I like travelling by train, I like the fact that trains are on the ground, you can see what you are what you are passing, you can move around, the seats have leg room , you don’t need to go through the hoops of airport security where your toothpaste or water can be tossed in the bin and trains go very often from the centre of cities.
I have had enjoyable, generally comfortable and interesting trips by train in Europe.
When I started researching for this trip I came upon the blog of an oft cited travel writer who said not to travel by train as they were dirty, you were likely to be robbed and they took too long.
I was incensed as this seemed very precious and was not my experience and after all I would not be in a hurry.
So the DYI Orient Express
My first trip, from Istanbul to Bucharest, was certainly interesting, the train was not dirty and at no point did I ever feel I would be robbed.
Then 2 trips of 2 hours in 2nd class – Bucharest to Brasov and then Brasov to Sighisoara.
The first was confronting. I boarded the train at Bucharest to find myself as only person in the carriage except for an Orthodox nun who shut her compartment door firmly. I was helped onto the train with my bag by a man with magazines he then wanted money. What I offered was not enough, he kept repeating ‘4 children’ I upped the amount slightly and he left. Then a procession of men appeared offering to sell me magazines, ‘Marie Clare’ ‘National Geographic’. They left quickly, then 2 men each offering to sell me an Iphone. Again they left easily. Then a man dragging himself along the floor appeared so I gave him some coins adding to less than $1. I later saw him walk briskly along the platform.
Train left station and still no other person in the carriage. I was beginning to reconsider my decision to travel 2 class. Then boy of about 17 appeared and opened bag and put collection of items on a spare seat, cotton, needles, lighter, matches, pens etc. He then disappeared.
I was becoming a bit paranoid at this point. Then young conductor, dressed in uniform, appeared. I pointed out items on the seat. He looked cross and asked when they had been put there. He was surprised when I said after train had left station. At that point owner of items appeared and conductor grabbed him and said nicely ‘I am going to kill you’. The boy gathered up items and left with the conductor.
Conductor returned and explained that with high unemployment and no disability allowances people had to earn money somehow and these were items or magazines that train travellers might need. He obviously knew the sellers and tolerated them to a certain extent as long as they did not frighten passengers.
I then felt somewhat ashamed. I have had little experience of tipping, only in restaurants in Australia so I am a novice at tipping in countries where even those in employment rely on tips to live. The first man had shown me the carriage, put my bag into the train, steps are quite high and lifted my bag on to luggage rack. Of course he expected to receive a tip. All I gave him was the equivalent of $1.70 even after haggling.
The magazine sellers and boy were trying to make some money. They were persistent but not threatening.
After considering all this a youngish man appeared selling raspberries attractively presented in baskets and cups. He offered me a taste using a new toothpick. I bought the raspberries after haggling the price down which he took in good part. He was wearing a t shirt with Wellington New Zealand on it and also the word Warsaw. The meaning was lost on me. I got over my thing about clean fruit as I had learnt to wash fruit in plastic bags using my water. Raspberries tasted delicious and he appeared and
left good humouredly 3 more times before I reached Brasov.
This morning on platform at Brasov an older man with station master type cap offered to help me find the right carriage, he also offered a local woman of similar age as well. She agreed so I followed suit and he pulled both our bags and lifted my bag onto the carriage. He then motioned for payment but she spoke to him forcibly and I left as she kept on at him. I later saw her on the train.
And I only came for a pleasant train ride not a challenge to my views.