Striking out from Sarajevo, on my own. That was a big step. I hadn’t realized the gravity of the situation I was voluntarily injecting myself in until it was too late to go back. On board a bus full of folks that knew not a lick of English, heading to a city in the Balkans that I knew nothing about. In the rain, as we moved further and further from the coast, the traffic signs quickly switched from pronounceable to impossible. Cyrillic. Looks like a bowl of Spaghettios all clumped together.
Belgrade, a city dominated by block buildings and concrete palaces reminiscent of state universities in New York, was a waypoint on my travels to Bucharest. Rain clouds met me there, and from the warmth that I was shown in Sarajevo another wholly different experience greeted me. My impressions of this city were of friendly and beautiful people that somehow tolerate the vastness of the depressing lego-shaped metropolis. Blah.
It was only when I arrived in a small town named Vrsac, on the border of Serbia and Romania, that reality began to sink in. Fresh off the bus, and into the station I went ready to buy a ticket to Bucharest. My momentum was visible, as I was ready to leave this country. The nice lady at the desk spoke not a word of English, not a word. Hand signals and charades, the preferred method of communication in a land of broken tongues and impossible syllables.
Oh dear. Maybe you just said it wrong. I mimed a picture of a rectangular bus, and pointing the boxy vehicles outside to emphasize my explanation.
“Karta, ticket, Bucharesti, molim.”
“No no no,” waving her finger at me.
I snapped around on my heel, searching for some help, a young guy on the bench adjacent the window on his phone.
“Excuse me, is there a bus out of this station to Bucharest?”
After a rapid series of exchanges between the two natives of the town, he shook his head and said there is never a bus out of Vrsac to Bucharest.
Oh, that’s awesome news. The folks in Belgrade were all so confident that Vrsac buses to Bucharest came and went every thirty minutes. Figures.
Sighing, “Okay, how can I get to Bucharest?”
“Uhh, choo choo.” My translator was making a churning motion with his hands,”Choo choo.”
“Train, right. That can take me to Bucharest?”
All I got in return was a shrug as he was putting his headphones back in his ears, obviously intent on blocking out the world.
Wow. Gotta love Serbia.
Turns out that the rail station is on the complete other end of town, and with 35 pounds strapped on you, its a nice little workout under the beating sun. The conversation at the train station was strangely similar to the bus station, however the teller did help me make a connecting route to Bucharest, though it cost me ten more Euro to do so. Worth it, but I did have to wait seven hours for the train to arrive in a deserted bus station in the middle of nowhere.
The train station was quite literally a museum, unintentionally of course. Cobwebs and dusty floors, wooden doors that stand twice as tall as I, Austro-Hungarian architecture and a failed attempt at a paint job, as the plaster crumbles down to nothing in places leaving it look more like a bomb shelter than an public building. Vrsac, at one time, was home to a large amount of wealthy merchants, though now its a forgotten stop, among many in the Balkans, to larger cities like Bucharest or Belgrade. The platform, as seen below looks like it just survived a barrage of mortar shells, but perhaps it gives the place its character – cleanliness and perfection can be really lame sometimes.
Four hours in, hungry and unwilling to shoulder the pack for a jaunt to the supermarket, I sat thinking in a puddle of my own anxiety and misery of the coming train ride. All I have heard of Eastern European trains was typically negative. Broken down pieces of scrap, with horrible seating arrangements and even more horrifying toilets. I was warned by a German girl in Belgrade, not to fall asleep on the train, lest you get mugged and not know about it, she called it adventure. Excellent.
I spoke out loud in the train station to no in particular. “Keep me safe. C’mon, this sucks and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not even sure if the guy who sold me this ticket knows what’s going on.” Talking to myself seemed to calm me down a little and I managed to sit on the hard bench without my leg bouncing up and down.
Its funny how things work out, why things happen and when. It was when I sat down and stopped worrying, when I lived now that help and guidance came in a most interesting mode nearly an hour later. As I was watching Bourne Supremacy on my computer, quite alone and trying to burn time I hear a voice come out of nowhere. Its certainly not Serbian, its English.
“This here the train station?” The voice asked.
Afternoon sun was blasting through the doors and into my eyes, this English speaker was a silhouette with a vast circle of light around him.
“Uh yeah, yeah.” I answered haphazardly. “Where you headed?”
“Well, Bucharest but there ain’t no teller.”
“I’m Bucharest too.” I couldn’t believe my luck. “Train leaves at 1830, we got oh…” looking at my watch, “two and a half hours. Should be a teller coming in about a half-hour, you can buy one then.”
“Well, I’m glad I ran into you. I was searching this place up and down left to right trying to find the entrance. Actually, I arrived on a bus and they told there’s no bus to Bucharest.”
I chuckled and shook my head, agreed and made my introductions. Traveling the world, Rus is a Western Canadian with a good ole accent and a plenty of good stories. He arrived in front of me in a time of need, and one can only think that he was sent to me form some unknown power, that’s at least what I think.
The train ended up being electric, smooth-lined and fast, and completely unlike any I have seen since. In the words of Rus, most of the trains around these parts are “clickety clacks,” beat up old junkers that get you from point A to point B, certainly no Oriental Express.
At seven the next morning, we arrived in Bucharest. End of the line. Rus and I ended up joining up for a bit, got a hostel and kicked back.
Life is good, this story is over but I will keep on writing. I have plenty more to come.