stinkyman… (2 carriages : 1 bitch part 2)

… so where was I?

OK. Oradea.

Stunning place.

I step a long half meter down to the platform – Ms Shittypants has waited til last to leave as well. We carefully avoid eye contact as we hit the concrete: thankfully she is quickly lost in the crowded station.

The station is tiny!

Pushing through the milling throng waiting to get on the train, I headed for the ticket and information office to find out about my connection – due in 35 minutes.

Luckily it’s seems quiet and no long queues.

The arrivals and departures are in Romanian – pfffft no dramas – Google Translate nails it but I can’t see my train listed.

IR263 from Oradea to Cluj-napoca.

Nothing even close.

Ok…

So what about the clicketty clack board showing the next 4 arrivals/departures?

Not a sausage.

“Dammit!”

Where’s my connection?

I line up at the Information window and wait my turn quietly (Romanians are the best at queues, like Canberrans only better).

Finally I get to the window and slap my ticket up against the glass.

“Salut !” says I merrily, with the now patented dumb tourist smile. “which platform is IR 263 to Cluj please?”

The lady damn well eyerolls me!

She looks at the ticket, looks at the train about to leave (the one I just got off) looks at me and says “that one – platform 1 – you have 1 minute!- GO!”

“FUCK what!!!!!!”

“Merseeeeeeeeeee…” I call as I run out the door into the platform and can feel her second eyeroll penetrate my back like a bullet.

I sprint to the train as the doors close but my tiny brain monkey πŸ’ “ooks” at me…

“Oook! Hold on a tick…”

I stop and run up to the poorly uniformed unshaven guard at the door, already knowing that he speaks no English. I show him my ticket and point to the train just about to leave.

“Da? Nu?” I ask.

He shakes his head “nu” and I run back inside to the ticket counter.

“The guard says no” I tell the lady.

She eyerolls me a third time and jabs a inch long bright red fingernail at the train on platform 1.

“Why do you mean he said no. THAT one!” and stabs a finger again to the train I just got off.

Her drawn on eyebrows almost pop off her head, she raises them so high.

“FUCK! / oook! ” say my brains in unison.

I run out and punch the green open door button on the train door and move up towards first class, back to where my seat was.

There’s a new lady sitting there now, but someone well dressed and under 40 so English hopefully!!! I smile dumbly and show her my ticket.

She says kindly, as if speaking to a child “let me see…No, not this one…”,

“I should get off?”

“Yes you need to get off”

A whistle blows from the platform.

“Merseeeeeeeeeee!!!” I call over my shoulder while running at the door, punching the green button and jumping off just as the train starts to move.

*Bet she eye rolled me, just quietly.

Now alone on the platform, I take a long breath and blow it out like the steam train I wish I was on.

“Whew that was lucky!”

Now what? Do I book another ticket? Is there another train?

The train pulls away, and I wander inside just as a clackitty clack starts clackitty clackiting just above my head and I glance up.

The sign changes slowly, like a spinning wheel on a old fashioned poker machine, but instead of fruit or cards it is spinning letters and numbers.

Sure enough… one character at a time, IR363 : 17.55 clicketty clacks into view on the board. Platform 3 in 20 minutes.

Perfect.

Time for a quick wee, so I wander up and pay 1 leu for the privilege of a 10 second wee in Oradea, then buy a Romanian knockoff Cornetto for 3.5 leu and find a spot on a square wooden planter to sit quietly and contemplate the next leg of the journey.

Quite interesting so far! I should take trains more often!

Munch munch munch on my fake Cornetto.

I notice an odd smell; sniff at my armpit and shirt, then discretely scratch my ass to check if I’ve somehow shat myself.

Nope, not today!

What’s that sm….

<something in Romanian Romanian Romanian> mumbles a voice in my ear, and I turn to see the filthiest man I’ve seen in quite a while carefully place a steaming dirty paper cup on the bench behind me and move to take a seat next to me.

In my head I hear the buzzing of many flies.

He smiles through a mask of grime and tries to strike up a conversation, but it’s no use – I’m tired and hot, but even sign language won’t save this chat as the smell is overpowering, like a dead cat dipped in dogshit and left in a plastic bag for a week.

I apologise and wish him good evening in my bad Romanian ( buno siΓ©ra is as close as I get), shook his hand (wish I hadn’t) and headed for the platform just as my train pulls in.

Excellent timing!

I check my carriage number against the hand written sign stuck to the train window; a lovely lady in a white dress and floppy wide brimmed hat, dragging a zebra suitcase and looking like a Parisian cafe dweller punches the door button and struggles with her bag – I help her up the half metre step up … (of course I do πŸ˜‰ – I’m a gentleman)

“Merci…”

“No worries…”

She turns left and vanishes to the posh end of the train and I head right for cattle class and an unexpected surprise…

The train is lovely!

A second class ticket gets me a window seat and working aircon, the carriage is virtually empty and the group across from me are deaf so it’s practically silent except for the gentle slapping of hands as they sign to each other.

It’s also cooler as we climb into the mountains, just now following the course of a large river. It’s absolutely beautiful out my window, but nearly 9pm : a total shame it’s getting dark just at the best part of the journey.

The remainder of the train journey was lovely – darkness whipping by outside my window, coolΒ  aircon, quiet cabin, and that gentle regular clicketty clack, clicketty clack that puts you to sleep putting me to sleep πŸ’€.

I recharged my phone and didn’t make eye contact or mime with anyone.

Ahhhhh…..

So what next? 10 minutes from Cluj, Then a short half hour walk to my Airbnb in the Old City ( yeees I’m treating myself) where my host is waiting to let me in, and I’m going to sleep in a comfy bed and not a hostel for a few nights.

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, nothing! My new digs are slap bang in the middle of the Old City, and it’s a quick 25 minute walk from the train station last some of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals and statues I’ve seen yet.

The apartment is super small – almost like a tiny house but it’s perfect : quiet, comfy and just enough room for one.

The host meets me at the door, hands me a key and buggers off, so that’s it!

I’m out for the night, 12am.

Gnight all.

Exploring Cluj tomorrow!

** yes I know my tense is all fucked up. I’ll edit it later. I’m tired.

2 carriages – 1 bitch…

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.

So…?

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 πŸ™‚ …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 (πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί 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 β›° 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.

Uhoh.

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.

Dammit!

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.

Nothing.

I try to mime “I’m just taking photos of the countryside” but she just glares and points at my window.

Meh…

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.

Great.

We are heading slowly north towards Arad and the scenery breaks into flat farming land but now with factories scattered instead of silos.

Ok wow!

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!

Orodea… breathtaking…

Not really.

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…

a day at the museum 2…

Audio Tour locked and loaded!

Deciding where to start was the hard part. The audio tour recommended several options – a 2 hour “greatest hits” tour of the big ticket items, a random walkabout tour where you could punch in the exhibit numbers for a commentary, and a full guided A – Z tour.

Or you could just wing it.

There are approximately 38000 items on exhibit in this wonderful museum that take you from beyond ancient Egypt up to post French Revolution.

This link gives you a lot of useful info re visiting this wonderful museum and is well worth a look (also it saves me typing) —> Louvre Guide.

Now the problem with any of these options is that there are literally hundreds of people with these audio tour devices, doing the same tours, at the same time, at the same pace which equals big crowds at key points along the way.  If you want to jostle your way to the front to get a nice pic of the Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo then fine, but I was already tired of the crowds and I’d just walked in.

So I did the logical left handed thing and went the opposite way : essentially doing the audio tour backwards and manually. Surprisingly it mostly worked and I avoided the worst of the crowds and at some times had entire galleries to myself.

Starting in the Denon wing, I wandered through European sculptures and found myself lost in exquisite works by Michelangelo, Donatello and the other ninja turtles, and by the end of that I was completely adrift in time. Gone. Out to lunch.

I’m not even going to attempt to recap everything but wandering the Grand Gallery, examining works by Leonado da Vinci, Raphael, Gainsborough, Goya, Botticelli, Carravagio, Reubens, Rembrandt, Delacroix…other Spanish Masters, French Masters, Italian Masters…so many more all up close and personal – (my GOD the art is amazing) – and exploring the sub basements of the Louvre were my absolute faves.

Then dove into extensive Egyptian collections (more than even the Cairo museum and so well curated), artifacts from Africa and the Middle East, Islamic art, French Art, Near Eastern and Egyptian art, Italic and Etruscan antiquities, Roman, Greek, Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

I’d walked many kilometers already and traveled thousands of years through time, but I hadn’t even scratched the surface. My mind was humming.

*heiroglyphs and their translations. This was apparently some junk mail.
*zombie animals!!!! I mean mummies of animals.

**zombies would have been so cool also.
*extensive papyrus collections. This was an early sext message.
*the finest sarcophagus collection I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen a few now.
*ancient broken things.
*early hunting porn.
*french women – they also classify as a work of art just quietly. Dear sweet Lord, French women. It’s not ALL about the artworks people. Jeez.
*Archangel Michael vanquishing Satan – by Raphael – this was mesmerising and I stared at this for far too long. **This ones for Meg.
*a whole lot of dicks (better known as King Leonidis at Thermopylae). I did NOT stare at this for ages.

**Dicks and the naked male form are common themes in the Louvre. Be prepared for uneasy questions from the kiddies and uncomfortable silences from the spouse.
*more Goya than you can poke a stick at.
*some Rembrandt guy.
*a prolific Camille Corot. Seriously this chick churned out work.
*this lovely but overrated creature. The real one. I trampled an old lady to death to get this close.

*tourists doing stupid things in front of classic paintings – like re-enacting them while people are trying to appreciate them.

**MANY people wanted to hurt her badly this day.

***Her “Crucifixion of Christ” was flawless though.
*Footloose Latrec.
*drunken party animal selfies from ye oldey days.

All these and so many religious artifacts, icons and artworks that even a hardcore athiest like myself started to believe in God. Almost.

But I’d barely gotten started, I was getting tired and dizzy (skipped breakfast to line up) as it was 2pm so I had a quick bite of lunch in the ground floor cafe: going for a tasty baguette, a bad coffee and some people watching for a while.

As luck would have it, the French President was touring that day and so the place was in lockdown for a short time over lunch as he toured parts of the building. An enforced 45 minute lunch break restored my equilibrium. 4 man Army patrols covered every entry and exit while other squads roamed the crowds. Snipers looked down on us from the top floors and every angle was covered by serious men with big guns.
IMG_6103.jpg

So naturally I stepped up to the balcony, whipped a camera out of my bag without thinking and snapped off a few shots . Then I remembered the snipers, froze and quietly shat myself.

It’s not all about the art as I keep saying. There are tours of the Louvre itself, delving into the subbasements and the early history and construction of the complex from medieval fort to today.

Up above, there are Napoleons apartments, King Louie IV’s apartments, Marie Antoinette’s apartments, restored ballrooms, gilded dining halls, royal silver collections and snuff box collections and cameo collections, and every inch of the walls and ceilings covered in gold, exquisite artworks and antiquities from the ages.

There are so many beautiful works here though that the crowds largely ignore in favour of the big ticket items : The Winged Victory of Samothrace (below) is barely mentioned, as is The Virgin of the Rocks. The Dying Slave. Liberty leading the People. Orphan Girl at the Cemetary. So much more and right under your nose…and away from the crowds.

*The Winged Victory of Samothrace (or the Goddess Nike of Samothrace)
img_5939*A typical ceiling – always look up in the Louvre.

IMG_6047.jpg*Orphan Girl at the Cemetery by Delacroix

The big tickets items like Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo are always super crowded –

img_5944

But there is so much more in this room and people just stream past most of it. Opposite the Mona Lisa is this, for example – you might recognise it.

img_5943-1*Yep its only the Last Freaking Supper. Mind blown.

**I’d hate to dust in this place.

or how about the Sword of Charlemagne!

Or how about Napoleons Chambers and Dining room (the highchair is up the back)

I stumbled out of Napoleons apartments 11 hours later with my mind completely overwhelmed by the wealth of history and art that I’d tried to cram into it over the day.

That’s right 11 hours  – I exited at 9pm –  and I hadn’t even come close to seeing everything let alone appreciating it all. I’d walked 17 kms according to my iPhone Health app and also had to change the little audio tour device over twice as I’d run 2 sets of batteries down.

So I guess the point I am trying to get across is that if you plan a trip to the Louvre, an hour just ain’t gonna cut it. Take your time and explore properly for at least a day if not 3 even. It so worth your time.

Exhausted and mentally drained I retreated to the hostel via Cafe Du Comedie for a red wine, a cigarette and then bed.

End of Day 1.