--Sunday, 25 April 99--
Getting around a city that you don't know by public transportation that
you don't know can be fun or nerve wracking, depending on how much/little
you know -- and your luck.
I had decided that whatever the weather I was going to Sinaia today. I
had made the same plan when I was here last year but a friend had stopped
by and one thing leading to another, I had a very pleasant time but didn't
get to Sinaia, that 19th century resort of Romanian nobility, nestled
in a valley in the Sub-Carpathians. It is also the easiest day trip from
Bucharest and the resort of choice in the summer months for those who
can afford to flee the heat and humidity of Bucharest.
I awoke at 6:30 am and after the usual ablutions, I was on my way to Gard
de Nord. But what was the best way to get to the train station? I could
walk which would consume some time or take the Metro (underground) and
make a connection I hadn't made before. I chose the latter. It wasn't
too difficult; when I was confused I followed the largest group of people.
I arrived rather expeditiously, especially considering it was Sunday morning.
The woman behind the thick glass of the ticket counter was quite helpful:
when I couldn't understand her rapid fire numbers, she wrote them down
for me and I would say, "Da!" For 40,000 lei I had a ticket,
but which track (linia) would the train leave on? I tried to read my ticket,
always a risky business in a foreign country. It said Sinaia all right
but beside that it said 9:27 and I was sure the woman had held up 8:54.
I checked the schedule board and couldn't find any 9:27 am trains so I
searched my ticket for other numbers. Then I found the 7:54 and realized
the 9:27 was the arrival time in Sinaia.
One problem solved, one to go: which track? Beside the 7:54, the ticket
said "cu trenu R374" and I knew that "cu" meant "with"
so the train number was 374. From the schedule board I learned that train
374 left on track 8, so off I went. I confirmed my assumptions by offering
my ticket to a conductor who was on platform 8. He said, "Car One,"
in English. So much for trying to pass as a local. I guess real locals
would never ask such a dumb question.
I found seat 94 on car number 1 and relaxed, feeling like a real traveler.
I looked at the furnishings. They seemed very nice for a 2nd class compartment,
neat cloth seats, etc. Then the conductor came in and looked at my ticket.
"You have a second class ticket and this is a first class car,"
and pointed toward the head of the train. So that was what the "1"
on the car meant!
I moved forward to put my class in line with my ticket. There was no one
in the compartment with seat 94 on the next car. I saw a "2"
on the wall and figured that I had found 2nd class. The seat coverings
seems a cut below the first car so I guessed I had found my station.
I settled in for the 90 minute trip across the plain that surrounds Bucharest.
The train left the station and quickly left behind the drab concrete apartment
blocks that are everywhere in the city. Soon the view was of Spring green,
of newly budded and rapidly growing leaves who pace was much assisted
by the nearly daily rains. Beyond the green at the edge of the tracks,
flat, green fields stretched for as far as the eye could see. The freshly
plowed fields were brown with newly turned earth. Here and there, broken
lines of poplars and other trees marked the roads.
The Moldovan I met on the
train to Sinaia.
I went into the corridor to gaze out the other side of the train. A man
holding an unlit cigarette came up to me and mimed the need for a light.
He had a trim appearance that seemed athletic. He was about my height
and his hair was sandy blond; his eyes were a light blue. He had a lovely
smile that revealed a fine set of teeth, whiter than his very white complexion.
I found some matches and lit his cigarette for him.
He seemed friendly and we tried to talk. We quickly established that he
didn't speak English, Romanian, French or much German. Then he said "Moldova"
and I guessed he spoke Russian. From there we pasted together a conversation
out of snippets of English, German and Russian. He was on his way to Prague
to work as a "zoo-engineer" which was his college degree (he
showed me). He asked about Yugoslavia and I mimed a tear and let him decide
for which of the many reasons for being sad I wept.
He showed me a picture of his mother, a blond woman in her 40s with a
stern expression on her face. I showed him my personal
card with my picture at age five. He asked if it was my son and I said
"No." He looked at the picture again and then, in shock, raised
his hand pointing at me. I said, "Yes," and he broke out laughing.
We chatted further and he told me that his hobby was photography. I said,
"Me, too," and stepped into my compartment and brought out my
camera. He posed instantly for me and I framed the image around his face.
He signaled I should wait and went to his compartment, returning with
a camera and flash attachment. I gave my whimsical pose and he took a
picture of me. I could tell from the adjustments he made to his camera
that the knew what he was doing as I could from the 50 pictures he showed
me in a binder.
I regretted there was no time for our patchwork conversation but we were
pulling into Sinaia and I had to leave. I looked back at the train as
it pulled out of the station and then turned toward the hilly city and
wondered how I would find the castles without a map.