We arrive in Bucharest at midday. We are only passing through; we have two options for catching a bus north to Sibiu, over the Făgăraş mountains. One option is very soon, the other gives us slightly more time. It seems simple: A taxi driver waves to us after we have found our ATM machine, and hefts our bags into his trunk. We get in, and negotiation commences.
Four hundred lei to the bus station, the driver suggests. No meters. We do the math. It comes out somewhere north of $125. This seems high. Absurd, we say. We’ll take the bus.
“It is very far. At least 40 kilometers,” the taxi diver says. We have no idea where the station is, as it was unfindable on Google maps. He might be right. Yet the rate on the door says it is only 1.9 lei (about 64 cents) per kilometer. I point this out.
“Oh, no,” He shakes his head. His mustache bristles with authority. “In town only. Two hundred lei.”
We’ll take the bus, we say. Assuming there is a bus. He counteroffers. 100 lei to the Gara de Nord train station. We don’t know where that is either, but assume it must be a very long way away. A good part of the extraordinarily long distance to the bus station, at least. We agree, feeling our time vanishing.
“OK,” he says, disgusted. “But not with me.” He gets out of his cab, finds a colleague, and we transfer our bags. The new driver takes us four kilometers before pulling into the train station. I seethe. I have been counting. I do not like flying, it makes me nervous in the air and then angry when I hit the ground. It is not my most winning characteristic.
“Four kilometers!” I say. “Four only!”
“Yes. No. 100 Lei,” the driver says. He is not aggressive, but is clearly bracing himself for the argument. His English is not good. We swap numbers. Four. 100. Four only. 100. We are getting nowhere. Our first bus, from somewhere near this train station, leaves in 10 minutes, and all we have in our pockets are 100 lei bills. It is a losing argument. We pay. I am surly.
There are no signs indicating a bus station is nearby. We walk back along the street we had come, toward buses I have seen in a parking lot. We ask a water vendor, and he points us in the other direction, chattering in Romanian that we cannot understand. We walk in that direction for a few blocks, ask at a hotel, and they know nothing. We walk back to the buses I had seen, and this turns out to be a bus station but not the one we’re looking for. We walk back the other direction again, farther this time, and ask a clothing vendor who turns out to speak German. He consults with a friend and points us in a third direction.
It is very late now, and when we get to where they have pointed us, there is an empty minibus station, and a collection of very hot wild dogs lying in what little shade they can find. We are also very hot. I am dripping.
We finally find a public bus system, which for 1.30 lei (about 40 cents) apiece takes us to the bus station we originally wanted, which is not 40 kilometers away but is also not marked, and which we overshoot by several stops. But once found, our bus is there, with an dried apple-faced bus driver who speaks no English or German but is extraordinarily friendly and guides us to our seat, and we are going to Transylvania at last.