Riding The Carpathian Forest Steam TrainSTAFF — By Estrella Azul on October 19, 2012 at 00:33
By staff writer Estrella Azul. Photos Copyright © Estrella Azul.
SOMETHING YOU HAVE to know, right off the bat, is that I do not do well with waking up early. I feel it’s flat out mean to put me through that. However, this particular trip was worth waking up to the sun being on the wrong side of the sky.
When visiting northern Romania it’s easy to plan a short stay near Vişeu de Sus, so that the Mocăniţa—the forestry heritage railway—is more accessible. We natives, on the other hand, had to wake up at 4 a.m. so we could leave our house in Cluj-Napoca and drive 4-5 hours to Vaser Valley in time to purchase our tickets.
The Carpathian Forest Steam Train, otherwise known as Vaser Valley Railway (which I am proud to see on the list of heritage railways), runs on a narrow-gauge railway. From spring until autumn, three tourist trains leave the station several mornings a week, half an hour apart.
We managed to get tickets for the first train, leaving at 9:00 a.m., with enough time in hand to take pictures of the station and the rest of the trains and wood-burning steam locomotives. Our train’s locomotive was the Elveţia (Romanian for Switzerland), a loco built in 1954.
It was such fun to read each locomotive’s info and see how the oldest one still in service, the Măriuţa, was built in 1921. As the conductor told us, today the Vaser Valley Railway is the last forest railway in Europe which still operates for (limited) timber production. Also, with no other means for transportation through the valley, villagers there have actual cars that run on the tracks.
The (in total) nearly six-hour long steam train ride wonderfully recreated scenes of the past, and with no cell phone reception it was almost like a trip back in time. The train followed the Vaser and Vişeu rivers’ many curves, twists and turns, leading us through Vaser Valley, a romantic and wild valley near the Ukraine border.
We passed through a few small villages, by old caves used as field hospitals and ammunition depots, and through a traditional carved wooden Maramureş Gate. The right to build monumental wooden gates at the entrance of a household was a mark of the social position of the inhabitants of Maramureş. They are, to this day, a lovely sight for visitors.
Vaser Valley is part of the Maramureş Mountains Nature Park and is under European protection, and it filled my heart with joy and hope to see pine plantations along the tracks. Because of this protection, these “baby pines” will later be planted to replace the pines cut for timber production.
What also struck me was how clean the water was. I’ve never seen rivers with such clear, blue waters. The meeting point of the two rivers was actually visible: the Vişeu River’s water was muddier than Vaser River’s.
The steam train stopped for an hour and a half in the middle of the wild, wonderful valley, at Păltin Station. This station is as far as the tourist steam trains will go. We decided to follow the tracks and go explore the surroundings. The view was as picturesque as it was during the train ride. Tall pine trees stood proudly lining the forest and the sun-drenched valley; the river’s flowing filled the air with its live white noise sound effect.
By the time we arrived back at the station, the other two steam trains had caught up to ours. We had about twenty minutes to spare before out train headed back, which gave me the perfect opportunity to take more pictures of the steam trains and leave a love letter behind in one of the other wagons.
The railway is so narrow the trains have no way of turning around, so only the locomotives turn. That makes what was the last wagon on the way to the valley, the first wagon behind the locomotive on the way back to the station. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience the trip “backwards” so to say, and to take some lovely pictures of the whole train.
As I wrote to my love letter’s recipient: this amazing steam train ride reminded me of the Hogwarts Express in my favorite book series, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. It reminded me of times past and of how there is magic in everything—in every thought, every act, every feeling and every moment.
There is magic in every train ride. But this one, a steam train ride, seemed even a little more magical than the rest.
Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©. Read more of her stories on Milliver’s Travels by visiting Estrella’s story index.