I left Csikszereda on Saturday for Serbia. This involved a long involved train journey the likes of which I hadn't done since I was a young and dirty interrailer. First to Brasov by "Accelerat". Accelerat is a category of fast train in Romania which is not as good as an Inter City or a Rapid, but is still much faster than a "Personal". Yes, the slow trains in Romania are known as "Personal"s, possibly in relation to them stopping for everyone. Shepherd's hut next to an empty field? Probably we ought to have a station there. After that an Inter City to Bucharest (which in fact although newer and fancier was much less comfortable than the Accelerat). Then I had 5 or 6 hours to kill in Bucharest so I wandered round looking at the city. Can't say I was tremendously impressed, although I did quite like it after dark. One day I'll spend longer and enjoy it as a city rather than as a tourist destination.
From there it was off to Belgrade on a 13 hour "rapid" international train. Most of the journey actually takes place in Romania, and we only got to Serbia & Montenegro at about 7 or 8 the next morning. I had a "couchette" to reflect my enhanced status since my inter-rail days when I would sleep on one of those benches that kind of pulled across and hoped all night that no-one else would want to come into the compartment. (That was on good trips. Once I slept in the corridor near the toilets. Not one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I have to confess).
Things you notice when travelling by train in Romania: 1. Most people don't bother to buy a ticket, and instead bribe the ticket collector. This is done in a comically "discreet" manner, which I noticed on the very first trip and then subsequently with 75% of the other people around me on all the trains. I guess this makes train travel much cheaper, and helps the ticket collectors out no end. I have no idea how you'd go about stopping such a practice. 2. Kids by the side of the tracks give the train the famous one-finger salute. What happened to those far off innocent days when children would happily wave to the train as it rattled by? 3. Despite the bribery practice, the trains still seem to run on a classlike basis. On the personals you get drunk guys and farmers who smell strongly (and y'know ordinary normal people too). On the Accelerats you get fewer of the Chavs as I believe they're now called in England. Maybe there's a sliding scale of bribery and you're expected to cough up more on the higher speed trains. Who knows?
Once we had gone "south of Brasov" (see earlier post for more details) I found myself pathetically happy whenever I got sniffs of "home". I heard someone speaking Hungarian on one train, and on another I saw someone reading the local Csikszereda paper (Harghita Nepe). Then after leaving Bucharest for the west of the country we passed a goods train each wagon of which was stamped (something like) Statia de Domiciliul: and the name of a town. I'm sure I've spelt that wrong, but it means something like "home station". This in itself is fascinating enough, that goods wagons have "home stations" and are not itinerant wanderers, the hobos of the rolling stock world. At the end of the year do they all have to go home for Christmas so that they can be counted up and checked that one of them didn't make a break for Bulgaria or somewhere? Anyway, we passed endless wagons that had made their home in Cluj Napoca, and then, suddenly, there it was- Statia de Domiciliul:Miercurea Ciuc. It was from my town! One of my homeys. I was so excited. It was somehow better than the standard Cluj wagons. More proud and resolute. Even it's rust seemed more earned, more real, than the University-town over-educated foppish wagons from Cluj.
Anyway, I'll tell you all about S&M when I get around to it. And I might cover Serbia and Montenegro too. Ho ho.