27 April 2010

Land of the Bârsa River (part 1)

I have been thinking for some time to take a tour (or many consecutive ones) through the little saxon towns of Transylvania, which all hide beautiful medieval fortified churches, a glimpse of history, beautiful landscapes and quietude.

And because the first step had to be done, I did it on Sunday, April 18th, heading to Bârsa Land, a region located around the city of Brasov. A sunny spring day had been announced by the weather forecasts.

It is now 7 am, the bike awaits for me in the courtyard. At 7.30 I am already in the bike-car of the train that will carry me to Brasov (A 1745, 7.30 from Bucharest North Station)

The bike-car is packed with cyclists (most of them MTBers).

Prahova valley, along which the train carries us:

The people get down în Ploieşti, Buşteni, Predeal - heading to their various chosen mountain trails. The situation is more relaxed now ;)

Predeal :

Only me and a boy with a Fuji race bike get down in Brasov. I am heading to Poiana Brasov mountain resort first, as I want to begin with this 12 km steep climb, where many road cyclists in Romania train themselves.

This is my first climb for this year and I must say I wasn't very ready for it, physically speaking. This is it now, pedalling forward on 30/26. The first stop, the first Bellevue point over Braşovul. The Central Old City Hall Square can be seen and, here in front of my eyes, the Citadelle Tower.

The second bellevue point comes much higher, on the neutral region between the 2 climbings.

I am now at the crossing with the road to Rasnov. Turning right and the descent has begun ! It's the first one, the shortest. The road doesn't want me to relax too early, so there are still 2-3 climbing road sinuosities. 3 bad dogs urge me to go faster uphill. I escape their pursuit and take a lunch break on the green grass. I really feel I deserve this break :).

After the break I climb this remaining hill and begin the final and longest descent. It is breathtaking. I realise for the first time the big difference between the race and MTB caliper brakes. In many road curves, there is sand and debris. It eventually ends and I find myself in Râşnov. Rosenau in german, the city is documented for the first time in 1331.

A look back to the descent…

It's a quiet Sunday, just a few people in the centre of the city.

I am asking around about the Peasants' Citadelle , but they tell me it's closed for visiting on Sunday. Loooking for my way to road DN 73 to Cristian (the neighbouring town), I look back and see the fortress as it guards the city from high above. It is documented for the first time in 1335. It has been built as a shelter for the local population, following the tartar and turk invasion in the region .

Let's go farther. I'm crossing the railway linking Brasov to Zarnesti and get to Cristian (Neustadt, in german). I am asking about the fortified church, but no one seems to remember. “It's one somewhere here…”
I eventually observe its tower. it's towards Vulcan (another of my objectives, which is very convenient).

From DN 73 national road there commences the county road DJ 112 B to Vulcan. The road is very good (as well as all roads in the area). A fairly difficult route begins here, as the wing blows persistently from the West (meaning from ahead). I am barely crawling along these 7 km. I realise now how much can the frontal wind discourage the cyclist when the trip is long...

I stop for a moment, to foresee my objectives :

Vulcan, to my left :

Codlea, to my right, under the Codlea Hill, like an umbrella :

I arrive in Vulcan. The romanian name is phonetical interpretation of the german one – Wolkendorf (“cloudy village”). The saxon houses surround me silently - nice looking houses, coloured in green, pink, light blue and orange. The fortified church, erected XIII th century, is closed and less accessible to the camera. The clock is ticking the right time.

Before leaving, I take a last look along the Vulcăniţa rivulet, which recrosses the village :

Towards South (Zărneşti) :

Towards North (Codlea) :

I'm riding again my bike, this time towards Codlea. 7 flying km :). Cristian, Vulcan, Codlea and Ghimbav (to be reached later) are disposed in the corners of a 7 km-sided square, as the map describes :

http://www.bikemap.net/route/198636#lt=45.67932&ln=25.43678&z=11&t=1]Route: Brasov - Poiana - Tara Barsei - Brasov | Bikemap.net

The wind may help now, but a slight altitude difference has seems to be my second engine here (600 m altitude in Vulcan, 560 m in Codlea). That is why I reach the latter quite quickly.

I'm looking for the old city centre, with the fortified citadelle and church. I'm asking a mother with her daughter, but only the little girl knows to provide guidance.

I'm there now, I descend from the saddle and take a tour by feet. I'm also taking pictures of the central promenade place of the inhabitants of this city.

Back on the street, I take a look uphill and notice that people have climbed the Hill to enjoy the spring sunbeams...

I'm on to Ghimbav. I must not forget that I need to catch the 17.44 train (A 1622) back to Bucharest.
National road DN 1 (E68) leads me to Ghimbav; few cars at this hour. Even so, they are speeding pass me and I receive some warning horns. Biking on european roads in Romania may not be the best choice, but this is just a short ride. The wind is blowing from all directions alternatively.

I stop on the right hand side to capture the river from which this region gets the name : Bârsa. It's a slavic origin word and it means fast. Although, it slowly flows under the road and the railway to Braşov.

It's fairly hard to avoid the aerial wires in all pictures...

I can see Ghimbav already, under the Postăvaru mountain umbrella. The city, situated along Ghimbăşel rivulet banks, got its name from the willows which accompanied this water course – Weidenbach (german).

2 main streets - Long and New – Link the main road to the center, where I would like to arrive.
I ride along the same nice colourful saxon peasant homes.

City Coat-of-Arms, painted on such a house:

The fortified churc is behind the School.

I take its tour (including the Storks' Tower, where these birds have nested) :

As a general rule – these churches have been built around XIII th century and received fortification in XIV th century, due to the successive foreign invasions (tartars beginning with 1241, the turks around 1420)

Some people are having a quiet Sunday in the little park in front of the church.

I am returning to the DN 1 road along the Long street :). It seems that long and parallel streets are common to these little medieval towns.

From now, back to Braşov. I am entering the city through the Bartholomew neighbourhood, where I find the oldest medieval monument in Brasov, however unsignalized to the tourists.

It's watch is also functional and lets me know I'm right on time.

The churc has a beautiful parish house, responding to the Long street.

As a conclusion, I invite you in Romania. You really have what to see, but you got to look for the hidden beauties, not only for the commercial objectives.

P.S. This has been a description of the south-western part of this region. My next tour will cover the north-eastern area. The story will be also here !