Award ceremony for my trip

Just for fun. Please don’t hurt me.



Alcohol – Bozzante (house-made) from Zeller Bistro, Budapest, Hungary
Bread – Cozonac in Timișoara, Romania
Castle – Peleș Castle, Sinaia, Romania
Donut – from the popular Stara Paczkarnia, Wroclaw, Poland
Exhibit – European Art Gallery at MNaR, Bucharest, Romania
Friendliest local strangers – Romania
Group convo with locals – Belgrade, Serbia
Heartfelt goodbye – Győr, Hungary
Ice cream – personal recommendation in Győr, Hungary
Just curious how long it takes everyone to rush home for the Easter feast after the penultimate Easter church service – INVITED!!! in Cluj, Romania
‘Kidnap’ experience – family car trip in Racoș, Romania
Laughing with a stranger after exchanging a single look – Sibiu, Romania
Music performance – Thalia Hall, Sibiu, Romania
Nature – Romania
Overview of a city – Mount Tampa, Brașov, Romania
Peer pressure – partying in Krakow, Poland
Quote – “young and stupid,” in transit to Wroclaw, Poland
Restaurant – the Artist, Bucharest, Romania
Soup – Jókai bableves at Paprika Vendéglő, Budapest, Hungary
Train comfort – Poland
Unexpected conversation – “hello” near the end of a long train ride, Budapest, Hungary
View from bus/train – across Slovakia
Where on earth am I? – waking up in Kecskemét, Hungary
XD – being lost 10 seconds after saying I know the way in Budapest, Hungary
Yummy confectionary – anything from German brand Haribo, Hungary
Zipline / obstacle course – Parc Aventura, Brasov, Romania


Creepy “Egyptian eye” windows – German buildings in Sibiu, Romania
Deliberate trolls on social apps – Romania
Destroyed – Badminton klub Beograd, Serbia
Homeless people
– Budapest, Hungary
How did this happen? – struck on the head by a descending barrier gate, Sibiu, Romania
Ice-cold shower – Brasov, Romania
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the ride from Pécs to Budapest that three sources state is a bus and three sources state is a train. Where the hell do I find it? (Hint: follow the “train replacement bus” signs within the platform area.)
Is there more to it than trying to make people feel depressed? – Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, Poland
Most beggars
  – Belgrade, Serbia
Rudest customer service – pizza place in Belgrade, Serbia
Street racism – feinted for laughs in Pécs, Hungary
Too strong – homemade Rakija, Belgrade, Serbia
Tours in English  – Romania
Train tickets give zero info about trains? – Hungary

Unhealthiest cuisine – Belgrade, Serbia
Worst accommodation – hotel in Győr, Hungary
Worst upper-tier restaurant – Belgrade, Serbia

Hungary, you only have Budapest and a superiority complex

I should start by warning the reader that I’m writing about my delayed first impressions of Hungary, and that this post is extremely partial (though not necessarily inaccurate). Why then, do I bother to share what may well contain a fair portion of misinformation? (How can I even talk about Hungary as a country if I haven’t spent more than an hour in Budapest?) My gosh, the internet lied to me and Hungarians lied to me and I can’t believe I was naive about it for so long. Of course, I can’t say that without acknowledging that I made an incorrect assumption somewhere along the line. All the dependent calculations… I could not possibly have known it could skew things so much.

Based on my research, this is roughly what I expected of Hungary:

To the foreigner, Hungary is basically a better version of Romania in terms of its attributes. The most notable downsides are that it’s more expensive and Hungarian is much harder to learn than Romanian.

This expectation was the core reasoning for my initial plan to spend one and a half months in Hungary after one month in Romania. Build up some confidence and skills in Romania, where it’s cheaper, then go all out in Hungary. Save the best for last.

Now on just my fifth day in the country, that whole idea has come crashing down. I’ll start by talking about the good things I’ve noticed in Hungary (mainly compared to Romania):

  • The everyday architecture and streets are much prettier (but less interesting) than in Romania.
  • Jaywalking is easier and feels safer.
  • The standard of living is better. I’ve almost had a good shower.
  • Better economic standing and less political corruption, though is this really a pro for a tourist?
  • Menu aside, the average restaurant serves better food.
  • The customer service is much better, though I still get the “What are you doing in this restaurant?” thing sometimes.
  • The process of paying the bill, giving a tip, and receiving change is streamlined into one step so you don’t have to wait anymore.
  • I find the clouds interesting and picturesque. Some of the pastures on the train ride look quite nice, though the view is blocked a lot of the time.
  • People are generally more polite and the look of depression seems to be replaced by something like arrogance.
  • The selection of pastries and cakes is more foreigner-friendly than those in Romania.
  • Ice cream (especially gelato) is cheap and popular, although the consistency/taste usually feels a bit artificial.
  • Shopping malls are smaller but more accessible and closer to the center.
  • City centers seem to feel more well-defined, compact, walkable, and yet less crowded. This might have to do with the major cities (other than Budapest) generally having noticeably smaller populations than the major cities in Romania. Kecskemét, for example, has a real toy place feel to it (in more than one way).
  • Wider range of electronic goods.

And some of the bad things:

  • Everything except ice cream is more expensive. We’re talking about the cheapest reasonable stuff; places to stay, food, public transport, etc. Ballpark figure 50-100% more expensive. That’s quite a bit when you’re often paying for roughly the same level of quality/comfort as in Romania. Those cost-of-living websites I’ve been relying on… pretty off the mark here, at least in terms of my “lifestyle.”
  • The train network is lame. It’s a star; everything goes through Budapest. That sucks for going from one non-Budapest city to another regardless of the population/size of the cities.
  • Train transfers are confusing. I bought a ticket from Budapest to Pecs with no instructions given on what transfers I needed. I transferred twice at major transfer stations only to be told that I couldn’t go to Pecs on the unlimited transfer ticket I bought. I ended up illegally riding the InterCity direct train from Budapest to Pecs (which I had missed by a couple minutes at the station in Budapest) for the last leg, but I maintain that it wasn’t my fault.
  • Prepaid SIM cards and all the prepaid plans are not cheap. They also have pretty strict rules on acquiring an active SIM card. I went to Telekom and the guy said “I’m sorry, you cannot buy a SIM card in Hungary without Hungarian ID.” He went on to explain how new laws in 2017 were stricter and so on. I’d done my preparation for this so I was pretty sure he was wrong, but either way he thought he couldn’t sell and activate a card for me. I went to Vodafone instead and there was no such problem, except it was way more expensive…
  • Hungarians are less rude than Romanians, and thus it could be considered that they’re more polite. But Romanians are way friendlier towards foreigners, which makes so much more difference. Largely irrelevant, but one Hungarian guy pretended to come and attack me when I looked up from reading Maps just to make his girlfriend laugh…

Let’s talk about the downright disgusting stuff

Hungarians have a superiority complex. I’ve heard stuff like Hungarians think their neighboring countries (e.g., Romania) should be a part of Hungary as they might have once been. At least that can be explained by attitudes based on the past or lingering propaganda. What really sets me off is that Hungarians all talk about how the food is better and there’s really great nature spots and the villages are just as good as in Romania, and then no one can recommend a single city or village or hiking scene outside of Budapest. Not one fucking name. You wonder for a second whether everyone lives in Budapest or they don’t know the geography of their own country. The same is true of travelers; no one will be able to mention anything other than Budapest. Which brings me to my next point.

Budapest carries the entire reputation of Hungary as a tourist destination. My fatal mistake was the assumption that like Romania, Hungary had many good things to offer other than its capital city. Boy was I wrong. Budapest usually appears in the top 10-20 cities in lists of European destinations, whereas Bucharest wouldn’t even make it to a top 50 list if there was one. If Budapest and Bucharest didn’t exist, Hungary wouldn’t be popular whereas Romania would still be a great (and unpopular) country to visit. When people compare the two countries, they’re usually just comparing one really attractive capital city to a whole country with a far less attractive capital city. It’s going to be a very skewed comparison.

There is nothing particularly worthwhile outside Budapest. This is the only explanation I can think of that accounts for why no one has heard of any other place in Hungary. Look at the map of Hungary and its four regions. Read up on every major city except Budapest. Note the absence of things to do in each city like hiking or visiting a nearby village or any other highly recommended tourist attraction. Go to the city or save the trouble and just browse the audio walking tours for it. Look up all the waterfalls in the country. Ask the locals what you can do.

That superiority complex again. The locals will tell you how nice their city is while admitting there’s nothing to do except be there. Nothing to see in the villages and no nearby nature attractions. It’s embarrassing. People just want to share how good things are rather than share what those things really are. And often, those good things don’t even exist! Read the descriptions of each city. No matter how fancily you could describe any of the cities, there’s simply no substance behind it.

“Grand McChicken” burger. ^

My only regret in Romania

I regret not having taken advantage of people more.

INTPs are pretty good at accepting the truth. We’re the type that is least prone to bias, but we’re certainly not immune when it comes to things like emotional trauma, which can damage our sensitive ’emotionalogical’ circuits. Anyhow, regret is one of those emotions we see as logically pointless and a waste of energy. To indulge in regret would mean that accepting the truth of the past is difficult, which it is not. Accept the things you cannot change, and focus on the things you can change. (However, one common INTP bias is to assume we can’t change something all too easily, usually something that requires social interaction.) You can reinvent the past, but you can’t change it.

With that gnarly introduction out of the way, I’ll talk about the only thing that I “bothered to regret about” in Romania.

I regret not having taken advantage of people[‘s kindness] more.

For anyone who’s known me for an extended period of time, this is not at all a controversial statement. On the contrary, it’s somewhat evident that I would be a better person if I was better at taking advantage of people. I’ll clarify for good measure, since INTPs can operate by pretty weird definitions (relative to everyone else) when it comes to standards of behavior (such as honesty).

To me, taking advantage of a person(s) means willfully taking and receiving what excess they were already willing to give, in a manner that results in a positive outcome for both parties.

Like I said, probably not the definition you expected. Why is it so conservative? Despite being prone to breaking rules, INTPs have a strong sense of moral principles. Mix that in with social awkwardness, a lifelong attraction to autonomy and independence, sometimes crippling beliefs about whether one in fact deserves good things, and an uncanny respect for other people’s right to be left alone. And that’s why you have such a strange definition. I mean, normal people would probably call that kind of behavior something else, not taking advantage, but I struggle to identify what it might be.

Life gets better for an INTP once they realize they deserve what they get and what they take. The INTP population is split in terms of this metric. I hypothesize the main predictors as being age and presence of childhood emotional trauma/repression. A large proportion of us (possibly even a majority) suffered from childhood trauma in some form. We’re at greater risk than other types because of how specific our needs are and how different it is from the norm.

Childhood trauma is obviously a barrier to healthy adult development, and it seems to be a rather polarizing barrier that is difficult to cross. Personally, I believe that I am now aware of the appropriate tools to overcome the limitations brought on by my own past. It has been two years since I first became self-aware, and although I made great leaps and bounds initially, it wasn’t until I reached another all-time low in February this year that I realized my methodologies were far too shallow and that I had to deconstruct myself once again to move away from the plateau.

In particular, the mindset that I needed to “fix myself, crawl out of the abyss, and become a normal, healthy adult” was harmful and unsustainable. Although it might not be so far from the essence of what I want to achieve, as a human being I cannot (successfully) navigate through emotional truth in such a precise manner. I’m a human, not a computer. I need principles, strategies, the use of the senses, feedback, reassurance, and light to guide me. But I digress, so I’ll try to wrap up my point quickly. Lasting positive change must come from a place of self-acceptance. (The media and commercials don’t want you to know that, because it’s not a message that sells; in fact, it scares us because it involves confronting our uncomfortable feelings rather than ‘powering through so quickly we don’t have to think about it.’) This leads to one of my favorite quotes, which is the mantra of Sierra Boggess (my favorite Christine Daaé by the way):

“You are enough! You are so enough, it’s unbelievable how enough you are!”

The incident I regret the most was the second time I consciously distanced myself from friendly locals because I didn’t want to burden them. I was afraid that they would invite me a second time, and ashamed to admit how much I would have wanted that. I was afraid that they wouldn’t invite me. I left in a hurry so that I wouldn’t put them in the position to have that decision over something I felt vulnerable about.

It was stupid, but understandable given my flawed upbringing. Expressing my true desires has always been a shame trigger for me, because I grew up under the idea that my wants and needs were mostly a source of trouble. This misconception was something I could not change as a child, so I accepted that “reality” and silenced my needs.

I should have loitered around. I should have expressed further interest, asserted my presence, and given myself a chance to be invited. Because of that cowardly decision, I never ended up discovering the limits of Romanian kindness, which had been one of my specific missions. (And I never got another chance to speak with the first girl to ever strike me as ‘angelic’ in appearance.)

While it still takes courage for me to accept kindness from others, I did eventually realize that I wasn’t the only one to gain from obliging. To be able to give freely is a privilege that I envy. But people received the benefit of my presence too, and if only for a few passing moments, I felt that it was real.

The ultimate question: did I find home in Romania?

I chose Romania with my head and it captured my heart.

I finally left Romania after more than a month, and with great sadness. In my previous megapost on travel advice myths for Romania, I gave a list of pros and cons that basically explains why Romania was a logical choice of destination for me. For those who prefer to be convinced with their heart or emotions or whatever, there was one common sentiment among visitors that definitely intrigued me: people say that they discover an unexpected sense of home in Romania. Even though it’s rather vague what is meant by this or how it could really be the case, my logical instincts believed it to be possible. But would I experience this too?

The social odds have always been against me, but I’ve been deliberately trying to improve my luck. After all, those of us born into bad luck have no better alternative but to manufacture better luck. I don’t feel like explaining this idea right now, but it’s something that’s important to me now even if it’s something I’ll outgrow later.

In short, I did find the feeling of home in Romania, multiple times. I think it can only happen when you least expect it. Maybe it can only happen because you don’t expect it. (‘Nonsense’, my left brain objects.) I felt that Bucharest could have been my workplace and haven, Brasov my coffee shop, Sibiu the place for childish delights, Cluj a social hub, Timisoara my campus, and everywhere in between the vast outdoors. Then again, everything I just mentioned is irrelevant. It’s not even the place, or the wonderful horrible buildings. It’s the people, and it could only be the people. There’s no home without people. “Happiness only real when shared.” ― Christopher McCandless.

The truth is, I don’t know what home is. I’m part of my family, but that doesn’t mean I have a place I feel that I belong to. On the contrary, I’ve often explicitly felt that I don’t belong. I struggle to grasp whether my sentiments about this profound homeliness in Romania is real or not. My feelings are real, but they may not be accurate. Even so, I don’t know if I care. The lie is often better than the truth, and it may not be a lie at all. I’ll bring it back with me if I can, because it’s so much better than what I have right now.

This post got a bit out of hand. I had actually wanted it to make sense. It made sense to me at one point. But I’m just going to stop here. All I can say is that Romanians are the some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met—a statement that I cannot possibly qualify. I chose Romania with my head and it captured my heart.

The face of Romanian men

In my previous post, “The face of Romanian women“, I described my impressions of Romanian women from the point of view of a foreigner.

Romanian guys

To be blunt, Romanian guys look intimidating to me. My instincts consistently tell me they look like they don’t want to be disturbed. If I think about it in terms of an overly serious expression or obvious signs that they’re busy with something, the same generally apply for Romanian women too. What the men have in addition to that is that they look rough even with a ‘neutral’ expression. What has this guy been through? Does he have a job? I wonder what he’s up to. Maybe better not to know. These are the kinds of thoughts that come to mind.

In terms of faces, I would describe the general impression as “hard faces”. Dark or various shades of gray hair is ubiquitous. Each age bracket has a prevalent hairstyle, and it suspiciously resembles a chronological progression. From the teenage years it starts as either unkempt or shortish, and then it just gets shorter and shorter through increasing states of baldness. I’m not sure whether this is due to genes, lifestyle factors, or a shortage of hair dryers. I think there is a distinct facial average at about age 50 and it may well remind me of a construction worker with a monk’s haircut. That said, there are “lucky” men at all ages and they flaunt their overgrowth either with no distinctive hair style (uncontrolled) or tidy with hair wax.

Guys in their early twenties or younger have more distinguishable characteristics, but there are a lot of things that are fairly uniform. The hair style, hair color, and skin color are the easiest to pin down. There are no obvious side effects of the meat-heavy diet and men who are overweight seem to be strictly beyond their teens. I feel like even the height is more uniform than what I’m used to. But to work in the other direction, like why aren’t there any guys who look totally goofy or stoned like you’d find in America or England for sure?

Another obvious thing is how much guys smile or don’t smile. Anyone who’s middle-aged or older never smiles more than 10% of any brief encounter, unless they’re that kind of elder who pats your back because they think you went against the grain in going to church or visiting the country at all. (Well, Asian tourists are indeed quite rare in Romania; I only spotted other Eastern Asians on seven separate occasions.) Younger people are capable of smiling for more than 10%. It seriously feels like there’s probably some specific year after which guys who were born grew up to smile as part of normal social interaction. Otherwise, the main triggers with older men are: “I like Romania” (especially if they don’t speak English); a mistranslation from Google; or use of some basic Romanian phrase (Hristos a înviat!).

So basically, Liam Neeson’s “I will find you and kill you” face is nothing compared to an older Romanian guy’s neutral expression. They’ll give you this blank death stare while asking questions like “Are you a student?” Something rather surprising happens when a little boy or girl (who ‘happens’ to be their son/daughter) approaches them. They instantly go from almost no smiling to all happy and cheerful, smiling 90% of the time (which would get very tiring for me personally). I cannot explain that degree of contrast or the reason behind it. The moment their kid leaves, it’s back to default state.

Despite, as I say, Romanian guys looking very intimidating to approach, every time I did it was apparent that my instincts were inaccurate in this social/cultural context. When I approached groups, they didn’t mind my interruption, and older men who looked menacing and unfriendly and too busy were generally not so at all; friendliness simply has a different face. I’m glad I allowed myself to be proven wrong again and again, otherwise I would have missed out on a lot.

The face of Romanian women

I stayed long enough in Romania to notice a few trends about Romanians, and here are my impressions from the point of view of a first-time visitor in Europe.

Romanian girls

In my opinion, Romanian girls are beautiful. I got asked this multiple times, and I was even forced to say this when I got adopted on a family road trip. So I’ve learned my lesson.

I’m usually good at guessing ages, but when it comes to Romanian girls I think there is a high degree of uncertainty. Some girls (especially in the 18-22 range) look way more mature than their age (probably the meat diet at work), and the opposite case is less common but the disparity can also be quite unexpected. For all age groups, I’d say that it’s uncommon for people to look like their exact age (relative to my foreign instincts). The elderly tend to not have aged well; it is difficult to observe a correlation between younger and older faces. There is a large variety of distinct faces, though it seems possible to identify a stereotypical young adult face, which may well also match the average of many faces. The majority of women are brunettes. It surprised me how dominant this proportion was.

Romanian girls are known to put effort into their presentation, which belies the supposed fact that fashion is a relatively new trend here. Personally, I found the wide array of winter styles all very pleasing and classy; the general level of everyday fashion was impeccable.

Young Romanian women generally seem interested in the topic of foreign languages, such as improving their English, picking up a third language, or just wishing either of these things. The motivating factors are probably an interest in travel, eagerness to communicate with foreigners, an environment where lots of people speak multiple languages, and the desire to live outside of Romania. The last one is quite noticeable due to a perceived low standard of living and other political/economic issues for young people in the country. (Interestingly, guys seem to be more accepting of their ‘fate’ in Romania.) If all else were even, knowing any of the most popular languages would open so many doors compared to knowing a pretty isolated language such as Romanian.

To go further into “stereotype” territory, the interest in languages translates into an even stronger interest in foreigners. There is a huge curiosity for people’s way of life outside Romania. Maybe it’s romanticized as being necessarily more exciting and luxurious, yet secure. I’ve heard a few things about Romanian women being more interested in foreign men than in Romanian guys, though I’m not qualified to say exactly to what extent in what aspects that it’s an exaggeration. I will however include a personal anecdote that I think highlights an unusual impression you may come across.

Special treatment

As a foreigner, when you’re introduced to Romanian girls on a friendly occasion (e.g., eating with family/friends), you’ll be the center of attention for the whole time. Part of that is general hospitality towards a guest and general Romanian friendliness, but there’s more. They will keep asking questions as long as you oblige. They will translate and explain things for you. They’ll seem unreasonably impressed by the simplest phrases you picked up like “Poftă bună” and comment that you can basically already speak Romanian. They will look at you like they haven’t seen a foreigner in years and they’re super curious because it’s an incredible opportunity. And that thing they do with their eyes… that alone is enough to make a guy feel helpless. There are multiple flavors of it, but the generic one is performed as if your words constantly remind them anew that conversation is the best thing since sliced bread and they simply cannot contain their surprise. Periodically, they may also conspicuously nudge and make other gestures to the friend who introduced you, as if to say:

 My gosh… how did you find this rare specimen?

And later:

I know you’re not gonna give him up but I would happily take him off you if you were hahaha… lucky you’re the one who found him.

It’s funny that they might even verbalize some of this sentiment—of course in far less creepy terms—but you kind of feel they’re not 100% joking and still thinking about it.

It may sound like I’m being sarcastic or imaginative, cause this almost sounds like something from anime. Then again, maybe this is considered normal in Europe and I’m the only one who doesn’t know 😀
Every country has its own strange behaviors and biases, and with this one I almost suspect there must be some achievement list being marked off (“meet a foreigner from country X”).

Last but not least, there’s the whole “I hope you like Romania” thing:

Why did you choose to come to Romania? Not for the vampires? Okay. I wouldn’t have chosen Romania myself… I mean a lot of people don’t come to Romania because everyone thinks of it as a poor and dangerous country and our buildings and everything you see maybe not so impressive. But since you’re here! There are wonderful things here too like the villages you should go see it and the culture is very special the nature beautiful too. Where have you been so far, what was your favorite part? Oh, so it wasn’t the women? Anyway I’m glad you’re in Romania and I hope you like it please tell your friends and family to visit Romania if you need any help at all you can ask me or ask around you should find someone who can speak English unless it’s in the countryside but people are friendly anyway they will try to help you even if they can’t speak English. Well then, goodbye have a safe trip remember we are here if you need anything, I hope you like Romania.

I’m confident you’ll here this talk one time or other if you try to make contact with everyday Romanians. There are so many things going on in this spiel, I think my “analysis” is that it’s unexpectedly adorable.

Getting around Romania without driving

It was an easy decision for me not to try and drive in Romania. I am bad at driving around unfamiliar infrastructure, not to mention navigation is the Achilles heel for me. Many tourist guides also highly recommend not driving for the sake of safety, especially at night.

Relying on public transport has its limitations and nuances, and I’ll try to cover some of them here.

  • In Bucharest you can pay for the subway using your credit card. Very convenient.
  • Buying a bus/tram ticket. Tickets are usually sold at specific ticket booths for a popular station, or apparently at nearby stalls if there’s no official ticket booth (but I’ve never personally tested this latter case). Some cities have automatic bus ticket machines that take 50 bani coins. If you’re out of luck, you’ll have to buy a bus/tram ticket from a more popular station, or it’s outside the vendor working hours and you can’t get a ticket anywhere except by buying off other locals. I’m not sure how long tickets last, but certainly for weeks. This means you can buy multiple tickets in advance instead of trying to buy only when you need and realizing you can’t buy one due to one of the above reasons.
  • There are such things as overcrowded buses. Try getting on one of the last five buses of the night from Baneasa shopping center. Watching it was hilarious for me: everyone desperately running to fit in, the whole bus being packed within a matter of seconds. And then I had to do it. It took a bit of bravery and hustling to fight for my right to an illegal bus ride :]
  • You will likely encounter a situation where you neglected to buy a bus/tram ticket beforehand and you no longer have that option because oh yeah it’s the weekend… Many locals ride without paying. The driver doesn’t care, the passengers don’t care, but the ticket officer does care. Ticket officers go checking for people who don’t pay by joining random rides, but usually the popular ones and during working hours. In certain cities (but apparently not Cluj-Napoca?), the chance of getting caught is low and the fine is not that bad. If you want a “genuine” local experience, you can try riding at least once without paying. If you want insurance, what you can do is buy one ticket but don’t use it. If an officer asks you for your ticket, hand him the ticket and he’ll time-stamp it for you, which is what you’re meant to do yourself by inserting your ticket into the machine on the bus when you enter. I was approached by an officer and he was super polite but he never explained what I was meant to do so I kept buying bus tickets and wondering why I couldn’t just re-use them since I didn’t know about the stamping thing. (And yes, you can probably survive off one or two tickets for a while by never getting them stamped until approached by an officer.) Note the stamping machine for paper tickets is usually separate to the one that locals use with their swipe card.
  • I read something vague like paper tickets are supposed to be in the process of being phased out (until they’re all sold out) in favor of paper cards that can be topped up. I only had to use paper cards once.
  • Uber is great when it’s available because there’s no possibility of getting ripped off, you don’t have to tip, you can save your precious stash of one leu bills, and your driver can’t misinterpret your destination. Unfortunately, the only city with a major Uber network is where you’re least likely to need it: Bucharest. I did get Uber rides in Brasov and Timisoara, but you need a bit of luck and a good location.
  • Taxi apps are still very useful for calling a cab without needing to speak a word of Romanian (or English, for that matter). They can also actually have better coverage than a local trying to call the single company number they’ve memorized. I used Speed Taxi in Bucharest and CleverTaxi in Cluj. If in doubt ask young locals what they use.
  • Avoid getting scammed by a cab driver. Check the prices written on the taxi (on the door and inside) are fair compared to any surrounding taxis. Once you’re going, make sure the fare meter is running and reads or blinks “Ocupat” on one of the two lines. If you realized you got tricked after the fact and they ask for a fixed price you don’t want to pay, you should argue if you want a lower price. Say no. Ask for a receipt. Say you won’t pay unless you have a receipt. Or only offer half the price they stated and see if they take it, else threaten to just leave. (You’ll have to be braver if you also have luggage in the back…) The taxi itself should be legit if you didn’t just enter a random one, so you can also start jotting down their information and call the taxi line to assist you.
    Note: This isn’t really about the money. You deserve to be treated fairly and not taken advantage of just because you’re a foreigner. The sentiment that you should pay more because you can afford it does not belong here.
  • Do not assume your taxi driver knows your destination no matter how popular it is. It’s common for taxi drivers to ask each other and people on the street where your destination is! Most don’t seem to remember names of places (in English or Romanian); they always ask for a street address and number. You will also likely have to direct them to the desired entrance (even if you don’t know yourself), otherwise you may have to walk quite a way round in some cases…
  • If you’re staying at a good location and your destination is within 30 minutes of walking, then taking the bus/tram might not be faster. This often applies even if you’re already at the bus/tram stop. It is possible to look up timetables, but it’s not that convenient and you might misinterpret it.
  • Most villages don’t have any taxis. A quick check is to see if you can see any from Google Maps street view at the train station for example.
  • If you find yourself in a village where locals say there aren’t any taxis, you can try ringing taxi numbers listed for that village online (but you’ll need a local to talk for you, and the local won’t understand English either). The other options are to try and hitch hike or offer the taxi fare to a local with a car. I didn’t succeed with either of these options. Instead, my most used options were to walk/run the whole way (NOT recommended), look helpless and get picked up by people who drove from a city (10/10 recommend but this doesn’t happen when you expect it to, so don’t rely on it), and give up and take the return bus/train.
  • Booking is rarely needed for trains or intercity buses, unless it’s a microbus—in which case it might become full, but a microbus isn’t a bus! (*Shrug*).
  • The CFR website allows you to buy train tickets online, which you need to print out. You automatically get a 10% discount or something for buying online (in advance). The confusing thing is that the website always allows you to buy next-day tickets, but the option to buy same-day tickets online disappears at some unknown and variable time before the train leaves, ranging from a few hours to the whole day.
  • Google Maps will show its many cracks. I noticed so many problems with Google Maps while in Romania. Which side of the street am I on? Apparently pedestrians also have to abide by one-way streets. Closing times are wrong. Nearby restaurants stated as 700m and 750m away don’t count as being within 800m filter. This restaurant is permanently closed. That’s the wrong location for this well-known bus station. Don’t tell me to walk across a private road. Why am I being shown inconsistent distances to my destination across three interfaces? Bus routes sometimes appear and sometimes don’t. That’s not the location of the volcano… How fast do you think I can walk across uneven ground? Why can’t you parse the address format lots of Romanian websites use? This road doesn’t have a footpath. I’m not gonna cross a whole neighborhood of aggressive dogs, even if they’re behind fences…
    The two most important pieces of advice I can give are: double check place names with their addresses, because Maps doesn’t always know the right place or name; and carefully research the actual locations for a nature scene/hike, because Maps can give you a misleading starting place—use an offline map app like Maps.Me because you could be stuck somewhere with very slow roaming (or none at all).
  • All the best hiking locations (waterfalls are the dream) are difficult to visit without a car, carpool, or an organized tour. (Note: I’m talking about the best pure nature scenes, certainly not anywhere you need an entry ticket for. I was determined but I still never managed to see a waterfall and I overstayed in Romania. I probably would have had better luck if I had tried to go when I was still in Bucharest, but I wasn’t intending to go back even though I could have.) To reach the destination where the hike starts, there are usually a couple of obstacles such as:
    • The bus/train only runs one, two, or three times daily, and usually rather early or late for hiking.
    • The ride at the specific time of day you want only runs a few days a week.
    • It is usually not possible to take a return trip on the same day, and the timetables are made to suit people staying at the village that need to spend a work day in the main city, not the other way round. Therefore, a hike would usually need prior planning multiple days in advanced and a night’s stay at the village.
    • You may need to take a train to an adjacent city before being able to take an intercity bus to your destination at all.
    • The village may not be close to the starting point for the hike. Good luck if there aren’t any taxis either…
    • If you get stranded your emergency contact (if any) has to be willing to drive typically three hours to pick you up and go all the way back.
    • Not that rare: the bus website does not indicate pricing, has out-of-date information, doesn’t state the locations of the stations, and phone support will hang up on English speakers. (This happened to me, except multiple sources had the wrong rendezvous for the intercity bus. Once I realized, none of the villagers knew where the real stop… if they even knew what I was trying to say… I was this close to getting to see Valul Miresei from Cluj to Răchiţele via Huedin.)
  • Don’t overdo it with walking. I used to associate walking with being ‘free’. It’s not free. It costs time and energy that you could spend elsewhere by catching a bus or taxi. Trying to walk to most places for a month took a noticeable toll on my body. I might have been able to manage the same amount of walking at home, but footpaths in Romania can get rather unfriendly, to say the least. (It wasn’t until I got a sports massage that I realized just how many different muscles in my legs were under stress. The massage was painful at times and hurt the day after as well, but I feel that compresses a week of passive recovery to a few days, which is worth it for me. And despite being painful initially I would say it overall eases my pain.)
  • It would really suck to miss an infrequent bus or train or minibus because of vague or incorrect information. Some say you can only get 100% reliable information from the ticket office by visiting in person or phoning. This is true in many cases. Unfortunately, word of mouth also sometimes completely replaces the use of online information. Even worse if the online information is not updated. The only source I’ve found to be reliably consistent is the CFR website, which is actually the one thing many locals specifically label as being too convoluted. (I guess walking to the station just to ask in person is considered easier?)
  • Don’t blindly trust local advice if you have a better option. Twice I planned to arrive just 10 minutes on time for a bus, only to have locals prevent me from making it because they had never heard of the bus company and didn’t believe there was a stop where the website indicated. In one case they (a cab driver) took me to a better transport service, but in the other I decreased my chances of catching the bus to zero by listening to them. The electronic billboard mislabeled my train and the young locals said to just wait. Instead of missing the train like that I just checked the manual billboard 😀
  • I only tried to hitchhike once from Salina Turda (a very crowded destination) and did not succeed (and in fact received rude gestures twice from the same guy), but I did get unexpectedly invited/adopted into a family road trip (when I was running to catch the last train) and to Easter Sunday lunch, both of which were priceless experiences. My very limited theory is that people in touristy locations are far less welcoming because it makes complete sense that you would have planned your own return trip. They’re also more likely to be trying to impress their SOs or in a defensive mood because tourists are somewhat competing with each other in terms of queues and getting the best photos, right?
  • Walking on the highways—reconsider. It’s better to do things the easier way. Some parts of the way there is a footpath, but a lot of the time you have to walk on the road with cars zooming by. If you’re “lucky” you can walk in a V-shaped street gutter instead. Feels safer but you may get injured from the awkwardness. Don’t do things the hard way for the sake of the challenge. Pick a better challenge instead.
The beauty that eluded me—Cascada Valul Miresei, Cluj.