“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” Psalm 121 has always been one of my favourite parts of the Bible. (For the benefit of non-native English speaking readers, this is the old language of the King James Bible published in 1611, which is more beautiful than modern versions). I’ve always enjoyed reading the words or hearing it read aloud, but only recently have I directly experienced its practical truth. Mountains really do refresh you not only physically but also spiritually. It’s not surprising that so many of the world’s religions besides Christianity view them as sacred. Think of the Greeks with Mount Olympus, home of the gods.
One of the big advantages of living in Bucharest is that it’s one of the few European capitals which is close to spectacular mountains. You can be there in 2 hours by road or on quite a slow train. So a day trip from Bucharest, with a long hike, is perfectly possible. Prompted by my friend Tim, who does a lot of hiking, I set out on a fine, sunny Saturday in early October. We took the train to Sinaia, then the cable car to Cota 2000 (2000 metres altitude) and from there we started walking. We had beautiful sunshine, and the views were perfect. We headed first to Babele, Romanian for “old ladies”, because this is what the rock formations look like. Babele is also at the top of another cable car route. We met some friendly hikers who had come up this way as we paused for a rest. Somehow the mountains make everybody relaxed- such a contrast to the stress of the capital.
From Babele we walked for another hour and a half or so to Omul which has an altitude of 2500 metres. Here the path is more barren, with far fewer people. We paused occasionally to take in the view and to appreciate the absolute silence which you can really only experience in the mountains. I hadn’t done any serious mountain walking for years, so the uphill stretches were a bit of an effort, but we finally reached the top, and it was all worth it. Cloud floated around below us on one side, but for the most part we had a clear view.
At Omul summit there is a cabana , or mountain refuge, where you can sleep and get something to eat. We’d worked up quite a hunger, and it’s at times like these that you really appreciate Romanian food. There’s just nothing like a good ciorba (soup) with tuica fiarta (warm plum brandy) to warm you up and reinvigorate you after a long walk.
But the most difficult part of the walk was yet to come. We now had a long climb down from Omul to Busteni, the nearest town in the valley, and a descent of some 1600m. Different leg muscles came into play, and I was soon reminded that they hadn’t been used for quite a while. Much of the route involved clambering down steep, rocky paths. The valley below looked tantalisingly close, but distances can be deceptive in the mountains, as things always look closer than they really are. The rocky part seemed endless, and I wondered if we would ever reach the flatter ground. Finally, I walked alongside a welcome fir tree- we had finally got to the tree line! But it was still a long and difficult walk through the valley, and then along a forest path.
Darkness was falling as we walked through the forest, and I had visions of us having to spend the night there or struggling to find the path through pitch black night. But just as dusk was closing in, we caught sight of a road- apart from the spectacular views at the top, the most welcome sight of the day. Soon we were walking along the road towards Busteni in the moonlight. As we reached the outskirts of the town, a taxi came up behind us. It looked like a very good idea, so we fell into it, and it took us to Sinaia. After almost nine hours of walking, I was at my physical limits, but it was a healthy tiredness after bodily and spiritual renewal.