Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go. That said, hitching is very popular in both countries, where people usually stand along the main roads out of a city or town. It’s common practice in Romania and Moldova to pay the equivalent of the bus fare to the driver.
A mix of buses, microbuses and maxitaxis combine to form the seriously disorganised Romanian and Moldovan bus systems spread across a changing array of bus companies. Finding updated information can be difficult without local help. Sometimes the bus stations (autogară) themselves move around, particularly the migratory lots from which maxitaxis depart. Posted timetables are often out of date; it’s better to ask someone.
SUV-sized maxitaxis have emerged this decade. These guys usually fit 10 to 20 people and tend to rush along the same routes as buses, but often lack any real storage space – you may have to plop your bag on your lap. Some routes – such as Braşov–Sinaia or Sibiu–Cluj-Napoca – are more useful than others. Generally – not always – it’s easier to plan on the train.
Buses, trams and trolleybuses (buses run by electricity with wires overhead) provide transport within most towns and cities in Romania, although many are crowded. They usually run from about 5am to midnight, although services can get thin after 7pm in more remote areas. Purchase tickets at street kiosks marked bilete or casă de bilete before boarding, and validate them once aboard. Some tickets are good for one trip; others are for two trips, each end of the ticket being valid for one ride. Tickets cost from €0.20 to €0.35.
If you travel without a validated ticket or with no ticket at all you risk a €10 on-the-spot fine.
In Moldova buses cost about US$0.15, trolleybuses US$0.10 and city maxitaxis US$0.25.
Some day a video game will be made of a Sunday drive across Romania, considering all its hazards – strolling cows and sheep, slow-going horse carts filled with hay, bear-sized potholes, speed traps, unmarked curves, aggressive drivers. It can be draining. The 200km you’re accustomed to driving back home can really drain hardenened drivers here. Many roads are best suited to 4WD; some mountain roads require it. But driving allows access to some pockets of rural villages and mountains that are hard to reach otherwise.
Only drive if your car is in good shape and has been serviced recently. Repair shops are increasingly used to the BMWs and Mercedes that the rich folks of Bucharest or Chişinău like to drive, but certainly know the abundant Dacias (and their identical Renault models).
Romania has only a few short stretches of motorway (autostrada). Some major roads (drum naţional) have been resurfaced, but many remain in a shockingly poor, potholed condition. Secondary roads (drum judeţean) can become dirt tracks, and mountain and forestry roads (drum forestier) can be impassable after heavy rain. While roads are being repaved all the time, roughly half of the country’s roads are unpaved – and paved ones are sometimes rougher than dirt roads.
Western-style petrol stations are easy to come by (but fill ’er up before heading on long trips through the mountains or remote village areas). A litre of unleaded 95E costs about €1. Most stations accept credit cards.
Because driving across the border to Moldova can be difficult and costly, consider hiring a car in Chişinău.
Rail has long been the most popular way of travelling around Romania. Căile Ferate Române (CFR; Romanian State Railways; www.cfr.ro) runs trains over 11,000km of track, providing services to most cities, towns and larger villages in the country. Its website lists timetables. The national train timetable (mersul trenurilor) is published each May and is sold for €2 at CFR offices. Another excellent timetable source is www.bahn.de, a German website.
Sosire means arrivals and plecare is departures. On posted timetables, the number of the platform from which each train departs is listed under linia.
In Romania there are five different types of train, all of which travel at different speeds, offer varying levels of comfort and charge different fares for the same destination.
The cheapest trains are the local personal trains. These trains are painfully slow. Accelerat trains are faster, hence a tad more expensive and less crowded. Seat reservations are obligatory and automatic when you buy your ticket. There’s little difference between rapid and expres trains. Both travel at a fair speed and often have dining cars. Pricier InterCity trains are the most comfortable but aren’t faster than expres trains.
Vagon de dormit sleepers are available between Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca, Oradea, Timişoara, Tulcea and other points. First-class sleeping compartments generally have two berths, 2nd-class sleepers generally have four berths and 2nd-class couchettes have six berths. Book these in advance.
Tickets are sold in advance for all trains except local personal ones. Advance tickets are sold at an Agenţie de Voiaj CFR, a train-ticket office found in every city centre. When the ticket office is closed you have to buy your ticket immediately before departure at the station.
Theoretically you can buy tickets at CFR offices up to two hours before departure. Sometimes they don’t sell tickets for same-day trips, so try to plan a day ahead.
You can only buy tickets at train stations two hours – and in some cases just one hour – before departure. Queues can be horrendous. At major stations there are separate ticket lines for 1st and 2nd classes; you may opt for 1st class when you see how much shorter that line is. Your reservation ticket lists the code number of your train along with your assigned vagon carriage and locul seat.
If you have an international ticket right through Romania, you’re allowed to make stops along the route but you must purchase a reservation ticket each time you reboard an accelerat or rapid train. If the international ticket was issued in Romania, you must also pay the expres train supplement each time.
In a pinch you can board a train and pay the ticket-taker for the ride; ask how much. As one local told us, ‘This is Romania – you can do anything if you pay for it.’
Considering how remote much of Romania remains, it’s not always a bad idea to consider arranging a tour with local agencies – be it by bike, boot or car. Foreign agencies tend to plug Dracula more than locals. Often hostels and pensiunes arrange excellent day trips. Here are some of the stand-out agencies, who can help plan a trip before or after you arrive.
Green Mountain Holidays (418 691; www.greenmountainholidays.ro; Cluj-Napoca) Excellent hiking, biking and caving trips, chiefly around the Apuseni Mountains.
Transylvania Motorcycle Tours (www.tmtours.com) This Cluj-Napoca–based group offers a whirlwind of two-wheeled tours around Romania, including a nine-day trip along the Black Sea coast, a six-day job across the Carpathians, and a month-long Romania trip.
In many rural parts the only vehicles that pass will be horse- or donkey-powered. Horse and cart is the most popular form of transport in Romania and you will see numerous carts, even in cities (although some downtown areas are off-limits to them). Many carts will stop and give you a ride, the driver expecting no more than a cigarette in payment.
Bucharest is the only city to sport a metro.
State-owned Tarom (www.tarom.ro) is Romania’s main carrier. Based in Timişoara, Carpatair (www.carpatair.ro) also runs domestic flights. Sometimes return fares are only slightly more than one-way fares, which are usually €50 to €60.
Cyclists are becoming a more frequent sight in Romania, particularly in Transylvania, Maramureş and Moldavia. And biking certainly offers an excellent way of seeing the country and meeting locals. Intercity roads are generally in decent condition but are often more trafficked than the hellish roads inside villages and towns. As so many places of interest require climbing steep roads, being in top shape is definitely a plus! Also, be aware that motorists are not as used to sharing roads with cyclists as in some western countries, and may drive accordingly.
It’s possible to hire or buy bicycles in most major towns, for €5 to €12 per day. Many towns have bike-repair shops, but it’s not a bad idea to bring spare parts.
Bicycles can be taken on trains. Most trains have a baggage car (vagon de bagaje), marked by a suitcase symbol on train timetables. Bicycles stored here have to be labelled with your name, destination and the bicycle’s weight. But it is easier and safer simply to take your bicycle on the train with you. On local and express trains there is plenty of room at either end of the carriage next to the toilet. Don’t block passageways. You might be charged a minimal ‘bulky luggage’ fee.
Read more, if you speak German, at www.bikeromania.de.
Being flat as a board, Moldova makes cycling an excellent way of getting around. That is, if it weren’t for the bad condition of most of its roads, and for a lack of infrastructure –outside of Chişinău, you’ll have to rely on your own resources or sense of adventure (and trying to enlist help from friendly locals) if you run into mechanical trouble.