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The Land of the Bârsa River

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I've 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 2010, heading to the Land of the Bârsa river, 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-carriage of the train that will carry me to Brasov (A 1745, 7.30 from Bucharest North Station)

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The bike facility carriage is packed with cyclists (most of them MTB riders).

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The Prahova river valley, along which the train carries us:

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

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Predeal :

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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.

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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 Braşov. The Central Old City Hall Square can be seen and, here in front of my eyes, the Citadelle Tower.

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

 

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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 :).

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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…

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

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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 .

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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).

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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 :

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

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I arrive in Vulcan. The romanian name is a 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.

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

Towards South (Zărneşti) :

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Towards North (Codlea) :

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I'm riding again my bike, this time towards Codlea. Almost flying for 7 km   :).  Cristian, Vulcan, Codlea and Ghimbav (to be reached later) are placed in the corners of a 7 km-sided square, as the map describes :
 
http://www.bikemap.net/route/198636
 
The wind may help now, but a slight altitude difference 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.
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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.

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Back on the street, I take a look uphill and notice that people have climbed the Hill to enjoy the spring sunbeams...
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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.
 
Passing again on a bridge above the river from which this region gets the name : Bârsa. It's a slavic origin word and it means fast. Though here it slowly flows under the road and the railway to Braşov.
 
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).
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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.
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City Coat-of-Arms, painted on such a house:
 
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The fortified church is behind the School.
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I take its tour (including the Storks' Tower, where these birds have nested) :
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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.

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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.

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

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The church has a beautiful parish house,face oriented to the Long street.

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In the end , I invite you to Romania. There are quite a few tourist atractions, but you got to look for the hidden beauties, not only for the commercial objectives.

 

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 !

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Having already begun to take a tour along this beautiful region, I continued and took the second.

 

Therefore, on Monday May 24th, I got up on the bike-friendly A 1745 train to Brasov.

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A huge crowd was already installed in the bike-carriage – about 20 (!) road riders were determined to climb to Cheia, on national road DN1A. 
They all got down in Ploieşti, 60 km from Bucharest.
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Instead 4 guys riding MTBs got up, heading to Buşteni, for a ride in Baiului mountains.
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I get down in Braşov at 11 and head to the northern part of the Bârsa land. It's warm and a slow wind is blowing, so I'm just wearing a T-shirt

 

The 13 Decembrie street is leading me out of town and straight into Sânpetru (Petersberg) village. iti is mentioned for the first time in written documents at 1240 (“Mons Sancti Petri”), the fortified church having been erected shortly after the turk attack from 1432

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The place looks very well, probably due to increased property interest in the area recently.

Sanpetru lies on the foot of the Lempes Hill (South-Western-wise of it).  We will talk of it a it late - here just a glimpse of it's western slopes.
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Entrance in Bod is sharply marked by a descent towards the Olt riverbed. 
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Bod's existence was first documented in 1211, when colonists between the Rhine and Moselle were brought. They got to be known by the local people uner the generic name of saxons. Following tartar invasion from 1241 the village was completely burnt down, thus the "Brenndorf" name in german (“burnt village”).

The remains of the citadelle are near the town hall (fortification mainly fell during the 1802 earthquake).
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Dont know what I'm doing, just riding with no fuss. It's a quiet day, people handing over at their doors... and I suddenly see a  milestone that says Zărneşti 36 km (?).

 

I stop to ask an old lady if this is the road to Feldioara but it obviously is not. I will have to turn right at the "Bârsa Bridge" and carry on on the E 60 european road.

This is also confirmed by an old man on an antique but resilient city bike, whom I met while crossing the bridge over the Ghimbăşel rivulet.

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After that I head to the intersection with the main road DN1. And cross the river that lent its name this region: 
Bârsa, flowing under the bridge mentioned above.
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Further, let's roll on this European road that leads me to Feldioara, as traffic is not too high today, so I feel at ease. I stop to take a remote picture of the town that the Saxons called Marienburg (or Castrum Sancti Maria in Latin documents and Hungarians Földvár - earth city).
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Entry into Feldioara the E60 is via a short (but beautiful) climbing. As such, I return and climb it once more. In the meantime, a solitary rain cloud fools around above the old Transylvanian city.
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I'm slowly cycling around the streets in the centre, to the evangelical church. It's not in a very happy situation. Weeds invade its yard, large holes biting the walls. It served as headquarters of the Teutonic Knights in the Land of the Barsa river, in the thirteenth century. 100 meters further back that there are some ruins of the fortified city. Near the city starts a trail which may return me back to Bod, but is covered with gravel. That's also close to the point where Barsa lets itself absorbed into the greater Olt river, as a faithful left-hand tributary. 
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So I leave Feldioara on the north side, making a loop back. I got out of the city is via a descent. In fact, the city is located on a hill that dominates this part of the country.
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At the northern limit of the settlement, 2 beautful horses graze quietly.
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A few steps from them, there passes the railway linking Brasov to Sighisoara.
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And besides there flows the mighty river Olt, inflated by heavy rain.
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I'm passing from Braşov to Covasna county. The hilly road goes through the village of Haghig, seen here from the railroad crossing.
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Passing through Haghig, I immediately return into Brasov county. People are bathing in the sun on the banks of the same Olt river. I just keep roundly pedalling on and on.
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 Passing through Bod again, I am introduced to Tania, which grazes unannoyed in front of the master's house.

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I just mount my own 2 wheeled horse and pedal to Harman.
The road winds on the northeast side of the hill Lempes.

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This is a special ecosystem, declared as nature reserve, as it reads here:
 

I now reach the best preserved fortified church in the area, at Harman. It is the only one that can be visited as a museum, paying a small fee.
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I'm taking a lunch break, then I surround the fortress at a slow pace. The fortification has 6 impressive towers, which bravely withstood the changing times.
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Riding again, I decide to give up exploring Prejmer. I'll get there some other time. That's because now ... I have another idea. I feel like climbing the Lempes hill. On foot, walking along the bike. This hill is nothing but an extension of Baraolt mountains, south of the Olt's riverbed.

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It is also a very popular place for paragliders. Now I haven't seen any.
But climbing the hill slopes on a path between 2 houses ...


... I saw cyclists  ;). Those children were riding their rigs until one did a somersault in the air and was tought into heading home together with his pals.
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Meaning the Sânpetru village, which can be so nicely admired from above.
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I take pictures of flowers, listening to crickets and birds.
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I am right on the southern slope of the hill, where there are various botanical species are protected. Perhaps the most important is the yellow pasqueflower (Adonis vernalis), which they say is a medicinal herb.
 
The evangelical church of Sânpetru can be seen from here, between two dwarf trees.

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Looking for a path that will help me and the bike descend safely. However, we must first climb a litle.
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The bike is stunned - how come? Why are we riding on grass? On dust? But this is just the way it is : I've always liked to explore mountains on foot.
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Anyhow, we finally managed to get down on the road and returned to Brasov railway station.

The map of today's stroll is here 

http://www.bikemap.net/route/454194

 

In the station I was reunited with some of the bold racers who had reached Cheia in the morning, despite heavy rain they met along the way. We returned home by train and the MTB riders joined us along the route; they were obviously full of the mud they are longing for  :)
 
Hoping you have enjoyed this story, I invite you once again to discover the beauties of Romania, on 2 wheels.
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Congrats on yet another great bike-route! I hope that there will be many more to come!

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