Silver bullets and crucifixes may ward off Romanian vampires, but more conventional tools are needed to deter the predators prowling the platforms of Bucharest's main train station, Gara de Nord. As my friend Mick discovered too late, a finely tuned rip-off radar and a massive dose of street smarts are crucial. A nice secure money belt tucked out of sight isn't a bad idea either...
It's common travel knowledge that big city train stations are notorious haunts for dodgy characters of all persuasions: 'unofficial' taxi drivers, bogus tourist guides, pick pockets and thieves (not to mention those shameless drinks vendors selling bottles of water for the price of a boutique beer). Still, after two months of exploring Europe by train, Mick was confident nobody could come between him and his hard-earned holiday cash.
However, Gara de Nord's reputation preceded it, and he wasn't wild about the prospect of changing trains there en route from Braşov to Sofia. Indeed, no sooner had he stepped onto the platform, than he was accosted by a cavalcade of pushy individuals offering taxi rides, cheap hotels and bag-lugging services. A brusque 'I'm not interested' did the trick for all but one persistent fellow, who followed Mick all the way across the station.
Sitting on his backpack to wait for his train, Mick did his best to ignore his new 'friend', who was busy trying to convince him the train was cancelled: 'Come with me for guided tour of my beautiful city instead,' he suggested.
Right on schedule, the train pulled in. Whereas a less brazen shyster might have admitted defeat around about now, this bloke simply grabbed Mick's backpack without being asked, and carried it on board. Seeing it was a sleeper carriage, he made a great show of folding down Mick's bed…then waited expectantly for payment. What could Mick do? Feeling totally railroaded but desperate to be left alone, he pulled his wallet from his jacket pocket and handed over a small bill. Voilà! The guy vanished.
Peace at last! Mick slipped his jacket off and was about to collapse on his bed when the passenger sharing his compartment arrived. Some small talk ensued, before Mick obligingly hauled his tired bones out to wait in the corridor while his travel companion got his bed sorted. The guy emerged soon after, muttering something about getting the rest of his bags. Thoroughly exhausted by now, Mick returned to the compartment – only to discover he'd been fleeced.
Obviously briefed by the original fellow, the other ‘passenger’ had taken Mick's wallet - containing all his cash and credit cards - from his pocket. He'd left the jacket though – seems even Romanian thieves draw the line at daggy orange puffer jackets…