2nd Intermission - A short trip through the Cindrel Mountains

As I've said, I'm going to try things slightly more interesting (or needlessly prolonged, depending on where your interests lie) by mixing in accounts of my more recent trips between the Annapurna trek journal entries. One such trip's undertaking was spontaneously decided upon around a few pints of stout beer, and then very nearly forgotten about in terms of any preparation whatsoever until the very last day, as such things tend to happen when any sort of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the irresponsible. What we lacked in planning and preparation we more than made up in enthusiasm, and come the weekend, we were on the way.

June 25th

We'd managed to at least formulate the logistical part of the plan - Andra would pick up Simona, Călin and myself from Cluj in the morning, we'd drive to Alba Iulia, where Tudor had been on call Friday. The five of us would continue from there together towards Păltiniş, where the trek would begin. Things largely went according to plan, though we'd intended to arrive in Păltiniş a bit earlier than we did (around 12 o'clock), which didn't leave us time for any ambitiously long trip, as we were planning on returning the same day.
The drive itself towards Păltiniş merits mention, as the road winds uphill in hairpin turns, surrounded by trees on both sides, before eventually reaching a clear area outside the for rest with a great view of the lands bellow. Though we only stopped where the road stopped and the trail began, the sense I got from passing through was that Păltiniş makes for a fairly lovely destination, especially for families looking to introduce their children to mountaineering. Its proximity to Sibiu increases its touristic value.
Boots on our feet, light packs on our backs, breath of excitement in our lungs, we were soon on our way through the forested trail. 
Getting ready to embark on the trek. Left to right, Andra, Tudor, Simona and Călin. Car prominently in the middle.
The Cindrel Mountains, going as high as 2244 m in the namesake peak, offer gentle climbs and soft, grassy earth to tread upon, in sharp contrast to the Retezat Mountains I'd been to two weeks prior. Being somewhat pressed by time, we decided that reaching Cindrel Peak was an option only if we felt like it as we got closer, otherwise we'd take our time leisurely enjoying the sights.
The trail crosses through the forest for about an hour before reaching the alpine clearing. 
The path goes on through the forest at very gentle incline

Rolling, thickly forested hills.

While there were no jagged, rocky peaks piercing the skies in an impressive display of defiance, no massive waterfalls thundering in front of us, no glacial lakes reflecting icy peaks in perfect symmetry, what we were treated to were some of the most lush, verdant rolling hills set up against the wonderfully blue sky I'd seen in a  long time.
Before reaching the ridge, the path went by a sheepfold; while the sheep were away grazing, the dogs were not, and while I'm something of a dog lover, getting swiftly surrounded by 5 or more specimens, growling and barking, did put me a bit on edge. Thankfully Tudor, a fast thinker and even faster acter, sacrificed a couple of the sandwiches he'd prepared to temporarily appease the pack; the effect would perhaps have been more durable, had he removed the tinfoil wrapping from around said sandwiches. Andra on the other hand, a more avid dog lover, attempted a different strategy to befriend them, by crouching and trying to pet the closest ones; considering we were able to eventually continue unhindered and she still had all five fingers attached, I'd say it was successful.
A solitary fir tree, out in the clearing, with a fallen trunk right beside it.

The green, white and blue combination looked stunning.

While we didn't see any rhododendrons as we'd originally hoped, these jolly little guys filled the gap quite nicely.

The ridge, which we soon reached, is traversed by a dirt road, usable by 4x4's and dirt bikes (both of which we saw continuing up). The road's quite circulated by tourists, which is to be expected, given its accessibility. We followed it for a while, up to one of the nearer "peaks" (the term doesn't feel appropriate, given how gentle the rise had been and the general feeling of softness all around), where we decided to take a quick lunch break.

Simona, stoically climbing the last portion before lunch. Tudor, a bit more nonchalantly, in the background.

Road going straight towards the clouds
 Lying down on the soft, if somewhat branchy undergrowth, seconds quickly turned to minutes and, seeing what time it was, we all decided against continuing towards the Cindrel Peak, opting instead to continue lying down there for a while more, enjoying the beautiful sight, the warm sun and the tasty food.
A soft and comfortable bed, fit for an afternoon nap.

Thick bush, covered by sof clouds, with a tiny insect hell bent on getting in the way.

Eventually we started back, and though the original plan was to take a different return route, in the end we stuck to the same path we'd taken up, deciding the extra time needed wasn't worth it. 
We did have a bit of wind, both on the way up and back down.

Different sheepfold, more silent a guarding than the ones who'd swarmed us earlier.

Obligatory group photo with the vast forests behind.

Fluffy sheep with fluffy clouds above.
It turned out to be worth it, as going back at a different hour meant seeing the forest in a different, arguably more impressive light.
Same forest as earlier, different light.

We reached the car fairly quickly, emboldened by another decision we'd taken on the way, to stop in Sibiu for a beer before heading back to Cluj. This turned out to be the perfect ending for a pretty great day, proving once again that, while awe-inspiringly impressive, you need not only reach high, rocky peaks in week-long treks through mountainous wilderness to appreciate and enjoy the beauties that nature offers. Special mentions of the day go to Simona, for doing the whole trip with a dislocated elbow, carrying her pack and refusing any help in that regard, Andra, for being our group's dog whisperer, and Tudor, for his sharp, non-whispering dog negotiation skills. 
The Large Square in Sibiu.

The tower of the Council -  Hermannstädter Ratsturm

Me trying to be artistic; Liar's Bridge

Not an overly impressive shot, though it's worth mentioning it was taken on the highway at some 140 km/hour.