Thursday 19th of January 2006
Anyway, the hostel never woke me up but luckily I was up anyway. I left quite early and took the metro to the main train station. The information board was out of action and nobody knew what line the train was leaving on until about 5 mninutes before departure. Yes, I sweated that i would miss the train. It was due to to leave at 9.35am from budapest (Keleti) and arrive in Timisoara Nord at 15.34 (duration 4.59). You can check out train time tables at www.elvira.hu
I took my seat and off we headed. I was in a eight person comparment and it empty. It was uneventful. Romanian imigration officials asked me my business, was it my first time and stamped me in. No hassles. Very tidy. The landscape was quite rural, althought a big ugly gas pipeline ran along us the whole trip. Its unusual to see vast expanses of land, covered in snow and ice with no tress, bushes or hedgerows. Quite bleak, really.
EU, US and Canadian citizens can enter Romania without a visa and may stay in the country for 90 days. EU citizens do not even need a passport, as an ID card will suffice.
We arrived in timisoara exactly on time and following the Lets fo eastern Europe guidebooks advice, took a tram, but it went way out the wrong day. It was 22,000 lei for 2 trip ticket. The problem was I did not realise that in July 2005, the country swapped its currency. It was a pain in the ass, as both currencies are in circulation until Dec 06 and the notes look very alike. The central bank even says: “their designs and background colours are similar to the old notes”.
The denomination composition features a new value, RON 500, which is the equivalent of ROL 5,000,000.
As of July 1, 2005, Romania has dropped four zeros from its national currency. Yesterday’s 30,000 (old) Romanian lei (ROL) per U.S. dollar now equal 3.00 (new) lei (RON) to one dollar – three lei (lay) and 0 bani (bah-nee).
Both old and new coins and banknotes will be in circulation until December 31, 2006, when the old currency will be withdrawn. As a result, I took too much out of the ATM machine. Damn. Details and pictures of the old and new currency can be found from the National Tourism Site and the Central Bank site (which has the pictures).
Anyway, as I wanted to take some snaps before dusk, I walked around with my backpack checking out prices with various hotels as I went. There are no hostels in town – althought there is one 5km outide of town – some sort of youth federation. As its so close to Hungary and a popular business destiantion, its quite expensive. Anyway, at the end I stayed in the timisoara Nord hotel, about a two minute walk from the tain station. It was 70,000 Lei (or nealy 20 Euro) for a quite crappy room. Smalll TV, single bed and shower but shared hallway WC. I was tired and ate close by. I walked into town, took another wring tram, got back into town and headed to the old square which was wuite nice. I checked out the Irish Bar and spend 30 minutes in an Internet cafe (10,000 lei). The one thing that really helped me so far is the online presence of Romania Railways. I can check the times of trains in English from town to town. its top class and I would be lost without it. i can print of a page and show the person selling tickets in the tain station exactly when and where I want to go.
The official Romania tourism page for the town is here. A population of 330,000, I was somwhat diapointed at the lack of buzz or atmosphere in the town. maybe its the sulky hungarian character. fine, you know you are in romanian, the clothes, alot of Roma, old cars and alot of tacky shopfronts, but I was unimpressed by its visual character. It is interesting to note that Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built Timi?oara’s foot bridge over the Bega. It was also captured by the Turks in the late Middle Ages, and remained under Turkish control until it was regained by Hungary during the 18th Century. More information and links can be found on Wikipedia.
I also visited Piata Unirii is number one attraction in Timisoara. Its main attraction is the Roman-Catholic Dome (1736-1774) designed and build in a baroque style.
The things that jump out about Romania so far is:
– Where ever you go and when you drink somethink (pubs) you need to ask for your glass beacose all of them drink from bottle. fine by me. i rather drink my beer than way. I had a beer in a decent pub for 17,000 Lei.
– The amount of big vicious stray dogs knocking about the place. Somebody should be putting these mutts down.
– The great public transport (from buses, trolley buses to trams). They criss-cross the city.
I purchased my ticket late in the evening. it was easy with my print out. I was taking the 8.17am train from timisoara nord to Sibiu (arriving there at 14.11). In second class, the price was 300,300 Lei (30.30 RON).
Anyway, I had a relatively early night. Tomorrow was another long journey to Sibiu. i was still get my head around the different and conflicting coins and notes currently in use. Lots of room for confusion. I was woried my inexpereince with the notes (old/new) would lead to misunderstandings or fraud.
Find here the main types of trains in Romania:
PERSONAL (P) stands for a local train, which stops basically in all (or most) stations and halts there are. The trains usually have open, Romanian wagons, without compartments, and the bathrooms are bad. Sometimes there are double-decker wagons, in which situation one should avoid the upper floor in summer, as it gets pretty hot up there. Expect the wagons to be poorly maintained and take a warm jacket if you travel in wintertime. This is the cheapest way of travelling by train in Romania, yet it also is the less comfortable. It is recommended though, together with the Accelerat train, for those interested in some sociological insight, as most regular people, especially in the countryside, as well as most workers use such trains because of the cheap rate. A 100 km. ride in a 2nd class wagon (“vagon de clasa a doua”) costs the equivalent of USD 1,5. No seat reservation is required, just head for the first seat available you notice. The wagons are usually blue, marked in white with the CFR logo. Rarely there are some green wagons, on routes such as Buzãu – Nehoiasu or Vatra Dornei – Dornisoara.
PERSONAL MOTOR (PM or rarely marked with AM) stands for a local train (see above), which is made of only one (rarely two) automotive wagon, which is used more and more rarely on routes such as Arad – Vascãu or Brasov – Zãrnesti. The wagons were built somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century and are a very picturesque way of “enjoying” a trip. No seat reservation is required and the price of the ride is the same like a regular Personal one.
ACCELERAT (A) stands for a train, which is also quite badly maintained. The wagons have 11 compartments of 8 seats each (2nd class seats wagons) or 9 compartments of 6 seats each (1st class seats wagons). This kind of trains usually stops only in bigger towns and cities, running faster than the Personal. We are dealing here with aging Romanian wagons, which are restricted to the minimum of comfort and the cheapest materials the people working in ASTRA Arad Plant could find. The bathrooms are just as bad as in regular local trains. This is the way regular people travel at long distance, as this is the cheapest of the fast trains in Romania. A 100 km. ride in a 2nd class seats wagon costs about USD 3,0. A seat reservation is required for this type of train (USD 0,3), except for very few routes (usually alongside Prahova Valley on the way back from long runs, simply because the train is generally packed and no seats are available). The wagons are most times blue marked in white with the CFR logo. Some trains have a dining car and some night trains have sleeping wagons.
RAPID (R) stands for a train, which is subject to your luck. Why? Simple: you could have the bad luck of having the same conditions, wagons and all like in an Accelerat train (see above), or you could end up in a red refurbished ASTRA wagon. The wagons have 9-11 compartments (just like the Accelerat trains). Otherwise this kind of train is only lightly faster than the Accelerat one, but it is usually less crowded, due to the higher price of the ride. The bathrooms vary widely from the same old bad ones, to neat ecological ones on the German wagons some trains have (especially some international trains). A seat reservation is required for this type of train (USD 0,3). A 100 km. ride in a 2nd class seats wagon costs around USD 5,0. Some trains have a dining car and most night trains have sleeping wagons.
INTER CITY (IC) stands for a close-to-modern train with air-conditioned wagons. The train has most times red, open Western wagons and all trains have a dining car, running only at daytime. The routes, which are served by such trains, are Bucharest – Timisoara, Bucharest – Cluj Napoca, Bucharest – Constanta and Bucharest – Iasi. The bathrooms are usually proper and the service – better than on other trains, yet the rates are just as high: USD 6 for a 100 km. ride in a 2nd class seats wagons. Most IC trains only run on weekdays. A seat reservation is compulsory on these trains (USD 0,3).
INTER CITY EXPRESS trains have been introduced with this fluffy name only for Marketing purposes, as they only run from Bucharest to Constanta, to the coast. They are just as nice as the regular IC and the conditions are the same.
EURO CITY and EURO NIGHT trains have a catch. There is only one EC and one EN running, to and from Budapest to Bucharest. They share the same rates with the regular Rapid trains on domestic routes though and the fact that less people know that results in the situation where rarely they are fully booked. They need a seat reservation both (USD 0,3) and the rate is similar to the one on a Rapid train: USD 5 for a 2nd class seats wagon. The EN has regular German red wagons (only 8 seats 2nd class wagons and sleepers), while the EC has white/blue open wagons belonging to the Hungarian Railways (MÁV).