Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Travelling to Bran from Bucharest by train and bus: a small guide

Given that we found that travelling in Romania can be somewhat challenging if you use the public transport, I thought I might put forward this guide in the hopes someone might find it useful.

If you can, make it to the Gara de Nord railway station first thing in the morning to catch an early train. This is going to be a long trip (especially if you plan to stop by Sinaia to see the Peles Castle as well, which in hindsight I wouldn't recommend if you are travelling from a great distance like we did, because it makes for a highly stressful, packed day). To get to Bran, you need to go to Brasov by train and from there by bus (or taxi, if you've got the money, but it's really expensive).

It is a really good idea to buy tickets to Brasov in advance online. You need to create an account for that at the CFR Calatori website, but it will save you a lot of headache, ensuring you will have a seat. Given the journey is kinda long (around 2 hours and 30 minutes on the average), you're gonna need it to save your legs for the walking around. Check the number of the train car very carefully, it can be confusing and not clearly marked - ask anybody from the train personnel if in doubt. Squabbling over seats can be unpleasant... 

In Brasov, look for a little kiosk outside with blue "Bilete abonamente" or "Casa de bilete" written on it. Mostly the ladies working as ticket vendors are very nice and keen to help you if you ask them which bus to take, how to get here or there, where the bus stop is and so on and so forth, but not all of them speak English. The vendor lady we encountered in Brasov didn't and in Constanta likewise, so be prepared for the possibility English won't get you anywhere. But if all you need is tickets, it's okay, simply say: "Bilete." and show the required amount on your fingers, OR if you know how much the tickets cost in a particular place (like in Constanta it was 3 lei whilst in Brasov 4 lei), just give the lady the exact amount and she'll hand you the number of tickets you need.
Now, the tickets here are a bit special - we asked about them our sweet landlady in Constanta, but unfortunately due to a language barrier we didn't get 100% sure information. It would seem they are for 2 rides, to your destination and back; but it could also be one ticket can be used for 2 people. We don't know for sure, this is what we gathered from the explanation, use at your own risk. (Any Romanian reader out there who might kindly clarify this?)

As one wonderful local guy who gallantly led us away from danger and to the bus stop we were searching for warned us, the Brasov railway station is potentially not the safest place - thieves and drugs, so be careful. We are really, really grateful he showed up and stepped in. The rule of thumb we learned the hard way in Romania is to research a lot before you venture out on a trip if you don't have a Smartphone and can't print out a map, to the point it might seem obsessive, because otherwise you're almost guarranteed you'll hit a snag. Also, things aren't always where Google Maps say they are...
 Back to Brasov. There is a bunch of bus stops in front of the railway station, but the one you need to get to Bran is not there; instead, you need to get to the road and turn right. The buses kind of seem to arrive as they please and not according to the timetable posted at the stop (though that could have been we were just unlucky and it was an one-off thing), so just be patient and keep hydrated. The bus drivers we've encountered in Romania were generally nice and I haven't seen one that wouldn't stop when he sees you are running after the bus, so it's definitely worth pursuing it - especially since the stops are not marked in places and seeing the bus offload and onload people is your only way of guessing the stop is somewhere there. The bus you need is either 23 or 23b and you need to get to the Stadionul Tineretalui station; there, you will see a gas station - the bus station or Autogara is behind it.
Look for the bus with a Bran -Moeciu sign on it. The tickets for two cost us some 16 lei and it took us approximately an hour, I think, to get from the Brasov Autogara to Bran, also due to some road work, just in time for one of the last tours - the very last tour is at 6 pm.


One thing: do bring with yourself a fan for your bus journey to Bran. In the hot Romanian summer, they are generally a good idea. And watch out for the Rasnov fortress, because it is spectacular!
Once you see the castle, stand up and go to the door to signal the driver you want him to stop, or tell him beforehand it's Castelul Bran you wanna get to. There is a bus stop for the buses back from Bran to Brasov with a timetable thankfully posted there, but heavens know where is the stop for the castle... maybe it's opposite it, maybe it isn't. We didn't find it. If you do, tell us!
If you don't have a Smartphone like us (and maybe even if you do, because it seems the late afternoon buses are not marked on the website), make sure to note down the time when the buses depart back for Brasov and keep with you the timetable of your train, with the last train clearly marked. It may sound like a matter-of-course thing, but chasing after the last train at a break-neck speed in a taxi really isn't fun, and it isn't good for the budget, either. Make sure you arrive to the railway station well in advance, because long queues might occur - we stood in one for twenty minutes and missed a train because of that. The ticket machines didn't work. And it is entirely possible for the ticket vendors to refuse to sell you tickets if you are running late, as we have found out. In that case, as a nice local girl who told us about it did, just hop on the train anyway and pay the fee to the conductor. It's better than remaining stranded there in the dark. And it can get pitch dark in Romania pretty quickly.
Also, the trains don't always arrive on time, it happened to us several times they actually arrived early - and they don't stay long, so they are really, really easy to miss. Just a heads up. Or they can be delayed. A lot. It would seem in fact trains are a running joke here, because whenever we talked about them and our experiences with local people, they were bursting at the seams with laughter, agreeing with every negative thing we said and adding some with fierce delight.

The Secret Staircase

For adults, the tickets cost 40 lei per person and the castle is definitely worth it. The tour is self-guided, which is a great thing, and the rooms have got English plaques explaining the history of the castle and the room. If you are a history buff or if you have read some Zsigmond Móricz, you will surely appreciate the castle's connection with Gabor Bethlen. (I almost squealed with delight!)
You are allowed to take photos to your heart's content, so long you don't use flash. The castle is packed with many interesting little details, many narrow and winding staircases (even a secret one!) and there is a great view from it.

In conclusion, Transylvania and Bran are an unforgettable experience and they are simply magnificent and worth returning to and exploring in-depth - but make sure to be well-prepared. 


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