(Daniel) After sleeping on the tiled floor of the hotel room that Rowan Gabby and I shared, I woke up understandably early. Had a shower and went outside to check the vehicle over. Everything seemed ok, and I even had time to take it next door to use their jet wash. After a while Rowan and Gabby appeared and we headed for Dracula’s castle. The drive was not too far, about 20km. The castle is located at the top of a steep hill, next to a new hydro electric power station. At the bottom of the hill we parked up and had breakfast before climbing the 1400 steps to the top. I welcomed the exercise and practically jogged the whole way up. Gabby and Rowan kept to a more modest pace, arriving about ten minutes later.
The Castle was in ruins, but you still got a feel for the place. It was the former stronghold of Vlad the Impaler, the origin of the Dracula legend. He kept his subjects and enemies in order by impaling men and women on stakes and leaving them for others to see. From the castle you could see for miles around, and any invaders would have found it hard to climb the hill and attack this amazing vantage point. Gabby mentioned that the road going on from the castle was one of the best drives in the world, so we headed back down the steps and drove on entering winding roads that climbed the hills on ledges and through tunnels.
The road was extremely treacherous, had we not been in a 4x4 I would have been forced to stop as we drove higher into the mountains. Our efforts were rewarded after only a short while when we came to the most breathtaking dam, complete with viewpoint and a statue of some kind of Hydro Electric Superhero towering over the whole affair. I took some photos, and got Rowan to take a picture of me driving across the top of the dam from the viewpoint.
After we had taken in the sights we pushed on further, with the intention of finding a mountain top lake with 360º views. We passed into the snow line, further into the mountains until we reached a point where the road was impassable, there was only 8kms to go until the lake, but it was extremely cold, to reach the lake we would have to hike through 4ft deep snow, much deeper in drifts to reach the summit, we all wanted to try, but there was only a few hours of light left, a 16km round trip through heavy snow and wind could have been dangerous. We stopped at the only place up there, a newly built ski lodge, complete with restaurant and bar. Rowan and Gabbs were just as hungry as me.
Over a hearty if expensive lunch of fried chicken, salad and chips, we discussed our options for sleeping arrangements. I put forward the suggestion that we camp up here somewhere in the snow. It would of course be cold, but this was a good chance to test our equipment and readiness for the extreme temperatures. Plus, how many people can say that they camped in the forest surrounding Draculas castle!? Rowan and Gabby agreed. We drove a bit further down the mountain to turning into a track penetrating the forest. There was a small hotel nearby, closed for the low season, but still occupied by two Romanian men, who were amazed to hear that we wanted to camp in the woods. They told me that it would easily drop below -12 tonight, and that we could stay in their hotel if we wanted, we explained that we were not looking for creature comforts!
Rowan Gabby and I set up camp in the snow, then dug out a living area, and made a wall around it with the displaced snow. Rowan and Gabby began to set up the tent, while I collected and cut frozen firewood. After we had prepared the site, we walked back down to the hotel and joined the two men for dinner. The food was very filling, with Bean and Pork soup, Pickled Cabbage, and lots of bread. All the while the two strange men plied us with home made plum brandy and played Romanian pop music at full blast. I think that they got a little tipsy too, as one of them soon asked Gabby to dance, when we left he walked out with us, slippeing down the icy front steps of the hotel, unfazed, he jumped up and lit some fireworks, presumably left over from New Year.
Whilst Rowan and Gabbs watched the show, I went back up to the camp and soaked our fire wood in petrol, I lit the fire as I saw them coming back. It took a while to get going, but we soon had a blazing inferno. The flames kept us warm as we chatted about the day’s adventures and the long drive to Bulgaria tomorrow. After a few drinks, we looked up at the frozen sky and started howling at the moon, we stopped scared when some real wolves started howling back. To make matters worse, a shaggy white dog turned up from the darkness and gave us all a fright! As the fire started to die down, we got into the roof tent, and had an surprisingly good nights sleep. No-one got cold, I would even go so far as to proclaim this 'one of our more comfortable nights to date.' Proof if needed, that we are all adapting well to Expedition living!
Distance Driven– 177km
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