Vistas from the Southern Carpathians, courtesy of the Transfagarasan

Somewhere near the Four Springs there’s a dirt road that branches off the Transfagarasan and goes off into the mountains. It’s used mainly by trekkers and shepherds with their flocks. Not many dare drive on it, because large boulders pop up here and there from the uneven ground, making it easy for the unexperienced driver to break their oil pan, bend their steering or wreck their suspension.

Those are the kind of roads that attract me. It’s exciting to pull off the asphalt and tackle the unknown, relying on my senses and experience to straddle the boulders, humps and holes carefully, pulling my 2WD passenger car through without a scratch, proving to myself, time and time again, that I can do it without a 4WD. Sure, I’ve cracked the oil pan a couple of times in the past, but I learned from my mistakes and got better at it. Now I can safely maneuver our car on roads where even 4WD cars fear to tread. And that’s what makes it possible for us to see places most people don’t see and take photographs that most people can’t take, not without some serious hiking.

This particular dirt road led off into an old glacier valley, where it split in half. Left meant climbing higher into the valley and right meant climbing into the peaks. We chose to go higher into the peaks, up to a point where we found a small waterfall that made its way down the cliff cheerfully. The view was glorious, so we climbed up the slope halfway, perched ourselves on a rock and took in the grandeur of nature for a while.

I included more photographs in the gallery below. Enjoy and remember to take some risks every once in a while. There are no guarantees but the taste of success is sweet!

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Poenari Castle

Poenari Castle

Poenari Castle is a medieval stronghold used by Wallachian rulers over the centuries of the Middle Ages. It’s perched on top of a cliff just off the Transfagarasan Road and the only way to access it is to climb 1,480 steps. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the top and a little less to get down, though I have to say it is a serious physical effort and particularly taxing on the knees as you climb back down. Keep that in mind if you plan to visit it.

The castle is supposed to have been built in the 13th century, used for a while, abandoned, then restored during the rule of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), in the 15th century. Stories are told of it being Dracula’s main castle but they have no historical basis. Having visited it, I can tell you it is a small castle with little space for a ruler and his courtly entourage. It is more of a stronghold than a castle and the inherent difficulty in accessing it makes it ideal for defensive purposes but hardly suitable for living quarters (food and water would have to make quite the long trip up the mountain) on narrow paths or stairs, as there is no road.

It is quite possible that Vlad the Impaler used it as a stronghold when attacked by the Turks sometime during his rule. As legend would have it, the Turks managed to drive him out after dragging cannons up the adjacent cliffs and shooting the walls full of holes. He escaped, supposedly, with the aid of three brothers, who mounted horseshoes backward on the hoofs of their mules and thus fooled the Ottoman soldiers as they got away.

Poenari Castle offers impressive views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and it is worth the trek, if you’re in good physical shape.

I would have liked to see it restored to its former glory — perhaps at some point in the future that will happen. This is an artist’s rendering of what it might have looked like. Impressive, isn’t it?

Poenari Castle sketch-frontgate

Boat ride on Lake Vidraru

Remember my time-lapse video of the boat ride on Lake Vidraru? Well, this is the behind-the-scenes, the B-roll if you will, of that time spent on the boat. The name of the boat is the Mirena and at its helm stands Captain Gigi.

We had a blast and we’d gladly do it again. I hope the video shows the beauty of the nature we saw and the wonderful time we had. Enjoy!

The Four Springs

Somewhere along the Transfagarasan Road in the Southern Carpathian Mountains is a wonderful place I call the “Four Springs” (La Patru Izvoare). A crystal-clear pond near a bend in the road is the home of four mountain springs whose water has an amazingly fresh taste. After filling up the pond, their collected volume pours into a larger brook that flows down to Lake Vidraru.

I hope you enjoy this short video clip I filmed there!

Slopes and peaks from the Southern Carpathian Mountains

There’s a majestic beauty in these mountains that’s much more appreciated if you walk on them, rather than drive through on the Transfagarasan or the Transalpina. Their scale is easily underestimated from the car, until you step outside and size yourself next to a peak that seemed small just a minute ago, or you start climbing it and quickly run out of breath. Physical fitness aside, the overwhelming feeling when you’ve immersed yourself in their environment is one of awe and respect.

Time-lapse videos from Lake Vidraru

We recently visited Lake Vidraru, located in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, alongside the famed Transfagarasan Road. We hiked, drove off-road, went boating, visited nearby landmarks, so look for more photos in future posts, but in this post, I want to show you two time-lapse videos that I made using photographs taken during the trip. These are my first time-lapse videos, so it is a special occasion for me. I hope you enjoy them!

The first is a record of our boating trip on Lake Vidraru. It’s made up of 628 individual photographs, which I obtained by setting up my camera and tripod up on the bow of the boat, securing it to the mast with a rope and setting my remote to take photos every 10 seconds. It was a bit tricky to get the photos because the boat’s engine made the tripod vibrate quite a lot, plus I didn’t have a straight horizon line, because of the boat’s yawing. It required a bit of post-processing work but I think it came out alright.

The soundtrack is “Sonata No. 5 in E minor – IV Allegro” by Vivaldi, interpreted by Keith Lewis on the cello and Carol Holt on the harpsichord. It is public domain, available from MusOpen.

The second video came out much better, mainly because I had a steady surface on which my tripod could sit (that’s really key in time-lapse photography). It shows landscapes of Lake Vidraru, recorded over the course of three days from the vantage point of the Valea cu Pesti Hotel, which overlooks it. It’s made up of 1,920 individual photographs, taken at 5, 10, 20 and 30 second intervals.

The soundtrack is “Piano Concerto No. 3, Op 37, 1st Mvt” by Beethoven, interpreted by the Davis High School Symphony Orchestra. It is also public domain, available from MusOpen.

Transfagarasan Panorama

An afternoon on the Transfagarasan Road

This weekend, we spent an afternoon on the Transfăgărășan Road, in the Făgăraș Mountains of Romania. (Trans-faragarasan → “Trans” = across and “Fagarasan” = the specific mountains which it crosses.) I enjoyed driving its challenging curves (Ligia not so much) and later we both enjoyed walking and meditating in the mountains. I also took photos (naturally) and I hope you’ll enjoy them.

This is how the mountains look as you approach them from E68, after you pass through a village called Cartisoara.

As we started to climb, these are the sorts of views we started to get. Hold on, the best stuff is yet to come.

At the top, it was fairly crowded. I tried to avoid the crowds as I took my photos. Some people were hiking, others were stuffing their faces. Not sure what it is about the top of a mountain that makes people so hungry. It’s not as if they climbed it — they drove it. There were loads of cars in the parking lot.

This is what the slopes to the top peaks looked like. Although it’s summer, we were fairly high up (above 2,000 meters in altitude) so the weather was foggy and fairly cold (10-15 degrees Celsius).

Since it was too crowded and noisy at the top, and the smell of cooking pervaded the air, Ligia and I decided to drive on past the main peaks and we stopped further down the road, where it was nice and quiet. That’s Ligia hiking toward me.

The views only got better as we went higher up. The black dot in the center of the photo is Ligia.

I’ll let this three-photo panorama show you what I mean. I left the white space unmasked on purpose, to show you everything the camera captured.

Here’s a close-up of the left side of that pano, showing the twists and turns of this picturesque mountain road.

We stopped to meditate and enjoy the tremendous beauty before us where the rock face turned sharply upward and climbing by foot became dangerous (we had no climbing gear with us). As we sat there, fog from the valley rose up alongside the cliff, joining with the clouds.

We climbed down refreshed and clear-headed, and as evening drew near, we wound our way down toward Sibiu and home, but not before taking another panorama of the Transfagarasan.

Here’s another photograph that shows the spread of the road in the valley below.

As usual, if you’ll go through gallery below, you’ll find photos that I haven’t shown here. Enjoy!