Gara de Nord: There’s more to it than onions and Carpati

Went to Bucharest’s Gara de Nord at the weekend (not because we were getting a train anywhere, simply for research purposes ahead of the publication of the next Bucharest In Your Pocket, which will hit the streets over the next few days).*

We were more impressed than ever.

Bucharest’s main railway station still gets a bad rap in most quarters, but few would disagree that it is these days a far better place than ever it was, certainly in the time we’ve been living in the city. There are still plenty of shady characters around – not least the rip-off taxi drivers who wait for unsuspecting foreigners and provincials on the platforms as trains come in – but as Eastern European railway stations go, we’ve seen a lot worse.

When we first ever arrived at Gara de Nord – and for years afterwards – it had a smell about it that could only be described as ‘onions and Carpati.’ (A smell probably caused by the fact that everyone seemed to be carrying bags of onions and smoking Carpati, the finest cigarettes ever made).

We’ve written this before somewhere, and stand by it ten years or so on: the arrival in Gara de Nord of McDonald’s – with its obsessive dedication to cleanliness and order – was a great moment for the station. You can say what you like about McDonald’s (and most people usually do), but there is no question that Gara de Nord became a better place the moment they opened up shop (late 1998, if memory serves).

Apropos of McDonald’s, the best thing to happen to breakfast in Bucharest this year was when the chain finally started selling Sausage & Egg McMuffins. As people who have always thought that breakfast was the best thing about McDonald’s, we were more than delighted.

Anyway, back to Gara de Nord.

There is much that is still wrong at the station. It needs a thorough paint job and general brightening up, the Tourist Information ‘office’ leaves a lot to be desired, the women who hold the fort at the station’s own information desk appear to have been trained to reach new levels of surliness, and the addition of a few more departure boards would be helpful. But the toilets are OK to use (the gents, at least), there is a top covrigarie, and buying a ticket is far less stressful than it used to be, mainly because you can buy tickets online now and not bother with the ticket office at the station at all.

Thorough as ever at the weekend, we went to the left luggage desk to check if there had been any change in how much they charge, and was delighted to see that they now post their prices – and opening hours – in English. They are, apparently, Open all the time, and a small package costs 4 lei.

Are you brave enough to go for the big package?

*Being an old fashioned kind of city guide, we don’t rip information off the internet, we actually put the legwork in and verify our facts first hand. An outdated concept today, but one we naively cling to.

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  • Caroline

    America has some things to like and some things to dislike. How about taking a balanced approach?

    • Parmalat

      True. In fact most American people don’t have the slightest idea about what’s happening around the world and what these banks and corporations are doing.

      Actually I found a very interesting blog written by an American, where most people share my views

      I don’t hate the people, only that it’s easier to say “America” instead of “American Banks and Corporations and Politicians, the Bildeberg Group, Traian Basescu and his gang, Mugur Isarescu and others”.

      As I said in a comment on the Economic Collapse Blog: “there’s something bad that started from America, but it’s not ordinary people who started it”.

      On the other hand – until a solution to these problems emerges from the West, I will have to support the Islamic views at least to some extent, as it seems to be the only force who can match the corporate views of world domination.

  • Hmm. . . Sausage & Egg McMuffins. . . I am glad to know Bucharest now has them. I remember my dad taking me to McDonalds back like in 1984 in the US for a McMuffin. So Bucharest is 25+ years behind. . .

    • Parmalat

      That is if you consider McDonalds to have anything to do with civilization. I don’t. It’s just a shitty corporation selling chemicals.

      Not everything that comes from the US is good. Actually, for a place that can’t afford too much, most things that come from the US are bad. For health, for public order, for human rights, for public decency etc…

      • Not everything that comes for the US is good – in fact, very little is – but I have no problem with McDonalds.

        • I have not been to a McDonalds since then. I think the company is evil, I just was commenting on how far behind Romania is compared to the US. You know, Romania is still without highways while the US built a network 50-60 years ago. I don’t know what is topping Romania, they have like 4.6 billion euros just for road development from the EU but so far have only spent like 47 million.

          • McDonald’s is not evil.

            Suggested reading – which has nothing to do with McDonald’s, by the way – highlighting the dangers to growth and economic development posed by fashionable, ‘organic’ agriculture:

            “Sure, organic agriculture is sustainable; it sustains poverty and malnutrition.”

            • Parmalat

              “The one where while, in places and at times, the productivity of land and inputs can indeed be high, the productivity of labour is by definition low.

              For that’s exactly what this type of farming does, substitutes labour for those other inputs, land, fertiliser, tractors and so on. And what does low productivity of labour mean? Yup, that’s right, low wages for those providing the labour.

              And that’s appalling. Morally detestable. For the real problem with peasant farming is that it means that the farmers have to live as peasants. With the income of peasants.”

              I don’t agree.

              Creating big farms where few people work and machines do the rest does not do anything good for the society.

              It simply means that few people will be rich and the rest of the people will have nothing. This is corporatist thinking, this is the reason for which – even if we do have the capacity to feed 9 billion people on this earth – we will not feed them because they do not have resources to buy from us, wealth is in the hands of some 5%.

              This is the reason for which Romania pays high prices for gas when it has oil and refineries here in the country.

              Putting most wealth in the hands of few people can not be sustainable, I honestly hope that the Western economic system will crash until all banks and corporations are nationalized and offshore jurisdictions disappear. It’s the only way to sustainability, wealth must be spread to everyone.

              • Daniel

                “Creating big farms where few people work and machines do the rest does not do anything good for the society.”

                That’s right. We should go back to the Middle Ages, where everybody was working the field. Boy, those sure were the golden times !

                • Parmalat

                  “I honestly hope that the Western economic system will crash until all banks and corporations are nationalized and offshore jurisdictions disappear”

                  And then we make a worldwide debt settlement, we change religion to Islam, we stop cutting trees, employ the 4-hour/day working shift and that’s it: my form of communism has spread allover the earth.

                  And thus everyone has a job and everyone has a God and everyone has a future.

                  And we hang those who will go to all extent to acquire more wealth than they need.

                  • Parmalat

                    And when I’m gonna issue currency, instead of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” I’m gonna have all currency writing “God, Jobs and Future”.

            • Parmalat

              “but the solution is plain: get fertiliser to poor African farmers and get their goods to market so both they and their customers can afford to eat.”

              No, it’s even more simple: get money from stupid banks to the Africans and they will know what to do with them.

              Or get money from stupid banks to Romanians, finance startups, finance investments.

              But stupid banks won’t get money to anyone, they want to rule the world together with their top clients: multinational corporations.

              Banks have started a safe place where some people would keep their money and now they ended up controlling everyone. Even the states imposes their citizens to use the services of banks.

              The reason for world poverty and malnutrition are banks. And of course multinational corporations who exploit resources from everywhere and pay about nothing for them.

            • Nick

              Oh, I’m not going to get into the evil debate, but McDonalds has to be just an occasional indulgence – sodium levels are way too high.

              Suggested substitute – English muffin, Toulouse sausage, and a poached egg with melted ripe brie.

              As for the station, well a few years back, I did use the rip off taxis. It was way too late and way too cold, and I’d lost the number for Meridian. I even asked them whether they were going to con me – no, no of course not. Obviously they did, but I wasn’t going far, so not too much of a con, and we had a nice chat. Bastards maybe, but nice bastards doing what they can do.

              • Parmalat

                Yes sir, a balanced opinion. Thank you.

              • bear

                A few weeks I arrived there from Constanta and I had a cold and was tired so I agreed to ride in a rip off taxi. I calculated I only overpaid about 15 RON and it saved me some steps to find a regular taxi and the driver was pleasant.

          • Mr Rearguard

            I think Yanks are evil too for shooting the native Indians!

            • Parmalat

              Yeah, and for hiding the truth about aliens!

              • Yeah, and for enslaving the dark-skinned minorities! Oh, wait…there is a European country that did that too…

                • Parmalat

                  Is it the one who is trying to prove that it still has balls by waging the same type of war in Lybia as the Americans did in Afghanistan and Iraq?

        • Parmalat

          Well, except for the fact that their products are chemical and contain lots of calories (whenever I eat a sandwich from Mc Donalds, the next day I can count it in cm on my waist), they do indeed taste good and their form of presentation (including the restaurants) is quite nice.

          However, the corporatist principles remain: low payment and many working hours for employees, put whatever ingredients you want so as to lower prices and so that people don’t die tomorrow (they are allowed die the day after tomorrow though), externalization of profits etc…

          My opinion is that when a society doesn’t have money to eat regular food or doesn’t have time to eat regular food, both ways the society has a problem. So there’s a problem in Romania, but there’s a problem in the States also. Mc Donalds shouldn’t sell the way it’s selling nowadays.

          I do sometimes eat from Mc Donalds, KFC and Burger King myself.

          • anon

            “Well, except for the fact that their products are chemical and contain lots of calories”

            I’m glad it contains chemicals, otherwise I wouldn’t be eating anything. EVERYTHING is made of chemicals. Water for example is made of chemicals.
            (and before you start on the “IT’S NOT NATURAL!!!11one” BS, bird poo, rocks and E.coli 147 are natural, but I wouldn’t want to eat any of them). BTW give me a potatoe & two days, and I’ll turn it into McDonalds French Fries, they don’t do anything to them other than cut potatoes, fry them, freeze them, and fry them again.

            Secondly, calories are a GOOD THING! They are the whole reason for eating, and without them we would be dead. The problem is people are eating too many calories throughout the course of the day and that energy has to go somewhere. McDonalds isn’t going to break the laws of energy conservation and make you magically fat.

            As for farming…land is a limited resource, modern farming techniques increase crop yield and reduce crop death, therefore more food, and more stuff to sell. considering the human population of Earth is growing at an exponential rate, we will soon be looking at issues with regards to feeding everyone.

            With ‘Organic’ farming (which is far from ‘natural’ [see EU approved list of fertilisers and pesticides used on organic crops, including the recently banned copper sulphate]) you pay for the stuff you eat, and the stuff that died before harvest, for no added benefit, and end up wasting valuable space and energy.

            • Parmalat

              Yeah, fries are the only things in McDonalds which don’t contain SUGAR :))

              Calories are a good thing, unless they’re eaten raw as they do in McDonalds. You’re supposed to eat food which contains nutritional stuff, not calories on a stick. If we rely on McDonalds system of concentrating calories, a regular person of 2011 (one that has an offic job and no time left to do sports) has to rely on a cheesburger (350 calories) and a medium pack of fries (don’t know how many calories, but pretty much enough of them). And what are the nutritional benefits of a cheesburger and a pack of fries?!

              You’re supposed to maintain a regular intake of vitamins, of proteins and other shit, and this must be done without getting as fat as a pig during the process so how does McDonalds score more than heroin, nutritional facts considered?!

              There’s more than enough land on the face of the earth, only that some land is not developed because banks don’t want so. Why is not Africa developing? Africa alone contains enough land to feed the whole earth, but it’s not developed. Because multinational companies go everywhere and exploit resources for little money, they sell for huge money, put profits in the banks and banks don’t give money to anyone for development.

              I want to borrow 100.000$ tomorrow and I will fly to Eritreea and open a farm. Will the bank give me that money? Of course not! Why the hell won’t they? Banks belong to communities, not the other way around, how do they have the guts to not lend me money for a development project?!

              I’m not advocating organic farming, I only want to have a balance between jobs, nutritional benefits and profit.

              What is the benefit for the society if one guy owns 100 ha of land and draws profit from it by himself while the rest of the people from his village are jobless or working for cigarettes money?! There’s no benefit for the society, there’s only benefit for banks.

              Where have all the good years from before the crisis gone too?! How is it possible that after many good decades and countless profits, at the first signs of crisis – multinational companies laid off people?!

              People should burn the banks and take back from them the years in their lifetime which the banks have stolen. Decades of efforts from generations of people have gone to the banks. Now people are laid off, they sleep in the streets and they die of starvation, why won’t the banks do anything about it?!

              • Daniel

                If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

              • Mr Rearguard

                “I want to borrow 100.000$ tomorrow and I will fly to Eritreea and open a farm.”

                Are you serious?

                • Parmalat

                  Asmara is quite a peaceful town with western influences, and although Eritreea is a muslim country, it appears that muslims and christians live peacefully over there.

                  True, maybe I would avoid a muslim country, especially because it being very close to the conflict area of Somalia, but that wouldn’t change my mind about farming in Africa. Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique or Madagascar could be one of the destinations (they all have exits to the ocean).

                  If the global Islamist movement hadn’t been so determined, Eritreea was actually one of the best destinations for farming in Africa.

                  I have long considered these countries as places where I could buy a Government-issued passport for a few hundreds of $, my concern for physical safety exceeds regular limits and I always need to have a few “exits” in my mind so as to feel safe on this earth.

                  That being said – no matter what I do in this life, I’d rather die than allow prosecutors to put me in jail; I have studied these African countries in a rather detailed way: from average salary to the cost of daily life to travellers pictures to reading local newspapers to identifying places to stay and ways to get around.

        • bear

          I prefer Burger KIng burgers if I am inclined to have a burger, but a sausage mcmuffin and a couple of hash browns are stomach pleasers!

    • Kint Verbal

      In places in Europe they sell beer at McDonald’s, that makes US how many years behind?

  • I was impressed with Gara de Nord when I arrived there a few years back. Compared to the stations in Budapest, and considering that my expectations were pretty low, I thought it was quite nice really.
    One thing I liked is that they wouldn’t let anyone into the station without a ticket. That was a nice change for me, coming from Budapest, where Keleti and Nyugati stations and the undergrounds attached to them are much grungier and more dangerous.
    Also, those rip-off taxi drivers waiting on the platform can be found in Budapest as well. One thing I didn’t see in Gara de Nord that I see in Budapest: Gangs of aggressive Arab money changers.
    I think the bigger problem in Romania is the speed, or lack thereof, of the trains.

    • Agreed, it is the speed of the trains that are the problem now, not the station. As for Budapest… both Keleti and Nyugati pus are great buildings from outside, but the interiors (and, as you point out, underground passages) are awful.

    • Parmalat

      Oh, Arab money changers still exist in Europe??? I thought they were a thing of the 80s and 90s.

  • Mr Rearguard

    “When we first ever arrived at Gara de Nord, and for years afterwards, it had a smell about it that could only be described as ‘onions and Carpati.’ (A smell probably caused by the fact that everyone seemed to be carrying bags of onions and smoking Carpati,”

    Or lets be accurate, it smelled as if someone had eaten six bushels of asparagus, washed them down with as many quarts of Guinness, and pissed over the walls, celing and floor.

    • Parmalat

      =)) Yea, walls are also a good place to piss on, but if the Jandarmerie sees, they’ll issue a fine.

  • Mr Rearguard

    Bucharest’s main railway station still gets a bad rap in most quarters, but few would disagree that it is these days are far better place than ever it was, certainly in the time we’ve been living in the city. There are still plenty of shady characters around – not least the rip-off taxi drivers who wait for unsuspecting foreigners…..

    So in other words it hasn’t changed one bit since I last went there 5years ago. If anyone needs to take a trip out of Bucharest (I do every week) just simply drive your car or hire one instead. It doesn’t matter how you dress it up, like for example, you can stick Pamela Anderson on the ticket booth and have Linsey Dawn Mckenzie (British porn actress) dishing out refreshments on board and still I would refuse to travel by train. Bonjour.

    • Parmalat

      It probably has progressed for 3 years in the last 5, but since Emil Boc came to power it regressed so here we are back from where we left 😀

      Unless you’re very relaxed and with a lot of time at hand, driving your car is the best option in Romania. I mean let’s face it: for 5 months this country is freezing, for 3 months it’s as hot as hell, for 2 months it’s raining and there are only 2 decent months in the entire year – one in the autumn and one in the spring. Personal car is a necessity if you need to travel.

      • Expatescu

        Oh my, but we are a hothouse flower, aren’t we? Freezing for five months? Oh, please just give me a break. This is just typical Romanian self-hatred.

        The most annoying thing, though, about Romanian self-hatred is that it seems only Romanians are allowed to complain about their country going down the sewer. Should anyone else let off even a hint of criticism…well…

        Case in point. I’ve been trying to figure out just why the Romanians hate the Roma so much. The reality is that everything that the Romanians criticize the Roma for – well, it’s their own bad habits. There’s the usual laundry list: thievery, corruption, appalling treatment of women, disregard for education, creating a trash heap wherever they go. It would seem to me that the Roma learned all of this from the Romanians since 1-the Romanians are so much better at it and 2-the Romanians were here first. As far as I can see, the Romanians feel threatened by their students, but like to pick on them because they’re one step lower on the ladder.

        As with Roma so with the weather. Better make sure you don’t criticize, because then you’re not giving the Romanians the respect they’ve been so long owed. The question is – respect for what, exactly, for those who do nothing but bitch and moan about themselves and everyone else, such as Mr. Parmalat.

        • Parmalat

          If you can exchange the climate between Copenhagen and Bucharest then I’ll stop moaning. Also if you can show me how to exchange the climate between Bucharest and Copenhagen I’ll do it myself and I’ll stop moaning.

          Until then, the facts stand like this:

          – hundreds of millions of $ spent on pavement repairs after each winter
          – walk 100m around Bucharest in the summer and your shoes will look like you’ve been walking on a dirt track
          – temperature in Bucharest exceeds 30 C in most summer days
          – temperature in winter drops below 0 in most days
          – when it snows – there is hardly any place to deposit the snow
          – walk 100m around Bucharest 3-4 days after it stopped snowing and you can throw your 450$ shoes la gunoi
          – if you want to avoid all these, you have to drive your own car and spend money on fuel

          So what do you want me to do, move the city in Finland?! The climate is the way it is and it’s an important obstacle in the way of achieving development.

          When city councils spend hundreds of millions of $ on pavement repairs and people spend billions of $ on gas each year, I have a right to moan.

          Are you a foreigner living here? Or a Romanian living abroad?

          And guess what – I just turned down an offer today for EUR 2500 / month from a multinational company (European one, but still a multinational company). And now I’m listening to the Qur’an and not even you can disturb my inner peace.

          So I AM doing something, by not taking a step against what I believe in.

          • Daniel

            But but but … I thought “religion is the opium of the masses”. What kind of a communist are you ?

            • Parmalat

              A special kind of communist. I told you that I have my own vision, which includes Islam and ecology next to communism, in equal proportions.

              Neither communism or democracy are perfect, Islam as a social system is not perfect either, but by combining them and taking the best from each of them we can achieve the perfect society.

              • Parmalat

                Democracy has something good too: human rights. Which by the way multinational companies fail to respect.

                And if Islam spreads allover earth, there will be no disbelievers left to fight against, so human rights is not opposite to the perceptions of Islam.

                Also ecology blends well in here, Islam has rules about the environment.

                But people in this world have to fight if they want to achieve perfection, as multinational companies, banks and their American lackey politicians won’t let go to power. Personally I’m celebrating every attack in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq etc… because with each attack the Americans are becoming weaker and weaker, the frontline of Jihad streches more and more.

                If it were not for the Jihad, banks and multinational companies would have controlled the world, with no possibility for people to oppose. But this way people have a model, and it’s up to them to decide if they want to sell their life to banks and multinational companies or they want to fight for freedom of the world. It is an all-out war, everyone on this earth must fight for the freedom of generations of people to come, if we do not fight and we do not oppose now – our children and grandchildren will become slaves of these instruments of evil.

                We are already becoming so: many generations of Romanians are to pay foar the loans with interest that banks and the IMF gave us. Look at what’s happening in Greece: banks and the IMF want to take away the country’s sovereignty, they want to destroy the country, get it assets for free and enslave the people! Greece must convert to Islam and fight, you can not fight if you do not convert to Islam, Islam gives you power to fight, without Islam you are weak, you accept your faith, you do not have courage to say anything. That’s why the Messenger of Allah says “convert to Islam and then fight”.

                Who allowed these instruments of evil to take interest by loaning to people what Allah gave to them for free?! Who allowed these instruments of evil to take control of resources that Allah put on this earth for free?! Banks and multinational companies are enemies of Allah [SWT].

                “One mujahid is a warrior on battlefield, and may Allah bless you to live and to die free” – Shamil Basayev

                • Mr Rearguard

                  Interesting indeed Parmalat, but I’m more interested in this farming idea of yours in Africa…

                  • Parmalat

                    You don’t hate me for what I said?

                    Farming or mining in Africa is not as unachievable as it sounds.

                    Take the case of Madagascar for example: with 30000$ you can probably buy land that you could get here in Romania for 1 million $

                    Of course, there are problems specific to 3rd world countries: the Madagascar Central Bank is backed by US$, not by gold, which affects the convertibility of the Franc Malagassy – you are not allowed to leave the country with amounts of US$ exceeding a few thousands so other business than production is out of the question.

                    But going to Madagascar with 100.000$ will likely solve whatever problem you have; what remains to do is – find a place to sell your products, as you have to transport them through the Suez channel to the Mediterranean and from there on – to Europe. A ship full of pineapple would be nice 🙂

                    But what makes you think about Africa?? For me it’s clear – one way or another I’m gonna do something stupid and half the world will be looking for me. I mean Africa is a final frontier, you can do many other things with 100.000$ right here in Romania. More important than the business opportunities in Africa is the possibility to get a passport.

            • Parmalat


              I became a muslim when I saw what the IMF requests from Romania. When I saw that they do not care about these people who lived in poverty for all their lives and want to empoverish them even further. When I saw how they use their puppet politicians to achieve what they want and repay them by allowing them to steal from ordinary people.

              And I connected everything with my experience about multinational companies and my knowledge about banks and financial institutions (as I happen to work in this domain).

              Everything appears clear to me now, 2 years ago I did not believe in conspirations, I used to love America, democracy etc… but now I can see the other side of the story.

              That is for you not to ask me “when did you become muslim, you were a communist”.

            • Parmalat

              Do you know how RATS behave? Rats don’t walk on the middle of the road, rats stay close to the walls; they will stick to the wall to wherever it ends, usually the hole which represents their home. Rats don’t hunt for food, they will eat whatever garbage is given to them and finally rats will be so ignorant that their miserable condition will actually result in happyness.

              According to what I learned today from the headhunter that offered me the EUR 2500 job, the description of rats resembles the psychological profiles of multinational company workers.

              How can such human misery exist on earth?! They say Afghanistan is poor and its brave Mujahideen live in the stone age. But how can a Mujahideen, a hero, a freedom fighter, accept the moral decadence that banks and multinational companies want to impose on earth?!

              I was shocked of what I heard today. I knew it was so, I feeled it was so, but never had I gotten access to such information from an insider.

              What has happened to the Crusading warriors of Europe?! Can’t anyone see that we’re being herd like cattle?! I understand that while the economy grew nobody was concerned with the big picture, but now the veil has been lifted, everything is there for people to see.

              Interview with a Swiss banker. I have tears in my eyes.


              This is all I had to say on the subject, I’m not gonna transform my presence here into propaganda from now on. Islam judges people by their actions, and my words will remain as reference to justify my actions.

              • bear

                Your description of rats sounds like a description of Communism in Romania in the 80.s.

                • Parmalat

                  Yes, the worse of Romanian Communism in the 80s was translated nowadays into multinational companies. So why shouldn’t multinational companies disappear as Communism did?

                  At least back then people were forced to behave like so; nowadays they do it out of free will and that is simply gross.