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.
*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.