A train ride in the little town of Vișeul de Sus in Maramures is quite an adventure. But then this is not just any train. Located in the northern part of Romania, Maramureș is mostly famous for its tranquil villages and well-preserved wooden churches. But if you want to experience something unique, you must go to Vișeul de Sus to ride the Mocanița. Mocanița simply means “Coffee Machine”, and is a term of endearment applied by Romanians to any narrow-gauge steam engine locomotive, whose driving gear is reminiscent of an italian-style espresso machine.
There may be still a few steam locomotives running in the world, but Mocanița is the only narrow gauge lumber train left in Europe, of the many that were constructed in the 1930s to transport timber from the remote forests of the Carpathian Mountains. And almost 90 years later, this train still crosses the bridges and tunnels that take it into the gorges of the Vaser Valley to haul wood. But the Mocanița also hauls nostalgic tourists who love revisiting the steam engine trains, or young folks who may have never seen what a steam engine looks like.
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The train station is located in the middle of the town, at the end of a little bumpy road. As you pass by the metal gates of the train depot, you find yourself in the middle of a big yard which looks more like an open-air museum, with a colorful display of steam powered locomotives and old wagons. The old, charming building of the train station serves now as the main office. Here you can buy your train tickets and some souvenirs. To the right side of the station there is a little café that sells snacks, coffee and drinks.
The train ride starts in front of the station and climbs up for about 30 kilometers into the mountains, following the roadless Vaser River Valley. Before going into the forest, the Mocanița passes by a small village with colorful houses. You can see men working their yards, women doing their laundry, children going to school, railway workers by the side of the road. They all seem to be part of the landscape, like if they weren’t there you’d miss them. Some wave at the moving train as if it’s an event. Others don’t even seem to notice it. After all, the train passing is business as usual.
On the way up the mountain, the Mocanița makes a couple stops (halts) to replenish the water for the steam engine. They are called water stops. To produce mechanical motion the steam engine needs boiling water. The steam moves the pistons which are mechanically connected to the locomotive’s main wheels. Cheap, simple and efficient!
The railway goes deep into the forests of the Maramures mountains to the tiny hamlet of Coman. The Vaser River is about 60 kilometres long, but the train turns around after 31 kilometers. The landscape is absolutely spectacular. The river forms a dramatic canyon-like valley, with steep cliffs and dense forests, rapid water springs and beautiful meadows.There is so much to see and photograph! At the end of the ride, the train stops for about an hour, just enough to give you a chance to relax and enjoy a good meal or a snack. The picnic area is in a very beautiful setting, on the river bank, and is equipped with benches and tables.
Mocanița provides the only access to the settlements up the valley. On the way back, the train halts a couple of times for the passengers to get off and take pictures or stretch their legs.
There’s something so impressive about a locomotive blowing up steam while rolling down the tracks. Like a dreadful fire-breathing dragon: “choo, choo, choo… black smoke, white smoke, choo, choo, choo…” I can’t have enough of that image, reminiscent of my early childhood years, when we were waiting for the train at the station to go to my grandparents’ farm.
Tips for the Mocanița
It is a good idea to book your tickets in advance. Being the only train of this kind in Europe, the Mocanita is very popular and for this reason always crowded. Sometimes the Mocanița offers special event trips for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or concerts, photography trips etc. If interested in one of these special events, you should call the office to book your tickets in advance. The train operates from spring to fall, from Thursday to Sunday, 9:00 a.m to 2:30 p.m. For a more updated schedule you should click on this link: www.CFFViseu.ro.