Mick Devine Euro Trek 2006 travel blog


there comes a time in every traveller's journey when the road lifts up and trips you up. the measure of a person, of course, is not in their character when things go well, but in how colourfully they curse when things do not.

I'm quite good at this.

I have little "chats" with God on a daily basis. Most of you know this; some of you, who have better things about which to obsess, do not. I talk to Creator Dude every day ("Dude" here connotes no gender distinction). Mostly in the vein of "OK, you're in trouble for that, you $#%D%$# asshole!" (Followed by crashing sounds, indistinct cries of pain and outrage.)

Followed by:

"Sorry, sorry...I know how patient you are with me and I beg your forgiveness for calling you those filthy names I just said...but can you give me a *^&)&%)*&%$ BREAK!!!???"

Of course, s/he is already giving me a HUGE break, by not sending me straight to Hell with a "Do Not Pass Go" sign welded onto the searing flesh of my backside.

I love God. I'm not always sure it goes both ways..OK, I do, it's just that s/he keeps on %#$@#^%$@%$ TESTING me. Because, you see, I have this condition.

It's called Pride. With a capital "P" and that stands for "pisshead". 76 Pitchforks, poking you in the bum... sorry, I digressed.

What am I talking about? Well, karma reversed itself the past couple of days. I will briefly tell you how, with that mixture of the savagely self-obsessed and scorchingly self-critical you all know and love me for. (Come on, I'm an actor. I know you LOVE me. Please?)

Leaving Chisinau I managed to a) lose my luggage keys b) lose my flash memory. Now, I kept some back-up keys, but they don't include the one for the computer case. Upon arriving in Iasi, an otherwise nice city, the following occurs: a) the first server in the history of my entire life treats me like a foreign interloper. We're talking utter hostility, here. You know those lepers in "Spartacus"? They were treated WELL, in comparison.

Then, there's no net cafe in town. like, none, not where Lonely Planet says, not anywhere. On a tip from the hotel staff I walk 40 minutes to a suburb. Upon checking my accounts there I find out that my PhD committee needs stufffrom me yesterday. But the net cafe a) has no word processing software and b) doesn't read downloads. They have a lot of gamers, y'see. So I'm caught.

On the long walk back a dog runs up and bites me. It's clearly not my night. I score one success; I persuade the reception desk to get the hotel handyman to cut off the lock on my computer case. We have a great conversation while he does, none of which I understand.

In the morning I take the chance of a lifetime (or of a trip, at least) and, in a desperate bid to get to Sibiu during the day and therefore to an email cafe, I elect to take the bus system.

Let me tell you about the bus system in Romania. I am LONGING to tell you about this.

In a few ways, it's quite innovative and cool. There are big buses, micro-buses, and maxi-taxis. They have official times of departure (usually) and advertised prices (usually). They go a lot more often than trains.

Now, there are a few hiccups for the western traveller. First, every Romanian city worth its spit has at least three, if not four, "autogaras", i.e. bus stations. Plus buses don't always stop at stations. The one to Iasi stopped at a Billa supermarket. Finding out which bus to where departs from which station and where that station is takes more than a friendly question at the reception desk of the hotel.

Because they don't ever freaking know.

On the other hand, they were able to tell me the information I'd looked up on the web about getting to Sibiu was WRONG, and that there were only buses to Brasov, and that only at 6:20 in the nosebleed. So, good. That's settled.

In the morning I get a cab and head for the autogara at the wee. He goes to the wrong station, but he appears sincere, I mean he isn't forking me, which would be, like, the tenth time on this tour, so my suspicions aren't so much aroused as in a permanent state of erection. Still lots of time...he rolls me to the main autogara, across from the train station, and sure enough there's the Brasov bus.

Then he drives off with my luggage.

Astute videographers lounging around the central autogara in Iasi on November 24 2006 would have been able to catch rare footage of the Squawking Geek, a species of bird that flaps its arms and down in the middle of a street while being honked at by taxis. One driver looks at me like I'm pus. I mime carrying my bags and indicate that he should follow my fleeing taxi, and return, heroically, with my bags.

As if.

Still time...keep your head affixed, Michael. My buddy Jason knows this part of my deep dark chaotic mind because he saw it when we took a wrong turn heading for the station in Budapest one night, a story heretofore absent from this blog because it makes me look bad, which would be pathetic if it wasn't so hilarious, considering what I actually write and how it makes me appear.

I grab another taxi and head back to the hotel and get reception to call the taxi back. He's apologetic. Tell it to the Sally Ann, pal. Back at the station I delve into the murky world of the microbus industry.

See, there are no big boards in Romania advertising what buses go where, when, and from which platform. Sometimes you pay the driver and sometimes you pay at a kassa. They have a departure time, but if they're full, they go. And unlike Canada, if there are customers who don't it on the first bus, there is no second bus. These are small business operators. They have a certain number of buses, and no back-ups.

In every instance so far, the driver has been a burly guy with whom one does not mess, who is in fact extremely patient and helpful. The driver has to be patient, because along the route (which is supposed to be direct, hence the advantage over trains), people flag him down and ask for a lift. If there's room, he invites them on, for a fee. In this way the bus makes for very good business, if for very pungent aromas on the bus. If you're a citizen who understands the system, it's terrific - you know where to stand on the street instead of going into town and heading for the bus station, or waiting for local transit. If you're the driver, it also means having to say "no room" over and over to people gathered at street corners whenever someone gets off. One woman at an improvised stop pouted so prettily I almost got off on her behalf, but that would have involved walking from Fagaras into Sibiu, which is 65 kilometres, and she was pretty, but...

Now I'm carrying four bags, none of them huge, and I've learned to wedge myself onto these little buses without undo hardship to anyone concerned (except my neck, but that's another story). The problem is the uncertainty. I had no idea in the morning if I'd find the right bus station or the right bus, and if I did, what time I'd get to Brasov, and if I got there, which of the two Brasov stations I should go to to find a bus to Sibiu, and when that bus (if it existed) would depart, at what price.

I could have taken a train, but that would have been easy.

I get into Brasov six hours after starting, around 12:30. Look at the train times..tempting. You can stand up on a train, inhale fresh air, even visit the toilet (at your own risk). Buses are little wedgie factories. Once you're in, nothing moves. But I refrain from the train and find a bus leaving earlier than the train to Sibiu, negotiate my way on in front of a huge crowd by playing Wide-Eyed Canadian - come on, there was one seat left - and off we go. All in all it's nine hours on buses and my butt, what there is of it, hurts.

Karma isn't finished with me yet. The theatre folks in Sibiu have neglected to make a hotel reservation for me so I embarrass myself at a hotel reception desk. Finally that gets sorted out and I trudge out to a new hotel (I've stayed in several in Sibiu, where I work a lot). No one at the reception to greet me. It's like people are phoning ahead, saying "listen, this guy is having a bad day and he's feeling sorry for himself. Pile it on!" Finally after I wave my arms (somewhat different than the Squawking Geek, but within the same sub-species)) a lady comes out and gives me a key. To the "second" floor (that's the third floor in Canadian). The lights are out. I feel for the lock. These people don't appear to have that many guests.

Whack out an abstract of my dissertation for the folks in Toronto and put it on a CD, hoping against hope that....nope...the net cafe I go to in Sibiu doesn't have CD readers. When I find a cafe that does, my file has mysteriously vanished from the CD. Those people who phone ahead are GOOD.

Which leaves me here, files unsent, learning (again) the value of patience (and re-learning my deficiencies in this area).

I'm learning, Creator Dude. Promise.

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