Category Archives: Romania

All things “train” from a hobo’s lens

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rooster in the box.

Rooster in the box.

In between…

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.

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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.

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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 ­čśë

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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…

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Zigging North

Bill blogging...

Bill blogging…

We are on a train bound for Moscow, but will get off and turn left at about midnight, in central Ukraine . That should be fun, because for sure we will have to roust some foreigners out of our seats, and they won’t be happy at Paige!

This train has what it advertises, including live plants in the passageway…… undoubtedly because it is headed to Moscow or Moscow “owns” it.

I’m telling you the farming families work hard… and live in a fairy tale land. My version of Jack and the Beanstalk had pictures of this bucolic, pastoral valley which gave me a good feeling oh so long ago and the memories still do. Well, this is that!

At dark one doesn’t see lights in the farmhouses and villages, but cooking fires… imagine. There are a few, very few, onion domed church spires, dirt roads, flocks of ducks and geese bedding down and as the gloaming fades, ever-darkening shades of green.

It gives every appearance of an agrarian peasant society, perhaps just above subsistence level, with the rotting hulks of failed industrial efforts lurking in the fore and background. Maybe it is all still fall-out from the end of the central government and the planned economy. I wonder which one these farming families would choose?

Further afield the hills grow to mountains which get a lot of snow, which feeds the rivers. I must say again it is beautiful.

Paige is going crazy because this train has a/c, so the windows don’t go down, so she can take no photos. She’ll get plenty of chance tomorrow though……in L’Viv Ukraine.

Onward to Moldova

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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.┬áThey 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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

On the Rail from Bulgaria to Romania

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The number of abandoned buildings along the tracks grow. Because the language and alphabet are foreign, not Latin-based, we don’t talk or visit much – or read the signs or newspapers.

The railroad guys are thick! Their arms are like tree trunks and necks to match……. I think there was an Olympic wrestler from this area who was huge – maybe Greco-Roman.

There are more dirt roads, and storks in nests on many abandoned industrial chimneys. The grain has been harvested and the straw is in windrows – that stuffy pungent hay fever odor permeates the train.

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We crossed the Danube. Interestingly there was some industry and a power plant on the Bulgarian side, but just ag. fields on the Romanian side. The fields of sunflowers and corn continued….with a little alfalfa. The fields got bigger and the horizon further off in the distance. It was flat. The Romanians burn their fields…… like Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico and some in Carson Valley. At this magnitude the impact is real.

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Bucharest was really fun. It is a romance-based language…. some claim the purest Latin derivation.┬áThere is a lot of French and of course Russian and techno vocabulary. The city has a real and pleasant railroad station. Downtown is a mix of serious architecture, along with new and abandoned. The banks and government buildings are almost baroque…. Buff and strong like the people.

Old and new

Old and new

Of course the country is still coping with the freedoms offered after the 1989 revolution and the world economic crisis. Prices are cheap. Wages are cheap. The people are quiet and introspective but the city gardens and the stores are colorful and lively.

We’ve seen many Detroits in Eastern Europe and this is just another one…..but they seem to be trying.