After a long, slow, grinding train ride we finally arrive in Bucharest. Immediately after leaving the train we are swamped by shady looking characters offering us taxi rides. Oh dear, Bucharest is going to be one of *these* cities. Getting to the Hostel proved to be our first major challenge as unfortunately my friend Stuart had not printed out a map to the hostel. Getting directions was hard as everyone we asked was trying to sell us either a taxi ride, or private driver. Like hell they were going to tell us how to walk. We eventually managed to get some directions from a service station which we at best, vague. After a fair bit of walking it was clear that we were lost in a very dodgy neighborhood of Bucharest. We asked several strangers for further directions but got different answers every time. Eventually I snapped, pulled out my laptop, fired up my mobile internet (paying the significant roaming data charges) and found a proper map to the hostel. Yay. Found it at last.
The next day we decided to do the tourist trail. There’s basically nothing to see in Bucharest other than the extremely extravagant, decadent every-other-adjective-to-describe-excess “Peoples Palace”. It was difficult to understand how such a structure could be built without plundering the entire countries economy for many years, oh, wait. That’s exactly what they did.
That evening we were to catch a train to Istanbul at 12:16(am? – more about that later). We arrived at the train station and noticed that there was no train to Istanbul on the information boards. After a lot of confusion and asking around we really just couldn’t figure out where or if there even was a train. The station staff spoke almost no English but did keep telling is “Tomorrow!” “Tomorrow!”. Was that “Tomorrow” as in a few hours time? Or tomorrow as in lunch time the next day? We just couldn’t really seem to establish this basic shred of information with the Language barrier presented. While we were trying to figure this out we were also surrounded by a hoard of scammers trying to take advantage of our desperation. One dodgy character was trying to pull what I think was the cruelest scam I’ve ever encountered in my life: He was trying to tell us that the train to Istanbul was leaving from a station 60 kilometers out of town, and he would drive us there for 300 LEI. Nice try. If we had have fallen for that one we’d be in the middle of nowhere and 300 LEI out of pocket. Eventually we were starting to realise that we had screwed up. The train left 11 hours ago, at 12:16pm. We confirmed this after pulling out a sheet of paper printed previously. We headed straight back to the hostel and booked last minute flights from Bucharest-OTP to Istanbul-Attaturk.
Unfortunately the hell of Bucharest wasn’t quite over. The next morning we had to head straight to the airport to catch our flight which unfortunately meant a trip back to that damn train station, with all of those dodgy private drivers, and taxi drivers. By now they all know there’s a couple of desperate tourists trying to get to Istanbul so they’re all shouting “Istanbul! Istanbul!”. By now we know all of the possible ways to get to Istanbul – We also know that none of them can offer us anything other than a scam.
The next challenge was to figure out the airport bus. This was somewhat stressful as once again we were hitting the language barrier with the station staff. We eventually got a ticket but couldn’t establish where the bus left from. We had already seen two busses pass us by while we franticly looked for the bus stop, all the while dodgy characters followed us around shouting “Istanbul! Istanbul!”. Eventually we found the stop and boarded a bus. Big sigh of relief. Finally, we were out of this hell hole. As we sat on the bus we watched this horrible city slowly decay back into sparse grassland. After about half an hour I looked out the window to see an Airport fading into the distance. What?!?!? Have we somehow managed the mother of all screw ups and miss the airport stop?! Noooooooo!!! It as as if Bucharest was throwing one last punch. A guy on the bus confirmed that we had missed the airport. Great, We thought we were clear of this place. We stood up with our bags to try and exit the bus. The bus didn’t stop. It kept on going and going and going. At this point I’m on the brink of nervous breakdown. A couple of people at the front of the bus asked us in (would you believe it) English why we were trying to get off. “We missed the airport” We said. “Which airport” they asked. “OTP” We responded. “You stay on” the woman shouted. Whew. Apparently there are two airports in Bucharest and we hadn’t arrived at ours yet. We arrived at the airport and sat for an hour or so in an almost euphoric state. We’re finally leaving this place.