Wheeling Through Eastern Europe: Tips on Surviving a Bumpy Road Trip
Since seeing the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania on BBC’s ‘Top Gear’, it’s always been a road that I’ve wanted to drive. Rather fortuitously, my girlfriend at the time was from Romania, so it just made sense to take a trip out there and see what it was all about.
We decided to take in a few sights along the way, you know, get some ‘culture’ in the form of museums, monasteries and touristy hotspots – a castle or two, some beach bars … I was amazed at just how much there was to see – I expected everything to be a little more … third world if I’m honest.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places in Romania that make you feel you’ve gone back three or four decades in time – Eforie Nord was a jumble of tourist nirvana and communist state buildings; you could easily imagine roadblocks and armed guards blocking thed path to somewhere more exciting.
Obviously my girlfriend was completely used to it, having grown up in Constanta – a little local knowledge (and language) goes a long way!
Like the Nurburgring in Germany, the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania is now on the ‘must visit’ list of all Gearheads, in fact it’s now one of Romania’s biggest tourist attractions. At nearly 100 miles in length, the Transfagarasan winds its way up the Fagaras mountains with off-camber hairpin turns, long S curves and downhill sections that have you holding your breath and covering your brakes ‘just in case’, or it certainly did for me.
I found that the tourist areas of Romania were extremely seasonal – the beaches can rival anything you’ll find in mainland Europe or over here, including stunning weather, but were virtually empty most of the year – only really getting busy between July & August.
The highway is the same, although mainly due to extreme weather conditions surrounding its locale. We went mid-July, when we could virtually guarantee the weather and road conditions, but even though the conditions were good, some of the slower drivers you’ll encounter can mean that the average speed is just 25 mph.
Bucharest and Back
Forget what you’ve seen on the television – it isn’t all horse & cart transport in Romania, especially in the capital of Bucharest; imagine a slightly less glamorous Monaco and you’re about there.
One of the biggest surprises was the price of fuel – the average take-home wage in Romania is around $470 per month, yet fuel prices equalled all but the most expensive European countries. In a way, that’s good news – driving in Romania is almost a privilege, maybe a luxury, so at least you aren’t battling with everyone that has a few spare RON. Also, people tend to use their cars for transport, meaning that a 100 mile trip ‘just for fun’ doesn’t happen as much as you’ll find here or in Western Europe.
Thanks to the low-cost of living, accommodation is cheap and in plentiful supply – you’ll easily find a place to stay for a night, week or even a month for less than you’d expect, and Bucharest is a great base to explore the rest of Romania.
We started our epic road journey in the United Kingdom – it was the easiest place for us for a number of reasons, and we took a UK registered car (much to the disagreement of my girlfriend). I was mostly used to driving in the UK cities, but my road companion turned out to be a burden in Eastern Europe.
You see, she was adamant that if we took a UK registered car (or any other Western European vehicle come to that), some of the less scrupulous police officers see a UK plate as a mobile cash cow, just waiting to be milked for whatever they think they can get away with.
For me, the best advice I can give is to make sure you adhere to all local laws and legislation, that your car is fit for the journey, and that you aim to keep within speed limits wherever possible. Having said that, avoiding some of the local traffic & drivers will help to keep you safe also.
I ‘heart’ Romania
Depending on the time of year that you go, Romania can offer you a whole world of experiences – we travelled direct from Bucharest (avoid the public building restrooms!) right through to Constanta, stopping in a few places to take in some locally grown produce – the watermelons were divine.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different, you could always take a day trip to Dracula’s castle – Poenari Castle was home to Vlad the Impaler, also known as Vlad the Drac – the inspiration for Bram Stokers ‘Dracula’.
From story books to fact, visiting Transylvania brings everything home – it’s very easy to imagine a horse-drawn carriage rushing down a dirt track, followed by all manner of unmentionables.
Preparing Your Car
So you’ve decided that you want a road trip through Eastern Europe and you’ve done the necessary paperwork and financials, but what about the car?
Ensuring your car is capable of doing a road trip across Europe is an essential part of planning your journey – you wouldn’t leave home half-packed or without your paperwork. Even basics such as checking the tyre pressures or ensuring you’ve got the right seasonal tyres fitted is a crucial part of that preparation. For some, a trip like this would necessitate lots of spares, breakdown assistance, European recovery, back-up arrangements … while others will simply kick their tires, check the oil and get on with it – only you can answer how confident you feel with that.
Rest assured, no matter your precise means of transportation, a visit to Romania and an adventure driving the Transfagarasan Highway is one you’ll remember for years to come.
About The Author: Giles Kirkland is a car mechanic at Oponeo with a great passion for anything automotive. When he’s not busy tinkering with cars, he likes to hit the road on his old Yamaha and explore the countryside. Also, he is keen on blogging and sharing ideas with auto and motorcycle enthusiasts across the globe.