English, please / Literature

'Unde este autogară?' An American Lost in Maramureș

By Mark Baker

Published on 5 August 2017

We asked one of the authors of the latest Lonely Planet Romania travel guide to recount a local experience. He took us all the way to Maramureș.

Over the past 10 years, I have written four or five guidebooks on Romania for different publishers and have traveled all over the country. Normally, I take my car and bicycle on these research assignments, but on one particular journey a few years ago, I was traveling only with a backpack by bus and train.

My first stop was in Maramureș, where I visited the Merry Cemetery and spent a few days moving between villages, dropping by guesthouses and drinking lots of țuică. After Maramureș, the plan was to travel east to Moldavia in order to see and write about the Painted Monasteries. Judging from the map, it looked like an easy hop from Sighetu Marmației across the mountains and down into the valley to the town of Vama.

At the time, I was still a little fuzzy on the concept that Romania is really three (or four, if you’re counting Dobrogea) distinct regions, and I figured it would be easy to buy a bus ticket for the trip. I went to the small station in Sighet, purchased what I thought was a ticket to Vama, and settled in for a long ride over the mountains. Imagine my surprise when a couple of hours later the bus abruptly stopped in an empty parking lot on the edge of the town of Borşa. Everyone got off. The bus showed no sign of going any further.  

Hmm, I thought. This didn’t seem to right to me, and I was more than a little bit confused. I got off the bus like everyone else and tried to figure out what to do.

To prepare for the Romania trip, back in my home base of Prague, I had taken a few weeks of Romanian-language lessons, and one of the key phrases in learning any language is ‘Where is the bus station?’ I figured this was the perfect chance to try it out. I found an old man wandering around the parking lot, looking as lost as I was, and I approached him:

Me (in thick American accent): Bună ziua! Unde este autogară?
Old Man (looking at me like a visitor from Mars): Huh?!
Me: U N D E este A U T O G A R Ă?
Old Man (casting his eyes around the parking lot): Autogară?!
Me: Da, autogară. Unde?
Old Man: Autogară?! Nu este autogară…

Well, that was that. No station, no bus. Not sure what to do, I wandered around Borşa for a while and dropped by small hotel not far from where the bus had stopped. The woman at the desk could muster a bit of English. She told me, indeed, there was a bus to Vama, but it wouldn’t be leaving until 7am the next morning.

I had made an arrangement a few days back to meet a friend in Vama for dinner, so the 7am bus wasn’t really an option. I thanked the woman, left the hotel, and started walking out along the highway in the direction of Moldavia. Like any self-respecting backpacker, I would have to hitch-hike.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. It turned out to be a warm and sunny afternoon, and every 20 or 30 minutes or so, someone would stop to pick me up and take me a little ways up and, later, down the mountain. Each driver professed shock at finding a lost American standing along the highway. The best guy was driving a low-rider Audi. He seemed incapable of going slower than 100 kilometers per hour.

I arrived in Vama that evening with a few minutes to spare before my dinner meet-up. Each of the drivers had politely declined my offer of gas money.

Cover photo via Wikipedia.

5 August 2017, Published în English, please /

Text by

  • Mark BakerMark Baker

    Prague-based American freelance journalist and travel writer, with more than a dozen guidebooks on Central and Eastern Europe to his name. Has been published by Lonely Planet, Frommer's, National Geographic Traveler, BBC World News, and the Wall Street Journal.

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