Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Night on the Orient Express

Just one night- from Budapest to Bucharest. Jenny and I left Budapest around 7 PM and settled into our sleeper car for the 16 hour ride to Bucharest. While a little small, our room was quite comfortable- two skinny bunks, a little sink, and a window:

Before long we were happily munching away on apricots, bread, and cheese (which may have been spoiled...?), watching fields of sunflowers move past the window, all of which were pointed toward the setting sun. After dark, we locked all three locks on door and settled in for a movie with a bottle of Tokaji wine from Northeastern Hungary. Around 11 PM we were startled by someone rattling our door and shouting "PASSPORT!" After jumping up and handing a very unofficially-dressed man our passports, I was ordered to "SIT DOWN," (which I did quite promptly), at which point which he disappeared with our documents. Umm.

Luckily he returned about 2 minutes later and stomped to the next car as we passed through the city of Arad. Welcome to Romania.

The next morning we woke around 7 AM as the train passed through the rugged Carpathian mountains, and after a (terrible) cup of coffee, we were able to enjoy the view from our window.

We passed through a tunnel in the center of the range as we worked our way south from Brasov, continuing through windy valleys, and eventually out onto the broad flat plain surrounding Bucharest.

Around 10 AM we rolled into the Gara De Nord in stifling, dusty Bucharest, where we had four hours to spend before we had to go to the airport to catch our flight to Istanbul.

We spent that time walking around the city, a city still coming to grips with the abrupt introduction of capitalism after the fall of the Soviet Union and execution of Romania's dictatorial leader Nicolae Ceausescu, leading to sights like this one: an H&M store in a sea of brutalist Soviet architecture.

On our walk through the city we also had several glimpses of Ceausescu's Palace, the world's largest, heaviest, and most expensive administrative building, a building that required the demolition of nearly 1/5 of Bucharest to build! Here it's in the middle background:

And here's a side view:

After a delicious Turkish lunch (and a hint of things to come), we rushed back to the train station where we caught a train to the airport and left for Istanbul around 4 PM. Our time in Bucharest was brief, but a fascinating window into Bucharest, a city that felt far less touristy and Western than Budapest, which we had left the day before. I think Bucharest (and Romania) definitely warrants a closer inspection.

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