DAYS 33, 34, 35, & 36 – A NIGHT TRAIN TO BUCHAREST

I had my first (and hopefully last) fall of this trips on our way back from breakfast. We were in the area of Belgrade that we found the night before when we look a turn left out of the restaurant, and a few minutes later, I was falling out of my chair. I’m not sure if it was the random cobblestone or what got in my way, but it was bound to happen eventually. Tony said it looked like I was falling out in slow motion, and it felt the same way. But either way, I was less than injured, just a bruise on my right knee and a little soreness in my left hand. I’ve since recovered and I’m thankful that my nose and teeth are still in tact.

Our next stop was Bucharest. It was a 13-hour train ride and thus we opted to do an overnight sleeper train. But first we had two transfer stops, one in Vrsac on the boarder of Serbia, and another in Timisoara, on the northern end of Romania. It seemed a little out of the way, but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the trains in this part of the world aren’t quite as developed as other parts of Europe. So around 3 pm, our taxi dropped us off at the Beograd Dunav station. He drove to the back of the building and I immediately thought, “This can’t be right. This station has been abandoned.” But nope, it wasn’t. It was a fully functional station. There was one (cranky) woman seated behind an old window who, without speaking a word, issued handwritten tickets. We paid the equivalent to $4 USD and waited on one of the four benches in the old brick building. Out back were two rail tracks, with weeds growing in between the rails causing a non-functional appearance. And about five minutes before departure, our two-car train arrived. We boarded quickly and found our seats for our two-hour ride, where we would transfer for another two-hour ride. We were in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black light, with not a single English speaking person for probably 100 miles around. It was a very strange feeling.

We were able to successfully find our night car after the two transfers (although I think Tony doubted my plan the more and more rural it became). The sleeper train was a longer train, full of sleeper cars. Tony has always wanted to do an overnight train. He kept telling me how romantic it was going to be. I, on the other hand, had done my research and knew that a sleeper train in Romania was unlikely to be bursting with luxury. As soon as we got on the train, I had to crawl. There was a very narrow hallway along the edge of the train that led to the numerous cabins. We found ours about halfway down and as soon we opened the door, I knew it was going to be a long night.

The room was warm, stuffy, and had a very foul smell. There was not a luxurious bed with rose petals and champagne. Instead, there were bunk beds with, from what Tony said, appeared to have questionable sheets on the top bunk. There was enough floor space for Tony to stand and turn in a circle, our luggage and wheelchair filling up the rest of the space. After about an hour or two, and Tony convincing me that he simply was not allowing me to climb to the top bunk, we each tucked ourselves in – Tony on the top, and me restlessly attempting to fall asleep on the bottom.

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The train was not a smooth and peaceful as you might think. Parts of the track were old, and would rattle the entire cabin, causing my eyes to burst open, thinking we were derailing. At other times I felt like the wheels, which must have been just below my bunk, were going to fall off.   And about every hour or so, we would stop at various stations. Everything would become silent and I would whisper to Tony, “Are you awake?” I just got heavy breathing sounds and knew he was sound asleep, while I sat on the bottom bunk, tossing and turning, thinking about what an experience this really was. In the middle of Romania, on a train, at 2 am…3 am…4 am….

We arrived at the Bucharest train station and immediately headed for the exit. A quick stop at the ATM to get some Romanian currency (the Leu) for our taxi and I discovered that after five weeks of traveling my bank had finally decided to turn off my card. We attempted to use Uber, but were unsuccessful there as well. Everything we’ve read, and a few fellow travelers, suggests that pickpocketing is a major concern in Bucharest, especially in public transit stations. Thus, we were just wanting to get to the hotel and rid ourselves of our luggage. We were finally able to get one of our cards to work and found a taxi. We grabbed a sandwich from the hotel deli (we hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours and the train didn’t have a food car) and I fell on the bed and slept for the most amazing four hours of the entire trip.

It was mid-afternoon before I was finally ready to explore. We showered away the sleeper train layer of grime and headed out with a mission to find some hot food. I hadn’t planned any of the Bucharest portion of our trip, so we found a nice café where we ate, drank, and planned out our next few days.

Our first full day of Bucharest was much like our other days – packed full! We walked over 10 miles again, and saw almost all the major tourist sights. The sun was finally shining and it was warm enough for us to walk around without hats and scarves. We visited the Parliament, which is by the far the largest and most elaborate that we’ve seen on this trip, and what I thought to be the neatest thing in Bucharest. Next to it is the Museum of Contemporary Art, where we spent some time just wandering.

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The city isn’t nearly as walkable as some of the other cities we’ve visited. Everything is a little more spread out, and there are not ramps in the crosswalks, causing a lot of up and down, up and down…which, as those wheelchair pushers know, is very exhausting. The buildings were all very similar, a drab gray color, usually about four or five stories, with almost identical exteriors. A leftover remnant, and still people’s homes, from the communist times. The streets, in addition to not have ramps, are a whirlwind of turns and curves. There are a handful of major streets that have perpendicular intersections, while the rest just twist around the buildings that have overtaken. The cars are more often than not parked on the sidewalk, not partially, all the way, and thus pedestrians are left to walk on the street. I actually found this easier as the pavement was nicer, but Tony became overly paranoid so we had an ongoing battle of sidewalk versus street. There were a few street festivals for the holidays, but nothing like we experienced in Prague, Budapest, and Zagreb.

It was Tony’s birthday, so we did a little extra celebrating and he had a steak dinner. It was a late night for us and we didn’t set an alarm for the next morning. But as soon as the sun was up, I was ready to begin more exploring. There were just a few things I wanted to see, but they were a bit of a hike from the hotel. Knowing that Tony wouldn’t be up for the walk, I ‘tricked’ him into making the trek with me. We did an initial two miles to breakfast, took a break, and then walked another two miles for a tiramisu stop. And then it got long. We walked for four miles away from the city, into a very residential and industrial part of the city. I think walking in a city is one of the best ways to find things that you might not other see. This has proven true dozens of times for me before. But about an hour and a half into the walk, I realized that all we were going to see before the Triumphal Arch and surrounding parks were housing buildings and markets for the locals. We only had 20 minutes left and my Maps with Me app was showing a restaurant nearby that I promised Tony we would have lunch at.

So we found the Triumphal Arch, which was unfortunately completely under construction, and the park with many memorials in it, including for Michael Jackson and Mark Twain. We headed to the restaurant, and as soon as we rounded the corner, as instructed by my GPS, we found the only restaurant within a half-mile – the Hard Rock Café. We were so exhausted, that despite refusing to eat at chain restaurants overseas, we found ourselves having a beer and nachos. We were able to call an Uber using their wifi, which is how we made it home that evening, having finally checked off everything on the ‘to-do list’ in Bucharest.

The next day we would begin our journey back to The States. We had a flight to Paris, where we would stay for one night and meet my brother who had been exploring in Lisbon, and then it was back to Ohio for the holidays. It was bittersweet going to bed, knowing that our journey was coming to an end, and our future unknown.

Please feel free to read Tony’s perspective of our trip at http://www.whereistony.com.

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