Sunday, August 14, 2011

Finding my way to Romania

Victoria prepared a simple meal of pasta with pesto and fresh grated parmesan cheese to which I added fresh tomatoes, we took some pictures, chatted a bit more and then I packed my bags. I boarded a tram and a bus and duly validated the last of my transit tickets and made my way to the Keleti Train Station. I comforted myself that the script on the signs was not in Cerullian (as I’ll find in the Ukraine) and that if I calm down I would be able to sort out the right train and track. I did and found the right assigned seat. Soon a mother and (adult) daughter and then a mother and (adult) son joined me in my compartment. They were all returning to their homes in Romania. I told them I was returning to mine, tooJ There was a closeness between the 50-something daughter and her mid-70s mother that seemed especially sweet. They wore the same style of shoes and would frequently hold hands. When we arrived at the Hungarian border town Biharleresztes, an official looking woman inspected everyone’s identity cards. She grabbed my passport and left. I got a little scared as I saw her and two uniformed men examining it. Had my incident of running away from the Budapest subway police been reported? Would I have to pay an additional fine for not having paid the first one? After an interminable wait, my passport was returned and the train continued into Romania. Then in the Romanian border town of Oradea, the same passport swipe incident ensued. In that I’d never before set foot in Romania, I imagined they somehow knew about my Romanian ancestry. Perhaps my grandfather had stolen away illegally and I would have to pay reparations. Again the passport was returned without incident and my train ride into Romania continued. As I watched my first Romanian sunset, I felt this sweet warmness, consider that endless generations before me might have witnessed the same view. Around 10 PM we arrived in Cluj Napoca wherein I had a three hour wait to catch the train to Iasi, the birthplace of my grandparents. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who look like me. In that Romanian is a Romance language which draws from the same roots as Spanish, French and Italian, suddenly I could follow much more of what people were saying!

I wandered outside the train terminal and got some lei (cash) from the Bankoautomatico and a snack. I chatted up an English speaking woman who grew up in Moldava, went to school in Romania and now lives in Atlanta. She tried to help me get a sleeper car for the next (night) leg of the journey. They were all sold out and I travelled with the Romanian proletariat in a crowded car with barely room to stretch my legs. Unlike the trains I have taken on my travels in Africa, India, Latin America and Asia, there were no food vendors... Fortunately I'd packed some fruit, cheese and bread, otherwise I would have arrived very hungry. As we neared Iasi, vendors of trinkets appeared and an elderly man played a violin for tips.

Arriving in Iasi, I felt supremely homeless in my homeland. I'd been unable to book a couch surf, had neglected to book a hotel and thus had to wing it. I had a cab driver take me into the center of town in front of a basic hotel that was listed in my guidebook. It was sold out. I then proceeded to wander towards the town square and found the Hotel Astoria which was a bit out of my budget. But when they told me there was air conditioning, endless wifi and breakfast, I succumbed. After weathering the proletarian train, I certainly deserved it!

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