We’ve been on something of a Romanian odyssey this past week. From one end of the country to another we’ve driven from Bucharest to Petresti and back, with stops at Cluj, Campia Turzii, Alba Iulia, Sibiu and Curtea de Arges along the way.
What have we learnt? Nothing new, merely confirmation that driving long distances in Romania is awful. We did our 1200 km round-trip at an average speed of just 51 kph. Faster than Romanian railways, but not by much. There are few motorways (and one of the short stretches of motorway there is currently goes unused, as it was poorly built and is unsafe for traffic), few dual-carriageways and far too many lorries transporting freight which should be going by train. (Or would, if the rail infrastructure wasn’t equally screwed).
And yet for most foreigners any mention of driving in Romania immediately conjures up picture-postcard images of its many glorious mountain roads, not the least of which is the Transfagarasan.
Ever since its appearance on Top Gear in 2009 the Transfagarasan has become one of the country’s most popular visitor distractions. Slovaks and Poles are particularly drawn to it. (For anyone interested, the day job Bucharest In Your Pocket has the only definitive guide to the road, right here).
Given that the Transfagarasan is in the middle of the country, by the time most visitors get to it the grim reality of what driving in Romania actually entails has long hit them hard in the face: endless hours on single-carriageway roads spent staring at the arse end of an articulated lorry whose dickhead of a driver insists on occupying as much of the road as possible. Or coming to a complete stop because a lorry has crashed into a house in Miercurea Sibiului. (See the photo above: we saw this up close, and it was grim).
Even then, when the Transfagarasan does rear into view, it is not all sunshine and flowers. If you’ve been daft enough to arrive at the weekend you can expect to spend hours in barely crawling traffic, as half of Romania turns up. It is worth noting that during the filming of the classic images of the Transfagarasan which made it so famous the Top Gear team had the road to themselves: it was closed to the public.
We keep reading about how Romania needs to make a grand, national statement before December 1st, 2018: the 100th anniversary of the unification of Transylvania with the principilaties of Wallachia and Moldavia. It is an argument which is often put forward as an excuse to justify state-funding of the Romanian Orthodox Church’s huge vanity project, the Catedrala Neamului.*
We can’t help thinking that a far better and more fitting way to celebrate would simply be to construct a decent motorway linking Transylvania with the rest of Romania.
*We note with alarm that the Romanian Orthodox Church was today handed 15 million lei by Bucharest’s increasingly populist mayor Gabriela Firea and a subservient city council dominated by the PSD. Because hospitals and schools have all the money the need of course. The USB’s votes against were not, this time, enough to prevent the funding of this highly immoral, megalomaniac project.