The itinerary from Serbia to Transylvania seemed simple enough. After riding direct from Belgrade to Timişoara, we’d catch a 10pm train to Vinţu de Jos, a small transit hub along the way. There we’d begin the final leg, a 2-hour local hop that would bring us into Sibiu somewhere around 6am.
Although time was short in Timişoara, all was going well – until around 3am when we pulled into Vinţu de Jos. The train didn’t even stop for a full minute.
Although we’d been carefully watching for signs, the stop was so brief that by the time we put on our packs and made it to the door – we’d already started moving again. And not in the direction of Sibiu. So we did the only thing we could; we waited until the next stop, an even more remote town by the name of Alba Iulia, and hopped off.
Something about Alba Iulia station truly made me feel like we’d just gone 30 years back in time. It was falling apart, quite filthy, and populated solely by sleeping gypsies and little stray puppies. Only one sink between its two bathrooms functioned, and less than half of the toilets had seats. In the men’s room trashcan was a single bloody tampon.
After struggling with the arrival/departure board for a few minutes, we wandered outside and knocked on the door of a nearby police station; it was the middle of the night and absolutely freezing out, but thankfully someone was still there. Without one word of common language the friendly officer confirmed that the next train to Sibiu would be departing in just over three hours. A pen and paper has never come in so handy.
We killed the remaining time watching Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” on my laptop; a power outlet near the bathroom and some plastic grocery bags laid out on the floor made a perfect mobile cinema.
Travel tip of the day: always carry an ample supply of plastic bags. You wouldn’t believe how useful they can be: a seat cover, an umbrella, a luggage-fastener, a trash receptacle, insulation for a dirty pair of shoes. They can even be used to carry groceries.
Travel is all about creativity.
When the train bound for Sibiu arrived, it was a totally new class of transit. I’ll just leave it at “Yuck.”
By this time both Peder and I were completely exhausted, having slept less than an hour on the train from Timişoara to Alba Iulia – so although the scenery out the window was interesting (probably about what you’d envision when you hear the words “Romanian countryside”) we slept nearly the whole way there, waking up to our alarms at 9:10am. We were scheduled to pull into Sibiu station at 9:15, and did not intend to make the same mistake twice.
At 9:12 we stopped at a station marked “Cristian Sibiu.” Knowing that we may only have a moment’s chance, we made a split-second decision and bolted for the door. Sure enough, the train never even completely stopped – it just slowed down enough for a few people to hop on and off.
Yep, we didn’t make the same mistake twice – this time we made an entirely different one.
As it turns out, Cristian Sibiu is a different town from Sibiu – about 10km down the road. I guess those last 10km would’ve corresponded to the extra 3 minutes until our scheduled 9:15 arrival 😐
The town of “Cristian Sibiu” was about as rustic as it gets. Horse-drawn carriages clunking along between rows of small, hand-built houses. Huge stork nests loomed overhead as little old women swept their porches with hand-threaded broomsticks. Many of the cars that did chug through town were rusted-out old diesels from the Soviet era, caked in mud from bouncing along endless dirt roads. It was a different kind of life.
We walked to the “main” town square from where a bus could supposedly take us to Sibiu; the next wouldn’t arrive for another hour, according to the timetable.
It arrived 10 minutes later.
And after one last challenge of manipulating our way onboard with our oversized backpacks, an unexpectedly eventful journey was at long last over.
We’d reached the Transylvanian town of Sibiu.