Cross-Country COVID Crawl: My Return to Slatina-Timis

This trip report details my return to little Slatina-Timis to get my second COVID vaccination shot.

Second shot

Exactly four months after my 917km trip across Romania to little Slatina-Timiș to get COVID jab it was time to return to get my second shot.

As it was another surprisingly adventurous journey, I thought it warranted its own little trip report!

This time around I planned things differently.

Instead of taking a daytime train and staying overnight like I did the first trip, I would take the night train to Caransebeș, change there for the train to Slatina-Timiș to get my 2nd jab, only to turn back to Caransebeș to take another night train back to Bucharest.

So another 917 kilometres by train, bus and on foot it was.

And while I was confident that this time it would be a lot faster and more smooth overall, the reality was something different altogether.

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Slatina-Timiș on a lovely day in March during my first vaccination trip. ©Paliparan
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Getting my first COVID jab at the local clinic in Slatina-Timiș. ©Paliparan

21.35pm – Bucharest Gara de Nord

On this cold and rainy April evening I arrived some 30 minutes before my scheduled departure time at Gara de Nord, Bucharest’s main railway station.

To get to Caransebes, I had the choice of taking the night train of private company Astra Trans Carpatic or the one by Romanian national railway company CFR (Caile Ferate Romane).

Normally this is a no-brainer as Astra Trans Carpatic offers a much more comfortable and modern experience than CFR while their prices are the same.

However, the Astra Trans Carpatic would arrive in Caransebes in the early hours of morning just before 5am, while the CFR train with its later departure from Bucharest would arrive at a more manageable hour of 6.21am the following morning.

So CFR it was.

For a private sleeper compartment I paid 282.70 RON (57 euro) which is excellent value for money.

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Bucharest Gara de Nord on a rainy evening. ©Paliparan
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The main corridor of Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan

21.50pm – Boarding my train

My train to Caransebes was already waiting at platform 1, which looked rather drab and dreary in the pouring rain.

This train is named ‘Muntenia’ (train number IRN78 – with IRN standing for InterRegio Noapte or InterRegio Night) and links the Romanian capital of Bucharest with Caransebeș, Timișoara and finally Budapest across the border in Hungary.

It was quite tempting to remain on board until Budapest, although I knew this was impossible as Hungary still had travel restrictions keeping foreign travellers out.

My sleeper compartment on the Muntenia train was pretty much what I expected from CFR.

These sleeper compartments may be a bit past their prime, but they are well-heated on a chilly evening like this and are certainly comfortable enough. Besides, thanks to the wooden interior they ooze tons of old world charm.

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The sleeper train to Caransebeș, Timișoara and Budapest at Bucharest Gara de Nord. ©Paliparan
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The corridor of the sleeper wagon. ©Paliparan
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CFR night train sleeper compartment. ©Paliparan
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A look into my compartment. ©Paliparan
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Looking back towards the corridor of the sleeper wagon. ©Paliparan
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These compartments can be booked for two persons or as private sleeper for sole occupancy. ©Paliparan
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Each CFR sleeper compartment has a washbasin. Shared toilets can be found at the far ends of each carriage. ©Paliparan

22.05pm – Departure from Bucharest

A faint whistle signalled the departure of the Muntenia train from Bucharest Gara de Nord.

Even though I had an early rise the next morning, it was still too early for me to sleep.

Fortunately I had brought along some beers as a small nightcap.

The IPAs from Hop Hooligans (Romania’s best craft brewery) hit the spot. About an hour later I called it a night and went to bed.

beers ipa hop hooligans
Two cans of beer and a bit of reading before going to sleep in my compartment. ©Paliparan

6.21am, day 2 – Arrival in Caransebes

Although I normally sleep very well aboard night trains, it wasn’t the case this time around.

For some reason I just didn’t manage to fall asleep the night before and I think I had perhaps some 3 to 4 hours of sleep only.

When my alarm clock went off at 6am, I quickly refreshed my face in the little wash basin of my compartment and got dressed for arrival.

At dawn, the Muntenia train pulled into the station of Caransebeș right on time.

Soon after I disembarked, the train left the station again to follow its course in north-westerly direction towards Timișoara and Budapest.

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Passengers disembark from the Muntenia night train at Caransebeș station. ©Paliparan
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The Muntenia night train at Caransebeș station. ©Paliparan
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Caransebeș station as seen from the footbridge over the tracks. ©Paliparan
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There is lots of shunting action at Caransebes station in the early morning as wagons are attached to trains or separated from them. ©Paliparan

6.40am, day 2 – Coffee time

There is plenty of action going on at Caransebeș station in the early morning as railway wagons from the sidings are attached to waiting trains or separated from them.

It fortunately meant that all of the station kiosks were open so I could buy a much-needed coffee and some other supplies for the journey ahead.

Having thrown some more water into my face at the public water fountains at the main platform, I was now finally fully awake.

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Water fountains at Caransebes station. ©Paliparan
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Trains at Caransebes station. ©Paliparan
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Trains at Caransebes station. ©Paliparan

7.10am, day 2 – Into my train to Slatina-Timiș

Just like on my trip four weeks earlier, I had bought another ticket for the 7.28am regional train to Slatina-Timiș, a 32-minute ride which costs just 4.40 RON (0.90 EUR).

This train, which after Slatina-Timiș continues its ride further down the line towards Orșova, originates in Caransebeș and is already waiting at the platform some 20 to 30 minutes before departure.

As there are no assigned seats on regional trains, you can pick any seat you want and I easily managed to get an entire 6-person seating compartment to myself as the passenger load was low.

Being seated comfortably inside, it was now also time to dive into the Eastern European delicacy of a sparkling wine flavoured croissant.

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The Caransebes to Orșova regional train. ©Paliparan
sparkling wine croissant 7 days
The sparkling wine flavoured croissant for breakfast sounded much better than it actually tasted. ©Paliparan

7.28am, day 2 – Departing Caransebeș

Unlike the last time when this train racked up a 15 minute delay trundling down the short 21km stretch towards Slatina-Timiș, everything went smooth this time around.

One thing I love about these ageing, old-fashioned trains is that the windows can fully open, allowing you to make some good pictures of the scenery.

Another one of my favourite train photography and video tricks is to walk to the far end of the last carriage of the train as it allows you to look back over the tracks.

8am, day 2 – Arrival at Slatina-Timiș

At 8am on the dot the regional train arrived at the little station of Slatina-Timiș, with the friendly station managed greeting each of the 6 or so passengers who got off here personally.

Just like the last time, I still had to walk the two-and-a-half kilometres from the train station to the town of Slatina-Timiș.

This was certainly a bit trickier this time around as due to the heavy rainfall the unpaved path was waterlogged at points.

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Slatina-Timis station. ©Paliparan
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Walking from the station to the town centre. ©Paliparan
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The landscape around Slatina-Timis. ©Paliparan

8.30am, day 2 – Back in town

It was certainly quite fun to be back in Slatina-Timiș and to see how much the scenery changed in just four weeks time.

The fields and trees were certainly greener this time around, even though the weather back in March was much more sunny and warm.

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The footbridge across the River Timiș. ©Paliparan
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Entering the town of Slatina-Timis. ©Paliparan
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Slatina-Timis. ©Paliparan

8.50am, day 2 – Getting my second jab

Even though my vaccination appointment was at 10am, I had no problems again walking early into the local clinic.

The entire vaccination procedure was again smooth and streamlined.

First, I had to fill in some health questionnaire while one of the receptionists scanned the QR code on my appointment card and checked my identity papers.

Just five minutes after I had set foot in the clinic, I was already called forward to the other room where a doctor administered the vaccine.

After the vaccination, I had to wait for a couple of minutes to make sure I didn’t develop any immediate adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Fortunately, this was not the case and within 15 minutes after entering the clinic I was already out with the proof of vaccination in hand.

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Slatina-Timis, with the local clinic being the first building you see on the right side of the creek. ©Paliparan
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That’s the second Moderna shot administered – with the paper printout to proof it! ©Paliparan

12pm, day 2 – Back to the station

Unlike my first trip, I did not get lucky this time with locals offering a free ride back to Caransebeș.

As I had quite some time left until the departure of my train to Caransebeș I sat down in a small trucker’s café along the main provincial road for a cup of coffee or two.

Having plenty of time, I took the longer road from Slatina-Timiș to the railway station this time around as unlike the shortcut path through the fields and forests at least this road was fully paved.

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Railway bridge across the River Timiș. ©Paliparan
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Walking from Slatina-Timiș to the train station. ©Paliparan.

12.40pm, day 2 – Bus replacement service

Public transport schedules are often thin in Romanian provincial towns and villages with most links being tailored towards the needs of workers and students.

This means that you often find a few connections in the early morning, then nothing for hours until trains and buses again start to run more frequently by mid-afternoon.

There normally shouldn’t even be a train this early in the afternoon from Slatina-Timiș as the first normal connection back wasn’t scheduled until 3pm.

However, due to track works on the railway line between Slatina-Timiș and Caransebeș, the morning InterRegio train from Bucharest to Timișoara which would normally pass non-stop through Slatina-Timiș was now temporarily terminating here.

Passengers from the InterRegio train could board replacement buses to transport them from Slatina-Timiș to the station in Caransebeș, where another train was waiting to take them onward to Timișoara.

When I arrived at the station, the friendly station managed informed me that the buses would arrive soon

When inquiring whether I could buy a train ticket at the station to be able to board the replacement bus service, he laughed and just told me to wait outside the station for the buses to arrive, from which I gathered that the ride would be free for me.

And indeed, moments later the buses arrived on the narrow access road to the station.

As the only passenger so far, I took a seat in the front bus and waited for ten minutes more until the InterRegio train arrived after which our bus quickly filled up and drove off.

The entire bus replacement service was arranged in an extremely smooth fashion.

Having memories of downright chaotic and slow bus replacement services in my native Netherlands, this came as a huge surprise to me, especially so because CFR normally does not have the best reputation for punctuality and smooth operations. Well done!

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Slatina-Timiș train station. ©Paliparan
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The bus replacement service. Note the old FlixBus name and livery which is still slightly visible on the side of the bus! ©Paliparan
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The rooftops of Caransebes. ©Paliparan

4pm, day 2 – A beer or two in Caransebeș

Having quite some time to kill until the departure of the night train back to Bucharest, there was only one logical thing to do: Hit the pub and drink some beers.

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Beer time! ©Paliparan

8.40pm, day 2 – Walking back to the station

A few beers and a light dinner later, it was time to head back to the train station.

My train would only depart at 11.11pm but given that all cafés, pubs and restaurants had to close early due to COVID restrictions, there wasn’t anything else I could do in town besides hanging around in the station waiting room.

On my walk from the city centre back to the railway station, I was treated to some lovely sunset colours.

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Sunset colours. ©Paliparan
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Giant cross next to the bridge over the railway tracks and the River Timiș. ©Paliparan
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Bridge across the River Timiș. ©Paliparan

10pm, day 2 – The long wait

The dimly-lit station of Caransebeș would certainly be a great location for a horror film.

Unfortunately, my experience this time around here would be quite fit for such a movie.

Around 10pm I suddenly felt cold as my body even started to shiver.

Some cups of hot chocolate from the vending machine didn’t help as the shivering only got gradually worse.

I even put on two other shirts under my sweater, a second pair of trousers as well as two pairs of socks, although that did not seem to help either.

At first I thought it might be the cold mountain air from the nearby Carpathians, but then it slowly dawned on me that these were of course COVID vaccine side effects.

At one point the shivers became so heavy that I could barely hold onto my cup of hot chocolate with one hand, having to use both hands to prevent it from spilling over.

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The dimly lit waiting hall of Caransebeș station. ©Paliparan

11pm, day 2 – Delay

About an hour later things took a turn for the worse as the train I was booked on, the Astra Trans Carpatic sleeper train from Arad and Timișoara to Bucharest, posted a delay.

Half an hour later the train had still not arrived at Caransebeș station as me and the three or so other passengers booked on the train started to wonder what was going on.

A quick check at the status of the train on Infofer, a website on which you can track each train in Romania, showed that the train had passed through Zăgujeni station some 8 kilometres to the north but somehow hadn’t reached Caransebeș yet.

I got into a talk with a friendly old man who was also waiting for the Bucharest train.

As he was growing impatient, he went searching around the station for a CFR employee to inquire about the reason behind the delay.

Minutes later the man came back and told me that the station managed told him that our train has hit a car and two people died in the crash.

Unknown to us at that point, there wasn’t actually a car accident as in fact an Afghan migrant was somehow hit by our train and sadly died.

It clearly shows that breaking or developing news stories can at times be partially incorrect as important details are not yet known or some information is incorrectly passed on at the immediate time of an incident.

In any case, we would still have to wait for the forensics to investigate the scene and to clear the tracks for railway traffic.

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Waiting for the delayed train at Caransebeș station. ©Paliparan

1.20am, day 3 – The train finally arrives

Around 1.20am, the Astra Trans Carpatic finally arrived in Caransebeș.

Although it seemed like an eternal wait at that point feeling cold and sick, in hindsight the two-hour delay wasn’t even that bad as it could have been much worse.

I’ve had some amazing night train adventures throughout the world, but I was never as happy as that night to set foot in my sleeper compartment.

For just 315 RON (63 euro) I had booked a deluxe compartment all to myself.

These deluxe compartments on the Astra Trans Carpatic have an en-suite bathroom with toilet and shower, making them the most luxurious way to travel by train in Romania.

I took a hot shower before I hit the bed, stealing the extra blanket from the top bed to warm up even more.

However, the vaccine side effects hit me so hard that although I wasn’t cold anymore, I soon started to sweat and shiver.

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Deluxe private sleeper compartment on the Astra Trans Carpatic. ©Paliparan
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En-suite bathroom in a deluxe private sleeper compartment on the Astra Trans Carpatic. ©Paliparan

9.20am, day 3 – Back in Bucharest

During the night, the two-hour delay unsurprisingly snowballed had turned into a three-hour delay, although I didn’t mind that this time around as it meant I could sleep a bit longer.

At this point, I was pretty much a wreck. Although I slept quite well, I had woken up multiple times during the night feeling either cold or warm and shivering from the vaccine.

Around 9.20am, we arrived back at Bucharest Gara de Nord where the journey began two days earlier.

Although it was perfect spring weather with clear blue skies, I knew I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.

As soon as I arrived home it was straight to bed to sleep out the vaccine side effects.

Fortunately, I had my sweet cats at my side to keep me company.

Although I already felt much better the day after and was able to do some work again, it would take another full day and night until I had completely recovered.

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The green-and-yellow coloured Astra Trans Carpatic has arrived back in Bucharest with a 3-hour delay. ©Paliparan
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Sick in bed while my sweet cats keeping me company. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

My second trip to Slatina-Timiș started off smooth but ended up being quite an adventure thanks to a train accident, subsequent delay and some heavy vaccine side effects kicking in.

Still, I was happy I made the journey and to have received both shots of the vaccine.

Although I do personally belief in freedom of choice (and am thus against vaccine passports for anything except travel) I found it a no-brainer to take the COVID vaccine myself as it does have clear and proven public health benefits.

Needless to say, another huge factor for taking the vaccine is the fact that it has eased travel considerably during the pandemic.

From the moment I took the second jab (April) to the time of writing this (December) I managed to go on dozens of trips abroad for both leisure and work, something which would not have been possible without the vaccination certificate.

Avatar photo

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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