Tomorrow's Historian

Rachel's Adventures in Historical Research

Category: Fulbright Blog

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The Journey: Bavarian Pretzels, Long-Lost Luggage, and 3 A.M. Border Control – Part III

img_8545Ana, Ryan, and I returned to Bucharest around noon, with a lot of luggage and our overnight train to the capital of Moldova didn’t leave until 7:15 P.M., which was a good thing because we had a daunting task ahead of us. With our two big suitcases that we had just retrieved from Brasov, we now had 3 behemoths and 2 sizable carry-on suitcases, in addition to Ryan’s backpack and my “shoulder bag,” which could be considered a carry-on in itself. It is simply difficult to pack light when you are going to be abroad for all 4 seasons! At least that is what I tell myself to ease the guilt of chronically over-packing. Luckily, we were able to check all of our bags into daily storage at the train station and we only had to bring our third enormous suitcase and carry-on bags, which we had left at Ana’s apartment, to the train station in the evening.

img_8544Ana had to head to work for the afternoon, as she was gracious enough to join us for our trip to Moldova and help us search for our new apartment. So Ryan and I set-off to fetch our remaining belongings from Ana’s apartment and we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing at an outdoor cafe across from Ana’s office. On the left is evidence of that one time that I ordered an INSANELY large lemonade (3 liters…) and Ryan was embarrassed to be seen with me. But, hey, it was full of antioxidants!

After Ana finished her work at the office, we headed back to the train station, ordered our traditional train-fare (a giant bucket of chicken from KFC), boarded our train to Moldova and crammed our 5 pieces of luggage into our cabin.

When we had completed our version of train cabin Tetris with our luggage, we embarked on our railroad slumber party. The train between Bucharest and Chisinau runs at the same time everyday, the downside is that the train is incredibly slow.  So slow that the trip is 14.5 hours each way, but the upside is that the train is always nearly empty. Our train car carried only the three of us in one cabin and only two other cabins were occupied out of ten rooms.

Of course, we could have flown into Chisinau; there is an airport there, after all. Traveling as a Fulbright grant recipient meant that Ryan and I had to abide by the Fly America Act, meaning that all air travel that we booked had to be through a U.S. flag air carrier or an airline company managed by an E.U. country and we were required to follow this regulation to get as close to our destination country as possible. Luckily for us, there are no U.S. flag air carriers that fly into the Chisinau airport, so we had the option to request that we arrive to Moldova via train, which we so desperately wanted to do because crossing the Romanian-Moldovan border by train is a unique experience.

Traveling by train into Moldova means that passengers experience the changing of the train wheels! The railway in Chisinau was first constructed in 1871 and the rail line from Chisinau to (what is now) the border with Romania was began construction in 1875, when Moldova was still part of the Russian Empire.  Because the territory of Moldova was part of the Russian Empire, the rail lines were built using the broad gauge width, but when the territory was incorporated into Romania in 1918 the rails were converted to the standard gauge used in Romania. The tracks were reconverted to broad gauge after World War II, as Moldova was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and became a Soviet Socialist Republic and have remained broad gauge to this day.

As a result, there is a “break-of-gauge” at the Romania-Moldova border and a “Bogie Exchange” is performed in, which Soviet-era equipment is used to raise the individual train cars and exchanging the wheels and axles. It was a very interesting procedure to experience and worth making the trip, even if it occurred in between border control checks at 4AM. Check out the video below:


Lift mechanism for the train car

Bogie Exchange IMG_3577

Sunrise at the border

Sunrise at the border









As we left the border, I attempted to stand in the walkway of the train cabin to watch the Moldovan countryside through the windows, but was yelled at by the train conductor to return to my room. The same conductor had informed Ana that he hadn’t been paid in over 6 months, so the next time she rode the train she could approach one of the conductors and pay him cash at a cheaper price than the cost of the ticket. Taking money under the table is the only way he has been able to make a living…

Four hours later we pulled into the Chisinau train station, ready to explore our new home for the next 9 months!

Buna Dimineata,Chisinau! I cannot wait to know you better!

Buna Dimineata,Chisinau! I cannot wait to know you better!



The Journey: Bavarian Pretzels, Long-Lost Luggage, and 3 A.M. Border Control – Part II

So, where we last left off:


Our flight left Munich in the evening and we arrived in Bucharest around midnight to pouring rain. We’ve flown into Bucharest about 8 times during the course of our travels, but the monsoon-type rains caused a situation like nothing we had ever seen.

Several planes had been circling Bucharest waiting to land, but were delayed due to the weather. When the pilots were given the OK to land, all the planes landed and all the passengers deplaned at once. Without warning we took the full escalator to the passport control area, only to immediately realize that there was no space to exit the escalator! The escalator continued to usher people to the next floor but the area was jam-packed with people waiting to pass through the control. People started to fall on top of each other and the escalator was still full, yet no one was saying anything. Not knowing what to say, I yelled out, “Atentie, Atentie!!” It is probably clear that it means “attention” in Romanian, but we often hear people use it as a warning of an impending dangerous situation, like an unexpectedly high curb.

Luckily, my outburst triggered a woman far more bold and loud-mouthed than me to speak-up and berate everyone within earshot for not paying attention to the situation and an airport official pomptly turned off the escalator as a result. Babies were crying. Mothers were crying. It was a mess. We were able to exit the airport without further incident and there was our lovely friend Ana, waiting for us with flowers, presents, and a car to take us to her apartment in the miserable rain.

We capped-off the night at Ana’s with her delicious homemade potato pancakes and Ryan’s favorite Ukrainian mushroom dish and beautiful conversation, followed by a deep, deep sleep. The next day, the three of us caught the train at the Gara de Nord station to head to our favorite place on earth:



This would have been an odd excursion to make, as there are no trains from Brasov to Chisinau, Moldova, except that one year ago, we left our two enormous suitcases in Brasov with our dear friend Dustin, so that we could travel light with only our carry-on bags to Budapest, Poland, and Latvia.  The plan would have worked swimmingly if we hadn’t been forced to travel home directly from Latvia due to an emergency. As a result, Ryan spent an entire year in the U.S. without his favorite pillow, among many other things. We spent the 10 months that followed asking each other where certain items were in our house, only to watch each other’s face fall in disappointment as we realized that those items were packed in our enormous suitcases, which were in Dustin’s basement, in Brasov, Romania.

So our two day excursion to Brasov was a long-awaited reunion with our long-lost luggage, and it felt so good. We also got to stay in a fabulous Air BnB on our favorite street in the Old City Center.


 Of course we were also able to catch-up with Dustin and enjoy the best French onion soup at a cafe that he introduced us to last year and we spent time with Maria, the beautiful owner of the Bistro where we ate all of our meals during the summers we spent in the intensive Romanian-language program. Maria was sweet enough to take us on a drive past the town of Bran (known for Bran castle) and into the mountains for a peaceful afternoon.


Our few days in Brasov were short, but sweet. We hopped on the train back to Bucharest in the morning, only to hop on another train that same evening to complete our journey to Moldova!

Follow the rest of the journey in blog Part III!

The Journey: Bavarian Pretzels, Long-Lost Luggage, and 3AM Border Control – Part I

So we set off on  Sunday, August 21st in the pursuit of our newest adventure – living in Moldova for nine months on a Fulbright research grant. It was surreal to leave, knowing that we were embarking on the trip that we had been working toward for the past two years.

All grins, gearing up for departure from Dulles Airport in D.C.

All grins, gearing up for departure from Dulles Airport in D.C.

Of course, due to our love of travel we wouldn’t have been satisfied with departing from D.C. to merely arrive at our final destination, so we made the trip into a journey. And the normally 20 hours of travel to fly from Washington, D.C. to Chisinau, Moldova became a 5-day excursion. Because, really, getting there is half the fun!

The flight was perfectly fine, we were fortunate to have a row all to ourselves. Ryan was particularly miserable because a little man seated in front of him kept his seat in front of Ryan reclined back for the duration of the flight, even

Somewhere between the sky and heaven...

I even managed to snap this shot, somewhere between the sky and heaven…

though he seemed to sit in the middle seat next to his wife for the majority of our trip. Ryan is a bit claustrophobic. But we ate well, enjoyed the free in-flight adult beverages, watched too many movies, and slept too few hours. And before we knew it we were in Munich, Germany!

I lived in Germany for 3 years with my family when I was a child. After moving back to the states permanently, I never expected to revisit the two places in which I had lived abroad. But Ryan and I had the opportunity to visit Panama during a cruise in 2007, so I was thrilled to return to Germany – even if only for 14 hours.

I was even excited to simply be in the Munich airport. I had read that the Munich airport is one of the best in the world for layovers, with available showers, free wifi, and sleeping pods (called NapCabs, short for napping cabins). We were blown away because you can actually leave your carry-on luggage at the airport while you explore the city. This has been an unheard of service in every airport we have traveled through thus far (naturally, for security reasons). So at 8AM we left our bags at the “Left Luggage” counter and took advantage of the airport train into Munich.

We had big expectations for what we could accomplish during our 14-hour layover. We were going to eat a big German breakfast, tour the city, take a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, and top the day off with a traditional German feast in a Ratskeller.

That didn’t happen.

We explored Munich’s historic center, which was really lovely, and popped img_8502into a few historic buildings and shops. And then we realized that we were absolutely exhausted. Which was acceptable because it was around this same time that we realized that while Neuschwanstein Castle should technically take two hours to reach from Munich, by bus or train the trip is far longer. We made the executive decision to book a hotel room for the afternoon and take a glorious nap.

It was well worth it.

Then we traversed the city a bit more and enjoyed an incredible meal at a restaurant recommended to us by a friend. We drank Weiss beer, played cards, and people-watched. We had been at our table on the terrace for about an hour before I noticed the basket of Bavarian pretzels on the table. I excitedly munched on them while playing cards, despite the full meal that I had just devoured. When we asked for the check to make our way back to the airport, the server promptly came over and took inventory of the pretzel basket…it turns out that they were NOT complimentary.

Lesson learned.

We arrived back to the airport early enough to sit in a beer garden directly outside of the airport entrance (Bravo, Munich!) and enjoy one last pint of beer before our flight. Our flight left in the evening and we arrived in Bucharest around midnight to pouring rain. We’ve flown into Bucharest about 8 times during the course of our travels, but the monsoon-type rains caused a situation like nothing we had ever seen.

To be continued…

(Tl;dr: We flew into Munich and drank beer and ate Bavarian pretzels, yay!)