Flora (Transfogarasan) – Transalpina – Alba Julia
I chose the Pension Flora for the night on purpose. As I didn’t know if we wouldn’t want to ride the Transfogarasan second time. We unanimously decided – we didn’t. This was the day of Transalpina! But first, we needed to get there. We left late – as usual, around 10-11 am. Knowing that we lost a couple of hours from the morning, I set up a plan. We chose not to go with the E81 all the way to Râmnicu Vâlcea and turn to 67, where after an hour or so the 67C aka Transalpina begins.
The E81 was beautiful. I wasn’t expecting much of it as we just wanted to use this valley to get to Transalpina somehow, but it was astonishing. There were no climbs or drops or big turns, but it was a very picturesque ride! I definitely recommend this part of the journey along the Olt river. We decided to turn left in Golotreni.
The route we took, promised (according to google maps) to save us about 1 hour of riding – but still looked quite promising. Green road, with not many villages on the road, hills around. We decided to take the 7A through Voineasa and reach Transalpina somewhere in the middle of the distance. Then head south to see the town of Ranca and come back. And it was a great decision.
The road was way better quality than the day before. And what is most important – it was wild! There was hardly any traffic, even no bikers — just the road, forest, nature, some animals… and views.
This was the best ride of the whole trip!
After an hour of riding hard, we stopped in a neat little Bar – Terasa Vidruta, that served some fantastic home food. The ladies didn’t speak English or any other language we could use, but it didn’t matter. We ate one of the best sausages there. Plus – the owner didn’t allow us to leave anything on the plate. You cannot refuse the lady! Especially that You have no idea how 😉 We had no choice but to finish the meal…
Afterwards, we reached the Transalpina in about 20 minutes. Immediately after turning on the 67C, the traffic began.
Transalpina is amazing. Way better than the famous Transfogarasan. Sorry. I know that this is something controversial to say. But… I appreciate the road quality and the views more than “just the views” of the rocky mountains. They are amazing, and I believe most people like them over the landscape of the other famous route. But I can also appreciate the mountain tops covered in grass and the natural beauty of Transalpina the same (it’s incredible how far you can see from the pass and space around you), and the road was so much better!
After taking the round trip with Michal to Ranca – we headed for Sebes. Andrew decided not to go and spend some time in the flea market on the top of the route. He was afraid that his range wouldn’t’ be enough with the fuel he had left in the Scrambler.
We headed for Sebes to look for a place for the night. It turned out that there is hardly anywhere to sleep there. The offers we found were not reasonable. We decided to head for a town called Alba Julia 20 km north, that turned out to be rich in accommodation offers.
On the way there – we noticed that
the exhaust of Kawasaki became wobbly.
Turned out that the screws holding the passenger right set, which also supports the muffler, decided to leave the OSS ZRX. I needed to fix this, as probably the damage would have been worse if it stayed this way for long. I took the two screws from the left side, put the remaining footpeg to the storage under the seat, used the screws on the right side. Then some power tape to make sure that if they unscrew – I won’t lose them. Job is done! The fix took 10 minutes, and we were back on the road.
We arrived in Apulum Gardens pension, where a super polite couple was already waiting for us. On the way, we started to anticipate that there was something more to the city we arrived in as we passed by some vast fortifications 2 km before the pension.
We’ve done some homework reading about the place during supper. It turned out that this is a location with quite a historical significance!
Day 6 – Alba Julia, Sighisoara, Cluj Napoca
This day was about culture and history. There were no iconic roads planned. We were casual tourists today. Fortunately – we were not casually stuck in traffic in cars.
The first point of the day – the Alba Julia fortress.
In general Alba Julia was founded by Romans who built a fort there, which later evolved into a settlement. Through the centuries – medieval times, XVII, XVIII century – the fortress grew and was modernised. So there you have it. In the middle of Romania, a town which hardly anyone heard of. That sits on the layers of two-thousand-year-old history. You have the town people bronze figures. Christian church or Roman forum buildings were standing near each other — archaeological sites of the oldest parts.
Pretty impressive. Many eras are overlapping there.
More recognised name. A small gem in the Romanian landscape. A Unesco recognised the old town of the city is remarkable. It’s a little neglected, but I think it will get better in a few years.
We took a long way round to get there, rather than going straight to Cluj Napoca. But it was worth seeing. This was actually the first place where we were flooded with Dracula folklore. It was almost too abundant there. Probably the reason for it was that we were actually in the heart of Transilvania.
This was the destination for the night. And honestly – this place surprised me a lot. As I wasn’t expecting much. The travel guides were also pretty non-enthusiastic for it. There are some landmarks to see, but nothing that would blow You out from Your shoes. And it is true.
But we had so much fun in the old part of the city! The pubs, the illumination… and the nightlife. It was so full of people!
Day 7 – Cluj Napoca – Kosice
This was a somewhat nostalgic and sentimental day. We knew that Kosice is worth seeing. This was also a reasonable middle stop on the way back home. But… we knew that the trip was ending. That we will need to cover the distance, rather than to enjoy the ride. The roads were quite dull. We spent about 20 minutes crossing the border.
We stopped to eat something on the way in Hungary. But didn’t hit the sweet spot regarding the quality of the kitchen. Arrived at Kosice just as it was getting dark. As we couldn’t find a good place to stay for the night in the old town vicinity – we left the city and found a motel near the highway. After short discussion – decided not to go back for a city tour, but rest 🙂
We went there for a coffee in the morning the next day. Then we went for petrol. While Andrew decided to go for the Polish mountains for one more day – Michael and I headed back to Warsaw. That was it…
Time to plan the next year’s trip?
Do’s and don’ts of Romania
- Go there. By all means – it’s motorcycle heaven,
- Just pick a road that has many turns on it. It’s a very mountainous country – motorcycle roads are everywhere!
- Assume about 300 km per day – the roads are mainly local and with speed limits that don’t allow you to reach “regular” average speeds that You expect from western Europe.
- Be conscious on the road. As cliche as it sounds – Romanian drivers tend to stop in the middle of the road and do nothing or chat. The side of the road is also often dusty, which means that the wind and rain cause the dust to get to the tarmac
- Ignore the Bran Castle 🙂 It’s crowded like hell, and… there is hardly any connection to the real story of the Dracula. It’s just hype for attracting tourists!
While Michael and I – had some excellent travel gear (clothing and equipment)… “Iron Bottom” Andrew is quite crazy – he went there on the wrong bike (with a tiny seat and low handlebars). I still can’t comprehend how did he manage to do the 5-10 hour ride a day – rode all 3000km in a Crave kevlar shirt and motorcycle jeans. In an open helmet with goggles! It only proves the point – that to travel is a mindset and who you experience the trip with… It’s not about motorcycle gear and wind protection!
It’s September now… Winter is coming. The motorcycle will be sitting in a garage. And I’m still getting dreams about travelling on Kawasaki, taking turn after turn, then stopping to admire.
Romania – what a great country it is. See You Soon!
PS. ZRX1200 was excellent – loved it for years. Bonded with it even stronger with every kilometre of the beating it took in Romania, but it had to go… unfortunately. I plan to put more miles on the road in the coming season – meaning that I need something safer (ABS and other stuff…) Something new, exotic and more touring capable is coming for sure!