Getting Stuck in Romania
When B and I were planning a trip to Southeastern Europe, I came across an article highlighting Balkan express train ride between Belgrade, Serbia, and Bar, Montenegro. After reading this article, I decided this was something I needed to do in my life. So when we knew we were going to be in Romania, we figured it would be easy to get to Belgrade. Not so much, it turns out, and instead we had a heck of a time being stuck in Romania. This post will recount our ordeal, show some possible solutions and offer some tips if you find yourself in a predicament such as this.
After visiting Bucharest, Brasov and Bran, we holed up for a few days in western Romania in a town called Sibiu. We had three days to make it from Sibiu to Belgrade in time to catch our train. We had researched and found we could take a bus to the western city of Timisoara. From there, a bus went to the border and a train went to Belgrade. On night one in Sibiu we felt confident in our plan. The next day, however, we learned that the train from Timisoara and Serbia wasn’t running anymore. We were stuck in Romania.
Once we realized we might be in a predicament, we went into hyper search mode. All of our travel know-how rose to the surface!
We first searched the trip on Google Maps, breaking it down by sections. Sometimes border crossing can get complicated, so we looked for transport to the Romania border and then transport to the Serbian border. No dice.
We then looked at different websites. Rome2Rio is a good place to find out about different modes of transportation. From their site, you can get linked to websites that sell tickets. We couldn’t find anything accurate on this site either though.
Our next step was to reach out to a local. In this case, we sent an S.O.S. to our Airbnb host. Fortunately, they got back to us pretty quickly. We confirmed the bus/train combo at the border had been stopped a year or so prior. (Which would have been good to know beforehand!)
The next step was to figure out Plan B. If worse came to worse and we couldn’t go the direction we wanted to go, our plan was to take a train back to Bucharest and fly to Belgrade. Now, things are relatively cheap in this part of the world. A last-minute plane ticket would only cost us a few hundred dollars. The bigger cost with this option is it would take more time. We would see the same country we had already seen and not be able to see new parts.
Knowing that Plan B was a viable option took the panic level down and let us pursue some other options. Back on the internet, we searched “Romania to Belgrade” in whatever word combination we could come up with. We also looked on wikitravel and tripadvisor to see if anyone had experienced the same thing we were going through and what their recommendation was.
One of the websites we found was for kiwitaxi. Neither B nor I had heard of this before, but the reviews seemed good. I sent an email to get a quote for a taxi from Sibiu to Belgrade, but that came back at around 500 Euro. This was way too much for us. We then adjusted the request to be from the border town of Timisoara to Belgrade, which was a more reasonable 90 Euro. This would mean we would take a bus to Timisoara and then meet up with our driver to take us the rest of the way. We made one last attempt for a local recommendation and reached out to our Airbnb host to see if they knew of any local drivers who would be willing to take us, but they did not. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to take our chances with kiwitaxi.
(Side note: I made sure to forward our friend back home the confirmation. It was her job to raise an alarm if she didn’t hear from us within a reasonable time frame after we were supposed to arrive in Belgrade.)
We took the early bus out of Sibiu (very early, very unpleasant) and arrived in Timisoara at the bus station. Everything went according to plan on that leg of the journey. For the next leg, we arranged to have our ride pick us up at the bus station using the bus station’s address that we found on Google. Or so we thought. We had thought it would be easy enough to locate the driver, but we discovered streets and addresses are more fluid in Romania than they are back home.
By fluid, I mean make no sense sequentially. This meant there were a few different locations the driver could pick us up, one being on a bridge. Not really knowing what to do, we opted for B to stand at one corner of a road and me at another and try to find the guy. There were several taxi drivers hanging around the station and in typical defensive tourism mode we ignored them and did our thing.
Not so smooth sailing
I should mention that B did have a cell phone plan on her phone for this trip. She received a call from the company and in English she tried to explain the situation. Being as she was speaking English and the person was speaking Romanian, it didn’t go well. I could hear her saying ‘bus station’ over and over (in both English and Romanian) and trying to pronounce the name of the station as it was written. At this point, she had walked back towards me and we were in front of the taxi drivers.
One of the taxi drivers started saying bus station in Romanian along with B. He seemed to grasp the situation so B handed her phone over to him. We had no idea what words were being said. But by the escalated voice and hand gestures, the taxi driver and our driver weren’t going to be buddies. After much yelling, he gave her the phone back with a smile and started talking to his buddies.
About two minutes later, a fancy black Mercedes pulled up and an angry Romanian got out. He and the taxi driver shouted back and forth to each other while he put our bags in his trunk. We didn’t really have much choice so we climbed into the backseat of the car. The driver then spent the next few minutes holding up the confirmation paper and pointing to random places down the road and speaking in rapid Romanian. We meekly starred back at him and wondered if we were about to be driven off to be killed. After our unintelligible lecture, he fired up the Mercedes and sped off. Still muttering angrily.
This lasted for about ten minutes as we drove down the road. He hadn’t said anything in a language other than Romanian but then started listing languages that I inferred meant he spoke. English wasn’t on the list, but Spanish was. In a surreal turn of events I started speaking to him in my very rudimentary Spanish. The next thing we knew, he pulled into a gas station, left the car running and went to get a drink. When he came back out, he was a totally different driver. Apparently he had said his peace, saw we were trying and was appeased.
This guy had become friendly and charming. He told us jokes (I think) and when we got to the border crossing he motioned for our passports and handled the border agents like a boss. The rest of the trip passed by quickly and we soaked in the beauty of the countryside and banter of our now smiling driver. We got dropped off in Belgrade, he helped us out and shook our hands and went on his merry way.
Takeaways from getting stuck in Romania
- Do your homework before you leave. We thought we did and knew what we were doing. Turns out our original plans fell through, so it was good we figured that out early and could come up with an alternate.
- Research online. There’s so much info online, find some reputable websites and compare what you learn.
- Roll with trusted locals advice. Airbnb hosts are a good source for advice since they know their location and will be able to communicate with you.
- Make your best decision and go with it! We were in an uncomfortable predicament. But we had done our research and felt okay about kiwitaxi and the driver.
- Enjoy the ride. Travel is about experiencing new things and getting out of comfort zones. Embrace it.
We didn’t start out our trip hoping to get stuck in Romania. But we did and had to use our travel skills to find a solution. Travel is an adventure and even when things don’t go as planned it is still better than being in the office!