To the top of the world(in Romania)............Highway 7C,The Transfagarasan

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June 17th 2013
Published: June 23rd 2013
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It was by accident when surfing the internet that we discovered the road we are planning to take today and we are filled with apprehension of driving it after the fog of Montenegro and the highway from hell at Kotor.However,this the BBA V2 with the accent on 'adventure' and if the guys from 'Top Gear'can drive it then so can we!!

We had a filling breakfast before starting out on the road as we are heading into an area where we don't think there will be much of an opportunity to buy lunch on the road so we had better be prepared that it may be dinner time before we get a good feed again.

The day dawned with an absolute clear blue sky and we couldn't have got a better day for what should be a challenging drive and we shouldn't have any problems with fog.

The road out of Bran climbed gradually through several hairpins as we ascended the Bran Pass and from the top we had great views of the valley below that we had just left and across to the mountains which we will driving across.On the tops there was still a small amount of snow but we shouldn't encounter any as the road opened earlier than usual this year which means the snow that covers the road for 8 months of the year has been cleared.

On the way down the other side of the pass we pulled in to take the views of a village at the bottom of the hill and came across three dogs in the car park.With the sun already warming the day up one of the dogs moved into the shadow of the parked car and lay next to the rear wheel.Now ewe weren't sure how we were going to move it when it came time to continue our journey.However it wasn't a problem as these dogs were clearly used to close human contact and actually looked reasonably well fed.

The road was very scenic until we got to Campulung when the usual dowdy apartment buildings spoilt what could have been a nice looking town with some historical buildings and a pleasant well treed square in the middle of the town.It was about here we started to notice a phenomena that is prevalent in Romania and that is locals hitch hiking between towns.People,young and old,women and men standing on the side of the road with their thumbs out looking for a lift which apparently they pay a small sum for,should you stop,which we of course didn't as we had no room in the back anyway!

The R73 then became the R73C and we headed in a westerly direction before shifting onto the R7C,the Transfagarasan.Once we were on this road there were no other options to get to our destination other than turning around completely and going back and taking another road which would take several hours more.

At the start we wondered whether we doing the right thing as the road surface looked like it had been laid in large squares and these had moved apart making our travel across it sound like we were a train on rails rather than a car with rubber wheels.We went up and over several small hills with villages in each of the valleys before we went back and up over another small hill,rising all the time in altitude.There must have been 5 or 6 of these hill/valley towns before we entered into a bushy gorge and the road started to climb even more with twists and turns of what was to come.

We had left the local traffic behind and the cars we were now seeing,which were few in number,would have come over the pass or perhaps had just gone up to Lake Vidraru where we took a stop to take a look at the very high dam that was holding back the water of the lake.We had passed the power station at the last village before we entered the gorge ,that has water tunnelled down to it to power the generators.

The dam was built in 1966,before the mountain road was constructed,and is a mind blowing 166 metres high.You had better not suffer from vertigo when you take a look over the side.Gretchen didn't,saying she would look at the video later to see what I had seen.What was rather disappointing in this pristine area of trees was the amount of plastic rubbish caught up against the dam but that is Romania.

The road then follows the edge of the lake for about 20 kms and then immediately starts to climb again out of the bush with the mountain's now right in front of us leaving us guessing just how a road could make such a sharp climb.

A little about the history of the road which was the idea of Mr C who after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Russians wanted to ensure a quick access across the mountains from Bucharest if Romania was ever invaded in the same way.Why he ever thought he could get tanks and troops over this road in a hurry is a bit puzzling and we thought that there must be an easier route either to the east or west.Of course we now know that Mr C was a bit strange and had some weird ideas during the time he governed the country.

The road took four years to construct by the military and the official line was that 40 soldiers last their lives in the building of the road.The highest point on the road is at 2034 metres above sea level which it reaches through many hairpin curves and long s bends.

We had only left the treeline for a short distance and we came across a' NZ traffic jam',a herd of sheep on the road.As usual the dogs were doing a better job at keeping the sheep in line than the shepherds were doing.

We took a number of stops on the way up to admire the views and take in just where we had been trying to follow the road's twists and turns and then looking up to where we still had to go.At times the road ahead was immediately above us but to get to that point would take a couple of hairpins and curves in the road tucked away out of sight.

As we neared the top there was some snow on the side of the road that was yet to melt even though the temperature at this altitude was a warm 28C.Clearly the mass of the snow was keeping it together,for now.

We had noticed a little further down,at our last stop,that after the road passed under a couple of gallery's to stop rocks falling on cars,it seemed to just come to an end.However,all was revealed as we passed under the last of the gallery's as a portal for a tunnel became evident.

There was no lighting inside the tunnel and it took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust from the bright sunlight and thankfully there was no opposing traffic while we were adjusting our vision and driving within the tunnel which was not concrete lined.

We emerged on the northern side after about 1km in the tunnel to a much snowier environment than the other side where we entered although the road was clear of any of the white stuff.We stopped and took in the surroundings and got the impression that this side of the top of the pass was very much like being on the southern side of the Homer Tunnel in Fiordland with a curved outline of bare rock for 180 degrees around us.

There were a number of little businesses being run from small shed like buildings that lined the road and a couple of caravans selling mainly food and drink and also local souvenirs.The temperature had dropped by 5C from the other side of the tunnel showing just how much cooler the air was between the south and the north.

From a pull off just below the summit we checked out the road ahead down the mountainside and it had even more twists and turns than what we had encountered up the other side.It was interesting to follow a vehicle coming up the road trying to pick when it would re-emerge after going out of sight as it took in a hairpin or S bend.On this side there was also the pylons for a cableway although it didn't seem to be in operation and might just be for the ski season to bring skiers up to the various runs on the mountain.

We carried on way down at a cautious speed realising that we hadn't actually got much above 40kph since we started the real uphill part on the other side and with all the turns there was no way you could do any more on the way down.We are sure the Top Gear drivers would have sped along but they would also have had the road closed for them.

As we reached the bottom and started on the flat towards our overnight stop of Sibiu we reflected on what had been a most enjoyable and spectacular drive and one that in the end we need not have had any apprehension over.

It was a sweltering hot 35C when we arrived in Sibiu around 4.30pm and we were pleased to find our accommodation ina very quiet setting and location before heading off to the supermarket to buy up cold beer and our dinner to cook as we have the use of a very large and well equipped kitchen at the Pension we are staying at.

We have a quiet day of looking at the sights of the city tomorrow and hope that some of the heat goes out of the weather patern to make it a bit more comfortable walking.

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