The Night Train from Bucharest
July 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Shannon
Time to play Catch Up.
A week and a half ago I took the night train from Bucharest Nord station to Sighetu Marmatiei in the north of Romania. My friends Deborah and Dan were there and I was meeting up with them, and flying there didn’t seem too good an option (it would have required a late arrival at Baia Mare, so an overnight there) and driving would require an overnight in the middle of the country. My last overnight trip on a train was in a shared compartment on a packed car from Paris to Venice and it was truly awful – mostly the sharing. So for this trip, I booked my own sleeping car which in Romania, is very affordable. It was only $75!
With a little help from the my friend Doru on the slowtalk.com forum and also, from the fine folks at the Romania train company, CFR, I managed to book myself online. But I had no idea what to expect. Did the ticket I was carrying around really mean I would have my own car? Would it be scuzzy? Would there be ne’er-do-wells wandering around the train gassing and robbing people? Would the sleeping compartment actually go to my destination or separate from the rest of the train at 3 AM and end up in Belgrade? Or would it be totally sweet and romantic and comfortable, eating cheese and drinking wine while looking out the compartment window?
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. In a reverse of my ideas of a fun-filled night train from Paris to Venice where I’d meet all kinds of cool people and we would drink and play poker all night, my night train in Romania was, while not exactly luxury living, exactly what it was suppose to be.
I’d had a late lunch so at the station I picked up a bread thingy with an egg baked into it and as soon as the train pulled into the station I got on the sleeping car immediately. It could not have been easier – there was a sign on the outside of the car that said “Sleeping Car to Sighetu Marmatiei.” My compartment was definitely not the cleanest place I have ever laid my head but it was all mine. And, it was hot. Before the train left the station, it was like being in a closet that had not been opened in a few weeks, in Manhattan, in August. My clothes were soaked through in a matter of seconds. It did not completely cool down, even with the window open, until about four in the morning.
So, I left Bucharest with my head hanging out a train window, because one needs to be able to breathe.
The hours before I went to sleep (or attempted to sleep, anyway) were very nice. I drank wine and looked out the window at Romania passing by. There were forests, mountains, tunnels, little towns with children playing outside. I passed through what appeared to be a camp of Romani. There were many stops at little towns but the conductor came by only twice – when we left, to collect my ticket and in the morning, when he came to give it back. He didn’t even glance at my passport.
Sleeping was not so easy. This was not a high speed silent train. It was a chug chug that sounded like a train from the 19th century and also, from time to time had a sound not unlike a chain saw sawing off your left ear. But I think if you are going to take a night train, you need to understand that you may not get any sleep.
There was no bar car, and no frills except for a toothbrush and a small bar of soap. But it got me where I wanted to go for $75. I exited the land of screeching brakes and crazy drivers and entered a place where 75% of the people get around by horse and wagon, or walking. Stay tuned.