We got up on a bright, cool, and breezy Orthodox Easter Sunday morning ready to make our way to the Bucharest train station for a 2:00 train to Vienna. Called the “Dacia Express,” and operated by Romanian Railways, this train takes 19 hours to make the journey and arrives a little after 8:00 in the morning. But, no worries – we had booked a sleeper car so we would enjoy a good night’s sleep on the way.
John had read that the Dacia Express has no dining car, so before we left for the train we looked around, fruitlessly, for a grocery store near our Airbnb to buy a few provisions for the ride. On Easter Sunday morning, none was open. We found one of the few breakfast places that was serving in the Old Town and had a nice breakfast of eggs, tomatoes, and cucumbers, along with bread, feta cheese, and butter. We took the leftover bread with us, just in case, and added it to the bits of cheese and some chocolate left in the apartment.
John expressed his concern that nowhere was open to buy food and, to his knowledge, none would be served on the train “Not a problem,” I assured him, “we are going to the train station – surely there will be a place to buy something there.” We had been to the train station earlier in the week and it was a veritable shopping mall, complete with a meat market and other places to buy food. However, when we arrived at the train station in the early afternoon on Easter Sunday, the only things open were a McDonald’s (no, thank you) and a few small kiosks selling beverages, snacks, and tobacco. We bought a large bottle of water and boarded the train.
Once on board, we were happy to see that the train did have a Bistro car. We were very low on Leu, the Romanian currency, but that shouldn’t be a problem, I figured. Everyone takes credit cards in Romania. Once we settled in and were ready for food, John trekked down to the bistro car and found that they offered snacks, beverages, and hot plates of food, with a choice of chicken or pork, but that they do not take credit cards. Fortunately, they did take either Leu or Euros so when we were ready to eat, we ordered wine and a plate of food and spent out our Leu, then covered the remainder of the bill with the few Euros we still had from France.
Once it got dark and there was nothing else to see outside, we headed down to get ready for bed in our cozy little sleeping space. We got to sleep easily, only to be awakened at 1:30 a.m. by passport control. Fortunately, John had done his homework and we knew to expect this, otherwise I would have been digging in the cavities of my day pack for my passport when the time came.
There is something about being on a very old train in Europe, hearing a sharp knock on the door in the middle of the night, then hearing a male voice with a Germanic or Eastern European accent call out “Passport control!” that makes me think that the Nazis are coming for me. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, or maybe it’s the stories we’ve heard in Eastern Europe of the past two weeks, but the whole episode was alarming. We settled in to go back to sleep and an hour later, it happened again: a knock on the door and the call: “Passport control!” One of the passport checks was for leaving Romania, the other for entering Hungary. Fortunately, there is no check to enter Austria from Hungary as it is covered under the Schengen agreement, meaning that we can pass the border between Hungary and Austria without producing a passport.
I woke up at 7:00 Romanian time, which is 6:00 in Hungary and decided to see if the Bistro car was serving coffee. I made the hike through the cars to the end of the train only to find that the door to the Bistro car had a very low-tech “lock,” on it. The handles were tied together with a piece of cloth. No coffee until arrival in Vienna, apparently. At some point during the night, the Bistro car had closed and the train, in fact, had been turned and was moving in the other direction.
We are due into Vienna shortly and the weather is cold and rainy here. Other than a couple of late afternoon showers in Aix-en-Provence, it’s the first rain we have had since leaving the U.S. on April 2. I’ll need to get out my warmest jacket, which also happens to be waterproof. Since it’s so early in the morning, our Airbnb won’t be ready. The host offered us access to it after 11:30 this morning so we will have to find a place to go and stay out of the rain until then. With so many lovely cafes in Vienna, this should not be a problem. This is the day, I suppose, when we find out whether or not we should have treated the luggage with Scotch Guard…