customer service on romanian rail

“In pieces!” The woman providing information at the railway station in Constanta was clearly hostile to the idea of bicycles on trains. “In pieces!” she kept repeating when I asked her if it was possible to catch a train with my bicycle. When I pressed her for more precise information about the relevant rail regulations – was it possible that they were written down somewhere, I enquired – she informed me that the person who had this information had been sacked; possibly for an unduly lenient attitude towards bicycles, it later occurred to me.

The woman reluctantly let one significant piece of information slip – there was a slow train to Bucharest at 11 o’clock the following morning. The people in the line behind me appeared unsympathetic to my predicament and were getting increasingly restive. I gave up for the day and went to try to find somewhere cheap to sleep in Constanta.

In the morning I returned to the station to attempt to catch the 11 A.M. train. Trying to avoid the attention of the information woman, I pushed my bike to the flight of stairs leading to the platforms. I was contemplating my options when behind me someone asked, “Where are you from?” “Can you help me carry my bicycle up the stairs?,” I countered quickly. We struggled up the stairs. “Australia,” I offered up to the rather eccentrically dressed young man before me as we made it to the platform and, while I still had his interest, pressed for information about bikes and trains. He didn’t seem to think the bicycle represented a real problem. Apparently, people travelled with them all the time; it was only necessary to inform the conductor, which my newfound friend volunteered to do on my behalf. Encouraged, I asked him to watch my bike while I bought a ticket to Bucharest.

The guy was clearly keen to talk to me in English and I was very happy to have a supportive local for translation and other assistance. The train arrived. The conductor was unwilling to stop for long enough to talk but as he did not forbid me to enter the train with my bicycle I did so with the assistance of my new friend. The train left the station and the conductor appeared in the carriage. He yelled about the bike for a while and then he went away again. I didn’t see him again after that. It was all a bit confusing and, sadly, my helper was only going about sixty kilometres to the town were he lived and worked as a welder at the nuclear plant. I was a bit nervous about the rest of the trip.

Soon another guy appeared in our carriage. He looked pretty miserable. After a brief conversation my translator announced that the conductor was going to throw the newcomer off the train because he didn’t have enough money for his ticket to Bucharest. The guy was in construction and had come to Constanta looking for work but he hadn’t found any. I didn’t like the train conductor very much, it wasn’t a lot of money and it was a long way to Bucharest by foot so I offered to give the guy enough money to buy his ticket.

After a lengthy conference in Romanian, my original friend announced that this guy had volunteered to help me when I arrived in Bucharest. They had been discussing the problem presented by the fact that the train we were on arrived at one station and the train to Budapest left from another on the other side of Bucharest.