Romania 2009: Predeal

I got to the station and mostly by sign language, managed to get a ticket back from Brasov to Bucharest, which was good because I meant I wouldn’t end up stranded in Transylvania.

Then I had nearly an hour to kill before my train. I sat in the little park opposite the station, wandered around the station and finally got on the train. I found a compartment of my own and was joined by some Americans or Canadians. They were glad I didn’t mind English-speakers because they would be talking all the way. Then a Romanian came in and showed us that we have an assigned seat and that while the conductors don’t care if you’re even in the right wagon, you may have a fight with someone if you’re in their seat, so we all moved.

In my correct seat, I did what everyone else was doing and read a book. But the train soon began to empty and I looked out the window. I soon realised that Romanian trains are nearly three times the length of the platform, so if you’re in, for example, wagon 14 of 14, you don’t get to see what station you’re at until you’ve gone past it, and often there are no signs to tell you where you are anyway.

I was under the impression that whatever else is wrong with them, the trains are pretty much on time. It said on my ticket that I was arriving at 12.49, so I was waiting by the door and when we stopped at 12.54, I stuck my head out to make sure it was a station and other people were getting out and not just a place where we had to stop and wait for a signal or another train. It was a station. I jumped down (the bottom step being about four feet off the ground) into long grass and stones and walked two thirds of the length of the train to the platform, praying that the thing wouldn’t start moving until I was well out the way. As I walked, I saw a sign and between the posts, I could see the last three letters were EAL. Even I with my nonexistant Romanian knew that wasn’t the way to spell Brasov. I had got off at least two stops early at a place in the middle of nowhere called Predeal.

Once I’d reassured myself that the train back would be stopping here and I wouldn’t be either stranded or have to waste the day trying to get either to Brasov or Bucharest, I found the tourist information centre right by the station and they gave me some maps and suggested a couple of walks up into the mountains, three hours each. That would take me right up to my train arriving, so I thought I’d just wander up to the foothills of the mountain.

I followed my map and gradually became suspicious that the map didn’t match what I was seeing. Eventually – and I’ve never ever done this before in my life – I discovered I was following the map upside-down.

I went back into town and sat on a shady bench on the hillside before going down to look at the little craft stalls where I bought an enormous chair-leg-style pencil, a wooden box and a green carved flute. I wandered up and down the town, climbed halfway up a mountain and sat by the road looking at the view and being amazed that I was actually there, by myself, up a Transylvanian mountain.

I came back down and went in the Orthodox church, assured by a Romanian at the door that I really was allowed in. It was amazing inside. It was covered floor to ceiling in paintings, like I’ve seen many times before but these were so bright and bold they looked like cartoons.

I was at the station early so as not to miss my train. The train however had other ideas. When it was ten minutes late I started getting twitchy and when it was half an hour late I was wondering what I was going to do for the night, because the 65 lei I had wasn’t going to be enough for a broom cupboard in Dracula’s castle.

Another Romanian, this one with no English, tried chatting and got me to understand that late trains were nothing to worry about. But that still left me bored and hot on a platform. When it arrived 64 minutes late, I discovered I was in wagon 13, seat 56 and I laughed at the sky for it.

The heaters were stuck on in the compartment and with the sun coming in low straight through the window, it was insanely hot. After two hours, I thought we must be coming up to Bucharest so I went out into the corridor and stuck my head out the window. In fact, we were nowhere near Bucharest and I travelled like that for nearly an hour before the train that was supposed to arrive just after seven finally got in at quarter to nine.

I have never ever been so filthy in my life. This is what happens when you stick your head out of a Romanian train window for a few hundred miles.

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