For the May Day holiday this year, we took advantage of the three-day weekend to cycle across Transylvania from Miercurea Ciuc to Cluj, a distance of some 275 kilometres.
Here are some observations from the journey.
The Székely Land is weird
We started this trip by taking the train from Cluj to the town officially known as Miercurea Ciuc, but known to most of its inhabitants, the Hungarian-speaking Székely people, as Csikszereda. In spite of many years of living in Romania, it was my first time in the Székely Land, and I had always thought it odd that one could go east from Cluj and meet more Hungarian speakers rather than less. In fact, Miercurea Ciuc felt very much like any other northwest Romanian town, just with signs in Hungarian instead of Romanian. If you visit, try to the local microbrew, Csiki Sör, which has a curious mineral taste due to the use of local spring water.
But while Miercurea Ciuc wasn’t especially foreign, things got weird as we travelled east. The next large town, Odorheiu Secuiesc/Székelyudvárhely, really feels like a chunk of the modern Hungary next door uprooted and dropped these hundreds of kilometres away. The particular aesthetic of the billboards, the layout of the streets, and the general comportment of the inhabitants felt alien to the Transylvania I know, but familiar from my frequent travels across the border in Hungary. I hope to go back someday and discover more.
Off-road trails are only passable at the height of summer
Between Băile Homorod and Odorheiu Secuiesc/Székelyudvárhely we turned onto a mountain bike path, marked on trees and stones by a figure on two wheels and the letter C. Initially this was a very pleasant break from the national road. Towards the end, when we were about to turn back onto the national road, the trail became impassable mud, with a lot of clay that instantly clogged the wheels and drive trains. Though spring had long since arrived, the high temperatures had still done no good. After a series of unfortunate encounters with such routes this spring, I think I’ve learned my lesson that they should only be ventured from June to August.
(This applies, of course, only to tracks that are only for bicycle, 4WD, or foot. On any Transylvanian dirt road regularly traversed by cars, even if it is potholed, one can ride it with too much complaint.)
Târnăveni is a nice town
I visited Târnăveni once in the early millennium to seek out the birthplace of the Hungarian composer György Ligeti. (Although the town is completely Romanian now, with not even enough Hungarians left to get bilingual signage at the city limits, before 1930 this was a mainly Hungarian community known as Dicsőszentmárton). At the time it was rather rundown with cracked asphalt and glum inhabitants. I was thus surprised to revisit it and find that it’s now one of the most elegant and well-kept towns in Mureș County. It’s certainly worth passing through and stopping for a meal or refilling supplies. Leaving the town to the north, by the road towards Iernut, involves a long climb, but there’s a good vista of the town from the top.
Sometimes incomplete maps are a good thing
I usually draw up a route with the help of YourNavigation.org or OpenRouteService.org, which work from OpenStreetMap data. It turned out that one road through Mureș County was missing, and I’m very glad it was, as otherwise we wouldn’t have been sent through a really pretty and peaceful road from Dumbraveni to Cund, and then a smoothly paved but completely empty stretch between Cund and Bahnea. I’ve always been keen to fill in gaps on OpenStreetMap and make it as complete as possible for cyclists, but I’d hate to think that means people will miss out on the occasional pleasurable experience.