How to Take A Soviet-Era Train From Bucharest to Chisinau, Moldova
While writing travel journals are my absolute favourite form of blog post, I understand that sometimes a more succinct “how-to” post can be a lot more helpful when it comes to actually planning your travels. Travel journals are wonderful for (hopefully) providing you with inspiration for where your future adventures may take you; but, when you are already on the road and trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B on terrible wifi, you probably want something a little more straight to the point. For that reason, from now on I am going to be making a conscientious effort to balance out travel journals with more practical information that I believe can help you during your own wanderings. So, let me know if there are specific questions or topics you would like me to focus on or address! I am always trying to brainstorm ways to make this corner of the Internet the most useful it possibly can be for you!
So, on that note, it seems only right to start with one of the more off-the-beaten-track trips I have recently done — taking a Soviet-era train from Bucharest to Chisinau, Moldova!
If you are traveling around Eastern Europe, you may be tempted to hop on-board a Soviet-era train from Bucharest to Chisinau, Moldova. I, personally, absolutely love train travel. There is something so romantic and ‘old-school traveler’ about climbing into your carriage, settling down, and getting ready to watch the world go by through your window. Whenever I can, I choose to take an over-night train while traveling, as it is great for your budget (movement and bed in one!) and also a truly local experience. This particular train has been in use since the 1950s, and hasn’t changed oneee bit, which gives it an extra special factor.
Where to Catch the Train
The train from Bucharest to Chisinau leaves from the main train station: Gara du Nord. You can reach Gara du Nord easily by metro (either line M1 or M3 will take you directly to the main train station) or by Uber which is exceptionally cheap in Bucharest.
(Side note: Tickets for the metro can be purchased at all metro stations and tickets valid for two journeys cost 5 lei ($1.17), while tickets valid for ten journeys cost a bargain 20 lei ($4.69). You can also buy a daily ticket for 8 lei ($1.88), while a weekly season ticket costs 25 lei ($5.87).)
Once at Gara du Nord, make your way to the International Ticket Office. It took me a little while to find it so hopefully this helps — when at the entrance of the station there is a middle row of shops/stalls that divides the large entrance hall into two, go down the right side and walk about 3/4 of the way down (if you have reached McDonalds you have gone too far). There will be a hallway on the right (same side as McDonalds), go in there, past the little convenience stand, and the ticket counters will be on your left. This is also the same area where you can store luggage. I didn’t see any signs advertising this as the International Ticket Office, so don’t be frantically looking for them for 20 minutes like I did!
It isn’t currently possible to buy a ticket online, but I showed up an hour before the train left and there were plenty of tickets available. My ticket lady was grumpy as hell, but spoke English, and somewhat begrudgingly sold me a ticket for the train. A train ticket from Bucharest to Chisinau costs 155 lei ($36). The trains run like clockwork and this one leaves at 7:15pm and arrives in Chisinau at 8:45am the following morning. (Yes, it is a rather long ride.) The train takes around 13 and a half hours and there is no food cart on board, so make sure you stock up on food and drink!
Tip: Watch out for a few guys who hang around, talking to you in English and being all friendly and helping you out. They then ask for money and get pissed off when you don’t give them any!
The train arrives at the platform at 7:00pm and you can start boarding then. Find your car number (it is listed on your ticket), make your way there, and then present your ticket to your carriage’s conductor who will lead you to your room. Don’t be alarmed when the conductor takes your ticket — this is routine and they will give it back to you upon arrival in Chisinau!
Rooms have 4 beds in them (two bunk-beds); but, because this route isn’t too popular (frequent flights have taken over), there is a good chance you won’t have anyone else in your room. I shared my room with a really sweet older lady and therefore felt no need to move. However, if you want to, slip your conductor a small tip and a private room is almost guaranteed to appear for you.
Upon boarding, you will be given a clean set of sheets (they come wrapped in plastic) and a blanket so that you can get snuggly overnight. Given that it was winter, I was worried that I might be freezing; but, I was surprisingly way too hot during the night, so the heaters definitely work! The beds were quite comfy and the whole room turned out to be a lot more luxurious than I had initially anticipated! One of the cool things about this train (that I haven’t encountered anywhere else) was that underneath the bed was a large storage unit. You can only access the unit by lifting the bed — so if you are sleeping on the bed, there is no way anyone can lift you (and the bed) up without you noticing. This means that you can sleep peacefully knowing your belongings are safe! Brilliant!
Your passport will be checked twice; once when you leave Romania, and once when you enter Moldova. Moldova is not part of the European Union; however, passport holders from Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and some other countries, do not need visas to enter. This makes the border crossing quite painless. To be honest, neither Romanian border patrol or Moldovan border patrol really knew what to make of me traveling on this train from Bucharest to Chisinau, on my own. They were very confused! The Moldovan officers didn’t speak any English, so I didn’t receive much questioning — although they did motion for me to open my suitcase.
The Changing of the Wheels
The border crossing can take a few hours, due to the fact that they have to change all the wheels on the train because Romania and Moldova have different sized rail gauges. Stalin was a paranoid dictator, and wanted to slow down any invasions of the Soviet Union. (It didn’t exactly stop the Germans though!) Now it means that the carriages have to be individually lifted off one set of wheels and placed onto another. It is rather tedious, extremely loud, and absolutely the reason I decided to have this travel experience.
While this usually takes place around 1 or 2am, I highly recommend getting your sleepy self out of bed and having a look at the process out of the window. Hearing the creeeeeeaaaakkk of the old hoisters (is that the name?) and then the resulting jerk of each wheel as it is changed, is something that is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Once that is complete, it is a straight shot to Chisinau!
Arriving in Chisinau, Moldova
Once you arrive in Chisinau, I suggest immediately going to change some currency at the money exchange at the station. The Moldovan lei is different to the Romanian lei (neither place accept Euros or Dollars, but a lot of places accept card). However, you will need some Moldovan lei to be able to catch a taxi to the city center. My recommendation is to go straight to Tucano Coffee, for a wonderful cup of joe and some breakfast. From there, you are quite central and ready to take on Chisinau!
I hope this is helpful for any of you thinking about taking the Soviet-Era train from Bucharest to Chisinau,
or maybe will convince some of you to add it to your bucket list! Let me know if you have any other questions!
I also vlogged the train journey which you can see here!