Sunday, 17 August 2008

Train journey from Bucharest, Romania to Chisinau, Moldova

For the rail journey fan of a more masochistic bent, the Prietenia train from Bucharest in Romania to Chisinau in Moldova is a real treat.
For the rest of us, it’s a hideous trial of endurance on a slightly dirty train where the windows don’t open and the air conditioning doesn’t work. For approximately twelve-and-a-half hours.
Nearly half of that time is spent travelling the 100km-or-so from Iasi near the Romania-Moldova border to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.
This is partly due to passport checks and customs officers overturning the train in the hunt for drugs and illegal immigrants, but it’s largely due to having to change the entire undercarriage of the train.
Popular myth has it that the old Soviet Union adopted a broad gauge system under Stalin in order to slow down any potential invasion from the west. This isn’t true – the Russians decided to go with the wider gap between the rails well before the Soviet Union existed.
Nonetheless, there is a slight problem when entering one of the former Soviet Socialist Republics (including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus and the Ukraine) from the rest of Europe. Sometimes this is solved by getting off the train and getting on a new one, but going into Moldova, it’s the train that gets switched over.
So, in the middle of the night, while passengers are trying to sleep in their dirty sweatbox, all manner of clanking and lifting and shunting goes on outside. It’s a bit like a rubbish rollercoaster, only far more disturbing.

Getting on the Prietenia train

Nearest international airports: For Bucharest, it’s either Otopeni or Baneasa airport – the budget airlines tend to use Bucharest Baneasa, which is a filthy little hellhole. Visitors landing in Moldova will land at Chisinau’s airport, which is a short distance from the city centre.
By public transport: The train leaves from Bucharest’s Gara du Nord and arrives at Chisinau’s relatively modern (by Moldovan standards) station.

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