Travel Journal Overview: Overland train rides can be great ways to travel. They can also me traps. I experienced both as I traveled under a full moon into Transylvania en route to Brasov.
Over anxious about departures I arrived at the Budapest Ketti Train station 1.5 hours before by scheduled departure at 17.45. With no seating available I had to make do with a standing room only view of the old style flickering and rotating timetable, right next to some local drunk Hungarians. It didn’t help that I was staring at the arrivals sign rather than the departures (LP phrase book does not include the word arrival nor departure). The loud and annoying Americans the night before had kept me awake for nearly all of the night with extreme drunkenness and snoring. Even so my sleep deprived eyes recognized the “Bucharest 17.45 Gate 5” announcement flickering into place at the bottom of the giant display.
I headed off to find Gate 5, my carriage number war 425 and my seat was 66. Finding Gate 5 was easy, the hard part was finding carriage 425 when none of the carriages have numbers other than for seats, of which there was a seat 66 in just about all of them! Help seemed to be close at hand as I noticed two Hungarian attendants paying much attention to a sole lady up ahead, maybe one of them could give up on the lady and spare me 5 seconds worth of a grunt and a finger pointing to the correct carriage.
I approached ticket in hand, the older one took my ticket and shrugged. Then examining the ticket started to shake his head. I did my usual “English, Spanish or Hausa?” options, the jolly looking old man replied in French with a smile, then started to shake his head at the ticket while calling his friend over. Subconsciously I was not enjoying all this negativity towards my ticket.
The younger one took another opportunity at the raven haired lady as she boarded the train, “English?”. She turned and nodded.
I was in luck, the first Romanian I meet and she takes the ticket to tell me I was in the same carriage as her. The lady in question will forever remain nameless, I guess names are not always important for a brief 14 hour train journey. She sported a giant red suitcase, and refused to place it up high in the carriage even with my offerings. So instead it sat like a giant obelisk in front of seat 66. So Seated in seat 65 I showed “Raven Redcase” my laminated map of my journey as an icebreaker, and as always it worked. She worked as a cabin stewardess on river boats, and was happily showing me all the places she had worked in Europe, including last night by parliament on the Danube. I figured it must have been here boat that kept running into my night photographic attempts.
The train slowly eked out to the old Budapest station, and finally I was about to fulfill a boyhood fantasy of taking a train trip through the Carpathian mountains under a full moon. The chubby little old train attendant appeared again, this time laughing and smiling while talking in Romanian to Raven Redcase. The conversation seemed to entail lots of pointing at me, and a request for my ticket to be inspected again. His skinny younger friend appeared at the door, and also but in a phrase or two about my “Billet”.
Finally the truth emerged when Raven Redcase translated, “He would like if you could give him you ticket when you get to Bran?”
Hmm, I all clicked into place even as Raven Redcase explained, it was a Romanian tourist board offer that all tickets into Romania could have free returns. The old fella would of course love to sell the return ticket half on. I agreed with a laugh, and entered in the condition that he woke me up when we got to Brasov. He laughed out loud and we shook on it. He later appeared again, only this time to let it be known there were cigarettes for sale and food for sale in another carriage. RavenRedcase explained that as a foreigner I was deemed to have money, so such things were expected. Somethings never change, I never understand how a scruffy backpacker can look to have money? Still the train trip was off to a good start, I had a six seater compartment with a pretty Romanian translator for conversation rather than a fat drunk man. Even the clouds outside could not dampen my enthusiasm for the trip.
One stop later and our private solitude was broken as the train began to take on passengers. Our compartment door few open with a bang, an attractive 30+ mother charged in bags first, 2 children later. The tanned trio paused briefly to look at there new home for the night. The mother greeted Raven Redcase in Romanian and I made the gentlemanly offer of lifting her cases up on the shelves, privately hoping the red monolith would also be moved. So such luck. I was really hoping for some distance between me and the children. Don’t get me wrong, I like kids, but I know what happens when you put a pair of 5 year old and 8 year old male siblings into into a confined space for the night!!
They settled in well, no English but seemed really nice. At least that is what I kept telling myself in fear of a prediction I was making. Then it happened, the two ladies got up and asked if I would mind the kids for 10 minutes while they had a smoke….
The first 5 minutes was fine, I read, and they sat over a dinner of luminous orange colored crisps and kinder chocolate!! A disaster, the sugar rush kicked in and they immediately erupted into a fight. Romanian screams filled the compartment and the whole carriage I am sure. 5 seconds of silence then occurred, but was broken as easily by the little one making a break for the door. Romanian babysitter for 10 minutes and I had already lost one. The older kid reached out and grabbed his brother before he got very far, meanwhile I grabbed my LP phrase book and began saying “Nit Nit!”, for some undecipherable reason. 30 seconds of page flicking later, I still couldn’t find the phrase for “sit down” or “shut the fuck up”. Screams filled the corridor again. When would it end, the Romanian ladies were gone over 15 minutes now.
The little one suddenly started to shout “Piscuse, Piscusser!”
I reasoned for a second, then started to randomly call things out from the phrasebook, “Hello”, “How old?”, “ Where’s the Rester aunt?” all to no avail.
“Piscuse,” they both started to squeal.
What the hell??? “You want mama? You want Fish? What?”
“Picuse”, yelled the little one again, only this time he was holding onto his little crotch.
NO WAY!! It was then I lost all interest, all control was lost, I was not taking responsibility. The Older one then grabbed his brothers hand and led him down the train corridor to where I guessed the toilets were. I stood at the door of our compartment, hoping the worst would not happen and someone would not snatch one of the little buggers, albeit for a quieter night. But I figured there would be some strange Hungarian/Romanian law that blames all foreigners put in charge of baby sitting kids should anything go wrong. Still, my priority was not to leave the compartment, and the bags.
Sufficed to say the duo came back a few minutes later, this time clutching snickers bars, could the sugar rush get any worse??
Mama had been gone for over 30 minutes now, and I truly began to feel victimized. Downing a subway sandwich I sat down as the kids started another fist fight. Only this time it ended with the little one getting an almighty thump in the head from the older one, which resulted in him tearing out into corridor crying out for his mama. The train started to slow down. A look of panic hit the little one. Maybe he was thinking the same thing I was, a planned escape. More likely his mother was also having he same thought. The little brat tore off down the corridor followed by his older brother, that was it, they were gone. The train started to fill with passengers, and I was busy thinking up excuses to tell the Romanian Judge about how I lost two small boys entrusted into my care on the train.
Then in the distance I saw the two buggers, and mama was behind them, a look of wryness in her face as she saw me standing there before giving the two kids a slap across the head. As I sat down and awaiting their return a young frizzy haired girl came charging into the compartment, waving frantically out the window. I let a joke out about the compartment being filled with evil children in utter despair at the past 40 minutes and was taken back by the a fluent reply in English.
“Yes I can see that!” The frizzy haired Romanian girl was full of chat, unlike the gruff Romanian gent who also tried to get into the compartment but was bamboozled out of the way my the returning terror boys. Finally there was no option but to remove the great red monolith of a suitcase to the top shelf. And yes I think she was transporting solid rock in that case.
Night came fast as we headed into a new timezone. Border guards examined passports without trauma. I took a photograph of the train corridor, a memoir of my full moon, into the Carpathians night, albeit with full cloud cover. We all started to nod off to sleep now. I had set my phone to wake me at 5.30am. Though looking up at my day pack, crushed between the red monolith and the baby bags, I figured I’d be going without breakfast in the morning as getting to it in our over crowed positions was a near impossible task.
I woke the usual amount of times during the night in vague hope of seeing the full moon appear from behind its clouded veil, nothing. Still I did not have a feeling of disappointment. I nodded back to sleep. Some time later waking blurry eyed again I looked out the window to see the massive Carpathians illuminated by a full moon radiating light through the clouds.
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