RAILROAD, n. The chief of many mechanical devices enabling us to get away from where we are to where we are no better off. For this purpose the railroad is held in highest favor by the optimist, for it permits him to make the transit with great expedition. — Ambrose Bierce
A train to somewhere from Asia to Europe – the yin and yang of travel.
Vietnam – Trains packed tighter than sardines in a can. In first class, windows are open hoping to catch a breeze to lighten the stifling air – cushioned seats are full (wooden benches in 2nd class) – aisles are filled with passengers, perched in a near fetal position on a child’s plastic stool. The 6″ area behind the rear seat shelters a body, curled up on a woven straw mat, toes peeking out.
Boxes are filled with crickets, snakes, roosters and God knows what else. The food car serves up cupfuls of slime, something that would tangle our fishing line in a still warm lake.
India – Smiling, friendly, religious zealots, who kissed our toes and touched our foreheads. Merchants cruised up and down the aisles hawking every item imaginable from sarees to nail clippers – 6 beds to a room with no doors on a full train.
Eastern Europe – Backpackers galore, train cars from 2 person personal sleepers to a 100+ sleeper car with no air and sweltering heat poaching our skin. Generic.
Europe – Cushioned seats are full and that is that – no poachers. The air conditioning hum can hardly be heard it runs so smoothly. Windows closed. No color, sterile… vanilla 😉
The absurdity of the brain – In Vietnam we imagine the cleanliness and civility of European train travel. As we traveled west in Europe we longed for the lively stimulating train travel in Vietnam. Go figure…
North out of Bucharest we run into foothills and the mountains of Count Dracula fame. The train to Moldova reminds me of checking out an ad for a 1960 Lincoln. It advertises, and has, leather seats, stereo, power seat adjustments, convertible top, dash clock, interior lights, floor carpet, etc. it’s all there, but nothing works! It’s a 55 year old train car worn thread bare.
We travelled with about a dozen Mormon kids on mission… either going or returning to Moldova. They are pleasant, tolerant of the foreignness and motivated.
We had to deal with two drunk laborers who paid the conductor to sneak on…… they were in our compartment, then others, then the passageway for a couple of hours.
At dark it was dark. There were no city or house or car lights….just dark fields.
At the Moldavian border we actually changed wheel assemblies. The gauge is narrower in Moldova so the train pulled onto a siding which had a series of hydraulic lifts, and each car was lifted and the assemblies changed – seems it would have been easier to walk to another train.
Sun rise brought in to view a lush, ripe green landscape…… rolling hills in meadow grass and wild flowers and ripe fruit – no fields of crops at first though, just meadow land and grass hay.
Then we notice horse-drawn carts, men cutting hay with scythes and individual wells in front of houses… each with a rope and bucket to retrieve fresh water.
We had not been in Chisenau, the capital, for five minutes before we ran into a man who pulled out a torn and tattered English dictionary, saying: “someday I get green card….go America. Moldova too corrupt. Here almost no jobs….people make $150…..$200 per month…..get nothing. People go to Russia to work because Russians only drink…..but no good”.
Ignoring Syria and Egypt, We have personally witnessed protests in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria and the Czech Republic government was ousted in June. Romanians say their country is just corrupt….. and of course it is trying the art thieve’s mother who can’t decide if she did or did not burn the $60 million worth of stolen art.
The power grid in Moldova looks like the trains, and all the abandoned industrial buildings…..old, tired, too small. Ineffective and too expensive to replace. The people by and large are thick, solid, inexpressive and unhelpful. It is hard to blame them, but ain’t no one else gonna’ pick all these people up.
So far though, the natural beauty is world-class.