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
15 thoughts on “Lost in Transylvania”
You could have payed the ticked to the next civilised town from the attendant also know in Romania as “nașu” aka “the godfather”. It could have been a lot cheaper.
300 lei for a trip to Bran and then Brasov it’s not as bad as I would expect considering that we was willingly to put his car trough those god forsaken roads. 150-200 would be a good deal considering the context.
That’s the only way those doors open by keeping all of your fingers intact. Not a joke.
Also bear in mind that attractions that are non-tourist traps in Romania = means no directions, even with google or maps.me or accessible by decent roads.
I could recommend you the “drumul cetatilor app”, a CSR app that lists all the attractions small or big, but even for me was a challenge to get or find,
some because there were no signs or information to guide me.
Also 95% of the cases the people will be mostly curious, but you be in no danger whatsoever, we might be cunts one to one another but we welcome strangers with bread.
I would have happily paid the attendant for fare to the next stop, but I don’t think I had enough cash on me at the time – not knowing where the train was going, I didn’t want to get any further away from Brasov than I needed to!
I don’t doubt that most people are very friendly, but with my limited knowledge of the area and customs, I wasn’t feeling too positive about the outcome A braver man than me might have decided to venture out further into the town, but that man is not me!
What in interesting adventure! I knew Augustin as Ágostonfalva (I know, say what? – I’m Hungarian and we used the village name in our language), but from your photos it looks way more run-down than I remember it. I’m guessing it’s almost like a ghost-town now. I grew up in Transylvania and my grandparents lived in Brasov, so I knew the area… but that was almost thirty years ago. Bran is pretty cool though, I’m glad you got the chance to see it. You made me miss Transylvania, even the run-down trains of my childhood. Thanks for sharing your adventure.
The Augustin guy! It didn’t end up so badly though- that castle is breathtaking.
Exactly, I was actually very grateful in the end for having gotten the chance to visit the castle, despite it not being on my original itinerary!
This is the serendipity of travel at its best. You ended up in a place where you never intended to go and had experiences you never thought you would. Loved reading your account about being lost in Transylvania. After all you find something new only when you are lost !
Well, it happens to me all the time .—— – I mean, getting on the wrong train. But yes, always turn out to be a serendipitous adventure; I have a thing about ruins and heritage. So yeah, an old and secluded small town in Romania sounds about right. Thanks for sharing with us @ knycx.journeying
Wow, what an adventure! I can’t imagine the horror I would feel if I found myself in the same situation. So glad you had the phone number of the taxi driver! Smart move to keep that!
Sounds like such an interesting adventure, I’ve heard of Transylvania because of the famous castle but the town itself looks very quiet (almost deserted) is that true? Either way, it looks fascinating.
Wow this little town is really beautiful. Bran Castle took my breath away. And the view from there is absolutely gorgeous too. I can see why it’s being “exploited” for max tourist opportunity.
Nice read. I wonder how much business Ene has got out of this little recount? A friend of mine got on a train in India with an apple and a bottle of water thinking it was only 3 hours long because the arrival time on her ticket said 6pm. Turns out it was 6pm the following day so she endured a train ride with just an apple for 27 hours!
Holy shit, that’s one hell of a mix up! I can imagine she came out with quite a story afterward though.
Yes. And a bit hungry.
The next stop further Augustin would have been Sighișoara, a medieval preserved saxon town , much better for tourism than the village of Augustin. Bad luck for You ! Next time in Transylvania try to visit Sibiu, Alba Iulia, Cluj ( main city ), Bistrița or Târgu Mures.