As the train rumbles across the Romanian countryside, the attendant comes by and punches my ticket. He starts to hand it back to me, before pulling it back and taking a closer look at it. He has a concerned look about him. “Sinaia?” I sheepishly inquire, referring to my intended destination. “Nooooo!” He shouts, throwing his hands up in the air. He begins chiding me furiously in Romanian. A young man sitting across from me looks embarrassed to even be sitting in my general vicinity. The ticket collector is carrying on, gesturing at me, the ticket, and the general direction opposite the one the train is currently traveling in. “Do you speak English?” I ask the kid across from me. “What’s he saying?” as though I don’t already know. “You are on the wrong train. Sinaia is the other way. He says you must get off at the next stop.” I ask him if he knows where the next stop might be, and after consulting the train schedule on his phone, he produces the answer for me: Augustin.
“Well, it should make for a fun adventure” I think to myself. It’s a bit of an annoyance, but maybe I’ll get to see a side of Romania I never would have gotten to see otherwise. I type “Augustin Romania” into a Google Image search. What comes up does not stir feeling of wanderlust and adventure. Instead I begin to calculate my odds of survival. I’ve got about an hour to sit on the slow moving train and contemplate whatever horrible fate might befall me. I conjure visions of a low budget horror film: some wayward backpackers take a wrong turn and find themselves locked in some dank torture chamber.
As the train pulls into what can only be described as a concrete bunker, it shudders to a stop in the middle of the tracks. I am obviously the only passenger disembarking at this location, and people seem a bit confused as to why I’m attempting to get off here. The kid from the seat across me laughs in disbelief when he sees where I am getting off.
I attempt to open the door to the train. It consists of some kind of a crank. I begin to turn it but nothing happens. I’m pushing and pulling, cranking and trying other more normal methods of door opening. Nothing seems to work. A small Romanian woman sees my struggle and comes to intervene. She waves me aside, lifts her leg and places her foot squarely on the center of the door. She turns the wheel and with a violent kick, the door bursts open. She turns to me with a look that says “haven’t you ever opened a door before?”
There are no gangways, platforms or walkways here. I’m left to drop out of the door down onto the tracks, and then amble my way across 5 or 6 more set of tracks before reaching the station. Behind me on the train, 100 eyes are watching me, a backpack wearing tourist far out of his element. Some railway workers stop what they are doing to watch me exit the train.
“I’ll just run inside and check to see when the next train heading back to Brasov is coming.” I think. I open the door to thick cigarette smoke and a few workers idly chatting inside. There are no ticket booths. No train schedules. Outside stands a man in a conductor hat chatting with another fellow. “Train to Brasov?” I ask. They both look at one another and begin to laugh, before turning away from me and resuming their conversation.
I suddenly recall the taxi driver from my first day in Brasov, the pushy guy who insisted I take down his number. I phone him up and tell him I’m in Augustin. “Augustin?” He seems confused. “I need to go to Brasov, can you help me?” He keeps repeating “Augustin” to himself. Now he’s talking to someone in the background in confused tones. “OK, I can be there 1 hour. You wait.”
When the driver pulls up, he steps out of the car and removes the taxi sign from the roof and tosses it in the trunk. “Augustin” he chuckles as he shakes my hand and looks at me with a confused gaze.
As we drive back toward Brasov, I have never seen roads in worse shape in my life. I’m not even sure this counts as a road. It’s closer to a pothole, with pieces of road scattered around it. The driver is bobbing and weaving between holes. Occasionally the holes are not to be avoided and the car slams into one, all screeching metal and rattling engine parts. “Fucking shit”, he mutters.
A bit further down the road we speed up to pass a horse-drawn buggy. “Romanian Ferrari!” he points out.
As we continue onward to Brasov, he again brings up the itinerary presented to me when I first met him. “You want to go to Castle Bran? Dracula’s Castle! I take you there, you look around, then we go back to Brasov.” At this point I feel I owe him. He’s gone so far out of his way to rescue me after my extreme fuck-up, and is hardly asking for any money at all for the effort. I had no intention on visiting Bran Castle during my trip, as I had read that while beautiful from the outside, it’s mainly just an overcrowded tourist trap, with dubious connections to Dracula.
I relent. “OK, how much?”
“Eh, maybe not, let’s just go back to Brasov.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
From the outside Bran Castle is spectacular. It’s exactly what you picture in your head when you think of Transylvania. Despite it’s historical significance however, it’s been exploited to the maximum extent for it’s tourist value. Lining the walkway that leads to the castle are hundreds of booths selling all manner of cheesy Dracula merchandise. Signs advertise haunted children’s birthday parties that can be booked in the castle. Once inside I’m moved along by the crowd rather than under my own power.
When I occasionally get a reprieve from the crowd, I’m impressed with how well the castle has been preserved. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
My driver, whose name I learn is Ene Bebe, gives me an hour to explore and tells me to meet him back by the entrance when I’m ready. After buying a few Transylvanian souvenirs, I meet back up with Ene and we begin the drive back to Brasov.
“Can you recommend a good Romanian Restaurant in Brasov?” I ask.
As I ask the question, we drive by a billboard for a restaurant called Sergiana.
“Sergiana!” He says. “Very good.” When we arrive back in Brasov, he makes sure to go out of his way to drive by the restaurant so that I know where it is.
Ene drops me off in the town center, and before we part ways, I ask him if I can give his phone number to other travelers visiting Brasov. I have become quite fond of my accidental guide to Romania. Despite the language barrier, he is an honest and helpful guide. We part ways and I head into town to find the closest drinking establishment I can find to celebrate being alive.
To have your own Ene Bebe experience, you can give him a call at 0040752831133. Tell him the Augustin guy sent you.by