Cycling in Hungary and Romania


Before and after our tour many people have asked us about roads, traffic, safety, accommodation etc. in Hungary and Romania. Below you will find answers to the most common questions.
Note that the information is based on our experience during the tour in 2009. That also means that our opinions only refer the areas that we have visited. It might be that some aspects may not apply to other regions (for example Lake Balaton, southern Carpathian mountains, or Bucharest).

 

Roads

The six images below give an impression of various types of road that we have met in Hungary and Romania. Main roads are of good to excellent quality in both countries (photo 1), but cyclists usually prefer more quiet local roads. The quality of many local roads in the Hungarian puszta region is often mediocre or bad (like photo 3). The average quality of the majority of local roads in Romania is reasonably good (photo 2), but nearly every day you will find stretches where you have to zigzag between missing asphalt (photo 3). Sometimes for only a couple of kilometers, but occasionally longer, like shortly before Cluj (40 km between Buru and Luna de Sus), and most of the 135 km from Roman to Bârlad. We have experienced far the worst "paved" road in the Donau delta region (photo 4). There is was advisable to leave the road, in favour of the adjacent grassland. Less than 5% of roads that we have used in Hungary and Romania were unpaved (photos 5 and 6), which mostly did not caused serious problems given the wide tires on our bikes.
Overall conclusion: road quality is in both countries highly variable, but usually fair. Anyhow, none of us have had a flat tire.

Examples of road qualities in Hungary and Romania. [1]: excellent (Curmatura Boului, Bucovina). [2]: reasonably good (near Valea Ursului, southeast of Roman). [3]: poor (Ion Creanga, southeast of Roman). [4]: extremely bad (between Enisala and Salcioara, prov. Tulcea). [5] unpaved, but very stable dike road along the river Körös (Hungarian puszta). [6] forest road between Bacesti and Pungesti (halfway Roman - Bârlad); driving this road could be problematic when raining.

Traffic

We have heard horror stories about the behaviour of car and truck drivers in eastern Europe. Our experience is very different. Almost without exception drivers took good care of us. Trucks and busses made enough room when overtaking us and/or waited for a safe spot for passing us. We were never pushed aside into the shoulder of the road, but never cycle next to each other when other traffic is to be expected. Note that we have only driven under daylight and good weather conditions.
As anywhere, cycling in larger cities (Budapest, Cluj, Constanta etc.) asked for more caution. In particular in Romania, cities have often difficulties to cope with rapidly growing numbers of cars. A special remark has to be made with respect to cycling in the city of Galati. The main road entering Galati from the north is extremely bad, and in 2009 under destruction. Moreover, tramlines often rise a centimeter or more above the level of the residual pavement. We have experienced that crossing such rails - even with care - can be dangerous.

Left: about safety; the white circle on donkeys forehead is a refllector. Middle: safety vest and helmet. Right: sometimes things go wrong.

Safety

We have never had a sense of insecurity. People are friendly and helpful. As soon as we stopped in Hungary for consulting the map, locals spontaneously advised us about roads (not) to follow. In Romania children sometimes asked "Do you speak English?", but the conversation usually stopped after answering "Yes, we do"; apparently they had just started learning English at school.
Roma (gypsies) have a quite different style of living, which could be annoying, but never evoked any feeling of danger. Once, in Constanta, when looking for a restaurant, we are advised not to enter an area of the city centre in the evening. In Bârlad, the staff of the Vasile Pârvan Museum arranged an escort who guided us along a Roma-ghetto when visiting the museum annexe.

Accommodation

The ease to finding accommodation varies greatly between more and less touristy areas. In Hungary it was easy along the Donau, but more difficult in puszta villages. In Romania the situation is pretty good in Transilvania, fine in Bucovina and Donau delta region, but in Moldavia accommodation is restricted to the larger towns. Some planning on beforehand can be helpful. Hotels, pensions, guesthouses and cabanas are often rather basic, but without exception clean. Be prepared that even in newly build accommodations seldom everything is properly functioning. Attention to details and service is not yet fully developed in Romania.
We have paid (in 2009) for a two bed room between RON 60 (ca. euro 15; in a former state owned hotel in Beclean) and RON 215 (ca. euro 54; downtown Constanta). Breakfast is not always included. Prices in Hungary were on average 10-20% higher. Hotels were always willing to arrange a place where our bikes could be stored safely, for example in the lobby of the hotel! The choice of food in restaurants can be much more restricted than the menu suggest.
Buying bread, cheese or sausages, yogurt, milk and fruit for lunch was never a problem. Each village has at least one Magazin Mixt or Mini-market. Most of them are also open at Sunday. Supermarkets are restricted to larger towns.

Right: former state hotel Somes in Beclean (prov. Bistrita-Nasaud); little has changed since the 1960s, only the satellite antennae are modern.
Middle: cabana in Agapia (prov. Neamt). Left: typical combined Bar (left entrance) and Mini-Market (right entrance) in Dobreni (prov. Neamt).

Money

ATMs (Bankjegykiadó automata or Pénzautómata in Hungary; Bancomat in Romania) can be found in every larger village and are abundantly available in towns, in both Hungary and Romania. Entering Hungary you will find the first ATM along the Donau cycle route in Rajka (2 km after passing the border). The first ATM in Romania is in Chisineu-Cris (26 km after passing the Gyula/Varsand border crossing). We have never used our credit cards. Paying cash is much more easy and the only accepted method in mini-markets and private accommodations. Credit cards are accepted in hotels in tourist areas, but ATMs have probably the most profitable exchange rate. Note that it is not possible to change Romanian money to any other currency outside Romania.

Bike repair

To our experience bike repair outside the main cities (Budapest, Bucharest etc.) can be difficult. Shortly before Tulcea two spokes broke in the rear wheel (derailleur side) of Henro's bike. Because ad hoc repair was not possible, we had to find a bike shop in Tulcea. We have found three shops, but none of them were equipped for bike repair. They were only interested in selling new bikes. The lack of regular maintenance and facilities to repair equipment seems to be a more general problem in Romania. Finally we found a pensioner who was able to replace the broken spokes. A complicating factor was that Shimano bike parts are unknown in Romania (or at least in Tulcea). Therefore he did not have the tool for removing the cassette. However, Romanians are skilled in finding ingenious solutions (they have to!) and finally he successfully repaired the wheel. The repair has survived the final 250 km to Constanta and its airport.
In case you are looking for bike repair in Tulcea, go to the Strada Mahmudiei (close to the city centre). You will find the repairer opposite to the Kindergarten ("Gradinita"). His daughter speaks English.
If your bike is equipped with Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM components, don't forget to add an appropriate freewheel tool to your luggage. Take spare spokes with you if you bike has spokes of an unusual length (for example when you have a Rohloff speed hub).

Finally ...

Cycling through Hungary and Romania was a wonderful experience. The scenic highlight was the Romanian part of the tour. It is a country with great tourist potential, but some improvements would be welcome: ban stray dogs (they can be agressive and make a lot of noise at night), more cats (sorry, I am a cat lover) and, with respect to restaurants: do not allow smoking, reduce the often terrible loud music, and please sell Romanian wine also by the glass.   Oof Oud, June 2009

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