Popping around the neighbour’s for a quick drink – Bucharest – Prelude – The journey

Perhaps you could argue that spending fourteen and a half hours on a train is hardly popping around to the neighbour’s. Maybe you could dispute the fact that three days of wine tasting – I swear, I wasn’t tasting the whole time! – is not really a quick drink. Well, that’s beside the point. That’s the name I’ve chosen for adventures outside Hungary.

A #winelover hangout had been organised in Bucharest and it was suggested that Bucharest is not far from Budapest, and wouldn’t I like to join the event. I thought, well, we are neighbours, I’ve always been interested in visiting Bucharest, but had never made it further than Brasov, put off by rumours of packs of wild, rabid dogs roaming the streets of Bucharest. Any Brit who grew up in the seventies was instilled with a horror of rabid dogs, foaming at the mouth, on the ‘continent’; Britain being rabies free and due to quarantining any poor animals arriving on to ‘our green and pleasant land’ was likely to remain so.

I took a look at the Hungarian Railways website and discovered that it would take me nigh on fifteen hours to get there by train and there were no attractive flight offers. I was dissuaded for a while, but then thought, “what the hell! I’ve got plenty to read”. In the end, it turned out that I, in fact, had plenty of work to do, so the journey passed, I wouldn’t go so far as to say flew, unfortunately.

The day started well. Having woken up at, what for me, is the crack of dawn, I waited in vain for a trolley bus to take me to Keleti, and two did not show up. Now, do I trust in the gods or take things into my own hands. I decided that if the next one did not arrive, I would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle, so I set off at a trot to Keleti, pulling my case behind me. I made it to the station, sweat pouring, heart beating hard, breath rasping, with three minutes to spare. The next trolley bus following me in. Hmmm.

I settled in for the duration. Tapping away on my computer, we reached the border after three hours or so, where we sat for what seemed like hours.

Shortly after the border, the fun began. Ensconced near the window, concentrating on my work, I had no idea what was going on. Raised voices in Romanian. Raised voices in Hungarian. People pulling their bags here and there. Finger pointing. More shouting. A large number of people hovering in the aisle. I continued to work, completely oblivious, or at least, I pretended to be.

The Romanian ticket inspector arrived. More confrontational voices. I continued to work, trying to pay no attention, despite the piercing quality of the elderly Hungarian ladies’ voices behind me.  The inspector asked for my ticket, took one look at it and stared at me as if it were not valid, but said nothing at all, simply scrawling something on the ticket.

A few moments later, a lady sat down opposite me and informed me I was in the wrong seat. No, I showed her my ticket. She showed me hers – same seat number, but different carriage. But this is 434, I told her. No, it’s 435. Well, in Budapest it was 434. The Hungarians, I was told, had put the wrong numbers on the carriages in Budapest. Now they were correct. I saw this later when using the ‘facilities’, it was indeed now 435. Somehow it had mutated at the border. So, in actual fact, I should move into the other carriage. However, she didn’t mind, so unless someone else came and kicked up a fuss, we settled in for the rest of the journey, still about eleven hours at this point. Now I understood what all the shouting had been about. But, I have to ask myself, who, in their right minds, changes the carriage numbers at the border on a long distance, international train. I make no comment here.

The rest of the journey passed rather uneventfully but for Dana showing me numerous pictures of her family and soothing my now rather nasty cough with a supply of throat sweets she had in her bag. Although, admittedly at every (extended) stop, there was a bit of a frisson – would anyone come to oust us from our seats?

I now understood why it took so long to make the 850km journey. The train stopped for not inconsiderable times at many stations and crawled along at a snail’s pace.

Finally, arriving in Bucharest, close to 11pm, I braced myself for the packs of stray dogs I would doubtless encounter as soon as I exited the station. I strode forward purposefully, ignoring the gangs of ruthless taxi-driver criminals I was also sure to meet on my way out. My strategy worked, after a short detour into a shop to replenish my depleted supply of water, I tried to look like I knew where I was going. I had consulted my map in great detail before getting off the train, in the hope I would not have to produce it in order to orient myself. I left the station, the taxi drivers’ coercions just bouncing off me. I was out. Where were the dogs? There was not a dog to be seen. Not even one. Perhaps it was the rain.

I made my way to my nearby hotel, still no dogs, and checked in.

I was out like a light. However, perhaps I heard a dog barking during the night!

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