So it was with great sadness that I left Budapest. A piece of me shall remain there forever, but enough lamentation - there was a new adventure ahead of me and it was time to see the open road. Or in this case, the open rail and to set out on a new adventure, to a new country, my 32nd in fact. I was off to Romania, one of the two newest entrants to to the EU, only joining in 2007. And so my last view of Budapest was the magnificent Keleti Pályaudvar, and if there was any more fitting way to leave such a magnificent city this was it. Keleti may not have the grandeur of St Pancras, or the size of CST, but it is still a wonderful place to say farewell...
I do like trains. They are a fascinating way to travel. Normally I go by seater class, so this was only the third time in my life that I was traveling by sleeper carriage. I was to be joined by five other travelers and so it was to be a cosy arrangement of six people in a compartment. Traveling from Budapest to Bucharest was a popular journey and despite the plethora of planes and coaches, it was still possible to get on of three trains a day to the Romanian capital. There was only one night train, a great options as it saves on one night's accommodation - always a handy traveling tip!
I was to share my carriage with an unusual assortment of characters. A pair of Romanian siblings living in Germany since childhood were visiting their family in Romania. Part of a tour group including the tour leader, plus myself. The other five were getting off before Bucharest, so I was to get a few hours to myself in the carriage, but leaving the Hungarian capital was to be a cosy experience.
My fellow travel companions were an interesting lot. The Romanian siblings were really lovely, and for them it was their regular pilgrimage to see family - something I am going to do later this year. The tour group was, well, interesting. A lone Aussie with a penchant for great rail journeys, a Hong Konger with very few practical skills and an Italian with all the awful cliche's that come attached to his fellow countrymen, leading the tour group. I myself got the top bunk and settled in for the night. It was a nippy night too, but it was better to travel with an open window and the breeze of the Romanian countryside blowing through my face. Border control was painless for me, as an EU citizen, my passport got the glance than it was onto the next person. You know, while we may not get the pretty stamps filling up our passport, it is nice to breeze through so many nations. Some aspects of the EU are really good and the free movement of people, for me, is one of those very good ideas that has stayed the course throughout the European Union's history.
The next morning, the carriage empties as promised and for a few hours I was left alone. I headed to the buffet carriage and got myself breakfast. Awful, truly it was, the worst meal in on the trip. But thankfully, this was not representative of Romanian cuisine - far from it! But on that journey, what greeted me was a lukewarm tea and a sandwich made of processed cheese and ham. Ugh. Considering how much I despise pork, this really was a lousy breakfast, but hunger strikes and to be honest, I was not going to sit for hours with a rumbling stomach. And the energy it provided allowed me to chat with the assortment of local people in the train - always the best thing about train travel. Never the food, but the company.
The countryside passed through and it could be seen that Romania is a lush and beautiful place. One thing that is very different to Western Europe is how much wild and open spaces there are here in this part of the world. These guys have forests, proper land with trees. Yes they have farmland, but when you travel through Eastern Europe, you realise just how much of the land is uncultivated, unexploited, and maybe how the continent looked millennia ago. Europe is a crowded place and sometime sit is hard to appreciate the beauty in the landscape. But, on my recommendation and on what I saw, if you want some real wild countryside, then head to Romania.
Romania unfortunately in the UK is not famed for its countryside. Instead it is famed for its brutal communist regime, its subsequent and violent disposal, and the tragic case of its orphans left behind in the 1990's. It is a tourist destination that is really not in the psyche of British travelers, although it is easy to get to and cheap to wander around. It was one of the reasons that I wanted to see this country as well. After working and meeting Romanians in London, I wanted to see their country, even if it was only the briefest of visits to their capital city that I was going to partake in. Unfortunately, time meant that I could only spend the briefest of moments in this cast country, so I headed to Bucharest a magnet for many Romanians in themselves, but not so much on the tourist hot stop. And what did I think of Romania's capital city, a place that I spent two days in and really, what was to be my only taster of Romania. I arrived in Gara du Nord, not that much worse for wear but ready to experience a new city, a new country and a new adventure...