I had wanted to go to Romania since I got to Europe. Even with its bad reputation, the mystery of it fascinated me. I imagined dark castles at the end of infinite roads with a sinister forest as background. I saw small farms with piles of hay and smoking chimneys, women running after chickens in gray dresses. I imagined something coming out of a Grimm’s fairytale. Somewhere where blackbirds spoke to you and branches grabbed at you, where people still traveled in carriages pulled by a set of faster-than-the-wind horses. I would take a wrong turn and ring a doorbell that would scare away bats over a full moon. Howling would resonate as loudly as my heartbeat.

Of course, reality was far from it.

I left Hungary and it showed. Mounds of trash and roaming dogs replaced nice, clean landscape. Two policemen entered the train carriage - and by policemen I mean huge, huge, unsmiling scary guys - the double huge is not a typo. I handed my passport over at their request, thinking they would take a look and hand it back. They didn’t. They walked out and disappeared. My passport disappeared with them and I was alone in my carriage. This, I thought, is the part where things go wrong.

But it was not to be. My passport reappeared some 15 agonizing minutes later and we were on our way.

They walked out and disappeared. My passport disappeared with them and I was alone in my carriage. This, I thought, is the part where things go wrong.

I got off in Timisoara.

Timisoara

Following the given directions to my hostel, I was meant to get on a tram.

Outside the tiny train station were trams. Good.

No directions. Not so good.

Where to buy tickets? Different problem.

My heavy gesticulating seemed to scare off the people around me as I tried to be understood, until I found an amazing young woman who not only spoke English but also urged me to cross the street to a small hut where they sold tickets. It appeared she was taking the same tram and could help me. Aboard the tram, she offered to stamp my ticket, as my bag wouldn’t fit through the throng of people and then even walked me to my hostel. She was studying English at university and happy for the practice. Later on that evening, she came back for a drink with the hostel group.

The woman controlling my ticket sat down in a huff when she realized I couldn’t speak Romanian. She gave me a choice of Italian or German, as you do.

That day was the day I met my two German travel buddies. This is also where I decided that I found the German language musical. No sarcasm.

As we ordered a few beers, conversation flowed naturally between us. Vegetable and pork soup was set in the middle of the table. We hungrily ladled the aromatic liquid into our bowls. Our main dish consisted of thick beef stew, accompanied of polenta - boiled cornmeal, loved it! - sausages in cabbage and sweetbread. The assortment filled us up nicely for a walk around the city, where we discovered beautifully colored architecture combined with dangling electrical wires and orthodox churches.

Men congregate

The boys and I traveled together through Sibiu and Brasov. Lovely Sibiu boasted white mountains as a backdrop. In Brasov, we explored the Hollywood-like sign overlooking the city. We walked Brasov’s winding alleys but never made it to Dracula’s castle – pure laziness on our part. Instead, we visited the Irish Pub, made Finlandia roll on our tongues, cheered the football team loudly, swung out of our hostel window and broke the kitchen table. We were loud and alive.

Then, the guys left and so came silence.

They did ask me to change carriage cars. At the next stop, I walked some 10 carriages down until I found one that instead of open seating had compartments like Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s Express. Don’t really know if I had upgraded or not.

For a few days I stayed cooped up in the hostel deciding to take a break on the sightseeing – partying - until this got boring. I made my way to Bucuresti – Bucharest. Romania’s controversial? capital – the question mark is not a typo. When reading, please read the ending to the word “controversial” with a high-pitched voice as the definition of Bucharest is still something I’m debating.

Bucharest was special in its own way. Even now writing about it, I can’t make up my mind and decide if I liked or disliked it. Bucharest is a city of contrasts and opposites. It is run down. Stray dogs roam around the city center and yet you come upon the magnificent parliament, 2nd biggest parliament building after the Pentagon, many of its rooms completed in fine Romanian pink marble. It is a sight to behold yet the people seem to be dressed in rags. And then, while thinking this last thought, you’ll see someone go by in full crisp suit.

Romanian Train

My time in Bucharest was short. I arrived by train, the supposedly wrong one might I add. Confused at the station, I had shown my ticket to a controller on the platform who had urged me to get on this train. It turned out to be the wrong one. The woman controlling my ticket sat down in a huff when she realized I couldn’t speak Romanian. She gave me a choice of Italian or German, as you do. I told her I spoke Spanish. We spoke in a broken stream of words until the gray-mustached man who had directed me to this train in the first place, walked by, seemed to tell the woman he was the cause of me being here at all until she accepted to hand me back my ticket.

It is a sight to behold yet the people seem to be dressed in rags. And then, while thinking this last thought, you’ll see someone go by in full crisp suit.

The stations didn’t have names. In itself, this wasn’t a problem but just meant I bothered my next-door-carriage neighbors quite a lot. I knew the time we were supposed to arrive in the city. When the time got near, I got up and interrupted the two balding men in the compartment behind me at every next stop asking “Bucuresti?” with a nice high pitched ending, until they nodded.

I found my hostel easily and made friends with the receptionist, a shaved-head Romanian native called Filip. We went out to have pork soup and beers. During the night, I found him crawling into my bed and had to throw him out. He apologized profusely the next morning for the confusion. Lovely guy I guess.

A few days later, I took the sleeper train back to Budapest with a Scottish carrot-head guy named Steve - decent fellow. He was traveling with a girl – unattractive, blond haired with metal-framed rectangular glasses - which I cannot recall the name of, who was the luxury type. Although, her dream was to open a bakery, her means to do so was to study law, something she hated because she would never, ever, open a business in debt. She preferred being miserable for the next 20 years then ever being out of money. I was happy to be skint. I fell asleep.

             

The Writer

I write stuff for fun, if it was for a living I would be homeless.

Find out more about me, Stefanie, here.

Quotes

Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything. Steve Martin