As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I love paper: the touch, the smell, the je ne sais quoi that bubbles up as I walk into a new library. So when a close friend and I had to decide whether to rent GPS or use a map on a road trip through Romania, I was a bit surprised at my eagerness to rent the GPS. I had to remind myself that, contrary to what Arthur Weasley thinks, you can trust an object even if you can’t see its brain.
GPS installed, we began our road trip. On our way to Sibiu, we drove to Bran Castle (made famous by Bram Stoker’s tome Dracula), then hung a left at Highway 7C, also known as Transfăgărășan, the most beautiful road in the world, according to Top Gear.
Thankfully, I drove on the way up; I’m not completely convinced I’ve conquered my vertigo. Every other turn brought us to the edge of the mountain, trees and certain death below. We made it to the top far faster than we’d assumed given the mountain’s height.
We got out of the car and looked around. To my right, a snowboarder hopped onto the railing of a staircase, then back onto the snow, slowly slowing to a stop. In front of me bikers of the vroom-vroom kind drove one by one through a small opening in a tunnel. Nearby a stream began, thickening as more and more snow began to melt. Behind me the Transfăgărășan looped down the Carpathian Mountains through poianas– or glades- and forests, reminding me of an unbroken snake skin shed for the coming Midsummer.
As I crossed the path of a glacial stream, the water swam over the bottom of my leather sandals, icing my insoles. My friend and I were relatively quiet, a considerable feat for us. Something about a view like that shuts you up.
The silence at the top of the mountain contrasted with Poiana’s chatty drive down. “Shut up, Poiana” became a favorite saying on the road. But despite, or perhaps because of Poiana’s pickiness, her awful British pronunciation of Romanian, and needless updates, we had grown fond of our navigator. 1/3 of a very competent travel team, Poiana led us to our espresso machine-sauna-pool filled Bed & Breakfast, to a new apartment block we didn’t trust to be our destination, and to one of the most beautiful roads I’ve traversed.
Though paper maps work even when their batteries die, they’ll never voice the words you’ve been longing to hear: “You have arrived at your destination”.