Two Romanians and an American in Cheiele Bicazului

Off to an interesting start

Our friend Joel – a Romanian in mind, heart and spirit – was visiting his home country recently. We first met Joel in Madison, but we were excited to spend some time with him on his home turf. Well…more or less his home turf. Joel is from Western Romanian and we made plans to meet in Eastern Romanian for a quick, three day trip.

Daniel and I never seem to learn that three days is not enough time for a decent trip – especially when two of those days are consumed by travel as they are when getting around Eastern Europe. If you care to hear, our journey into Romanian is a blog post in itself. Once in Romanian we met up with Joel in the middle of a car rental process, which has easily become one of our least favorite things and therefore the topic of another blog post.

But finally, we left Iași and headed toward Piatră Neamți. Two hours, a missed turn, and a delicious Romanian meal later, we made it to our Air BnB. And of course, we stayed up far too late talking the first night.

Piatră Neamți – the location of our Air BnB

Mountains are simply beautiful in any way you experience them

The Carpathian Mountains cut through central Romanian from west to east and then swing up north. Piatră Neamți and the surrounding towns are nestled within the foothills of these mountains. Joel used all his tour-leading, outdoorsy knowledge to find a hike about an hour’s drive from our Air BnB. So the following morning we hopped into the car and off we went.

The drive itself was an unending, visual feast. The towns were quaint, and less sad in some ways than towns in the Moldovan countryside. The houses were brightly painted and less run-down. And as we approached our hiking destination, the geography changed to gorges and hills and rivers.

There was one particular stretch of the highway that barely fit between rocky gorges on either side. In this area many people got out of their cars and walked along the narrow shoulders of the road. Romanians had even created a little market in the middle and pedaled their touristy wares.

Although we desired hiking not tourist-ing, I must say that seeing the cliffs while driving made me appreciate the topography of our hike that much more. And the hike did not disappoint (way to go Joel!!!).

There’s not much better than a good hike

The first part of the hike followed a river that was more waterfall than river as it crashed downhill over rocks. We saw a nimble mountain goat, and really enjoyed parts of the path sandwiched between rock walls on one side and river on the other side.

The day was slightly drizzly, but in the best kind of way. Although I’ve never been, it reminded me of what I imagine forests in the Pacific Northwest to be. We wore rain coats, but ever really needed them. And in fact, winter coats may have been more appropriate when we made it to the peak and left the shelter of the trees.

As you can see in the video, what was drizzle in the valley below became snow at the top of the hill. But even with the snow and the gray skies, the view was stunning.

We exited the forest into some kind of grazing pasture. There were various huts scattered around the hill sides, as well as occasional fences and water troughs for animals. On our stop, Joel took some Instagram-worthy pics, whereas Daniel and I continue to be contented with our cell phone snaps. I’m probably biased because my photos remind me of views I actually saw with my eyes, but I continue to be amazed that beautiful things still appear beautiful even when photographed by an untrained person using a cell phone.

Unexpected surprises of our trip

We knew that the points of this trip were to spend time with Joel and to hike. Mission accomplished in both of those regards. But we also did experience a couple other fun and unexpected things. Besides the snow at the top of the hill, I loved seeing some engineering ingenuity.

All around the hill top were natural springs flowing out from the ground. Some crafty Romanian had buried a log with a split down the side in such a way that water was funneled down the split and into a trough. How cool is that?

Other highlights included a delicious Hungarian treat. I would eat this sweet and crunchy dough again any day. And of course, I am forever in love with the vagabond dogs we see around Eastern Europe. Mind you, the vagabond dogs are NOT the territorial dogs behind fences in the villages.

If any of you are having a bad day, please just watch this puppy video on repeat. Apparently these are puppies of a vagabond dog living on a hill top in the city, but there was also a man who seemed to be watching over them. The man offered we take one with us, and saying no was the hardest decision I’ve made in a while.