I would often like to travel more by train in Romania but as I prefer getting places quickly and spending more time at the destination rather than in the train, I don't think I'll be changing my habits anytime soon.
Romania has been criticized for its bad roads, but when comparing with train options, I almost always end up going for the driving version for mini – or long – breaks.
On Thursday evenings and Friday mornings I usually have the urge to go away for the weekend. I have always dreamed of just going to the railway station and taking the next train somewhere, and just going with the flow.
Unfortunately, when I wanted to do that, the next train was actually to Cluj – Napoca – a city I love – and the ride takes 10 hours! Much to anyone's surprise, there are just 500 kilometers from Bucharest to Cluj – Napoca (much of which through the mountains), which means the train will go at a speed of 50 kilometers an hour! Obviously by car you could get there is half the time, more or less, but you'd end up with a tired driver.
I was recently on a trip in the Northern part of Italy, and was able to reach Florence in one and a half hours after leaving Verona on a high speed train that was going 180 kilometers an hour. Imagine what such a train – and such a track - would mean for Romania! Anybody in Bucharest would reach Cluj – Napoca in three hours. This would help business tremendously, and it would also help tourism, including domestic tourism.
When faced with the dilemma “Do I spend the holiday at home, or abroad? Romanians would not choose a holiday abroad for the same cost of one at home, simply because they'd spend half their short holiday time on the road.
I made an experiment, trying to find out where to go by train in Romania. I looked up the national passenger railway company CFR Calatori's website in search of options departing from Bucharest, and here's what I found:
- on a given day, there are very few InterCity trains leaving Bucharest – the speediest option. I actually found only two a day for each of the ten days I researched. There is one at noon – 13,00 – that gets you to the mountain resort city of Brasov in two and a half hours (around 200 kilometers trip). It also stops in the mountain resort of Predeal. The same train gets you to the Western border – at Curtici, in 12 hours. The next InterCity trains leaves at 17,30 on the same route, same timing.
- To reach Baile Herculane and Orsova, in the South – West region of Romania, the Inter Region train – second speediest after InterCity – one has to wake up very early to catch the 5.45 train, and would arrive at destination after around six hours.
- If you want to reach Satu Mare going by train from Bucharest, brace yourself for a lost day. The train leaves Bucharest at 6 in the morning, and reaches Satu Mare at 10 at night. A 14-hour train trip! Satu Mare is 680 kilometers away from Bucharest, and it is very close to the Northern border.
- Those who want to go to Suceava and see the famous monasteries, the train ride is six and a half hour or 7 hours. There are 430 kilometers from Bucharest to Suceava.
- If you want to reach the seaside, it's a three-hour train drive from Bucharest to Constanta. By car, via the Sun Highway, the 220-kilometer trip would take two hours – if it's not peak season and the highway is crammed.
So next time you want to go for the eco friendlier version, ditch the car and enjoy a train ride in Romania, compute two extra days into your holiday, take enough books and food for the ride, and get ready to enjoy the scenery!
By Corina Chirileasa, firstname.lastname@example.org