After road tripping Sicily and last year’s road trip round Slovenia I was fully confident with my driving on the right skills and this year decided it was time to do the long awaited road trip of the Transylvanian region in Romania. Leading up to the trip, I spoke to a couple of Romanians about my plans and they looked at me in horror, told me the roads were in bad condition and if you have a nervous disposition then you shouldn’t drive as the drivers are crazy….. surely if I can drive Sicily I can drive anywhere in Europe though? Surely?! The roads are in bad condition in places, especially if you’re going rural, but not as bad as I had conjured up in my mind. Yes, the drivers are predominantly crazy, especially if you compare to British driving but they have driven these roads all their lives. Two pieces of advice – be confident and don’t be a hazard to other drivers. If they are overtaking five cars at once on a corner on a mountainous road, just make sure there is space between you and the car in front for them to pull in if they need too – like when that lorry on the other side is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, in fact, looks like they might be speeding up…. That said everyone was quite courteous on the road, I didn’t experience any angry drivers, people tail gating or flashing lights and after the first full day of driving you start to settle into a pattern (of drivers overtaking). I still have no idea how I was the one pulled over by the police for speeding. I think it was because I was going slow enough they had time to flag me down…..
THEN, once you’ve figured out the drivers – it’s the animals turn on the road. Herds of sheep, cattle, a woman walking her two prize cows, a horse bolting across the field and heading into our path, donkeys, dogs, oh then there’s the kids playing in the streets, a wheelbarrow just precariously left in the middle of the road, and don’t get me started on the pot holes! All of those literally happened in quick succession driving through one tiny village. We had tears streaming down our faces by the end of it through hilarity and pure joy.
As for hire cars – I always book through rentalcars.com choosing a reputable company through their selection (check Tripadvisor for reviews of any local companies). I always book an automatic – after trying to drive a stick (a manual) in America when I was 21 and bunny hopped all the way down the road I haven’t dared to drive a manual on the wrong side of the road since. The car pick up was seemless – check in at a desk at Arrivals, a van transports you to the car park, the guys working there were friendly and helpful. The car park leads straight onto the slip road onto the main road and into Bucharest. Couldn’t have been easier (except the couple of hours where we got lost driving round and round Bucharest looking for our hotel).
Which leads me nicely to navigation – I like to be old skool and use paper maps. This worked in Slovenia where there aren’t really that many roads and the country is small. After our Bucharest mystery tour using a Rough Guides city map to try and help us, google maps on my phone soon became our third travel companion. Luckily the 3 network offers a “feel at home” service so I could use my phone as I would at home with no extra charge. Otherwise if I were to do it again I would definitely hire a GPS with the car!
The roads are essentially very quiet outside of the cities, there are only 2.5 motorways, the half being that motorway no 3 was only partly open at the time of our visit. We drove the half of motorway 3 up to Cluj Napoca and what a dream road it was – speeds of up to 130km/h and not another car on the road – if only the M25 could be like this!
If you are thinking of driving the Transylvanian region don’t be put off by other reviews, or mine if it’s had that effect. Quite simply the daily reward of beautiful scenery, people waving and smiling at you through the small villages, the opportunities to go to places that tour groups or public transport can’t or don’t reach and even the craziness of the road rules just makes this region an experience like non other and totally worth doing.
Safe travels x