After spending a month in Kyiv I decided to start moving towards the Balkans. Of course before leaving Ukraine I had to spend some time in Lviv as I mentioned in Lviv during the day and Lviv in the evening posts.
The cheapest way from Lviv to Romania was by train (mostly). So I purchased my 115UAH ($10) train tickets for the train #601, Lviv – Solotvyne. The train departs at 20:40 and arrives to the border town of Solotvyne around 9am. The ticket for the 2nd class sleeper compartment also includes fresh sheets so you could get a good night sleep. Solotvyne is a small Ukrainian town that feels very Transylvanian. You can find statues for such figures as Stefan cel Mare (prince of Moldovia in 15th century), some streets names are Romanian, etc.
After a 10-15 minutes walk through the town you’ll get to the border with Romania. One of the reasons I chose the Solotvyne border was being able to walk across it, which I’ve never done before. We tried to take a photo of the border crossing on Ukrainian side and got yelled at by one of the agents so we kept on walking. Show your passports and keep on going through the bridge over Tisa river. Take your passports again for the Romanian border officers, look at their surprised faces (I guess not many Canadians cross this small border by foot). The passport control guy sent us for the “luggage inspection” but when the inspection lady saw we had Canadian passports she told us to close the bags and have a good time in Romania.
They mostly inspect the bags and merchandise of locals who bring in stuff into Romania. These old Ukrainian ladies are real hustlers. They bring in 1 pack of cigarettes, 1 kg of potatoes, a bag of apples and a few other things to the small market on the Romanian side of the border, hoping to make a few bucks. Romania is more expensive than Ukraine, so Romanians are happy to buy some discount products from their neighbors.
We got a little unlucky with the weather as it was raining most of the day. We crossed Sighetu-Marmatiei (Romanian bordering town) and got ready for our first hitchhiking adventure. To be honest it was completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done this before and I was seriously nervous about it. I drew up a sign, stood on the side of the road with hopes that someone will offer us a ride.
This is also when I learned one of the very important hitchhiking lessons.
I wrote “BUCHAREST” on the sign. However, Bucharest was 600km away (9 hours drive on Romanian roads). I didn’t occur to me that no one is going to Bucharest. I was on a small road, outside of a small town, 600 km away from destination… after some time I made more signs with names of near-by towns (like Bistrita). After about 30 minutes wait an older Audi finally stopped. I was getting a bit desperate and annoyed with the rain so I didn’t care where the car was going, I just wanted to get away from where I was.
Marius and Paula were driving to Baia Mare and offered us a lift which we gladly accepted. We started to talk about this and that and they offered to do a little detour in order to show us a lake. Sure, why not! When we got to the lake I was very glad we made the detour because the place was simply gorgeous! Romanian nature is a must see.
After the short visit to the lake we kept on to Baia Mare, while listening to some Romanian pop. The “30 De Grade” song is still stuck in my head. In fact I listen to it from time to time, reminiscing those summer moments.
Finally we arrived to Baia Mare and Paula said they needed to make a last short stop before leaving us at the exit of the city where we will be able to get another ride. So we stopped, Paula left and came back a few moments later with a bag of Covrigi for us. A very popular snack in Romania, kind of similar to a bagel but yet totally different. That was incredibly sweet of her and made our first hitchhiking experience that much more amazing.
In Baia Mare we made a sign for Dej, next town on the way to Bucharest and it took only a few minutes to hitch a ride with an older Romanian guy who didn’t speak English. Good thing I can speak some basic Romanian. We got to Dej and made another sign for Cluj. A few cars stopped and they asked for money however when we told them “fara bani” (without money) they smiled and left. However, moments later an old Audi A6 stopped with two very young Romanians who were listening to manele and they told us to get in.
Somewhere on the way they picked up a local “hitchhiker” who gave them some money for the ride. This is when I realized that hitchhiking in Romania is actually a popular mode of transportation although unlike in most other countries, you are expected to pay a small fee for the ride.
The guys explained that a lot of people from Cluj go to Bucharest and it should be easy to catch a ride. Once we got to Cluj we figured out where the road to Bucharest was and we started walking towards that road. While walking up a pretty steep hill I lost my water bottle so I stopped at a petrol station to buy another one. I also thought it would be a good place to hitchhike. When I came in the shop the clerk told me it was a bad place to hitchhike and recommended to walk another 1km, just past a roundabout. He said I will see locals hitchhiking there because that’s the good spot.
So we kept on walking, past the roundabout and finally we saw a bunch of locals trying to hitch rides to nearby towns and villages. The good sign was that others were hitchhiking, so it was a good spot indeed. The bad thing was that we had to compete with locals (and there were many of them). We got to that spot after 6pm, which is usually not a great time to hitchhike as it’s getting late. It took us over 3 hours (!!!) to finally get a ride but more on that in the next post.
In the next post I will be sharing more stories and experiences from Romania so stay tuned!