Ana, 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.
Ana 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:
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!