November 6th 2016
I’ll admit that I was really nervous about boarding the over night train to Brasov.
Prior to booking my train ticket, I had spent some time googling the best (and cheapest) way to get to Romania by land. Before I’d even come to Europe I had talked about the prospect of getting a train to Romania with my friend from Prague, and he told me that the trains would be old fashioned, they wouldn’t have charging points, the trains would always be 3 hours late, and they would almost certainly break down.
He told me that traveling around Romania counted as ‘advanced level’ traveling.
Trip Advisor wasn’t exactly reassuring either. I read accounts that said there would border guards who would con you and steal your passport, and that the train itself would be stuck in some 1940s time loop where people smoke, drink and rob each other right on the train itself.
I also read advice specifically for solo female travelers, and apparently you shouldn’t even dream of getting a regular seat. You’d only be safe in a first class single bed carriage.
I did not travel in first class, and I did not travel in my own single carriage. In fact, I went for the cheapest option possible which was a seat (not a bed) for 5400 ish forints (around £17) in second class.
And you know what? It was fine.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exactly ideal. The toilets were quite unpleasant and if you don’t book a bed (which I didn’t) you’re not exactly going to get a good night’s sleep, but the train itself was pretty standard.
It had charge sockets, fairly comfortable chairs, normal carriages with four or two seats per row (for some reason I was expecting a Harry Potter style compartment with closed compartments) and the people were not scary.
No one tried to rob or murder me. In fact, one Romanian couple even helped me determine I was on the right train.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning on booking the train and you don’t speak Romanian.
- The information screen at Keleti (the train station you get the 473 EN from in Budapest) wasn’t in English, which wasn’t really a problem as the train number was the same as on the ticket but it also didn’t specify on the board that the train was going to Brasov.
- If in doubt, ask the train conductors or ask someone on the train. The guy who helped me didn’t speak much English, but he definitely spoke more English than I spoke Romanian.
- It’s a bit confusing trying to find out which section of the train you’re meant to be in, but again train conductors will help even if they don’t speak much English. I accidentally went into first class at first, but it was easy to find the right seat once they told me.
- There was a restaurant car in the train but I didn’t use it, nor did I see anyone else use it, so it’s best to bring your own food and water.
- If you drink alcohol consider bringing a beer or a small bottle of wine. I wouldn’t recommend getting drunk on any kind of public transport, but a small drink will help relax you and might even help you sleep!
- If you get the night train in autumn you can’t expect to see more than four hours of scenery on this route so update your music and bring a good book or two. I finished ‘The Time Machine’ by H.G Wells on the train.
It was raining and I took these through the window so don’t go blaming me for the quality.
- From what I saw of Transylvania during the few hours of sunlight we got in the early morning, it is a strange mixture of beautiful old churches, derelict run down houses, old fashioned farms with working chimneys, fields, forests and random rubbish tips.
- The train literally goes straight through a forest and it’s weird because they don’t have any fences or anything really separating the train from its surroundings so you could jump off and live in the forest if you really, really wanted to.
- They don’t announce the platforms. At all. This wasn’t a problem for Brasov as there were tons of signs saying where we were, but if you need to get out at a smaller station you really need to look out for where you’re going.
- The tickets say what time you’re meant to arrive, but depending if you were going by the Romanian or Hungarian time we were either 40 minutes late or 20 minutes early.
- There isn’t that big a difference between first and second class when it comes to seats. I can’t speak for the sleeper cars but as I first accidentally sat in first class I got a feel of both and the chairs were slightly more comfortable, if you were alone you got a solitary chair rather than the prospect of strangers sitting next or opposite to you, and the chairs in first class were more attractive.. but that was it.
- In second class I ended up with four chairs to myself so I could semi-sprawl out, the electric plugs actually worked better and the chairs were still pretty comfortable. I don’t know how much more the first class tickets were but they really don’t seem worth it.
- The train stops all the time and when it does the doors open so people smoke out of them. There also don’t seem to be any files against smoking in the toilets, but the carriages are some free.
- Border control police will check your passports twice; once in Hungary and once in Romania. This will happen at about 11/12 pm so if you do manage to sleep that early expect to be woken up. Ticket officers also check your tickets for a 3rd time at about 3 am for some reason.
- Don’t be put off by the negative comments. A lot of the people who have had terrible experiences seem to have traveled years ago when this part of Europe was just coming out of a communist dictatorship. Things change. Romania may not be the richest country in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s a crime-ridden den of corruption either. Maybe don’t judge a place by what you think it will be like.
- Think about what else that money could be spent on. You could fly to Venice or get four buses around Europe. It’s literally just one night on a train, why be snobby about it? Don’t expect a lap of luxury and don’t have high expectations, but don’t expect the worst either. Or do expect the worst, because then you will be pleasantly surprised.
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