Photos from the Bucegi Mountains

We passed through the Bucegi Mountains recently (they’re part of the Carpathians). Some of the photos you’ll see below are taken in Bușteni and the others were taken somewhere between Predeal and Râșnov. Enjoy!

A timelapse of the Bucegi Mountains

This is a timelapse video shot in the Bucegi mountains in Romania in spring (14-15 march 2017), more specifically in Fundățica village, Brașov county. The Bucegi mountains are part of the Carpathian Mountains and yes, they are near Bran Castle, which we all know from Bram Stoker’s novel, blah-blah-blah, vampires, blah-blah, winter snowstorm, nightfall, blah-blah, blood-sucking and all that jazz, yes, this text is intentional, hope you find it as funny as I do.

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!

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.

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!

Lacul Oasa and Transalpina

The second leg of our trip through the Southern Carpathian Mountains, whose first leg took us through Obarsia Lotrului and Lacul Vidra, now took us by Lacul Oasa and the Northern portion of the Transalpina, a high-altitude road which offers unsurpassed vistas and which I documented through photos in late fall of last year.

This picturesque, unpaved portion of the Transalpina Road is also quite dangerous. The rocky cliffs you see hanging above it are eager to hurl rocks at passersby. It’s a situation made worse by man’s presence there. They blasted through the rock to make the road (a necessary evil) but they also set up a temporary concrete factory there and chewed through yet more rock to make the stuff. Until vegetation grows back on that slope to hold together the rocks, or measures are taken to reduce the rock falls, it’s a dangerous section of the road. Rocks were falling right by us as we drove through.

Be sure to view the full gallery posted below for more photos.

Lacul Vidra and Obarsia Lotrului

We drove into Lacul Vidra and Obarsia Lotrului this past weekend. The approximate location we visited is this one.

It’s a wonderful drive that offers gorgeous vistas (as most roads in Romania do), and because it’s not summer yet, the roads are relatively empty, meaning we were able to take our time and stop wherever we liked to take photos.

I’m going to publish the first group of photos today and the rest tomorrow, because there are quite a few of them and I’d rather not overwhelm you.

On the way, we found a grotto formed of ice and snow at the foot of a forest, right over the bed of a brook. The snow had been insulated by a thick leaf cover, and that’s why it had kept so far, but in 75-degree (Fahrenheit) late spring weather, I doubt it will keep for much longer. It was a remarkable sight for the middle of May, particularly since we weren’t at a high altitude (about 400-500 meters).

I recorded a short video of it as well.

We found a beautiful meadow on the top of a mountain, where we relaxed and breathed in the fresh air.

In case you’re wondering what I look like these days, here’s a portrait of me taken by Ligia.

Make sure to go through the full gallery posted below for more photos.

The winter road trip

After a cross-country trip through Romania to visit family for Christmas, our car’s on-board computer told us we logged 1,560 km (969.34 mi). I was already a big fan of our VW Jetta TDI, but now I like it even more. Our average fuel consumption was 6.1 l/100 km (38.6 mpg) while our average speed was 63 km/h, though we traveled around 90-100 km/h (62 mph) when the roads allowed it. Our total fuel cost was roughly 300 RON (about $100). Total driving time over a period of a week or so was 24 hours and 54 minutes. Although there were two trips whose time was around 9 hours and 30 minutes, somehow small trips here and there added an extra 6 hours to our driving time.

We left as a recent snowfall was melting and the weather had turned dreary, and we came back through fresh snow and clear, sunny skies. As we crossed the Carpathian mountains, we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. Trees and mountain slopes as far as the eye could see were decked in pure white snow, lit up by the most gorgeous morning hues of orange and purple light. I took photos, and also recorded a driving video. I hope you’ll enjoy them, they’re posted below.

If you plan to travel on A2 (Autostrada Soarelui), the Romanian highway between Bucharest and Constanta (which is still unfinished and only goes to Cernavoda,) be aware of two things. First, they’ve started charging 10 RON for the use of the highway, so it’s become a sort of a turnpike, although it’s the only highway in the region, so that’s not right, and two, it’s full of potholes. During our drive from Cernavoda to Bucharest, during the night, we not only had to deal with black ice, but with over 40 potholes, each over 20 cm in diameter and 5-10 cm deep. If we had been traveling at the posted speed limit of 130 km/h (81 mph), our suspension would have blown up long before we reached Bucharest. Instead, we drover 80-100 km/h, weaving in-between potholes while trying to guess which portions of the road had black ice. And yet the people who administer the road have the gall to charge money and ruin our car at the same time.

Still, we weren’t going to let a thing like that spoil our trip. The weather was truly beautiful on our return, and the snow made everything look gorgeous, particularly once we approached the Carpathian Mountains. We got close to them at daybreak, and by the time we were crossing them, the golden-pink hues of the dawn light made each snow-covered peak look magnificent. The mountain forests were glorious. Branches everywhere were laden with snow, and the crisp mountain air made each roadside stop memorable. You’ll see what I mean if you watch the video, which is about 10 minutes in length.