People I met here and/or traveled with: Margarita (Bulgaria)
Crossing the border into Romania went surprisingly smoothly. Considering the fact that this now marks the border of the EU, I had expected more stringent checks. But no, a customs official just peeked into the car and asked “Cigarettes? Alcohol? No? OK, pass on through.”
The first couple of hours in Romania were absolutely wonderful. The weather was beautiful, as were the surroundings. The hilly, agricultural landscape reminded me a bit of France, with the difference being that most of the work on the land was done by hand, and the transportation of choice of most local people was horse cart.
However, the novelty soon wore off. The hills petered out and the landscape became as flat and treeless as most of Holland is, while our progress was excruciatingly slow.
Romania only has one highway, and we were not in the part of the country where that runs through. So our road twisted and turned through each and every town en-route. What is worse, Romania has one of the most strict/corrupt police forces in Europe, and traffic policing has become a very lucrative business. I thought Holland was bad when it comes to traffic police, but Romania is absolutely ridiculous. Each and every village we passed through had at least one police car staked out by the side of the road and people were pulled over left right and centre for even the most minor demeanour (if any).
We weren't pulled over, but our driver made sure to stay well below the speed limit, which made that we didn't do more than 60 km/h.
We realised we weren't going to make Bucharest
in time for the 8 o'clock train to Sofia, and it was time to evaluate our options.
Margarita was thinking about spending the night in Bucharest, but I had now set my mind on reaching Sofia. I had already been in contact with my friend George, and it would be a big disappointment if I didn't visit him this weekend. So Margarita suggested we should try and reach the border town of Ruse. If the taxi driver was willing to drive us to Giurgiu
, on the Romanian side of the border, then we should be able to find some transportation to Ruse, from where there would be plenty of buses and trains to Sofia.
Our driver was all too willing to drive us the additional 65 kilometres, for a small extra fee of course.
And so we bypassed Bucharest completely, and drove straight on to Giurgiu.
sunset over Bucharest
My first ever visit to Romania, and all I did was drive straight through it - without stopping! The first (and only) time my feet touched Romanian soil was when we got out in front of the border post.
A quick mention about our driver. He is the most un-taxi-like taxi driver I have ever encountered. First of all, his driving style was very gentle. He did not take any ridiculous risks when overtaking other cars (unlike any taxi or bus I have travelled with over the past two weeks).
But most of all, he didn't rip us off! We had agreed on a very reasonable price for the last bit from Bucharest to Giurgiu, and understandably he wanted this to be paid separately from the amount we had agreed for the Chişinău - Bucharest stretch (for which Margarita would receive an invoice as well).
fooling around in the taxi
When settling the finances there was a misunderstanding between his Moldavian Russian and Margarita's Bulgarian Russian. The fee was 2200 Moldavian lei for the trip and an additional 1000 for the border permit and insurance. We had already paid the 1000 lei in Chişinău, so all that was left to pay was the 2200 for the trip. He wanted more money though, and after a quick discussion with Margarita she gave him another 1000. I was about to intervene as this had not been the deal, but before I could the driver already gave Margarita back 800 lei. What he had been trying to explain was that she had made an error in counting the 2200 and was 200 short. Now this is the first time ever in all my travels that I have seen a taxi driver willingly and proactively returning the equivalent of 50 Euros that a stupid tourist has given him in error.
Naturally we did give him a good tip when he dropped us off at the border post.