So First Class travel eh?
Sure I’ll give it a crack!
Romantic visions of every movie I’ve seen about luxurious European train travel flickered through my mind as I booked the ticket online through the Romanian Train Ticketing system.
Chuffing through the dark Romanian forests and winding through the fairytale Carpathian Mountain tunnels, white smoke billowing from the tunnels mouth as the train chuffs through…maybe even a murder!
For $30 ! Yes please.
Well Chief…missed it by THAT much.
The reality is all commuter train and allocated seating in our cosy little first class Hell; it’s glass, 32+ degrees outside and blazing sun; the compartment is full, the aircon doesn’t work and we can’t open the windows.
I burst immediately into a lathering sweat as soon as I sit down, as do the rest of the passengers.
Not quite what I imagined but it explains the raised eyebrows and mild amusement when I mentioned to Oana that I was traveling by train.
Awesome: we may die of heat exhaustion but at least the train left on time 🙂 …my seat mates are an older couple that speak no English and a younger lady that does but is totally occupied with staying cool cool cool and her Iphone.
I say ‘Hi’ and she gets up and leaves, heading down to 2nd Class where the aircon is working and takes the last spare seat.
Dammit, wish I’d thought of that.
It’s super hot today (Europe’s having a heatwave, not a tropical heatwave, but a heatwave nonetheless…) and being sealed in this train is not fun at all so far as the drippy layer of whole body sweat slowly dries out and my poor self acclimatises to the oven-like heat in this 2 carriage glass coffin.
Even the locals in First Class are suffering from heat fatigue and they ask the Conductor about it.
He shrugs and walks back into the air conditioned drivers cabin.
There may well be a murder yet.
It’s baking out there!
Let’s try distraction.
Train travel allows for the rare luxury of writing and going somewhere simultaneously and not having to drive!
The landscape flashing by is much like where I come from (🇦🇺 Australia) and strangely familiar: expansive rolling hills and fields of mown green grass fringed with low trees blurring to groves of stone fruit orchards – nectarines, cherries, peaches – flicking to expansive stubbled deserts of dry straw haystacks pebbled with brown-green hay bales flipping to endless green and yellow seas of sunflowers 🌻, all wilting slightly in the summer heat, heads down like an old man having a snooze after a big dinner and a snifter of brandy.
What is surprising though are the number of small hamlets and marginally larger towns dotting the way – every few kilometers there seems to be a new little village with a tall steepled church and a little railway siding, a few tall red brick or metal and concrete grain silos, and little red roofed 🏠.
So many villages!
It’s super duper rural in places though and here the sunflower fields and tall corn literally seem to vanish over the horizon.
At each level crossing, the train 🚊 lets loose a blast or two of its tinny whistle – a somewhat half hearted and rather breathy “MEEeeeep…” – to shoo cars and carts and the odd cow off the track (by causing them to roll away laughing I expect)
So what the Hell am I doing on a train?
I’m in my way to Cluj Napoca, Romania’s 4th largest city but I’ve decided to travel by train via Oradea ( in the North) and then cut through the mountains ⛰ to see what’s what – I should be in Cluj by 10pm.
So 6 hour train ride and free sightseeing tour! Yay!
Let’s go live!
Ticket inspectors move through the cabin, punching tickets and checking ID – I’d been warned about these guys and I think I have everything in order. Surprisingly they give only a cursory glance at my photo ID and printed ticket so after a quick hand written notation by the inspector, they move on.
*More than a little disappointed I think that he couldn’t find anything wrong with my ticket or credentials and so couldn’t fine me.
He’s not done yet though and gives the older man across from me a hard time about his ID and a bit of an argument occurs about something (I know not what) and THEN has a crack at the older mans wife.
There’s are mildly raised voices, wavy hands and pointy fingers as it escalates to when they get issued a fine (i think) – in any case they get handed another type of ticket by a satisfied looking ticket inspector and they are not happy about it.
The man digs out his wallet and pulls a few extra bills out. Hands it to the Inspector, who writes out a new ticket and gives it to the man, who is still not happy, and gives he Inspector another mouthful.
I’m getting flicked in the face by the sweat off both men’s wildly waving hands and the argument continues – I’m trying to ignore it and typing this up as they argue about 2 feet from my face.
Something is dripping on my neck, and I look up – a bag in the rack over my head has sprung a leak – other passengers and a sloppily uniformed conductor, in his red hat and poorly fitting uniform, see it and try to find where it’s coming from.
Of course they point to my stuff first.
Uh no sorry guys – my water bottle is in the opposite luggage rack. It’s this black pipe here that’s leaking, not my bag.
So they fluff around and surprise surprise – it’s not my bag, but rather leaking condensation from the aircon pipes – the aircon that apparently doesn’t work.
At least the drips on my neck are cooling me down.
The older couple across from me are having a moment. He’s in trouble.
Poor guy. I’ve been there. He’s stuffed up and his wife isn’t happy, gazing quietly out the window as hubby tries to explain what happened. I’ve heard that tone many times with my own parents when Dad did something silly and Mum had the shits.
Hell I’ve used that tone myself.
“It’s not my fault” , “I did check the ticket”… or ineffective words to that effect.
“Hmmm” says the wife, quietly gazing out at the scenery.
She stares, he explains, the train stops at and they get off at Vinga barely an hour into the trip.
My new seat mate is an older lady with bags of shopping, and wants to chat but I’ve had to revert to Google Translate as I dont speak Romanian and she doesn’t speak English.
It’s working so far, well I’m assuming it is anyway.
We fumble at introductions, fail, and settle in for the next few hours.
She shows me some pictures of her daughter, son and a new baby. She’s going to visit them, she mimes.
“I’m a stupid tourist, travelling around Romania by train” I mime back to her, and show her some photos of my family. She smiles – I don’t think I had to explain the stupid part.
Now what? I’ll take some photos for this blog!
The slim youngish mother lady across from me is getting the shits with me taking pictures out “her” window, scowls and points out my own window – a clear ” this is my window, use your own”. Even my patented dumb tourist smile does nothing and she scowls each time I look out her window.
“I’m just taking photos of the countryside!” I try to smilingly explain.
I try to mime “I’m just taking photos of the countryside” but she just glares and points at my window.
It’s so not worth it so I turn my back as best I can. I take photos out my window, directly into the blazing sun.
We are heading slowly north towards Arad and the scenery breaks into flat farming land but now with factories scattered instead of silos.
Lady Shittypants has gone and found the ticket inspector and has complained about me taking photos out her window – he comes over and asks to see my phone (as I’m typing this) and so I show him – no big deal. He wants to see the video and photos I’m taking.
“Ok. Sure. Here tis! Fill your boots”
So I show him: unlock and hand him my phone – he flicks through my photos and the few seconds of video of the town I took just when the train whistled.
I can’t see the big deal really. Neither can he – we look at each other and shrug … Meh? Meh.
All you can see is what’s outside window in bright sunlight and dark foreground figures in silhouette.
He turns and shows the lady what’s on my phone, she looks across at me with snake eyes and says something quietly in Romanian to the guy …then he comes over and asks me to delete the photo and video.
Suddenly she can speak English.
It’s a miracle.
“I ask him to take photos out his own window” she says waving a pointy finger at me, a none too subtle note of victory in her thin, shrill voice.
The Inspector turns back to me.
“Delete, please” – there’s a barely discernable sigh and a subtle silent pleading in his eyes that says – “please… just do it, I don’t want to deal with this woman”
“Yeah sure” says I, big dumb Aussie tourist smile … he holds my phone as I delete the video and a wobbly photo in front of him…
“There you go mate! No problems!”
Satisfied, he returns my phone and turns back to the lady.
She is still giving me a smirky stink eye so I smile and apologise yet again. Loudly, so folks can hear.
“Sorry” says my smiling mouth but my eyes flash “Bitch!”.
The ticket inspector moves on to hassle another older couple about their ticket.
It’s so hot now people are getting weird.
The older grey haired chatty lady taps me on the leg and smiles, and makes that swirly finger motion at her temple : “she’s crazy- don’t worry about it love”, her gesture says.
She points to the Inspector, rubs her index finger and thumb together and winks at me. Ahhhh – he wants a bribe from the older couple.
Same thing happened in Tunisia in ’16 after taking some innocent photos of a big 🌵 at a remote soldiers checkpoint near the Algerian border.
“You! Delete the photos now”
“Sure ! sorry ! See all done! no problems, sirs”
They didn’t check the Iphones Deleted Items folder either…
Screw you lady.
The journey continues..
We stop for a quick smoke break – the smokers leap off for the chance to shave another 15 minutes off their lives and the cabin fills the aroma of rich cigarette smoke from outside through the open doors.
The older lady sits on the floor to try to escape the sun that’s slowly cooking her, but the guard makes her go back to her seat. She isn’t doing too well, and she signs to me that she is 70.
We’ve worked out a combination of sign language and mime plus stilted English and Romanian via google translate, and have found out that her daughter has had new baby and her son is either a chef or manages a restaurant (dammit i can never spell that word first go – it’s a mental block for me – always has been)
The poor lady is not coping well with the heat though so I offer my water bottle, filled from the hundred year old fountain in Unirii Square. Such good water in Timisoara!
We share my remaining water and she drags out a crumpled plastic coffee cup to drink from. I make her have another cup of water before taking a drink myself, and try to communicate again.
It’s harder than I expected (and as I’m typing this whilst conversing admittedly I’m not giving this conversation my full attention).
I bail – it’s too hard – the heat finally getting to me and I disengage, staring absently out the window and almost directly into the sun. My arms and face are burning even through the heavily tinted windows.
Almost at Oradea. A 40 minute stop to change trains and then head to Cluj.
Let’s hope the next leg goes smoothly…we’re here!
Dare I take a photo through the front of the train?
Sure why not…let’s see what happens.
Almost at the station then next stop… Cluj-Napoca!
What could possibly go wrong!
To be continued…