Day 14: Sighisoara to Bucharest

Posted: August 1, 2014 in Bucharest, Getting Around, Sighisoara
Tags: , , , ,

Marie woke up in the middle of the night feeling pretty unwell so both her and I were feeling kind of punky this morning (although I definitely felt better than I had for most of yesterday). Caitlin of course was feeling fine… I blame that Cafe Aleebee place (or whatever it was called) where Marie and I had some kind of chicken pita sandwiches with hummus. It didn’t really matter how we were feeling because there’s not a lot of room for error in this trip plan (we could change things if we really needed to but it’s a pretty fixed schedule) so there’s no lollygagging about…

We made it downstairs by 9am to grab our free breakfasts (Marie took her BLT to go as she wasn’t feeling at all hungry) and then headed back to up to the room to finish packing. We headed back down, settled up our account with Tatiana (the hostess/breakfast cook/front desk staff/cleaner) had a brief chat with a woman (and her father) from California who is currently living in northern Iraq (she’s a professor at a university there) – she swears it’s perfectly safe and much different from the southern part which is where all the violence is (her father was not convinced). It’s probably a good thing we had to leave to catch our train or she would have had Marie planning our next trip to Iraq!

We retraced our steps from earlier in the week and found the train station (everything looked a lot more charming than it had when we arrived – maybe because we’d had more sleep and it wasn’t raining). Unfortunately, we also found out that our train would be delayed by 80 minutes… So we chatted a bit with some fellow travellers from Vancouver, played some cards (Marie made a valiant attempt at beating me at crib but ultimately fell short) and kind of hung around doing not much of anything… Welcome to the zen of travelling.

Once the 80 minutes had passed, we headed outside to wait for the train (surely it would be coming soon) but we ended up waiting another 20 minutes or so outside. Plenty of time to witness a quite comical interchange between the conductor of a small passenger train and one of the station staff… We imagine it went something like this:

Hey stupid… Why is your train parked on track number 3? Didn’t you get the memo that said you’re supposed to be on track #1?? 

No way… this is where I alway park my train. What the hell’s the matter with you. Why would I want to park my train on track #1 when I can make everybody walk all that extra distance by parking it on track #3… Go bug someone else or something… 

Dude, it’s your call but there’s a really big train coming on track #3 soon and we’d kind of like to not kill everyone on it and we’d really rather not shmuck those nice people standing and waiting for their train (which is very very late now by the way)… So why don’t you just back your train back the way you came and go find where the switch is and get on track #1 like you’re supposed to… There’s a good fellow. 

Every since you got that little flag they give the station people you’ve been a little uppity you know… Fine. I’ll move my train but only ’cause I’m getting a bit hot out here in the sun and it’s nice and shady over there on track #1… but you know where you can shove your big train… right??

Shortly after, our train arrived (on Track #2 where it was supposed to be) and we piled on… Apparently they were trying to make up time because the door smacked Marie right on the butt as she was climbing in (those doors are heavy) and it was pulling out of the station before everyone was seated. Finding seats wasn’t a problem because it was a pretty empty train… Marie and I walked the length of it at one point and it couldn’t have been more than 10% full.

We watched a couple of movies, read some books, etc. to pass the time and looked at the scenery passing by… This is a very pretty country – rolling hills, farmland, cute little alpiney villages, mountains, the whole package… But there also seems to be a lot of poverty and some of the places we passed through were pretty sad looking. The train itself was an older diesel type – things were a bit worn but serviceable.

Somehow, the train made up a whole lot of time along the way and we arrived in Bucharest only 40 or so minutes late. There must have been a time warp along the way or something. Bucuresti Nord train station is a bit rundown and chaotic with some sketchy looking characters (quite a few of them actually). We’d make arrangements to have someone pick us up and drive us our apartment (there’s no reception or anything because it’s an apartment so it was just easier to have one of their staff pick us up)… Only problem, they weren’t there to pick us up. Fortunately my iPhone hadn’t quite died yet so we were able to call the number we had for the company and were told someone would be there shortly…

While we waited for our ride to arrive, I went to the international tickets office to buy our tickets for the next two legs of our journey – Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria and Veliko Tarnovo to Istanbul, Turkey… Our plan was to make the 6 hr train trip to Veliko, spend a night there (at the Lucky Hotel no less) and then take the overnight train to Istanbul on Sunday… One small problem… There is no night train to Istanbul anymore… Because of work on the lines, it now goes something like this: Train to Gorna (8km from Veliko) – Bus to Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria – Another bus from Dimitrovgrad to Kapikule, Turkey – Train from Kapikule to Çerkezköy (where the Orient Express was once snowed in for days – an event that gave rise to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express) and finally another bus from Çerkezköy to Istanbul… We decided to spend the night thinking about it…

As I walked back my phone rang – it was our driver – we had one of those comical moments when we realized we were looking at each other from 15′ away while talking to one another on the phone… We piled our stuff into his battered Land Rover and headed for our apartment… Marie – for some reason – passed on sitting in the front (she never passes up a chance to sit in the front). I think it was a premonition… Somehow she knew that driving in Bucharest is really, really scary and wanted me to have a front row seat for it. I really can’t describe the driving conditions… We drove about 3 km and our driver narrowly missed two buses, about a dozen pedestrians, sixteen other cars and displayed aggressive driving tendencies that would make a demolition derby driver wince. I’m truly stunned we made it to our apartment in one piece.

We had to stop and pick up the check-in person who accompanied us to the apartment (which required much double parking, honking of horns and general mayhem). Finally we pulled up in a rather seedy area and we piled out and followed the check in lady (she had a name but none of us can remember it) around to the front of the building. She gave us a brief rundown of the area (metro stop that way, old town that way, grocery store over there just past the sex shop… kind of gives a good idea of the neighbourhood to note that there are at least 6 sex shops in the same block as the apartment). Then we headed inside. To say that we were worried is an understatement – you read all kinds of reviews of these apartment rental setups where the apartment looks nothing at all like the website and you’re paying 45 euros for a hovel… This was looking like it was going to be a hovel… The elevator could only carry two people. The stair case had few, if any, working lights. There are bars on most of the doors and everybody has deadbolts and substantial doors… Fortunately, when she opened the door to our unit we were met with a very bright, very clean and well-equipped one bedroom apartment… Definitely the best room we’ve stayed in thus far and one of the best we’ve ever stayed in… It’s too bad getting to it feels like you’re actually risking life and limb.

After we dumped our packs and paid our money and went through the house rules (we particularly liked the one about being quiet in the stairwell because there are “funny people” in the building who like to quarrel…) and changed, we headed out for something to eat. We basically took the first restaurant we came to (no one was really feeling all that hungry or much like exploring), ate dinner then headed back… Stopping first to grab some yogurt and water for breakfast the next day.

Our first impressions of Bucharest – not at all helped by the double deadbolt, extra heavy duty door and multiple warnings to watch your belongings, be safe, etc. in the written materials left by the landlord – is that the negative reviews might be more accurate than the positive… But for now we’ll keep an open mind.

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