București to Chişinău

April 19, 2018

 

 

The train to Moldova departs from București’s main station, Gara du Nord.  To get there you can either use the metro (line M1) or an Uber (exceptionally cheap in București).  The most useful metro stations for the old town are: Universitate (line M2) and Piața Unirii (line M1 and M3).  From Universitate metro station you will need to change at Piața Victoriei which is an interchange station between metro lines M1 and M2.  A journey on the metro is 2.5 lei (including changes) however ticket machines only sell tickets for two journeys at a time for 5 lei (1€).  Both journey options take about 25 minutes.

 

When you’ve reached București Gara du Nord exit the metro station and look for the main railway station building – it all depends which exit you take to where you’ll end up!  

 

Once inside you’ll need to locate the International Ticket Office to purchase a ticket to Moldova. I didn’t know this little bit of detail before arriving so I queued up at ticket office number 17, just to be told “not here, turn right, office number 1, international” in rather broken English.

 

"Casa Internationala" at București Gara du Nord and the station concourse

 

 

Arriving București Gara du Nord…? Walk along the platforms towards the concourse (which has plenty of small hut type shops on it), turn left (now with the platforms on your left) and walk along the concourse until you find an entrance to the metro station after passing both Subway and KFC.  Then catch metro line M1 directly to Piața Unirii, or metro line M1 then M2 to Universitate changing at Piața Victoriei.

 

Timetable

 

Train No. 105/401 Chişinău 16:56 to București 06:07 – 592km – Daily

Train No. 106/402 București 19:15 to Chişinău 09:27 – 592km – Daily 

 

Departure board at București Gara du Nord

 

 

Cost

 

According to the Moldovan railways website, it is now possible in at least the direction Moldova to Romania to buy an e-ticket online.  I have not tried this but the fare advertised for 1st class is 685.63 Moldovan Leu (34€) and for 2nd class 593.26 (30€).  For more information read my “How to travel by train in Moldova” guide.

 

In the direction, Romania to Moldova, tickets can be purchased from the International Ticket Office (Counter No. 1) at București Gara du Nord.  The standard fare for 1st class is 42€ and for 2nd class 23€ payable in Romanian Leu. The International “Fares on routes” page on the Romanian railways website has a downloadable PDF with a list of all international fares from București.  There is also an offer fare available on this route for 19€ in a 4-berth 2nd class compartment (non-refundable) and this is the ticket I was sold about 10 hours before departure.

 

A București to Chişinău non-refundable ticket

 

 

What was the train like?

 

The train has both 2-berth (1st class) and 4-berth (2nd class) compartments however as the route isn’t particularly popular, you have a high chance of either travelling alone or only having to share with one other person in a 4-berth compartment.  The train doesn’t have a restaurant car or snack trolley so don’t forget to stock up on food and drink if you think you need anything over the next 14 hours.

 

Before boarding the train, the conductor will check your ticket and point out your bed number which is shown on your ticket anyway.  He or she will then take your ticket off you but don’t worry, you will get this back on arrival at Chişinău.  Just after departure the conductor will bring you a set of clean bed sheets wrapped in a plastic bag.  There is also a blanket if it does get cold but I had the opposite problem that it was far too hot and stuffy for most of the night.  If you have a lower bunk, you can safely store your belongings in the box under your bed that you can only access by lifting up the bed.

 

The golden coloured soviet interior of the București to Chişinău train

 

 

Border Crossing

 

The Romanian border is reached at around 2am and this is when passport controls start as Moldova is not part of the European Union – although it is visa free for a number of nationalities.  Once at the border, the first passport check is the exit procedure from Romania, and then a short while later; there is the immigration procedure for Moldova.  This takes place in a town called Ungheni.

 

The most important thing to remember is that your sleep will be disrupted!

 

The immigration procedure for Moldova also includes a customs check – however I found this to be quite relaxed and very quick.  The customs official looked at me and just said “baggage”, I looked back at him and pointed to my bag, he then pointed at it too and just like that he said “control customs finish” and off he walked.

 

 

 

What about the wheels?

 

The unusual thing about this train is that after the border checks, the train is shunted into a siding that is installed with special equipment that allows the wheels underneath each carriage to be changed.  What…?!?

 

Yes, the wheels or more accurately the bogies are changed. 

 

This wheel changing procedure happens on the border between most ex-USSR countries and Europe (e.g. Ukraine/Poland) if the train is direct.  The same also happens on the borders between Mongolia/Russia and China… but why?!?

 

In the past railways where built to different gauges.  The countries that once formed part of the USSR where built to a gauge of 1,520mm whereas most of Europe was built to 1,435mm.  This simply means that any train that travels between a set of countries with different track gauges needs to have its wheels changed at the border if it wishes to continue into the neighbouring country.

 

At this border, this exciting process takes place between approximately 3.15am and 4.15am.  The whole thing is rather time consuming and it probably adds about 2 hours to the journey time between București and Chişinău.  If you somehow manage to sleep through all the banging, then congratulations but if you do feel like the train carriage is being lifted into the air whilst you’re lying in bed – you’re probably right. 

 

 

To make this work, the train wheels (bogies) are unbolted, the train is lifted (jacked up like a car), the old wheels are rolled away and a new set are rolled back in their place.  The carriage is then lowered back onto the new wheels and hopefully the workmen aren’t too sleepy in the early hours of the morning to ensure they are attached back on properly.

 

Yes – it’ll probably wake you up but come on, this is exciting and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to take the train on this route.  Sleep can be saved for another night!

 

Arriving in Chişinău

 

Compared to București Gara du Nord, Chişinău station is eerily quiet with most likely just your train and a colourful steam locomotive parked up inside the station. 

 

To get to the city centre, first head to the ATM inside the main station building for some local Moldovan currency (Leu), and from there walk directly away from the station, through a car park and a small park with a fountain.  Once you reached the main road, there is a trolleybus stop just a few meters to the left.

 

From here you can catch trolleybus No’s. 1, 4, 5, 8 or 22 to the city centre.  The fare of 2 Leu is paid directly to the onboard conductor. 

 

Chişinău station 

 

 

Suggested Links

 

The official Moldovan Railways website and my “How to travel by train in Moldova” guide

The official Romanian Railways website

 

Photo Journal

 

There are always more photos to be shared, but sharing them all on this journal page will just make it look cluttered so if you want to see more photos for inspiration, check out my Flickr “Romania–2018” and “Moldova–2018” album.

 

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