July 23, 2016
11:30 p.m. or so
I don’t even know where to start or how to put this into words, but Romania charmed me the second I crossed her border! Long fields of corn ready to be picked, the silks browning, miles and miles of sunflowers in full bloom, their faces in unison; the most gorgeous sunset; wells still in operation – a bucket lifted and locals drinking from it, filling their water bottles; buildings in beautiful decay.
I am absolutely SPELLBOUND.
Why, why, WHY do I only have two days here? I clearly wasn’t thinking and this is the price we pay for trying to do so much in such a brief amount of time.
I have coined my “deep auburn” hair color “Romanian Red” as I saw no fewer than four women board the train with it. So funny.
The border crossing was unnerving as usual – stern passport control officers on both sides of the border, with thick shoe heels that click loudly as they walk through the train, with no patience for my passport cover.
Worse, the morning train from Budapest to Debrecen was late. I was to have 20+ minutes to change trains. Imagine disembarking, five trains flashing red on the marquis, signaling that they are about to depart, running through the station – the platform had changed, charging up the stairs with all of your gear and seeing the train there but being unsure if it is the right one. Knowing you have only seconds.
In that moment, as I was tearing through the train station trying to catch the train to Romania, I was grateful that I decided to lose the rollerbag this trip and bring a backpack instead. I suspected I’d have to be agile, and I was right. The backpack saved me. There, I said it. (Happy, BackpackMr?)
A woman standing on the platform was also looking confused. Police chatted with a young lady and there was no one else to ask. So I asked the woman on the platform, “Baia Mare?”
And she looked as terrified as I’m sure I did, then lit up. “Baia Mare!!!” She exclaimed happily. And we both climbed aboard. I am not kidding you, the train pulled out no more than 10 seconds later.
These trains wait for no one.
I think there is only one such train per day and I would have been stuck in Debrecen overnight. But, off we were! My hands were shaking from the worry and adrenaline, then a conductor checked my ticket and I asked if he spoke English. He said, “A little,” the standard response, which usually means they speak English better than most Americans. “Please tell me I am on the right train!”
He assured me I was, and that everything was okay. I hadn’t even been sure of where to sit – I was not assigned a seat, unlike my morning train, and all seats were in cabins, so I had just picked one.
I took a deep breath, put the window down, and hung my head out of it for the full day of travel from just after noon through 10:12 p.m.. I enjoyed every second of the ride with the greatest view! With the rich scent of wood burning, I watched the beauty of Romania unfold outside my window: pastoral farm fields…wandering goats…dirt roads and horse-drawn wagons…. Untrimmed trees thwacked the side of the train, threatening to whip my cheeks as I peered out. I can’t even tell you how many times I was narrowly missed!
I ate baguette and salami on the ten hour trip, oreo cookies and a non alcoholic grapefruit beer that was amazing. I drank at least a liter of water, and peed just a thimble full. All of the food and water I had carried in my pack, knowing dining cars are rare on some trains. Good thing – there was none on this train.
I was covered in sweat, and the cabin got unbearably hot at every lengthy train stop.
But, OH! The magic of it! Wooden steepled churches punching holes in the sky, then bluffs, not unlike home. I knew in a heartbeat I could have stayed here a month alone.
I fretted about finding money and the hotel for far too long as I anticipated my arrival, then decided I would walk from the train station because the weather is so divine, cool and inviting and Romania seems so safe and tranquil.
I was swept away with deep gratitude, tears in my eyes, when the biggest, cottony dandelion wish came flying into my cabin window and nearly touched me, then flew out the other side of the train. It reminded me of my father who recently passed. Amazing how I still miss him, even in the midst all of this.
I arrived at the train station in Baia Mare, which was filthy, unwelcoming, graffiti-covered, and stinking of urine. What?? It shook me from my dream state. I stepped in a puddle and knew in an instant what I’d done. It hadn’t rained all day.
After scoring some Romanian Lei currency from an ATM, I used Google Translate to ask directions to the hotel. A cute young man (there seem to be many here, perhaps something in the well water?) said it was too complicated. And sometimes you just have to trust. So out the window went my plans to walk. He took me to his friend who drives taxi. I knew 1/2 way through the drive that it was the right choice. The hotel was on the other side of town, no kidding. I tipped him on top of a $27 lei fare; oops, must have tipped too much, as he seemed VERY grateful. Ha! Oh, well, he was cute too.
I read the hotel sign that said to use the intercom to come in after hours, but the door was unlocked, so I walked up three flights of stairs to an empty check in desk. With no sign of anyone, I walked back down and used the intercom anyway. Sigh.
A nice, middle-aged man came to the door, and helped me check in. He seated me in the restaurant on the first floor, as he ticked away on an old adding machine and filled out some paperwork. We exchanged few words; neither of us spoke the other’s language, and Google Translate helped us bridge the gap.
I still owe him $40 lei, darn taxi. 🙂
I peeled off the sweaty clothes I’d been traveling in since early morning, and took a shower immediately. It felt like heaven.
Now as I write this, it’s nightfall. I’m looking out my room window over the rooftops and a charming church steeple, listening to the voices echoing through the hillsides in a language I don’t understand. And it is beautiful beyond description.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
One thought on “The Eastern Europe Diaries: Romania”
You seemed like you really had a good albeit short time there. I really believe there is more to explore aside from the more popular touristy spots and if you really want to get to know the locals and their culture, it is better to veer away from the usual path and create your own. Romania is definitely on my list of places to visit!
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