12th August 2009
Gino Rondelli took his 850 Commando on a extended European excursion, aiming to reach Dracula's castle in Transylvania. So far, they've made it as far as the Romanian border...
Almost as soon as we rode across the border in Romania the roads deteriorated. There were potholes everywhere and we saw the first of many horses and carts; still transport for many of the people here. We stopped at a railway crossing and were amazed when the train rumbled past. It was an old Soviet engine pulling carriages that looked like something out of a John Wayne western, with youths clinging precariously to rails outside having a cigarette and watching the world go by.
We arrived in Timosora as it started to get dark, Timosora is a reasonably big town and was where the uprising against the Ceau?escu dictatorship in 1989 started. We opted to stay in a 'pensione'; excellent en-suite rooms worthy of a 4-star hotel in the UK for €30 each. Euros are accepted but we learned in the local café that the black market exchange rate isn't favourable!
The road to Lugoj was terrible with potholes the size of small towns, constant roadworks and suicidal driving. The back streets were not only cobbled but had suffered the ravages of years of heavy traffic. The shaking the bike got was unbelievable and David's speedo cable fell apart due to the shaking it got. Onwards into Deva where David suffered a puncture. We set about changing the tube but the 40-degree heat made what should have been a 30 minute job turn into a two hour job.
We later found a campsite run by a Dutchman, excellent facilities, good food and cold beer: just what was required after a hard day. We also met up with Lesley a girl from Alnwick exploring on her own on a GS650 BMW. Respect was due!
The usual routine of checking the bikes over was followed. It doesn't matter how tired you are after a day in the saddle, the evening checks can save so much stress on the road. Over our beer we decided we should take the Transfagarasan Highway down to Pitesti and back up to Bran, home of the touristy version of Dracula's castle. Lesley advised us that this was possibly a bit much for the day, she had gone as far as Curtea de Arges and back in a day and that had been hard enough
'It's OK, we're on Norton Commandos, the finest bike known to man', we answered. By the time we reached the summit of the road I realised it was going to be a hard day and wished we'd listened to Lesley. The road deteriorated terribly and the surface was not unlike the surface of the moon. I was very worried as the Commando rattled along, fully expecting bits to fall off at any time.
After six hours and only 100 miles Fiona had enough and demanded we stop for lunch. We were all getting a bit grumpy with the constant hard work the road was providing and with the heat approaching the high 30s.
We carried on despite the suicidal driving and poor roads to the town of Pitesti before heading back towards Bran. At one point the traffic was tailed back for about half a mile, waiting for a train to go through a level crossing. We rode to the front of the queue. I was feeling rather pleased with myself and thinking we would have a clear road ahead. Then as the barrier raised I accelerated away and -- horror of horrors -- the Commando spluttered to a halt!
I pushed it across the junction and into a two-foot wide path at the side of the road. The lorries were leaving just inches to spare as they passed us, it was quite scary. After the traffic died down I set about finding the problem and it took three hours to get the bike going again. The main problem was the bike running far too rich due to the wear on the Mikuni. We got going just as the sun set.
I'd also been blowing fuses and used all my spares. After checking everything out and taping up potential problem wires, I hard-wired the fuse holder but was scared to put my lights on in case the wiring fault came back and set the wiring loom on fire. So I set off with no lights. Darkness fell as we headed into the mountains towards Bran with David in the front leading the way and Fiona behind protecting my back. We rode like this for over 20 miles on the mountain road, still avoiding the mad truck drivers. I couldn't see the potholes so that was starting to get to me. It began to feel like a suicide attempt so when a bar loomed out of the darkness I stopped -- across the road there was a pensione and luckily they had rooms so we booked in. It was 9.30 at night, we had ridden 11 hours in the saddle and done 210 miles.
The following day, things all looked better and we had a great run down the twisty road into Bran. We took photos of the castle and booked into Vampire Camping to set up camp and do some proactive rather than reactive maintenance!
Saturday morning started hot again. Past Brasov the roads improving greatly, and at the first stop I recorded 64mpg, so the carb overhaul seemed to be working. That day's riding was probably the best of the trip. The roads and the scenery plus watching village life in the places we passed were probably the best we'd experienced in Romania.
The following day we passed into Hungary. As soon as we crossed the border you could see the difference, the tarmac was smooth and the surroundings seemed more affluent, although this particular road did seem to be lined with hookers! As the roads became smoother and less stressful the hookers made for some roadside interest…
We arrived in Budapest and headed for the town centre and we were soon camped up in possibly the most crowded campsite I've stayed in. The site was like a scene from a music festival but without the mud. Tents were literally almost on top of each other and the ground was almost grass free. My first impression of Budapest was of a down-at-heel scruffy town. Budapest became a single city occupying both banks of the river Danube with the unification on 17 November 1873, of right-bank (west) Buda and Óbuda (Old Buda) together with Pest on the left (east) bank.
We were camping in the Pest side and it was obvious that the Buda side was nicer and more affluent as we walked across. We came across some statues one of which we christened the 'Keeper of the Commando Gearbox Sprocket.'
We had a stroke of luck as the Red Bull air race was on in Budapest that day so as well as getting a head full of culture at the castle and museum, we also watched a fantastic display of flying. This made up for the poor campsite and our initial impressions of the place.
On Tuesday we were back on the road again, heading past Vienna. Yes, the Ultravox lyric 'This means nothing to me…Oh, Vienna' was repeated a few times that day! Our Austrian motorway tax vignettes had run out so we all felt like criminals for the day. My Commando started to misfire so we had an unplanned maintenance stop at lunchtime. A spark plug change got it going again but the carb was misbehaving again.
The following day we awoke to find it wet and cloudy and discovered that our tents had been hijacked by giant slugs overnight so some time was spent evicting them before carrying on to Germany. Another 270 miles on the Autobahn and then another campsite.
Onwards the following day through Germany and then into Belgium stopping at Liege for the night. Our destination was the Begonia rally, the British bike rally organised by the Flanders NOC every August. We stopped at the services at Nazareth so another song started in our heads; 'pulled into Nazareth I was feeling half past dead.'
The rally once again was held at Viffwagen near Staden. I like the Begonia Rally, over the years the people there have become friends and it's always good to see them again. The Begonia is an excellent rally, well organised, friendly and the bar and food is good and cheap. The organisers work very hard and deserve credit for putting on the event.
Mark Hudson had arrived in a trailer as his Commando outfit had catastrophic failure en route. Without him realising, it dumped all the oil out and wrecked the top end. Replacement barrels and pistons were sourced and the bike rebuilt over the weekend. That could only happen at a Norton Rally!
Finally we took the ferry back from Zebrugge to Rosyth. A great night on the boat to finish off a superb trip. We had done just under 4000 miles and both David and I agreed that we were glad we'd done it on the Nortons. Sure we had some problems but we managed to fix them on the move and make it home again.
Next time you take a big trip, go by Norton. It's a real adventure motorcycle!
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