Balkan Tour 2024 – Part 4 – Arad and Cluj, Romania

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A very short and straightforward VFR flight today, crossing the border from Hungary to Arad in Romania. Now that both countries are in the Schengen area, border controls shouldn’t apply. However, this is a fairly recent development and applies only to airports at this stage. I was told that the border agencies do keep an eye on movements, and if they wanted to inspect our flight then they would already have turned up to do so.

I refuelled at both Szeged and Arad, aware that AVGAS can be more difficult to find at several of our later destinations, but this was straightforward and we were ready in advance of my filed flight-plan time. I filed a VFR flight plan through SkyDemon and included waypoints both at the international boundary and slightly south of the main approach track to keep clear of any larger aircraft arriving or departing.

A short flight to Arad

It took less time than expected to refuel and pre-flight. Szeged Information co-ordinated my clearance, confirmed I could depart ahead of schedule and relayed my clearance at the hold. This included a squawk and the regional information frequency. The FISO manages a TIZ (Transponder Information Zone), and pilots report entering or departing at the boundary. They must have some screen showing my position, because precisely on crossing the boundary I was prompted to change to Bucharest Information who cleared me direct to my destination.

Looking north to Szeged after departure – the river Tisza

Down below we could see the long lines of container lorries queued up for border inspection. There are newspaper reports of many (tens of) hours delay at the border, with businesses keen to abolish them. We flew straight past. The Schengen zone expanded on 31st March to include Romania and Bulgaria, but initially only apply for air travel. Arad airport wasn’t busy and there was no other immediate traffic to affect, so it was pretty much a 25 mile final to land. The marshaller parked me up at the fuel station, topped up the tanks, and helped me push back to our parking area on the apron.

A very long straight-in VFR final to Arad – runway just visible left above the nose and below the horizon
The land is very flat below with good quality motorway
Ground staff helped push the aircraft back to parking after refuelling

The ground staff were really friendly, spoke very good English, and clearly explained how to exit and return in the morning. The airport had visible 24/7 security. I called a BOLT taxi which drove us to our hotel in 10 minutes.

Arad City

There are quite a few historic buildings to see. You can take a free three hour walking tour, or sit on a tourist train, or just wander about like we did. After some 17,000 steps, I think we did manage to fit in all the most important aspects. This being close to Orthodox Easter and a warm sunny day, we saw plenty of Easter bunnies, Easter market stalls, a brass band outside the town hall, and kids playing in the many water fountains. The wide open streets, with trams running down the centre lane, give the whole area a less crowded feeling. Most of the cars appear to be very modern and in good condition; by comparison quite a few of the older buildings had been made with poor quality concrete and need attention although a growing proportion are newer and better constructed. We found Euphoria, an excellent bar/restaurant on a side-street, where it took us far too long to work out that the “newspapers” on the table were actually the menus!

Quiet lunch stop
Good opportunity to sample the local beer
Lots of Easter attractions for the children
Breakfast was one of the menu options cooked to order

An unexpected flight to Cluj-Napoca

The next day we had originally planned to fly south into Bulgaria. Despite some intensive research and planning ahead for potential stopovers and fuel, the weather to the south did not look good. It might have been feasible to fly IFR above the cloud but our descent would have been quite hard work, with thunderstorms and heavy rain in the area – not something for a family holiday. There was good weather to the east in Romania and sunshine was predicted from two days later throughout our planned route ahead. So I opted for a slight deviation from the plan to Cluj-Napoca, the capital of Transylvania, which I had last visited on business some 20 years ago. We would stopover there for a couple of nights and relax before heading direct to Plovdiv.

Again, the flight was pretty uneventful but the mountainous scenery was quite impressive. I had submitted a VFR flight plan through SkyDemon, and was asked by the tower for my requested altitude prior to departure. I decided on 7,500 which I thought would be enough to clear the mountains but allow us good views of the ground. This was quickly co-ordinated and approved with a dedicated squawk. After departure, we were switched to approach, then on leaving controlled airspace to Bucharest Information.

We flew relatively low above the terrain in favourable calm conditions. We could make out villages and ski areas below – it looks a very pleasant tourist holiday area.

I remained at 7,500 feet until clear of the mountains. By then, we had switched to Napoca Approach who gave us our clearance back into controlled airspace. They even asked if I’d prefer a straight in to runway 07 given the calm wind conditions and co-ordinated the runway switch for me with the tower. With no other traffic around at that time, it seemed like I was cleared to land from at least 10 miles out. The autopilot flew a visual approach over the city making it an easy landing. This is quite a busy regional airport handling over 5 million passengers a year, so arriving/departing outside a peak time really helps.

No follow me car here – very clear and straightforward taxi instructions to the waiting marshaller

The ground staff awaited our arrival and we were quickly packed up, out of the airport, and at our hotel minutes later. They were at pains to point out that PPR is not required to land here – a refreshing change compared to some airports elsewhere.

8x speed video of segments of the flight from Arad to Cluj-Napoca with music soundtrack

Cluj-Napoca

We enjoyed a couple of days sightseeing and relaxing in the sunshine here. It felt like quite a relaxed, friendly city with plenty to do and see but not the traffic congestion or pollution found in other cities of similar size although possibly because it was a Bank Holiday. We climbed up the hill to overlook the city, indulged in ice creams, walked through the extensive Botanical Gardens and enjoyed a gourmet dinner.

Electric scooters and dog poo bins – today’s signs of advanced Western culture
Our hotel swimming pool had a great view
The excellent and welcoming Vice-Cream shop got our trade more than once

PIC Szeged to Arad: 0:30
PIC Arad to Cluj-Napoca: 1:05

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