- The train from Bucharest to Chişinău costs just over US$32.
- For comparison, a flight between the two cities can cost upwards of $160.
- But the costs of saving money, an Insider reporter learned, are high.
CHIŞINĂU, Moldova — I took the train from Bucharest, Romania, shortly after 7 pm and got off in another country at 8:30 am the next morning.
An experience.” This is what everyone I’ve told about this ordeal concludes is why I would voluntarily choose to spend nearly 14 hours on a train that looks and feels like something that took dissidents to Siberia in Josef Stalin’s time for Romanian capital. to Chişinău, the capital of Moldova.
The reason anyone would choose this mode of transport, in addition to having a story to tell, is to be frugal: a ticket on CFR Călători, Romania’s state-owned railway company, was just $32.34, compared to $160. for a 70 minute trip. to fly. There’s also a bus – stated travel time: eight hours – for just over $26, but I can’t speak to what that trip would be like.
The “sleeper” train I messed up on is an old train. The “Soviet era” doesn’t really do it justice – it’s more or less half a century away from being new. It’s primitive. The ride isn’t as smooth as you’d think a rail-gliding vehicle should be. Somehow it looks like there are holes.
Still, it’s not barbaric.
Each car is divided into cozy rooms that sleep four, bunk-style, connected by a narrow aisle. Each bed has two numbers above it – your ticket has one, which ostensibly corresponds to a bed, somewhere. I never found mine. However, through negotiations, largely taking place through body language, I ended up finding a bed that someone else hadn’t yet decided was theirs.
They gave me a mattress, with stains about which the less talk the better; a pillow; and sheets that smelled of very perfumed detergent, that is, they were clean. It’s ok.
There is a bathroom. This bathroom is also good, actually. As for the dining car? There is none. Bring your own food and water or you will be hungry and thirsty.
The real issues are privacy and sleep – or lack thereof.
If, in order to fall asleep, you need peace, quiet and a bed that doesn’t rock and in fact rocks violently as if the train has decided to become an off-road jeep traversing the roughest terrain in Eastern Europe, you won’t find it here. .
Pure exhaustion won’t let you down either. After midnight we arrived at the border between Romania, which is a member of the European Union, and Moldova, which is not. An agent boarded the train and took everyone’s passport (don’t do what I did and put your passport somewhere you’ve never put it before, frantically looking for it before the agent arrives at your door, for the fun and mild concern of the three adult men sharing her room).
It took about an hour for the agent to reappear with the passports. Inside was a fresh stamp with a small train. Cute.
It was after 1 am and I thought I could confidently try to go back to sleep, assuming there would be no interruptions before Chişinău.
False. Inaccurate. We just left Romania. Now we were entering Moldova.
Once again, an agent boarded the train. They asked a question, “Why are you coming?” They got off the train. They came back an hour later. At this point, I was getting into the groove.
Now you can try to go back to sleep, if that’s what you’re still trying to do on this train.
I’m just kidding. Now they change wheels. Yes, trains have wheels that you can change, and not all countries have tracks of the same width, which is why you need to change them. The popular explanation is that this was an effort to prevent foreign invasions and smuggling during Soviet times. I learned this a little after 3 am
How do they actually change wheels? Who knows. It was dark and I’m no expert on trains. I can only explain that it looked like the off-road jeep train had blown out its tires and the driver was now continuing, distracted, from ledge to rock.
Throughout this ordeal, the 20-somethings in the room next to mine may well be playing cards, discreetly drinking booze, and listening to a mix of EDM and ’80s pop (“Right Here Waiting for You” by Richard Marx, comes to mind).
Around 4 am I fell asleep. But before we arrived, a man shook me a little, telling me to get up in Russian or Romanian. I don’t know if he was an employee or a traveling companion, but I felt like a teenager late for school.
This was about 40 minutes before our arrival. What the hell? I hit the snooze button, figuratively. You are not my real father.
This time, a man who definitely worked for the railroad company was waking me up and looked disappointed. I didn’t see the big problem – isn’t this the end of the line? — but I quickly gathered my things.
“I thought it would be the new train,” said my translator in Moldova, Andrei Rusu, when I arrived at Chişinău station, where he was waiting for me on the platform.
It was decidedly not “the new train.” It was an experience.
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