Jul 20, 2011

Trip to Romania (Final Day)

For those of you still wondering if we ever made it to Romania--since it's taken us so long to finish this series of posts--we did! 
The reason we went to Romania in the first place was because Mike was invited to present a paper at a conference. So after taking the scenic route through Prag, Vienna and Budapest, we landed in Timisoara, Romania just in time for a good night's sleep before Mike's presentation.
Even before we got to Timisoara, we knew we were in for an adventure. On the train there, we sat in the same compartment as a Romanian lady, who warned us about all of the dangers in Romania and the gypsies. She sure made us excited to get there. 
Actually, when we got to Timisoara, it was at least a million times nicer than Budapest. Sure it was a little rundown, but lots of the people spoke at least a little bit of English and they were a lot nicer. The city also had it's own unique culture instead of being just another big, dirty European city. Being rundown was part of the city's charm. The buildings looked like they once had some prestige, but unlike Germany, Austria, etc., they haven't been cleaned or renovated for years. 

 The churches were also unique compared to the giant Catholic and Protestant cathedrals we're used to.

By the end of the day, we hadn't had any adventures. The hotel was great; we found good restaurants so the food was nice; and a lot of people were interested in Mike's presentation. But the adventure we knew we were bound to have came as it began to get dark. We had planned to take a midnight train from Timisoara back to Munich, but had a lot of time to spare. So we headed back to the city, ate dinner, and took a few more pictures.
A little nervous, and not knowing how long it would take us to walk to the train station, we set off at about 11:15. Sure enough we got there quite early and had to wait. Usually waiting is not a big deal, but when it is in the middle of the night in the middle of a unlighted train station full of creepy Romanians, it gets a little scary. While we were waiting, we started hearing voices and seeing people in the old abandoned trains behind us. Then a group of teens popped out, followed by an older woman, and then a very homeless looking man. What they were doing in there, nobody knows. What I do know is that it was a little spooky. The train finally came and we boarded. We knew we were in trouble when it already stunk at the entrance and the first booth was occupied by a policeman taking his smoking break (yes, in the train). We found a booth to sit down in, but it was absolutely disgusting. There were no lights in our booth, so Mike went to see if there were any booths with lights. When he came back, he said the booths are better without lights because you can't see how nasty they are. I put my jacket on with a hood so that as little of my body touched the seat as possible and Mike stood up most of the time, staring out of the window (there was no intercom to announce the stops.)
We were supposed to ride for about an hour and then switch trains at a random town for our direct train to Munich. When we got to where we were supposed to switch, we had about four minutes to switch trains. So, we ran to the front of the tiny train station to find out which platform/direction our train was leaving from, only to find out that our train had already gone. (Tip to future travelers: Romanian trains stop and go whenever and wherever they please. Don't expect them to follow any kind of schedule.)
We started asking people what to do, but no one spoke English. Of course, we were in a old, rundown town in Romania at 1:30am, we'd missed our train, and now no one spoke English. A taxi driver tried to explain that our train had already gone and that he would take us to the frontier, which we now know means border. But we had no idea what he was saying until a younger guy, who knew some English, walked into the station. He told us that the taxi driver was offering to drive us to the next stop at the Romania-Hungary border in time to catch the train if we paid him cash upfront. Not knowing what else we could do and seeing that a local lady was taking him up on his offer, we jumped in. 
 Off we went at about 80 mph down some old, bumpy back roads. Our driver ran stop signs and swerved around potholes. To top it off we didn't have any seat belts. At one point, it was so bumpy and we were going so fast that the trunk popped open and the Romanian lady started getting worried that her stuff would fly out, but we had no time to stop and fix it. Finally we saw the train, but we were on the wrong side of the tracks. We caught up to the train and sped past it, but the barriers were already down on the tracks and there was a line of cars. Our taxi driver didn't care. He took a quick look and swerved around the line of cars, between the barriers and sped across the tracks. Scared out of our minds, we made it to the next station just in time to board the train. 
This train wasn't quite as gross as the first, and by this time we didn't even care. We were just grateful we weren't sleeping on an old station bench. The rest of the trip was quite uneventful, we dozed in and out until we got to Munich. The only fun on that final train were these three guys, who hid in the tiny train bathrooms together every time the ticket checkers came through. We're not sure how they all fit, but they made it all the way to Munich. 
We got to Munich planning to spend the night, but we're so worn out that after a quick lunch trip to Pizza Hut, we boarded the next train home. We left Romania just after midnight and arrived in Heidelberg just before 11pm. What a day and what a trip!