The International Writers Magazine: Winter in Romania
Peter Robert Dew
It is always the same the first time you visit a new place. A
longish flight or two, a wait for the bags, fingers crossed and
then thanking yet again a God none of us believe in, everyone
has got everything. So straight into it, a melee, a brouhaha,
a hubbub, a fight over which taxi. Not us fighting, but the cabbies,
attempting to out do each other in the Fleece the Tourists Stakes.
A kind of primitive race day. Money to be made and safer than
gambling. So we are forced into bloody currency conversions, all
very glad we took maths at school and can count in our heads.
Euro, Lei, Kroner,
Dollars (Aus. for this story) and Pounds. The Romanians insist on giving
all prices over a certain amount in Euro, while refusing to tell you
what this is in Lei. This may be very handy if you have Euros or know
what a Euro is worth, but having just removed a couple of million from
the cash machine I am guessing these beauties are not Euros. Oh stuff
it! Weve all had enough, lets get out of this hellish place!
Pointing, poking, prodding, preaching, and, hell do. Finding out
afterwards that you have paid four times the normal price. Well, it
was to be expected and its still cheap. Promising ourselves that
this will never happen again, we get gradually better over the next
few days, almost feeling Romanian. The only downside being that you
can not smile in public and the Western European clothing tends to stand
out in what must be one of the last bastions of mid 20th century fashion.
The cabs got us where we were going at least. Straight to the train
station and another fight. Over us! The rush, is it rush hour? Its
raining, and there are a whole trainload or two of people in the queues.
Nothing is in English, where shall we stand and then mister helpful,
again, ripping us off. Still cheap we philosophise and we just want
to get the hell to where we are going. Queue here, now there; we will
have to check that again sir, and all the stupid, no, moronic bastards
down here with their watches on, phones in pockets, wallets in pockets,
belts on, handbag in hand. Its a metal detector stupid. These
people, no matter what they are, are not terrorists; they are just stupid!
Not liking to generalise, of course, some are actually quite intelligent,
and pleasant, as we were to find out during the week. Just not the majority!
What a train though! Compared to these modern trains that get us everywhere
quicker than we actually want to get there and are so clean and cool
and trendy, Romanian trains still have a touch of character, class,
an anti-modern bravado if you like, plus a rather interesting aroma
and cheap beers. And you can smoke on them! The only rule seems to be
that one must show a bit of respect for your fellow passengers, which
surprisingly nearly all the smokers did. Step outside the compartment
to smoke and whats the problem? Really? Didnt see anyone
getting lung cancer on the way to the toilets? Another thing I had forgotten
about trains was that it used to be possible to open the windows. These
people, Romanians that is, still trust one another, and themselves,
not to stick their heads out the windows to have a look around! Hence
windows that open are still allowed! Crazy I know, but rather refreshing
with a bit of fresh air now and then. Gets rid of the cigarette smell
as well, which I admit in enclosed areas can be rather, well; smelly,
gross, disgusting, obnoxious, can a smell be obnoxious?
Something to note though; the Romanians did seem to have a lot of respect
for their fellow man; I am not saying that they were not rude, dirty
and obnoxious, (this time in the right context) because they were! But
they didnt seem to have that I am better than everyone else here,
snobbish bullshit attitude affected in western countries.
Almost getting ripped off, (got to watch the sneaky buggers, although
I think it was less than 50 cents?) buying platform beers on tap, makes
us all smile, skål, noroc, cheers! The groove is found that will
last for the next nine days, incredible to say but almost no arguing,
fighting, bitching or sniping in the next week. Could be the prices?
At less than a buck a beer, (I think? Still getting used to converting),
what is there really to get upset about? Well, the lack of drugs perhaps?
Probably just as well, we said to ourselves at the end of the weekend,
after asking just about every person we met if they had drugs. The looks
on the faces of some people made you really glad you couldnt understand
what they were saying. We got a lot of skiing in instead of partying
all night. Smuggling drugs into Romania just doesnt make sense
no matter how good a relaxing joint in the evening is! Not to discourage
a visit, I am sure that there are plenty of drugs in Romania if you
get lucky enough to meet the right people. We just didnt have
the luck, the time or the energy, and one can live without! (Quite well
Back to the train, that still hasnt left, I have been rambling.
Lots of friendly Romanians trying to help you with your bags, if you
are old or just pissweak then this could be recommended. Think we gave
our guy a rather measly sum, about 5 cents or so. I would have felt
a little guilty as this guy obviously needed every cent, but then you
can not help everyone! He got something and it wasnt like we had
asked him to help us, ardently discouraged more like it. A bit of rationalisation
there and thanks anyway mate, you know who you are. So a quick dash
down to the platform shop, another ten beers and some very interesting
chip flavours, well interesting for someone that doesnt often
eat chips, not that I ate any of these either but the names amused me,
for a while. The beers were much more interesting from a personal perspective!
Warmish surprisingly as they came straight from the fridge, or quite
chilled once informed that the fridge was not turned on! Strange people
here, but it is cold outside and at a bit less than one dollar if I
calculated correctly I can handle warmish beer. At least we got the
Romanian beer. Was somewhat of a shock to be informed on the way to
the station, (Aussies will always ask the question!) that the taxi drivers
favourite Romanian beers were Tuborg and Carlsberg. I am pretty sure
he knew they werent Romanian at least. Can you recommend any Romanian
beers then please sir? And Ursu it was, although I think we tried most
of them in the end. Besides being financially viable, the Romanian beers
were also hangover cheap. I do not remember anyone having a blinding
headache any mornings; mind you I was blind most mornings so
Back to the station and the train has started moving, we are off. The
international train to Venice, hope it is the right one? Sure, I checked
the board! Confident Pete! It is only three stops and we are there!
No one believing me but they have got beers and chips, we have our own
compartment and you can smoke on the train, (if only we had some green)
what luxury, well stay on board and hope. Three stops later, halfway
there and having already made sure the train is going the same place
as us (half right?) it is time for more beers. Come on! We are on holidays,
from Norway and the beers are cheap. Need I say more! Five cars down
to the restaurant though and the train is packed. Not everyone can afford
to travel second class obviously, although sitting where we are sitting
now I cannot imagine anything better. First class probably takes you
the whole way to Vienna and provides you with a new life, job and Austrian
citizenship. Problem being, no one that really needs it can afford it.
Next station (No.4 already? Have we gone too far? I do not have a visa
for Hungary!) I jump off and mumbling something to the conductor, begin
a five car sprint along the platform. Well not really a sprint, a fastish
jog. Halfway there and I hear someone yelling something in a language
that could be Romanian. To be quite honest it could be anything, but
as I turn and see the conductor frantically waving, I make the logical
jump in my mind. No time for contemplation of my unique dexterity of
thought as by the time I have thought this and got around to thinking
about what he might want with all the yelling and the whistle blowing
the train has started moving. Another logical jump, the train is leaving
perhaps? Fortunately the doors are still open and I manage to grab one
as it goes past. Right, better to struggle with the crowds than to be
sitting in the middle of a Romanian nowhere town as the sun goes down!
Ten beers please sir! A curious look. But, with the language problem
and all, there is really no use explaining that there are five of me.
Well, us, but then he might think I am just making up friends to hide
the fact that I have a drinking problem. It is all so complicated in
a foreign country! In the end I say nada, get the beers and struggle
back to the warm and cosy atmosphere of friends (they do exist, thank
god I was beginning to doubt myself) and second class. Upon reaching
Brasov (stop five or six in the end) it becomes apparent that five or
so beers on an empty stomach will make a H___ rather giggly, but thats
ok. Easier to fit the five of us in the four seater cab with three sets
of skis and 90kgs of bags, girls being, as is well known, quite squashy
when half gone. Until of course halfway up the mountain (only 16kms)
disaster strikes! One needs to go to the toilet. Not me, but rather
a nicer way of referring to the one that needs to piss, as in: One member
of the party found the pressure being brought to bear upon the bladder
simply unbearable and began to express a desire to submit an application
for urination. What? H___ was asking for a piss stop. Not surprising
really, being squashed into a space that I would hesitate to entrust
to a three year old, could possibly bring quite a lot of pressure to
bear. Well that and the five beers aforementioned. But as mother said,
you should have thought about that before you got in the car!
cars in Romania, following the recognised Romania fashion that is
to be found throughout most of the country, are still stuck somewhere
between 1950 and the present day, a bit of a hodgepodge if you will.
This particular cab was tottering up the hill at a steady rate of
about 25kms an hour, it was dark, had started snowing, the
suspension was hitting the roof
in short there was no way
we were taking a piss stop. Please forgive my lack of faith but
that cab was never going to get going again! So its;
Hold on mate!
Oh yes you can.
No, I really cant!
And then the helpful Romanian cabby had to put his two cents worth
in with a;
Shall we stop for the lady?
A definite yes from
under the skis in the back seat, and an unequivocal and resounding NO
from the rest of the car as we felt the cab begin to slow down. The
matter was settled. Pissing would occur upon arrival, and as often happens,
no sooner than it was decided, we arrived. All in one piece, a little
pissed and, speaking for myself rather anxious to see how accurate the
internet description of our cabin would be. It turned out they had understated,
something we were all rather pleased about, if a little shocked. Well
until we woke up to no heat and no hot water. But four double rooms,
two toilets with showers and a little kitchen, plus three TVs
which only managed a single half hour between them in the next 8 days.
Must be some kind of record? The hot water was fixed by day two or three.
We were right next to the slope. There was snow. The beer is cheap.
Have I mentioned that? And best of all a great bunch of people along
(another two turned up the next day), a new country, language, customs,
not that the Romanians seemed to have many left after the commies. Bastards!
The commies I mean, although some of them were probably good blokes
as well, it is just so hard to hate! It kicked of like this and got
better. A week later we were struggling but no one was complaining,
© Peter Robert Dew March 2005
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