It’s Saturday morning in the small town of Vișeude Sus, in Maramureș County, Romania. I have come to this amazing region on a weekend trip to discover some of its treasures, but the highlight of my journey is undoubtedly represented by the narrow gauge steam train, called in Romanian “Mocănița”, a wonder from the past which is still alive and well as it travels every day across the last forestry narrow gauge steam railway in Europe.
At9:30 a.m. all the passengers are embarked on the train and the journey can begin. It’s going to take quite a long time for the old train to complete the short 18-kilometer trip along the Vaser River Valley to the Paltin station, which is the final destination for tourists, but speed is certainly not the reason for which I am here; in this case, the whole experience of this hopefully fascinating journey certainly matters a lot more than the destination!
After several kilometres in which the little steam-powered train goes through villages with houses on both sides of the track, the view becomes more spectacular as we enter the forest and the landscape is getting wilder, but the presence of human activity is visible all the time as there are areas in which we can see logs by the riverside waiting to be loaded in the wagons and transported to the home village. Thus, the Vaser Valley forestry railway turns out to be much more than a nostalgia trip for tourists; on the contrary, it still plays an active role and it’s still as vital for the local communities as it was back in the1930s when it was inaugurated!
All of a sudden the train stops right by the side of the mountain because of a mechanical problem and the unexpected break lasts for about half an hour. Passengers become a little anxious as time passes by, but eventually the intervention team fixes the problem and the train moves on; the delay means that the journey to the Paltinu station will be completed in 2 hours instead of 90 minutes, as it was scheduled, but the exquisite beauty of the wild landscape soon takes my mind off this small inconvenient as I try to enjoy the last part of the journey. After all, slightly unpleasant events like that make the trip more authentic as the Mocanita has kept its unique appeal precisely because it offers visitors the chance to see what it was like for real to travel by steam train and understand that it was sometimes an uncomfortable, even troublesome experience.
Finally, we arrive at the Paltinu station and we get off the train for an hour and a half. There, in the middle of the wilderness, we can admire the majestic rocky landscape and enjoy some food and drinks. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough food stalls for all the tourists who are hungry and thirsty after such a long journey, so we have to stand in quite a long line, and that is really the most unpleasant part of this adventure, but once get over it we soon forget those less exciting moments and focus once again on the natural splendour and the fresh air which fill our hearts and lungs with joy and vitality.
At1:20 P.M. the journey back to civilization begins. Once again the locomotive is huffing and puffing as a black cloud of smoke rises into the air and the small steam-powered train slowly makes its way on the narrow railroad, allowing me to enjoy the stunning views of the mountain. At around 3:00 P.M. the Mocănița arrives back at the starting point, the Viseu de Seu railway station. It’s the end of a long, quite exhausting, but also highly rewarding and unique adventure that I will always remember with great pleasure!
Images Credit: All the photos are mine.