31st March, 1st April 2003
We stopped at Sinaia, near Brasov in the Carpathian mountains, on a Sunday evening. Belated we discovered that the resort virtually shut down for Mondays including the cable cars. Still, cable cars are for wimps so we set off to walk up the mountain...
About an hour up we met two climbers (Alex and Mircea) from Bucharest, one of whom was a student of our friend at the Geography department! They reassured us that the cabanas would be open and serving meals even if it was Monday.
They also pointed out the route, told us to be quick and cheerfully asked if we had torches.
They told us to watch out for the bears. We saw a lot of prints like the one shown below, but they are just wolves or possibly very big dogs. European brown bears are very common in this part of the Carpathians, they were protected by Nicolae Ceausescu so he could shoot them.
(The key is 4.5cm long Paul)
We started out in woodland. The trees were daubed with blue and white paint so it was easy to find the way. Higher up we passed crocuses flowering where the snow had recently melted from the ground. Also at this point we crossed the rather ominous debris of recent avalanches. Then we were above the trees and on to a flatish expanse of featureless snow. At which point the wind got up and it began to snow...
Happily it didn't snow much and Alex had given us some instructions about the route so we were soon in sight of the hut. It was like no other alpine hut or refuge we hbad ever seen, in fact it was a "cabana" and a hotel side by side.
We stayed in the cabana for a very reasonable $3 each. This got us a room with a TV so we had the slightly surreal experience of being sat in the middle of nowhere, watching the fireworks over Baghdad. We kept a watch for passing bears but apart from an exciting moment when I saw a very shaggy and quite large dog, we saw nothing.
Next day dawned bright and clear so we set off to walk to the cable car station to get a lift down. There was a trail of marker posts to follow which seemed ridiculous in the clear sunshine. Ten minutes later it was snowing hard and you couldn't see from one marker post to the next...
We got to the cable car station mid-morning but the sun was softening the snow and making walking hard work so we thought we'd best go down. At the bottom we found a ski hire place which hired us skis and boots for $3 for half a day. So duly equipped we went back up. Ju had done a fair bit of skiing abeit some years ago, while I had no idea. So Ju very patiently taught me the basics and I spent 50% of my time lying in a heap in the snow, cursing the ridiculous planks that some pillock had persuaded me to strap to my feet. Actually by the end I was starting to enjoy it as long as I was on a virtually horizontal piece of snow.
The day had been very good, but then very nearly ended in a monumental cock-up. It took us a couple of hours for me to crawl and tumble down our first ski run, which meant we got to the bottom with about 45 minutes to get the lift back up before the last cable car down the mountain. We bought a tea from a cafe at the bottom and were shocked to be informed that the lift up was stopped and we would have to walk. Furthermore that the cable car down was about to stop and there was no way we could walk up in time to catch it, but that wasn't problem because we could always ski down. Except it was a black run and I couldn't ski...
It transpired that three days before the clocks had gone forward, so we were an hour behind the rest of the world. Luckily this is Romania and people know a good way to earn a few dollars when they see it, so they started the ski lift again for only double the normal price and we were up in time to catch the final cable car down.
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