To get from Budapest to Brasov, I boarded a day train (an all-day train!). Unlike Japan or France where you can cover nearly 200 kilometres in an hour, the Hungarian trains operate at a more leisurely pace. The change in time zone (one hour ahead), combined with frequent stops to allow:
- Oncoming trains to pass
- Exchange of passengers
- Addition or subtraction of carriages
- Fun and profit?
The trip of some 500 km took approximately 12 hours. About half way through the trip, we crossed the Hungary-Romanian border and I obtained my first passport stamp since arriving in Iceland more than a month ago. Just before reaching the border, however, we stopped at a station, and a manic lady stormed into my train cabin, ripped open the window and started loading my compartment with parcels being passed to her from the platform. This didn’t seem troublesome for the first minute, but then packages started landing on my legs, feet, torso. Some were light, but others were hefty boxes, weighing nearly 20 kg. I stood up, and stared nonplussed at the woman. She didn’t care. I finally stepped out of the cabin with my bag. In less than 10 minutes the entire compartment was absolutely stuffed. There was scarcely room for one person (her) amidst all the boxes, never mind the initial occupant (me). Shortly, the attendant appeared and asked me to take my seat. I pointed to my seat – which, at that point was buried under a mountain of boxes – and asked where I might fit in that mess? He shrugged, smiled and told me to pick another seat in the next carriage, which was “first class”. Hungarian rail staff seem less concerned about rules than their Polish counterparts.
In my new seat, I met a group of similar “box victims”, who were actually US medical students doing some aid work and visiting Romanian hospitals. En route to our destination, we passed through the Romanian town of Deva, which is where the country’s Olympic gymnasts train. After leaving Deva, it was a few more stops before the medical students departed, leaving me alone again for the remainder of the trip. When I eventually left the train, I was rewarded with the town of Brasov.
Although the hostel suggests that travellers use a taxi, I eschewed that recommendation and instead walked. The only problem with that approach was that I didn’t have a map, it was raining, and, since it was 10 PM, it was also dark. Nonetheless, I pressed on and made it nearly all the way to the hostel before I got stuck. When I thought I was at the bottom of the hill to the hostel, I searched for the giant Coke sign they said would serve as a useful beacon. It wasn’t there. I later found out that the sign used to be a Coke sign, but now it is hawking something else. So, I paid a cab to drive me 200 m. He could have just pointed me up the driveway, but he was pleased to get a few dollars.
After I’d checked in, I flopped into bed and passed out to a brilliant display of lightening and a symphony of thunder and torrential rains, hammering on the tile roof. I was wearing ear plugs so the sonic theatrics were muted; the storm made for a sweet lullabye.
My few days in Brasov were good ones. I hiked up the Brasov hill and snapped a couple of photos from behind the Hollywood-esque sign. It was a really lovely hiked up a series of switch backs through the forest. You probably shouldn’t do it in a dress shirt, jeans and nice boots, but I set that pattern years ago in Stowe, so I figured I should continue. On the way down, I took off my shirt and ran nearly the whole way before finally catching a German fellow I’d passed on the way up the hill. I stopped and we chatted on the finally part of the hike back into the city. He is from Leipzig, but works for the EU, helping new member states sort out their environmental policies. We had a nice discussion about the challenges ahead for Bulgaria and Romania.
On my last day in the city, I met up with Cari and Emily (two women from Florida) and the three of us took a bus to Bran Castle, commonly known as Dracula’s Castle, though there was never any clear connection between the two things. From there, I hurried back to the hostel, fetched my bag and then boarded the train to Bucharest, where I’d make my connection to the night train to Sofia.