Wednesday, October 27, 2021

How To Travel Around Romania

EuropeRomaniaHow To Travel Around Romania

Due to the vast distances that must be traversed in Romania, getting around is difficult and inefficient (this is after all, the second-largest country in Central Europe, after Poland). Even while roads remain a weakness, the transportation infrastructure has lately improved considerably. There are three operating roads connecting Bucharest to the seashore and the towns of Pitești and Ploiești, respectively, as well as many more in the works. Train transport, on the other hand, has vastly improved. Several railway track improvement projects are now ongoing, causing train travel on certain lines to be a little sluggish for the time being.

By train

Romania has a well-developed rail network that connects almost every town and a significant number of villages. Despite significant modernisation efforts, this network remains in poor shape, with low speeds and limited train frequency on several lines. Trains, however, are still the greatest choice for long-distance travel.

Căile Ferate Române, abbreviated as (SN)CFR, runs the majority of the trains. Regiotrans, Regional, Transferoviar, and Servtrans are just a few of the private firms that run secondary lines.

Except on routes where there are maintenance operations or during unusual weather, trains usually operate without significant delays (heavy snow storms in winter, heat waves or floods in summer).

Train types

Regio, InterRegio, and Intercity trains are the three main kinds of trains offered. The latter two kinds offer adequate conditions, but Regio trains should be avoided at all costs.

Regio (R)

These are slow trains that stop at almost every station (including some in the middle of nowhere). Although the prices are very low, the service is quite basic and may be unpleasant at times (no seat reservation, no ventilation to speak of, sometimes crowded, no working toilets in some trains, poor lighting).

They typically travel on single-suburban or double-decker vehicles from the 1970s, with four rows of seats. Most will not provide 1st class (although if they do, it is strongly suggested that you get a 1st class ticket since it will be less crowded and less unpleasant than 2nd class).

On certain routes, like as Suceava-Cacica, Craiova-Sibiu, Sibiu-Braşov, Cluj-Teiuş-Braşov, Cluj-Bistriţa, Braşov-Sfântu Gheorghe, Western Desiro and French Z-type DMUs have been implemented. Z-type vehicles provide a more comfortable seating arrangement but a bouncy ride, which is the polar opposite of Desiro’s advancement. Because these modern trains are intended for short-distance travel, long-distance travel will be unpleasant.

The majority of trains run by private firms are likewise classified as Regio. They’re generally cleaner than CFR Regio trains, although they don’t always travel the same routes.

InterRegio (IR)

Semi-slow trains that travel across medium and long distances and only stop in towns. They are inexpensive (albeit almost twice as much as Regio) and provide a variety of situations.

On many routes, notably Bucharest-Târgu Jiu and Bucharest-Brasov, newly refurbished vehicles have been launched. However, many people believe that new vehicles are equally as uncomfortable as previous cars, if not more so, and that the only difference is the appearance. In comparison to 1980s carriages, there is limited luggage space and legroom.

Some InterRegio trains include connecting carriages to destinations on subsidiary lines, which operate as RegioExpress once they split from the InterRegio train (RE).

InterCity (IC)

The most talented members in CFR’s network. They’re almost as pleasant as Western European trains, yet they’re still inexpensive by Western standards. Air conditioning, individual reading lamps, dining carriages, and power outlets are available on all IC trains (both in first and second class). In certain dining cars and business class, Wi-Fi is accessible (where available). They’re a little quicker than InterRegio and, for the most part, extremely clean.

Business Class (Standard and Exclusive) carriages are available on certain Intercity trains, which are more spacious than normal 1st class. Standard has soft armchairs, while Exclusive features leather armchairs with built-in LCD displays for each seat, as well as Wi-Fi.

Travelers with heavy bags should be aware that intercity train luggage storage racks are tiny, making intercity trains less convenient than Rapid or Accelerat. However, experiences seem to differ depending on the train, since certain lines only have non-compartmented cars, thus it may be worth attempting to secure a seat in a compartment.

When choosing between Intercity trains (classic cars or “Săgeata Albastră” – Blue Arrow DMUs), vintage cars are preferred since they are quicker and more pleasant. Săgeata Albastră are three-car diesel trains that run at a reduced pace (120 km/h vs. 160 km/h).

Night trains

Couchette carriages (with six or four beds) and sleeping cars are available on most InterRegio trains traveling at night (with three, two or one bed). The situation is favorable.

Getting tickets

Tickets for CFR trains are available at railway stations and CFR booking agents (agentie de voiaj CFR), which can be found in every large city (usually located in the central area). Tickets for any domestic route and international trains traveling through Romania may be purchased up to six months in advance at these booking companies and a few major stations.

Domestic tickets may also be purchased online, up to one month in advance, via CFR’s rather complex booking site.

Except for Regio and RegioExpress, all trains need seat reservations (not to be confused with advanced ticket booking).

There are many discounts available:

  • for small groups (10% for 2 people, 15% for 3, 20% for 4 and 25% for 5+)
  • for large groups (25% for groups of more than 30 people)
  • for buying return tickets (10%)
  • for advance ticket purchase (13% for over 21 days in advance, 10% for 11-20 days in advance, 5% for 6-10 days)

People who board CFR trains without purchasing a ticket from a ticket vendor may be penalized and forced to purchase more costly tickets directly from the train crew.

Tickets are typically given on the train on lines run by private operators.

Tourist railways

In hilly regions, there are many beautiful narrow gauge railroads, although they are mostly accessible for small groups and not for solo visitors. The Valea Vaserului railway in Maramureş is one noteworthy exception, with tourist trains running daily in mid-summer and on weekends in early summer and fall.

Groups may also hire the personal train of the former Romanian monarch or Ceauşescu’s private train, although these excursions are very costly.

By car

The most convenient mode of transportation is by automobile or bus, which is used by the overwhelming majority of international visitors (over 60%). The driving wheel is on the left, and police recognize European driver’s licenses. A passport and a valid US driver’s license are required for vehicle rental in the United States. You must buy a road tax sticker (the “Rovinieta”) either at the border or at the next petrol station if you drive your own vehicle. A hefty punishment will be imposed if you drive without one.

Avoid big multinational rental businesses as well as “friendly” locals that are ready to lend you their own vehicle. Rentals in Bucharest and across Romania start from €20-30 per day (without gasoline) for a tiny hatchback, run up to €170-200 for a luxury sedan or luxury SUV, and start at €65-90 for an ordinary vehicle or lame SUV. It’s possible that you won’t be able to rent until you’re 25 or older.

While Romanians are known for their friendliness and politeness, this does not necessarily extend to their driving habits. Speeding is prevalent in cities, as are young (inexperienced) drivers driving high-performance cars, furious drivers are the norm in the capital, and accident rates are among the highest in the European Union.

City roadways, especially in Bucharest, are notoriously congested. Double-parked vehicles, pedestrians, abrupt braking to avoid a pothole, or stray animals joining the road are all potential dangers (in rural areas). The majority of intercity routes are two-lane highways, with anything from communist-era trucks to contemporary sports automobiles using them. As a result, expect lengthier travel times than in other parts of Europe.

Bucharest’s city center is congested and busy, with small, winding lanes designed with minimal traffic in mind, mostly in the 19th century. Every day, nearly one million vehicles choke the roads; it may take two hours to drive a distance that could be walked in 20-25 minutes. A GPS or local guide is required. The easiest method to get about Bucharest is via taxi or public transportation (which is both inexpensive and dependable).

If you own a nice vehicle and like speeding, you should be aware that Romanian cops now use high-tech radars to capture speeding drivers. Outside of cities, speed restrictions are often 100 km/h, with 50 km/h or 70 km/h in urban areas. Some police units are outfitted with high-performance vehicles, while others use Dacia Logans. BMW motorcycles are used by certain highway patrols, but they are uncommon. On major highways, cars traveling in the other direction may sometimes flash their headlights to alert you that a radar trap may be just ahead of you. Many national highways and motorways are also under the watchful eye of Police Puma helicopters. Since December 2006, even minor traffic violations have resulted in hefty penalties from the traffic police (Poliţia Rutieră), who have the authority to suspend a driver’s license for an irregular passing. On major roads and highways, both hidden and apparent speed cameras are becoming more prevalent. Local police officers seem to be more tolerant with locals than with foreigners at times; nevertheless, locals face harsher penalties than foreigners (for locals, as few as two or three minor offences will get their license suspended for six months). Bribery is not suggested for a foreigner since most police vehicles have recording technology, and bribing is becoming less and less acceptable as of 2008, therefore it is not recommended for a foreigner to use this get-away method – it may easily put you in prison.

Drunk driving is a zero-tolerance policy in Romania, with regular checks. Basically, any quantity of alcohol in your blood qualifies as drunk driving.

If you are driving and someone is injured in a vehicle accident, you must stop and wait for the traffic police. The act of fleeing the scene is known as hit-and-run. Accidents that result in no injuries may be resolved by you and all persons involved going to a police station and making a statement, but if in doubt, call 112 (Emergency Services) and ask for instructions. In most instances, a blood test is required after an accident to determine if the drivers had drank alcohol. If you refuse to take this test, you will almost certainly face prison time, which is typically more severe than the penalty for drunk driving.

Numerous major highways used to be medieval trade routes that cut right through the heart of many communities. Slow moving vehicles, horse-drawn carts, and non-moving herds of cows often frequent village main roadways, making passing while driving the rule rather than the exception.

Types of roads

In the last several years, a lot of road infrastructure has been built, and things are changing quickly. Since a result, before you travel, check up on current internet sources, as material may rapidly become obsolete.

Motorways (autostrada)

  • A1 – The aim is to link Bucharest with towns in southern Transylvania before continuing to the western border; the only section that has been built so far is the 126-kilometer length between Bucharest and Piteşti, which opened in 1973. At the end of 2011, the Arad – Timişoara segment was inaugurated.
  • A2 – Bucharest is connected to Constanța and Agigea, both Black Sea ports. This implies that if you’re visiting other coastal destinations, you may skip Constanța.
  • A3 – is intended to go diagonally through Transylvania from north to south, then south to Bucharest. The Borş-Brandenburg section, commonly known as the Transylvania Motorway, is presently Europe’s biggest road project, connecting the Hungarian/Romanian border with Oradea, Zalau, Cluj-Napoca, Targu Mures, Sighisoara, and Brasov. Bucharest-Braşov is also under construction, although Bucharest-Ploieşti is the only section that has been finished. The section between Cluj-Napoca and Turda opened in December 2009, and it will continue to Câmpia Turzii in 2010. Its only purpose today is to serve as a bypass for vehicles traveling from Oradea to Braşov through Cluj and Turda. It’s a little tough to utilize the temporary Turda interchange.

On highways, the speed limit is 130 km/h.

Expressways (drum expres)

The dual carriageway is mostly non-grade separated/semi-grade separated. The 60-kilometer Bucharest- Giurgiu (DN 5) route, the Ploiesti Bypass (DN 1), the Cluj East bypass, and the DN 1 Bucharest-Henri Coanda International Airport section are the only expressways that have been built (which is grade-separated). On expressways, the speed limit is 100 km/h.

National roads (drum național)

European Roads, for example (drum european). National highways, which link Romania’s major cities in the absence of motorways, are the most significant component of the country’s road infrastructure. The majority of them are in acceptable condition thanks to recent improvements, with the trunk network being repaired lately. Many have four non-separate lanes near cities, three or four non-separate lanes throughout (such as Bucharest-Comarnic and a large portion of E85), but many have only two lanes – one for each traffic direction (a notable example is DN1 Câmpina-Braşov, which can take 3-5 hours to cross on weekends and holidays). On national highways, the speed limit is 100 km/h.

Other roads – county (drum judetean) and rural (drum comunal)

Roads are either owned and maintained by regional or municipal governments. These roads are mostly used to connect trunk highways with relatively tiny towns or villages, and only a handful of them stretch for more than 30-40 kilometers. The state of county roads varies greatly depending on the counties involved; although they are of decent-to-high grade in Ilfov or Constanta, they are in poor to extremely bad shape in other areas as compared to national highways. Rural roads are even shorter (around 10 kilometers), with some having just one lane of traffic and others being gravel-only. On these routes, the speed limit is 90 km/h.

When driving in a city, town, or hamlet, keep in mind that the speed limit is 50 km/h on ALL roadways (unless clearly otherwise posted). As a result, driving on a National Road becomes a continuous accelerate-and-brake adventure, requiring regular spotting of speed limit signs, city limit markers, and other drivers’ behavior.

By bus

The bus is often the most cost-effective mode of transportation between cities. One or more bus terminals may typically be found in Romanian towns and cities (autogara). Buses and minibuses leave from there for neighboring towns and villages, as well as major cities throughout the nation.

Minibuses are often cramped, and some buses are outdated and sluggish. Schedules are rarely strictly adhered to, and delays of more than an hour are frequent, particularly on intercity buses. Romanian roads are in poor condition, with the majority of the trunk network consisting of one-lane each way roads (similar to rural roads in the United Kingdom) and just approximately 250 kilometers of expressway. The majority of minibuses used are tiny, packed 14-seat vans (some converted from freight vans), with 20-seat minibuses used on longer trips. Expect an overloaded van with little air conditioning that stops multiple times in each town on commuter and suburban routes (25 people riding a 14 seat van is normal, with 40 person loads not unheard of). Intercity bus travel is only somewhat better; the majority of vehicles are converted vans or, at best, purpose-built minibuses, with just a few having air conditioning. The seating is usually cramped, and there is seldom a separate compartment for baggage. Most do not have bathrooms on board, necessitating 30-minute breaks every 2-3 hours. Overall, traveling by minibus is quite similar to riding in a Russian or Ukrainian marshrutka.

However, for a number of routes that the railway network does not service well, such as Bucharest – Piteşti – Râmnicu Vâlcea, Bucharest – Alexandria, Bucharest – Giurgiu, and Piteşti – Slatina, buses are the best option.

Vehicle comfort is gradually increasing, at least along the longer roads servicing major cities in Transylvania. Buses from reputable firms (such as Normandia, FANY, or Dacos) are available, and they provide timely and affordable, if not always pristine, service, with a baggage compartment always accessible. Toilet breaks are still necessary, although they are typically found at establishments that also provide food or beverages. However, be warned that on Fridays, Sundays, and around national holidays, such buses are likely to be packed, necessitating a phone reservation.

Buses inside cities are often overcrowded. Pickpockets have a lot of chances as a result of this. Pickpocketing seems to be no worse in this metropolis than in any other European city.

By taxi

In Romania, taxis are quite cheap. It costs about 1.4-2 lei (€0.40) per kilometer or little more, with the same beginning price. Taxis are a popular mode of transportation for both residents and visitors (it may be cheaper than driving your own vehicle) – therefore it may be difficult to get a cab during peak hours (despite Bucharest having almost 10,000 cabs).

The Fly Taxi business, which operates out of the Henri Coanda (Otopeni) Airport, is a noteworthy exception. A taxi from the airport to the city center may cost about 70 lei (€18). To get into the city, either hire a cab to pick you up near the airport or take the 783 bus route. You may also travel to the departure terminal to avoid paying for costly airport cabs. To do so, immediately turn right after exiting baggage claim. Hundreds of taxi drivers will approach you and ask if you need a ride after identifying you as a foreigner (it’s their business, after all). Maintain a courteous demeanor, shake your head no, and continue going. You’ll travel through approximately 200 meters of retail and service facilities in a small mini-mall that connects the two terminals before arriving on the departures terminal’s second level. When you go out the door, you’ll see a slew of cabs waiting to pick up customers. If you flag one down, make sure the price is less than 2 lei per kilometer. Technically, they aren’t allowed to pick up there, but you’re not doing anything illegal if you attempt, and few drivers can refuse 30 lei for a journey back to the city center that they were already going to make. Just make sure the meter is turned on. Be aware that some nefarious taxi drivers have lately started carrying remote controllers in their pockets that increase the tariff price in tiny increments that would otherwise go unnoticed until the fee is over. It may be more convenient to negotiate a tariff price depending on your destination in advance and pay that amount at the end.

Inside the arrivals terminal, there are now specific designated kiosks for fairly priced taxis, and the authorities are always on the lookout for pirate taxi drivers. Kiosks are a secure and dependable way to get a 10 euro taxi ride into Bucharest’s central area.

Be sure you check the price on the exterior of the cab and then the meter to make sure you’re getting charged the same fee. In Bucharest, be particularly cautious since some cabs display 7.4 instead of 1.4, although the 7 appears identical to a 1. If you’re unsure, ask; they’re required to display and clearly explain the tariff up front. All taxis must carry a license, which is a big, oval metal sign with city insignia and a serial number engraved, typically in great numbers, attached to the sides of the vehicle. Use any cab that does not have such marks. Also, avoid using a cab with a license from a different city (for example, never use an Ilfov taxi in Bucharest or a Turda taxi in Cluj-Napoca).

If the driver notices you are a foreigner, he may attempt to defraud you. Insist on using the meter, or hire a Romanian guide to accompany you. Don’t negotiate the ride price ahead of time since it may be 2-4 times (or even more) than the actual amount (even if it would seem cheap to you). Check to see whether it’s heading in the correct direction and, if you have one, track the route on a map. DO NOT take taxis from railway station cab stands unless they are from a recognized business, and DO NOT use the services of individuals offering you a cab ride at the train station. They may become astronomically costly (up to €50 for a taxi trip that would usually cost about €3). If you require a taxi from the railway station (or airport), call a respectable firm (see the city pages for the places you wish to visit) and order one over the phone; most dispatchers and taxi drivers understand some English.

By plane

Increased competition has resulted in reduced costs, making air travel a more popular mode of domestic transportation (sometimes less than the cheapest train or bus ticket). In comparison to previous decades, this, along with better airport infrastructure, has resulted in a rise in the number of passengers.

Currently, two airlines operate domestic flights in Romania: Tarom, which has a hub in Bucharest, and Blue Air, which has a domestic hub in Bucharest.

Bucharest and Timisoara are currently connected by up to 12 daily flights (operated by Blue Air and Tarom – Tarom operates some of the flights on the routes with A310 wide-body aircraft), Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca by up to 10 daily flights (operated by Tarom and Blue Air), Bucharest and Iasi by up to 4 daily flights (operated by Tarom), Bucharest and Oradea, Bucharest and Sibiu, and Bucuresti and Satu Mare are currently connected by up to 12 daily flights (opera (operated by Tarom). Bucharest and Arad are also linked by Blue Air’s daily flights. Because of their close proximity to Bucharest, flights to Constanta and Bacau are only available a few times each week. It’s worth noting that Saturday frequencies may be decreased, particularly in smaller cities.

If you book in advance with Blue Air or take a Tarom ‘Superspecial’ price, you may get a one-way ticket for as little as 40 lei (about €10). With a little searching 2-3 days before the trip, it is not unusual to get seats for around €35-€50. Note that, while Tarom bills itself as a full-service airline, Blue Air considers itself a low-cost carrier and, as a result, has adopted the Ryanair, Easyjet, or Southwest model of not allowing price aggregation through reservation systems. As a result, tickets for their flights will not be available through booking engines like Orbitz or Kayak, but only directly through Blue Air.

Some airports are located rather far from city centers, and although some bigger ones (Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara, Oradea) offer sufficient public transportation, others (like as Craiova or Iasi) must depend on taxis. Even so, outside of Bucharest, a cab ride from any airport to the city center should cost no more than 5-10 Euros.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is extremely popular in Romania, and some experienced hitchhikers claim that it is the easiest nation in Eastern Europe to hitchhike in. You shouldn’t have to wait more than 5 minutes if you’re in the correct location. Weekends may need a little more patience due to the fact that the roads are less congested. Locals, particularly for shorter distances, utilize this technique on a frequent basis (up to 50km). It is popular for individuals (particularly students) to hitchhike between cities (Bucharest-Sibiu, Timisoara-Arad and Bucharest-Ploiesti are particularity common hitchhiking destinations). Use a paper with the city you want to go to to increase your chances of being picked up – it may save you time, particularly if you’re traveling intercity. A bus stop, a road split, or a location near the city boundaries are all excellent options. Nonetheless, many, if not most, people will stop (assuming they are driving alone) – you might wind up receiving a ride in a rusted old Dacia from the 1970s or a brand new Mercedes, a semi-articulated truck, or a corporate vehicle from a large firm. Hitchhiking is usually not hazardous (although Romanians’ extremely aggressive, rapid, and chaotic driving style may pose a greater risk), but adopt the normal precautions while utilizing this mode of transportation. Inside city boundaries, hitchhiking with the conventional thumbs-up hand signal is not recommended, since many vehicles may mistake you for a taxi or a route-taxi (minibus) and refuse to stop. Instead, use a destination paper.

It is usual to leave some money for the ride (known as ‘gas money,’ about 1-2 lei/10km), but if you are a foreigner, you will not be required to do so, and no one will be offended. It’s worth noting that the majority of truck drivers and corporate vehicle drivers will refuse to accept money. In addition, if you tell the driver where you want to go in a city, he or she will take a detour simply to drop you off where it is most convenient for you. At the conclusion, say “Mulţumesc” (|Mooltsoomesck|) (thank you).

Note that most Romanians are very chatty, and even if their English, French, German, or whatever language they speak is extremely rusty, many will give you their whole life story, discuss the entire football season, and/or debate politics (usually starting from discussing the poor state of roads even while on a freshly repaired road). In the end, hitchhiking is a generally pleasant experience, and you may even be asked for lunch or dinner, given a hotel for the night, or just meet some really fascinating people along the route if you’re fortunate.