Saturday, July 1, 2017

Miles of Smiles

One valley in the Faragas mountains
On a cool September 20th in 1974, the Transfagarasan Road was completed. It took four and a half years to carve this engineering marvel over one of Romania's highest mountains. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful highways in the world.

In fact, the popular television show, 'Top Gear' referred to this asphalt ribbon as one of the world's best roads.

We can not refute that claim.

J and L drove this beautiful landmark late June and breathtaking would be an understatement to describe this majestic highway cut through passes, valleys, and anything else that got in the way of the dream of a megalomaniac.

A bit of a winding road.

In 1970, the Communist Dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, came up with an almost impossible task. Of course, no one says 'no' to such a ruthless person as Ceausescu, and thus the idea of a road through very high mountains was to be realized. Now, it was up to the engineers in the military - isn't that always the case with communist regimes? It's up to the military to make things happen because civilians may say - 'Huh, a highway where and what for?"

Build what over what?
Ceausescu wanted to build a road between the counties of Wallachia and Transylvania in case the Soviet Union invaded Romania as they had done with Czechoslovakia in 1968. He thought if the Soviets invaded, he could command his military to secure this road and keep the Soviets on their heels. They may lose either Wallachia or Transylvania, but one would be saved. Too bad that the road is closed most of the year due to the heavy amounts of snow that build up at this high elevation, making it nearly impossible to secure any of it.
A lot of bridges over the roadway

Oh well - sounded like a good idea (not).

The road was built in a little over four and a half years using 14 million tons of dynamite and the loss of 38 military personnel. The cost of building a road - unknown tons of mountain side along with a the human fatalities. Ceausescu demanded the road and the highway was built, and so it deserves the nickname it earned from the Roma (locals): Nicolae's Folly.

It's the Communist way, but enough of the politics - for now.

Laureen feeling the power of the waterfall
The drive through the Fargas Mountains takes roughly three hours but could be less if the scenery wasn't so darn unbelievable. It truly is one of the most scenic roads J or L have ever driven. The switchbacks (a million of them if we counted correctly) make for a spectacular view at every turn. The thick green forests making visibility out either the driver or passenger window nearly impossible and then suddenly getting so high in elevation that the tree line is staring you in the face is amazing. Nothing but mountains - bare, exposed and stunning. That's where the road can really be appreciated.
John trying to help a runaway piece of glacier

Magnificent glaciers poke their iciness around nearly every bend, waterfalls pounce out of nowhere allowing the traveler a chance to hear and see one of natures most beautiful acrobatics, stunning views of nature at every inch of the highway and yes, there are also sights only humans can create.

So many sheepies and no where for them to go except the highway.

Not once or twice, but three times J and L had to stop on this highway for a time to allow sheep and sheep herders to clear the roadway. This road is the access from one side of the Fagaras Mountains to the other and the sheep herders don't mind the walk and it seemed as though the sheep didn't mind either. There was a 'baa' here and a 'baa' there and we were obliged to wait until the sheep cleared to one side or the other on the highway before we could safely to pass. No warning was needed - a sheep hood ornament was not on order for the day.

Thanks for the help. How to pass a million sheep? A sheepherder, of course.

This road had everyone, both locals and tourists, stopping to take a thousand photographs with phones, cameras, whatever was handy. No one got angry if a vehicle slowed to a stop since it only made sense to get out and breathe the fresh mountain air, and enjoy the wonder that both God and man had a hand in making.

Top Gear had it right, but perhaps the best aspect of this path through the Fargaras Mountains is how peaceful the scenery surrounding the road is. It's a highway to experience with all senses.

Our rented Audi handled the road expertly and there were times that J put his foot into the pedal - after all, sometimes a hair-pin turn needs to be tested.

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