Buzău to Braşov; Aborted attempt to see the mud volcanoes; The Railway Cow (and an explanation thereof); Hot smelly bus in Ploeşti; Packed like irritable sardines from Buzău to Ploeşti; Quick train from Ploeşti to Braşov; Searching for a place to stay; Shacking up with Elvira for the night

The Day from Hell commenced early. We skipped breakfast and got to the train station to catch a train to Berca, the village nearest the mud volcanoes. How near or how far, we had no idea, so it was a bit of a gamble. We had no internet connection, and the woman at the information window at the train station was viciously angry and wanted nothing to do with us, so we were reduced to reading the posted schedule for the end of the line on which Berca lies, and guessing how long the train would take to get from there to Berca.

The train itself was one of Romania’s shining examples of speed and comfort, the Personal train. This rustbucket took forty minutes to get to Berca, but it was the only game in town and at least we had a compartment to ourselves. We had no idea what to expect from Berca, but when we got off the train there was nothing - two sets of tracks, the station buildng, and the backs of half a dozen houses was all there was to see. We decided to check the return tomes to Buzău first, and then try and find out how to get to the mud volcanoes. Alas, either we’d misread the schedule back in Buzău or it was out of date - the only useful train back there left in only ten minutes. There were others later in the day, of course, but we needed to be in Buzău by noon at the latest, since we’d left our packs in the hostel room and checkout time was noon. We were obliged to write off the mud volcanoes and get right back on the train. What a waste of time! At least we’d had an early start and hadn’t lost too much of the day.

Back in Buzău we had no better luck getting information out of the Railway Cow about connections to Braşov, but I was able to find a wifi connection and look it up myself. With just enough time to grab our packs and get back to the station again, we found ourselves once more in queue waiting for the Railway Cow. Now, though, the reason for her nasty temper was clear. The station was full of so much construction noise that neither of us could think and had instant headaches. There was a man with a jackhammer working on smashing up the floor no more than three meters from us. We suddenly felt terribly sorry for the Railway Cow, having to work all day in that skull-pounding racket. It didn’t make us like her any better, but at least we had an explanation. We got our reservations to Ploeşti and from Ploeşti to Braşov and got out as quickly as we could. They were second-class tickets again (sigh) but neither of us would have gone back into that station for anything, even if there had been enough time.

The train to Ploeşti was awful. It was the Bucharest-bound train and was of a different style to what we were used - more of a commuter train with seats all over the cars in all directions on two levels, instead of the row of six-seat compartments which had been the norm up till then. It was also crammed full of people, wall to wall. We took one look at the seething interior of the car and despaired of being able to find a spot to stand, let alone find a place for the packs and seats for us. But we had no choice - we pushed on, instantly giving up the idea of finding our reserved seats. Pushing and shoving along with everybody else, we somehow managed to find an unoccupied corner where I could stash the bags, and a seat for Sheryl. There was a seat for me too, though an old woman’s suitcase was occupying the space where my legs should have gone. I didn’t care, I took it just to have a spot to breathe.

By this time, both Sheryl and I were hot, out of breath and out of patience with each other completely. I read my book and she talked with other people, be we hardly said a word to one another through the two hours it took to get to Ploeşti. It goes like that sometimes, and it’s something I was afraid of before we left on the trip. It’s been happening more frequently lately, though, and it’s something we’re both going to have to watch out for.

Our tempers had cooled by the time we reached Ploeşti. We had to catch the train to Braşov from Ploeşti’s other station, though. We were at the south station and needed to be at the west station. We knew there was a train we could take that would get us to the west station in time, and we were on the right platform at the right time, but the train never came - it must have been switched to a different track and we, not understanding Romanian, didn’t get the announcement. So we scrambled for local transit. Sheryl found a bus that went to the other station and we rain after it and jumped on. We weren’t panicked about the time but we didn’t know how often the bus came and thought it better to grab it while it was there. The bus was horrible - too crowded to breathe, and too hot and smelly to want to. Nearly all the trip had me with some long-unwashed man’s armpit in my face, as my arm was slowly being eased out of its socket by my awkward angle holding onto the window frame. Sheryl was similarly wedged. It was a uniquely horrible fifteen minutes of my life and I was never happier to arrive at a train station. The only bright spot was that, in our hurry to board the bus we hadn’t bothered to buy tickets, and no one came round to check them, so we got a free bus ride.

The fourth and last train of the day was much nicer than the others. It was the only normal (non-commuter) modern train we’d seen in Romania. We found our sets with no problem and stashed the bags with no problem either, and only had to fight a little to get our seats from the woman occupying them (rule one of train travel in Romania - there’s always someone in your seat, and you have to fight to get them out of it). There were a couple of nice Romanian girls from Arad opposite to us who’d been to Sinaia, and they recommended it to us.

We arrived in Braşov in the late afternoon without incident> We had nowhere to stay and no map of the city, so it was time once more to walk around like an idiot with the computer open, trying to find a wifi connection. I left Sheryl and walked for ages without finding a single connection, open or otherwise. I haven’t told Sheryl this, but I discovered afterward that I had the wifi turned off on the computer for some reason, so it was a huge waste of twenty minutes. It worked out in the end, though, because after I’d givet up and came back to collect Sheryl and we started walking away from the train station, we met a couple of English guys who were about to meet an old lady who had some rooms to rent, and they suggested we go along with them. I’d managed to surreptitiously turn the wifi back on and find a network and a hostel by this time, so it wasn’t an emergency, but the old lady’s house was close and the hostel was a bus ride away, so we went with them. The old lady, Elvira (sadly pronounced el-veer-ah, not like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) was nice, if a bit set in her ways. She had some sons living in Canada, in Toronto and Mississauga, so we had something to talk about. The room was 90RON (about CAD$36), so comparable to what the hostel would have been, so we took it for the night. Braşov is utterly unlike anywhere else we’d been in Romania until that point. The houses and buildings all had the distinctive and by now familiar sagging, tiled Transylvanian roofs, sagging to the point that I suspected the merchants in the historic centre are subsidised by the tourist board not to repair them - but the town was very much more Western European than any others had been. Lots of chain stores and kebab shops. It was a bit comforting to have a little familiarity and tourist infrastructure, I have to admit, after being off the beaten track for so long. The walk from Elvira’s house to the centre was quite long - a good half-hour, and by the time we reached it the sky was black with thick clouds and and some loud, angry thunder had started rolling in. I made a joke about how cool it would be to be caught in a real Transylvanian thunderstorm, Sheryl gave me a dirty look and the sky opened up. We’d been chatting to the British guys, and so the four of us huddled in a doorway and watched the lightning. The rain was very heavy and the use of all the deep drainage channels in the cobbled streets was suddenly plausible. We eventually realized that the rain wasn’t going to let up, so Sheryl and I made a dash for the tourist office - closed on Mondays, naturally - and then gave it all up and walked back to Elvira’s house in the rain, getting nicely soaked in the processs. I took pity on Sheryl and sent her in for a shower and to lie down, while I went out for groceries. The rain stopped and started and stopped again, finally finishing with a glorious rainbow to the east just as the sun was setting. We made some chicken soup for a late dinner - comfort food if ever there was - and went to bed late to the accompaniment of snores from Elvira’s never-seen husband.


One Comment on this Dispatch:

July 5th, 2012

So, we’re in the process of deciding where to go next and Romania has come up on the list. This post does not make it sound too appealing haha. I haven’t read the other Romania posts yet but I’m hoping there are some good things in there :. Just so you know, your blog has become a travel reference for us!

¬ Kendall
July 5th, 2012

Aw, this was probably the worst day we had in Romania though, don’t judge from that! Overall we loved the place, it’s just not as easy to get around as some other countries. Check a few of the other entries before you write it off… Maramureş and the Merry Cemetery, Braşov, Bran, Sinaia and Sighişoara were all great. The  Făgăraş Mountains were challenging and scary but good. If you go through Cluj-Napoca I can hook you up with some cool people. 

Travel reference? What, you mean like How Not To Do It? :)  Now I feel bad about all those places I never wrote about… You’ll have to let me know your rough plans so I can try fill in the blanks.

¬ Chris
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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