Day 12: Budapest to Sighisoara Part 2

Posted: July 30, 2014 in Budapest, Getting Around, Sighisoara
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Well that was interesting… Our little sleeper compartment was quite comfortable – especially if you compare it to our only other sleeper car experience (Pitsanluk to Bangkok in 2011). That time all we got was a sleeping berth in a car where the berths were arranged parallel to the long axis of the car and stacked two on top of each other… Basically you had a little horizontal berth in amongst a whole whack load of other sleeping berths. Marie and Caitlin hated it. This sleeping compartment was positively civilized in comparison. We had our own little room with three berths stacked on top of one another with a little “closet”, a sink and some racks for luggage. Each berth had its own light and there was a nice bright overhead light for the whole compartment. There was even a window that opened. The bunks were comfy(ish) and it all felt reasonably safe and comfortable… It was all pretty old but clean and well-maintained and cozy. So why did we all have such crappy sleeps.

Let’s see. We needed to keep the window closed because the rain poured in and soaked everything. Which left the compartment at a temperature level approaching that of the planet Mercury… but a lot more humid. Then shortly after we all turned in for the evening we were woken up by someone pounding on our door. It was the Hungarian border police checking our passports. So on came the lights. Out came the passports. He scanned them in this portable device that looked like it was stolen from the set department of a Soviet war movie, thumped a visa stamp on our passports (the downside to the EU is you don’t get as many visa stamps in your passport as countries you visit so getting a stamp is actually kind of cool… Marie might have even said “yay” out loud when he stamped her passport) and grunted “bye” and left us to go back to sleep. A short while later (but long enough that we’d all fallen asleep) we were awakened again by thumping on the compartment door. This time it was the Romanian border police checking our passports… This guy looked about as rumpled as we felt with his two-sizes-too-large uniform shirt and his visa stamp tucked into his pants… No fancy Soviet era scanner for him… He just looked at our passports, glanced at the occupants of the compartment and then wrote down the relevant details on a slip of paper. Then he thumped a visa stamp on each of our passports and grunted “bye” and left us to go to sleep…

But that was when the lightning started… I commented earlier that we were going to a town where famous for the house where Vlad the Impaler’s (the source of the Dracula legend) dad lived for a few years and that we were staying in an old house in an old citadel town and that it was just like a Scooby Doo episode… Well now we were riding a rickety old train to Transylvania in a thunderstorm… How much more Scooby Doo could you get?

And then the stops started. And people banging and clanging stuff as they got on or off the train. And the conductor speaking (yelling) at people. And the high speed corners. And the worry that we were going to miss our stop and wake up in Bucharest or something… In all, not the world’s best sleep.

But with a bit of practice, some earplugs and a small portable fan, overnight train travel could be very comfortable. It’s safe. It’s kind of exciting and adventurous… But we were pretty tired by the time it was all over.

Not wanting to be fumbling around packing our packs as the train pulled into the station, we (mostly me) agreed to get up about 45 minutes before we were supposed to arrive (that would be at 6:15am so we were up and stirring at 5:30am). That would have been bad enough but the train was 40 minutes late (or there was a time change or something – we still haven’t really figured all that out yet)… The she beasts were not amused.

But eventually, we were pulling into the Sighisoara train station in a light drizzle… to discover that we had absolutely no idea where the citadel (and our pension) was in relation to the train station… You’d think that a small fortified village at the top of a hill would stand out a bit… Not so apparently. We headed in a promising direction (basically away from the train station which is not at all what I was expecting of a village billed as one of the cutest, quaintest places in all of Romania) and then asked the first person we came to which direction to the town square (stupid me, I’d forgotten we were looking for a citadela not a piaza)… Eventually we saw a sign to the citadela and followed it to the top of the hill. Where we discovered that we didn’t take note of where the pension was in relation to the citadel (which was basically a medieval maze of little streets, dead ends, etc). So we wandered a bit and consulted our paperwork (which included a handy-dandy 1.5″ square map… that covered an area of 200 square kilometres). Then we asked one of the helpful looking street vendors who was setting up her cart… She had no idea where Stradela Citalti was but her boyfriend (?) did – he pointed in the direction we’d just come from (the one direction I absolutely knew was the wrong way to go) and said go straight that way… So we popped our heads into another pension and asked… Turns out our pension was about 75′ from the street vendor’s stall… In the complete opposite direction he’d pointed us. Needless to say we did not look at his souvenirs! Eventually we found our pension (Pensiune Citadela Sighisoara) and all was good. Our room wasn’t ready yet (we weren’t expecting it to be) but we could store our bags and they’d have it ready for us by 1pm.

So we headed to one of the little restaurants in the main square of the citadel. Along the way we took note of the fact that this place is really, really cool. First impressions of the train station and the desultory little town around it notwithstanding, this place looks like a historical movie come to life. There’s lots of tacky-tourist stuff (there always is) but the buildings are definitely old, the colours are exactly as one writer described it (like someone painted the town with a box of melted Crayola crayons) and the people seemed friendly. We settled at a table in one of the little places to grab something to eat… only to find that they too don’t have their full menu (this is becoming a pattern)… So no muesli and yoghurt for us… But the muffins were excellent. The tea was hot. And their wifi worked. So we killed a bit of time there then went exploring. We discovered an old church (like really, really old – 1400s or maybe older), a 19th century cemetery on the side of a hill, a couple of old school houses (the oldest built in 1619!,  a covered walkway from one level to the other that opened in 1649 and a whole bunch of old fortifications, buildings, walls etc.

Then we headed back to the pension, settled into our room (super-cute) and promptly passed out for a 4hr power nap. Then it was up and out for a bit more exploring and a nice leisurely dinner. At ridiculously cheap prices. We had three entrees, 2 liqueurs, 1 (500 ml no less!) bottle of beer, an espresso, a dessert, and a 7-Up – for $40 including tip! Marie was in seventh-heaven. The portions weren’t large but they were very tasty and the service was excellent. We all voted Sighisoara our favourite spot so far (we all like the smaller towns a lot more than the cities and the prices are better, the service is better and… it’s much, much cooler here… still hot but I’m not melting!)

After dinner we wandered around for a bit before heading back to the pension to finish a movie we’d started on the train and relax for a bit before calling it a night.

Oh yeah… Marie wants to give a shoutout to our friend Donna – who suggested that Marie have her hair chemically straightened (basically a reverse perm) to save time on the trip… Marie would like Donna to know that she spent the whole day exploring in Budapest, slept (if you can call it that) all night on a hot and humid train, wandered around in a light drizzle for a couple of hours, power napped for 4 hours and then went out for dinner… And her hair looked fantastic the whole time and she never did anything with it! Best travel tip ever!

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