You just never know exactly how things are going to go, despite planning in advance as much as you can. And of course you don't know what you're going to see along the way. Yesterday, we planned to take the train from Bucharest to Brasov, Romania a distance of about 166 kms (103 miles) by rail.
In doing some research with our AirBnb host Cosmin, we learned that there are three different types of trains that do the run from Bucharest to Brasov. There is the slow government run train that stops in towns along the way and takes almost 4 hours. The cost is 24 lei ($8 CAD, $6 USD).
There is a faster government run intercity train that takes about two and a half hours and costs 48 lei ($16 CAD, $12 USD).
The government train website is available in English and you can find routes and prices here...
And, we learned that there is a relatively new private rail operator called Softrans. This train takes about two and a half hours and costs 30 lei ($10 CAD, $7.50 USD).
Softrans website is at http://www.softrans.ro/ but is only available in Romanian language.
Based on the available options, we decided to go with the Softrans train. At the time of this writing, there is only one train per day though, leaving Bucharest at 9:22am.
We saw that you can purchase tickets and reserve your seat in advance, and we learned after the fact that we should have done exactly that.
We left the apartment at 8:00am and Cosmin had offered to take us to the train station in his car. (Thanks Cosmin!). He came in with us to make sure we were okay, and we checked the board, seeing that the train was scheduled but there was no platform assigned to it yet. We said our goodbyes, and Ruth and I stood by the main board, waiting for the train to arrive.
Waiting in Bucharest North train station.
Checking the departure board. Our train number is 15930, leaving at 9:22am.
Around 9:00am, they changed the board saying that our train would arrive 10 minutes late. Shortly after that, they changed it again to arrive 20 minutes late.
They still hadn't assigned a platform, and we could see that a crowd was starting to grow around the departure board. Eventually, the number "2" came up, and immediately everybody started heading for platform 2.
We all waited on the platform, and just before 9:30am, the train arrived.
But it was mass confusion. People didn't seem to know which cars to get in to, and the conductors were directing people towards the ones in the rear, so we just followed the crowd! We got into one car and saw several seats that had paper "reserved" signs on the seats. We quickly picked two seats that didn't have signs on them, and figured we were all set to go.
But a group of high school students got on with three of four adults. They took the seats in front of us, and one of the girls turned to say something to us. We said that we only speak English, and she quickly switched, saying that the seats that we were in were reserved for their group.
So, it turns out that you can definitely take this train without a reservation, but odds are good you will be standing for the entire journey!
The high school students in our car.
So we stood. But it was annoying that the windows on the train have a light blocker in them and it makes it difficult to see out of, and impossible to take a photo. So, no photos from the train.
After about a half an hour, a woman came up to us and said that two of the boys from the group were sitting in the upper section, but wanted to join their friends. They said that we were welcome to use their seats for the rest of the journey. Nice! We thanked them profusely, and happily sat for the rest of the trip.
Bucharest to Brasov by train.
We arrived at Brasov station at 12:04pm. I called Daniel, the host at the guesthouse where we're staying. He told me where to wait, and he arrived about five minutes later to pick us up.
Ruth, waiting with our bags at Brasov station.
Daniel gave us some ideas of things to do for the next day and asked what our plans were for the week. We said we wanted to do some hiking in the mountains if the weather cooperates, and he warned us not to go too deep into the forest...one of their guests was attacked by a bear last week.
We had read that there are a lot of bears and wolves in the hills of the Carpathian Mountains. But it's very rare for them to bother humans. Daniel said that it's true, it doesn't happen very often, and that it was just a bad coincidence that it happened to one of their guests.
We booked a week at their guest house, but they were full for the first night and had asked if we were okay staying the night at the studio apartment in his parent's house. We knew this in advance, so that's where Daniel brought us. We met his parents, but they don't speak any English. I think his mother was impressed that we could say hello in Romanian!
Ruth, in the kitchen.
Our tiny bathroom. But everything is nice and clean.
Brasov is a popular tourist city, (population 270,000) so accommodation is a little more expensive. Cost is 125 lei ($42 CAD, $32 USD) per night here. Nice little place, and we could easily stay here for the entire week. And, they had given us that option, but their guest house has better kitchen facilities so we wanted to go there. Daniel will pick us up this morning and bring us over there for the rest of our stay.
By the time we got ourselves organized and left the apartment, it was about 2:00pm. We wanted to do the hike up Tampa Hill which is right beside the city of Brasov. It was supposed to be a one hour walk, and it gets dark around 5:00pm now, so we set off to get some exercise.
One of the churches in Brasov. Beautiful!
That's the hill we're about to climb!
It was a nice day, with the temperature about 9C (48F). Great for doing some uphill hiking!
Kevin on the trail.
Ruth, on the trail.
You can see the switchbacks lower down, and you can also see how steep it was! Uphill, every step of the way. But as we had been told we arrived at the top in exactly one hour.
Beautiful view of Brasov.
Zoomed in on Brasov Citadel. We will maybe visit here this afternoon.
Brasov main square.
The red roofs of Brasov.
There is a huge Brasov sign on the top of the mountain. Much like the one in Hollywood!
In the distance, snow on the mountains.
Ruth and the view.
There is a large ski resort only 9 kms (5.5 miles) away.
Heading back down.
It was almost dusk as we got down to the bottom. We had done 8.3 kms (5 miles) in three hours. We were looking for a grocery store because we didn't have anything for dinner, so we walked to the smaller plaza near where our apartment was.
Brasov at dusk.
But we saw a restaurant that Daniel had recommended to us earlier. He said it had good authentic Romanian food. We walked over and checked out the menu that was available for viewing on the outside wall. This is very common in Europe. Prices and selection looked great, so we went on inside.
Our waiter spoke some English, so that made things easier. An because we're in a tourist town, the menu had English translation on it, as well as allergy notification!
Ruth ordered the cabbage rolls and polenta (a type of corn pudding) and I had the homemade sausage and beans.
Kevin's homemade sausage and beans.
Ruth's cabbage rolls and polenta.
It was absolutely delicious! I can see us returning to this restaurant. The waiter was actually not very attentive, but the food was great and so were the prices. But, this is our first experience in a Romanian restaurant, so perhaps the prices are even better elsewhere? I guess we'll see as time goes on.
For both meals, one bowl of vegetable soup which we split, two half litre bottles of beer, and two fairly expensive glasses of wine, the total bill was 88 lei ($29 CAD, $22 USD). We left him 100 lei (tipping is a fairly standard 10% from what we have read) and left happy and with full stomachs!
Restaurant Casa Romaneasca.
Here is the menu, in English... http://www.restaurant-casaromaneasca.ro/en/meniu/
Today, we move to the guest house this morning, and then explore the city!
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