It’s just under 400 km (250 miles) from Sofia, Bulgaria to Bucharest, Romania. According to Google Maps you can walk there in 74 hours, but with crutches and all our luggage, I think not. I don’t know why Google chose walking as the default when I looked up the distance, but it’s interesting information. There are buses and a train that run between the two cities and several flights, but they all leave at night. I hate traveling overnight but without much choice we opted for the bus.
With my new snow boots and crutches I hobbled down the stairs of our building, stopping briefly to leave my old boots, the ones I was wearing when I tripped, by the dumpster. It was 21:00 (9 pm), 2 and a half hours before our bus would leave. It was a good thing we left so early because there was a moment when we though we were at the wrong bus station. It ended up that our bus was leaving from the older section of the bus station next door. I thought I would be able to put my crutches on the tan whale suitcase and lean on it for support as I walked. It has 4 wheels after all and should glide along smoothly. It wasn’t that easy though. The walkway between the two bus stations was paved with lumpy bricks and cobbles. (Of course it was, this is Europe after all.) The suitcase wheels kept getting stuck and I ended up trying to drag it behind me while hopping along with 2 crutches under one arm. I didn’t make it very far. It was so frustrating, I wanted to scream, throw everything on the ground, and stomp off. But I can’t do that. I can’t walk. Howard ended up dealing with all the luggage and we eventually got settled on the bus for a nice long 7 hour ride. I really wish we could have gone during the day. I would have loved to watch the country side go by. Instead I just stared out at the darkness.
We crossed into Romania and a border agent came on the bus. He asked all the half asleep passengers some questions as he collected our passports to stamp. Soon we were off again and almost in Bucharest. In fact we arrived almost an hour early. There was a surprising amount of activity at the bus station for 5:30 am in the bitter cold. Our plan was to call an Uber but we needed to get on WiFi first. Howard dealt with that while I desperately looked around for a bathroom. (Yes, I could have, and should have, gone on the bus but I didn’t.) I couldn’t even pace back and forth. The icy pavement and crutches made sure of that. Finally I notice a small sign that said toilet and had an arrow pointing around the back of one of the buildings, so I hobbled off.
There was an employee smoking a cigarette outside the bathroom. As I approached, he put it out, opened the door for me, and followed me in. There was another worker inside. It was a tight space for all three of us. They were saying all kinds of things to me in Romanian and pointing at the counter. I noticed there was a place to collect payment. Well crap. All I had on me for cash was Bulgarian Lev. I said something about not being able to pay and started to leave but they kept talking and pointing at the counter. I finally realized they were pointing at a roll of toilet paper. Oh, I take my toilet paper from here. That’s a bit odd, but okay. Doing anything is hard with crutches under your arms so of course I dropped the paper. I tried to bend over an grab it before too much unrolled across the wet floor but one of the men got to it first. Could this trip to the restroom get any more awkward? (Spoiler alert – it does.)
I stacked my crutches in a corner with a bunch of mops and brooms and hopped into the women’s section. There were 3 stalls in the space that should have 1. I chose the one on the right and opened the door. I immediately closed it again because I could not believe what I was seeing. One of the men stuck his head around the corner and I think asked if I was alright. I bobbled my head and waved him off. The head bobbling thing is something I started to do in Bulgaria. There, nodding your head means no and shaking your head back and forth means yes. It’s really hard to do so I opted for a sort of bobble, which could be interpreted either way.
Anyways, what exactly was behind door number 3? Nothing really, just a porcelain hole with places for your feet on either side. I was in total shock. I’ve traveled to so many countries, even Vietnam, and managed to never run into a hole in the ground toilet. Also known as squat toilets, this one was the width of the entire stall which meant I had to take off my backpack and step in the toilet to get in the stall. The bathroom was relatively clean, just very old and most of the porcelain on the toilet was worn away. The floor was also wet and muddy from everyone’s boots. I didn’t want to touch anything. The problem I faced now was that I couldn’t bend my right ankle. I was going to have to squat on one leg with out any handrails to hang on to. It was a night mare.
On my way out, a third employee had appeared in the tiny space by the sink too. She said all kinds of things to me in Romanian. I was too tired to explain I didn’t speak her language and simply said thank you when she pressed the button on the paper towel machine for me. As I was limping away on my crutches she said, “Oh, you poor girl!”. Her thick Romanian accent made me smile.
Outside, Howard was freezing and wondering what took me so long. He also had no luck getting on the internet to call an Uber. We decided to move into the indoor waiting area. Howard warmed up a bit then went out in search of an ATM. Whenever we arrive in a new country we have this issue, no internet and no cash in the local currency. (What happened to the Euro?) If we were at an airport, there’s a chance there would be internet and there would definitely be an ATM. At a bus station, it’s not so easy. We were going to have to get cash and then get screwed on a cab fair.
The Balkans are known to have crooked cab drivers. We got ripped off getting from the airport to our Airbnb in Serbia. We did in Bulgaria too, even with the official cab company approved by the airport and recommended several places online. The cab drivers in Bulgaria ran Uber out of town too. Howard did find an app while in Sofia that allowed you to pay for a cab ride with a credit card in advance. The app gave us a bonus for using it the first time so it actually only cost us 70 cents to get to the bus station in Sofia. Here in Romania we didn’t have much of a choice but to get in a cab and hope for the best.
We showed the driver our address and asked how much. He said it was a metered cab. It wasn’t until our luggage was in the trunk and we were seated in the cab that we saw the meter was turned sideways so you couldn’t see it. Here we go again. I think we paid for our ride plus all the time he was sitting at the bus station waiting for a fair. After we were let out by our apartment the driver said to Howard, “I usually get a commission”. Howard replied, “I usually don’t get ripped off for cab rides”. Ha!
Our Airbnb is in an old soviet block house building. We loved wandering around these buildings in Serbia and Croatia, and now we are finally in one! We are on the 14th floor and have a fantastic view of Bucharest. It’s a well set up, Ikea showroom apartment. The best part is there’s an elevator, after one flight of stairs of course. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a wheelchair in the Balkans. A covered walkway wraps around the out side of the building where there is a a post office, small grocery store, convenience store, pizza place, news stand, and pharmacy. We are also just a short walk to many fantastic restaurants and great bars in Old Town.
I’ve traded in my crutches for Howard’s arm and I can get around a lot better now. It’s not that my ankle hurts too bad, I’m just not supposed to put weight on in so the tendon can heal. That’s obviously not possible so I am resting it as much as I can but I’m getting very restless. I really want to go out and explore all of the city. Soon, I hope.