I left the home of the House of Terror and took the night train into Transylvania.
It sounds like a line from a book where something is going to go horribly wrong, but it was a surprisingly pleasant trip.
In a way, this was a trip from Hungary’s present into its past. Mention Transylvania to a Hungarian and he or she will, without fail, remind you that the prettiest part of Romania was once part of Hungary. In this land of shifting powers and borders, it’s more accurate to say Hungary managed to hold it for a while, fighting various invaders off and trying to figure out what to do with all the Romanians and Germans who lived there. After Hungary sided with the wrong players in the first World War, this region became part of Romania.
Buying this night train ticket from Budapest to Sighisoara was far from easy. I couldn’t figure out how to do it online, even with someone who spoke Hungarian helping me. When I inquired about the price in Slovakia, where I was before, they quoted a rate that was 60% more than what it said on the Hungary train site. (Apparently the rest was commission.) So I took my chances and waited until I could get to the train station in Budapest. Perhaps because of enough perplexed foreigners complaining, the Hungarian train system site now has this notice when you look up a schedule:
Please note that home printing of international tickets is not possible. International tickets booked online must be collected at one of the e-Ticket machines located at 40 railways stations in Hungary before your journey.
Once I physically got to the main train station in Budapest, no sweat. There were plenty of tickets left. I could get from Point A to Point B in a reclining seat for 42 euros. But if I splurged a little, I could get a sleeper bunk and stretch out for around 70. Figuring this was part of the adventure, I rationalized my splurge and went for the sleeper berth.
Here’s what I got. The whole night.
You see, the night train to Transylvania is not all that crowded. Perhaps it’s because of the inconvenient time: it departs at 11:30 at night, which leaves tourists killing a lot of time if they’ve checked out of a hotel at mid-day. Plus most of the Keleti train station services shut down by 11 p.m. You can leave your bag in a locker if you have local coins, but this is not the nicest area of town to walk around alone at night.
So after a beer at a neighborhood bar that said “Hungarian money only!” in big letters on the door, I killed a few hours in the station, which had this more welcoming sign to the right. While eating a sandwich that cost me the equivalent of a euro and a large beer that was about the same, a dyed-blonde woman and a Roma-looking man sat down on the bench beside me. The woman was too close and too friendly for the situation, so I knew what was coming. No, I don’t want to go somewhere with you and have a drink. No, really, I’m fine. A middle-aged bald white guy traveling alone is probably a high-percentage target in a half-empty train station late at night, but twice rebuffed, she and her pimp moved on.
On the train, after finding myself alone in a compartment, I looked around and found that it was probably going to stay that way. A family was in a compartment two over, a couple two more after that. Others sat unoccupied. So after the conductor punched me in and said “Sighisoara, 9 a.m.” in English, I curled up in my bed and let the train rock me to sleep like a baby.
At the other end was this:
Is there anything better when traveling long distances than going to sleep in one country and waking up in another that looks completely different? No airport hell, no baggage claim, no dehydration, no jet lag, no aching back. I felt joy and anticipation—and looked nothing like a Transylvanian vampire.