We’ve had some … interesting … overnight train experiences so far on our trip. Most have not been pleasant, some were merely tolerable. When it came time to head back to Bucharest to catch our flight to Athens we had a few different travel options available to us.
The bus would have taken about 8 or 9 hours from Cluj-Napoca, a rental car about the same, but both would have taken all day. Rental car would have cost a bit more with the drop-off fee, but would have given more freedom. The third options was the train, all day or overnight. We the adventurous, never afraid to step outside our comfort zone, were afraid. We took the leap.
The Overnight Train
Wow! Amazing! Terrific!
Carpeted, clean, a door that closes and locks! Imagine the luxury. Four berths in a closed compartment with clean sheets, pillows, duvets even!
The bathroom was not pristine, but considering the train had been underway for 6 hours or more before we got on, not bad. There was even a bar / restaurant car which was closed when we got on. We could (in theory) have gotten up early and had breakfast, but obviously we let the kids sleep as long as possible.
Without any doubt, it was the best sleep we’ve ever had on a train. No vomiting, no diarrhea, everyone slept well. Miracles do exist!
The train arrived and departed about 30 minutes late from Cluj. This worked in our favour, since it pushed the arrival in Bucharest back by almost an hour (we lost some more time along the way, I guess). It’s definitely better to arrive at 8:30 than 7:30 when check-in is not until 1 PM.
We even had climate control and windows that open! All in all, our faith in overnight train travel is restored.
After much uncertainty, indecision, and complications we finally made it to Tyros on the coast. Really, in retrospect, it didn’t take very long; four days in Athens and a full day of intermittent bus travel felt like a week and a half.
A large part of our indecision was how to get where we are going. The bus system seems to be the most common public transportation (trains not so much). We’re going to need a car for our next destination, so we considered renting one in Athens. That would require a return to Athens to drop it off, and we’re not keen to go back yet. Give us some time to miss Lime Bistro, Nonna’s Emotional Food and Vegan Nation and then we’ll be ready.
We are not early risers, and here in Greece our hours have slipped into the ridiculous. The kids wake up at 10 AM! This meant that the only bus option for us to get to Tyros was at 4:30 PM. Check out is 10 and the bus station is not located near anything interesting, so we weren’t too keen on that. I found a 12:30 bus to Tripolis and Google told me there are two rental car agencies in Tripolis, so off we went.
It turns out that most businesses in Greece (in smaller cities) are closed on Sunday. Ouch. The next bus from Tripolis to Tyros was at 5 PM, 2.5 hours after our arrival. Double ouch. Lucky for us, our kids are champion travelers and can kill 2.5 hours in a bus station with ease and grace.
At 5 we boarded the bus, happy to be on the last leg of our journey for the day. Wrong. The bus pulled in to Astros, two villages before ours, and the driver took our bags off the bus, put them in the middle of the street and gestured “Get off the bus” with a shrug. We froke out.
It turns out that there is no direct bus from Tripolis to Tyros. The guy at the bus station told us it would take an hour and a half. He neglected to mention the 1 hour at the Astros bus stop where you have to wait for the 4:30 bus from Athens!! ARRGGGHHHH!
So we killed another hour. Fortunately they sell (overpriced) beer at the Astros bus stop, so we did not remain froken out. We finally got on the right bus, the kids were nearly asleep, and we arrived. It took us 8 hours to get 200 km, and it was mostly our fault.
We (finally) Made It
All’s well that ends well, they say. I agree now that I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking the sea drinking a tiny Greek coffee.
Shortly after our arrival in Bucharest, I began the search for a Romanian WWOOF. No, that is not some cutesy term for dog, like pupper or doggo. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and represents farms all over the world that accept volunteers. The usual arrangement is that you exchange your work on the farm for room and board.
Generally the farms are focused on organic farming, perma-culture, and environmentally responsible practices. In some countries the farm must (I think) be certified organic, but not in Romania.
I sent out 6 emails to farms that were in the Brasov area and looked like they might have accommodation for a family of four. Two farms replied (as of the writing of etc.), one for immediately and one for Sept-Oct.
We emailed back and forth to figure out arrival times and directions with Agnes at her farm, called Albastrea. They were having a raspberry festival that we had hoped to attend, but it clashed with a visit in Brasov from my university buddy Razvan.
We arrived the day after the raspberry party and instead arrived just in time for a spectacular thunderstorm complete with hail and horizontal rain. The local villagers say they haven’t seen a storm like that in 50 years.
Agnes explained the arrangement to us. Free accommodation in exchange for cleaning and renovations to the small cottage we’d be staying in. They had purchased it a year ago and it has stood empty since then except for a week when extended family were visiting.
Our hosts Agnes and Jan had their hands full for a couple of days, pumping out their flooded outbuildings and checking the crops for damage, so we set to cleaning. Four days later we were done inside the house and made a good start on the front garden and forest of stinging nettle outside.
Since then we’ve helped Agnes fix the plumbing in “our” house, we’ve picked choke berries and beans of all colours, and we’ve hosted the local mini-flock of sheep in our yard. It’s been terrific, and the kids love it! I can’t believe how much they love to pick berries; they even toughed out two hours of bean picking in the rain!
The village is called Sarata-Colun (with some accents on the a’s) and it’s about halfway between Brasov and Sibiu. It’s not far from the famous Trans-Fagarasan highway (boondoggle) built by the Ciaucescu government. The entire place is built along the banks of a little stream. One lane on each side and a bunch of little bridges accross. There’s one and a half shops for food, no restaurants, and that’s it. You want gas? Next town. You want broccoli? Even farther. A carton of soy milk? Day trip.
That said, we love it here. It’s quiet, there’s more horse and wagon traffic than cars. Our wonderful hosts stop by to check the sheep and ask “Do you like corn?” The kids scream “Yeeeeessssss!!!” and they stop by later with a crate of corn, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. All organic, all from their garden. Tomorrow we’re picking tomatoes and we might install a counter-top to make our kitchen a little more user-friendly. We’ve got hot water now and our cupboards are full. What more could anyone want?