We were completely soaked, my classmates and I, tired and hungry after an entire day of hiking, cramped on a bench in the station of Sinaia, a small town on the valley of the Prahova river. We'd just missed the last train to Bucharest and we were getting ready to sleep the night in the station, with the hope to catch a train the morning after. As this was taking place on a Sunday, that also meant we would miss school next day (and that was a school trip !!!). I was 12 and thought that was the best day ever,  to this day,  one of my happiest memories about *the mountains*.  Many more would come.

The Heroes Cross from Caraiman Peak, Bucegi Mountains.

If you lived in Bucharest, *the mountains* meant Bucegi, and Valea Prahovei with its collection of small vacation towns, Sinaia, Busteni, Poiana Tapului, Predeal, and a little bit further, on the other side of the mountains,  Brasov, a jewel of a city known for its beautiful Black Church, one the most beautiful gothic constructions in Romania. Bucegi are just a small part of the Carpathians that so beautifully draw a circle in the middle of Romania. They are not the tallest - -that would be Fagaras, they are not the ones with the most lakes -- that would be Retezat, they are not the pretties ones - that would be Piatra Craiului. They had something more important, location, location, location. Just  two hours by train or car from Bucharest made Valea Prahovei and Bucegi perfect for a one-day trip, away from the maddening reality of every day life in a big city.  The mountains offered great hikes during the summer, and amazing skiing during the winter, with a  plateau at over 2000m accessible by two cable cars from Sinaia and Busteni.

Busteni seen from Caraiman 

As soon as you entered Valea Prahovei, the first thing that you saw was Crucea (The Cross) from Caraiman,  sharp on days with clear sky, a. ghosty appearance floating on clouds on slightly overcast days, or an orange candle on clear sky nights.  Built between 1926 and 1928 to commemorate the romanian heroes fallen during the First World War, the cross is a big construction of steel mounted on a concrete pedestal. With a height of 28 meters and two arms of 7 meters  each, it has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the tallest summit cross (at 2291m).  The First World War has a deep significance for Romania, as the end of it marked Marea Unire (The Great Union),  the formation of the modern romanian state, on December 1, 1918 at Alba Iulia.

Caraiman Lodge, 2025m

There are a few ways you can go up to the Cross. An easier one is to take the cable from Busteni till Babele and from there walk on the Plateau till Cabana Caraiman from there to the Cross. The other way is to go up by foot on Jepii Mici, a trail with many narrow parts and the abyss below,  dangerous enough that it is closed over the winter. The most difficult one is via Valea Seaca a Caraimanului.   

Valea Seaca a Caraimanului, the Cross is up in the clouds.

Two other big attractions in Bucegi are the Spinx, a rock that looks nothing tike the Egyptian Sphinx but more like a Dacian warrior and Babele (Old Ladies) a group of rocks looking more like mushrooms than old ladies. Another popular trail is the one going to  Omu (2501m), the highest peak in Bucegi, and home to the highest inhabited building from Romania, a meteorological station dating back to 1927. 

One can get on the Plateau also from Sinaia, by cable car or driving up to 1400m, from there only cable car or by foot. That part is also known for the ski slopes, Valea Dorului, Valea Soarelui -- where I learn how to ski -- and the Carp, one of the most difficult ski slopes in Romania. 

Peles Castle, Sinaia, October 2000

Finally, any description of Bucegi and Valea Prahovei would be incomplete without mentioning the Peles Castle, the residence of the romanian monarchy. The Castle was build by King Carol I of Romania, at the end of the 19th century.

"Not all who wander, are lost''.
I've been to the Alps, I've been to the Rockies,  and they were all spectacular. But they were not my mountains.  They have not met me when I was still a blank canvas figuring out the world and myself. Through my entire childhood and young adulthood I can not remember a time when I  did not go to the mountains, for a day, for a weekend, for a week, to celebrate or to recharge, to learn new things or share my favorite places with people I loved, to be seen,  or just hide away.  My being was shaped by the Bucegi mountains, by the camaraderie built during long day hikes, by the tears and laughs shared with a bottle of palinca or boiled wine after a day of skiing, by the songs sang near a fire, by the few trains missed and the many caught, by the times when I thought I could not take one more step, and somehow I could still get to the top (and back). I have learned  confidence and  resilience, and experienced true friendship and happiness because of those mountains. 

At the bottom of Heroes Cross from Caraiman.

It took me over 40 years to finally make it at the bottom of the Cross monument on Caraiman. I put my hand on the cracked concrete and smiled as seeing an old friend.   It was a sunny summer day, with a clear sky, you could see all the valley. We ate some homemade sandwiches, we laughed, we took lots of pictures.  I thought that was the best day ever, another happy memory in my mountains,  and hoped for many more to come.


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