Although in my last update we had already reached Budapest, but I would like to take you back a little bit into Romania. One might ask, what happened from Istanbul to Cluj Napoca? This is a fair portion of land, which I sort of just skipped in my accounts of our journey.
So let’s just go back a bit and let me tell you something not very good about Bucharest particularly and Romania in general. When we arrived in Bucharest, we were undecided yet about our next destination. We had a list of destinations to choose from. Vera wanted us to head to Prague directly from Bucharest and then look into any other diversions on our way to Helsinki. Before even arriving in Bucharest we had gathered information, which clearly stated that there were no direct bus or train connections from Bucharest to Prague. But being in Bucharest we decided to check for any such connections between those two cities which might not have been mentioned anywhere.
We decided to start checking from the railway station, because there had to be connecting trains at least between Bucharest and Prague. Bucharest railway station is a sizeable structure, with availability of all possible needs, except for an information counter. There of course is a railway information counter there, but no tourist information center. Otherwise the railway station is full of kiosks, cafes and gaming zones. The Bucharest railway station and of course I am talking about Gara De Nord (Northern Railway Station), because there are many railway stations in Bucharest, reminds you of Moscow’s Yaroslavl Bokzal of early 90s. To understand you must had seen Yaroslavl Railway station of Moscow, but the fact that it reminded me of the said station boils down to crowded platforms and waiting areas, scattered around drunkards and homeless people, free flowing alcohol out of every kiosk and most importantly every kiosk selling everything, like you could see stockings exhibited along with a bottle of spirit in the same kiosk’s window. Those of you who did travel to Russia in the early or even mid 90s must have seen such universal kiosks in every city. But in Russia this thing has become part of history now, whereas in Bucharest socks and sausages are sold out of a single box yet.
So at this very crowded railway station we approached the railway information and ticketing counter and inquired about any possible trains to Prague directly. The railway clerk told us that there were connecting trains, but no direct trains, which meant that we had to transit in one or more of the towns on the way. We calculated time and money required for that proposed journey and it turned out that skipping Budapest or Hungary and Bratislava or Slovakia offered no plus points and more so we had plans of going to Budapest for sure, so we dropped the idea and left the information counter.
But as soon as we turned away from the railway counter a man, in his late 40s or early 50s approached us and asked us if we would like to take a bus to Prague? This sounded like a good idea, because we had plans to take buses along most of the way unless there were no bus connections. We asked the serious looking transporter about how much would it cost for us to get to Prague on the bus that he was proposing and the price of the ticket that he told us pleasantly surprised both of us.
We both looked at each other and probably we had the same thought in our minds that it sounded too good to be true. So Vera asked this guy about the bus station from where the bus leaves to Prague and at what time? We extracted the name of the bus station out of that guy and took leave of him telling him that we would come back to him after we had eaten something at the McDonald’s at the station.
When we got away from that man Vera expressed her doubts about the proposition and I agreed, but we decided to check it further. One way of checking was to go to the said bus station, but the problem was that we didn’t know where that bus station was. It had to be far away, because the same guy offered us a ride to that bus station for additional 40Euros for two.
Now try getting into our shoes. A man offers us bus ride from Bucharest to Prague at the rate of 25€ each, but he asks us 20€ each for a ride to the bus station. Does that not sound strange?
So we in fact went into the fast food outlet, bought us meals and then we started approaching people sitting there and asking them about the International Bus Station (This was how that man named the terminal). To our surprise, no one just no one seemed to know of any International Bus Station in Bucharest. Some of the people whom we asked even spent their GPS bandwidth to find that BUS STATION but without any luck.
We decided to ask that same man about the address of that bus station, because had there been any such terminal, people in the town ought to know about it. So going out to that man we very frankly told him that we could not find any such bus station on the map, so could he tell us the address of the bus station, so that we could be sure that there is some cross-border communication from there?
The man told us some name of the street and we again took leave of him and headed back to the fast food outlet. That man was standing at about 30-40 meters from the entrance to the fast food outlet and by the time we entered the fast food outlet again, we saw him vanishing from the spot where he had been since the first moment we saw him.
Vera noticed his disappearance and our doubts took a turn towards confirmation that it was a scam. In any case we asked a girl at the eatery about the bus station telling her the street name, but she after consulting Uncle Google told us that there was no such bus station on the given street.
The same girl told us the best way (most inexpensive) of getting out of Bucharest towards Budapest. We took her advice when we headed out towards Cluj Napoca.
Coming back to the scam, let me tell you what I think about it. The most humane form of that scam would had been that we would had been transported to some deserted local bus terminal, stripped of 40€ and left in the darkness. But I doubt that someone would spend so much time for just 40€. So the case scenario probably looked like this: Transport us from the railway station to some unknown location, strip us of everything and let us go and the worst case scenario, in case of resistance could lead to lose of some physical wellbeing along with material belongings.
Although nothing bad happened and we believe that we saved ourselves thanks to a little bit of caution, but you might think that I am defaming Bucharest or even Romania based on hypothesis. If you think so you might be right, but our extra care and inquires about some good deal were caused by the fact that a few years back (or may be many) when I travelled to Bucharest alone, I had been swindled out of money. Ever since I know that one has to be very careful, when one’s in Romania.
To make you happy let me tell you that we did get swindled out of just 10 Leu (Romanian currency) while boarding the train from Bucharest to Cluj Napoca. So have a laugh if you want, but we did not come dry out of that pool!