She’s Got a Ticket to Ride for Fifteen Hours to a Different Country: Welcome to Hell Train Part III

Welcome back one and all to me making a month long description out of one week in October. How are you? I am currently well myself. I am feeling quite giddy in fact. Spring break is coming to my school in less than a week, and during spring break my romantically entangled person and I will be making an excursion to Lisbon Portugal. During this excursion there will be much seeing of sights and relaxing in seaside cafes or whatever it is that people actually do in Lisbon. It being a vacation to a lovely and entirely new locale I am going to do my best to explore and live life to the fullest. This does not translate into lugging around a laptop and tapping out records of the past. I am hoping to get both this post and the next one published this week, before I go yet another week without hitting my self imposed deadlines. Wish me luck. Anyway, with current events out of the way, now it is time to delve deep into the thirteen days of Halloween.

Towards the beginning of October or maybe even a little earlier, word had filtered down to us from the top that fall break was going to begin right on the orange and blackest of days. This gave us ample time plan a vacation of suitable spooktastic entertainment. Our final plan was to get together with one of our American coworkers and then travel the great land of Romania seeking sights suitable to sustain our substantial searches for strangeness. We were psyched to get on with the first leg of our adventure. Little did we know that our first bounding steps into the wild would bring us face to face with what has since lovingly been monikered as Hell Train.

Freed from our scholastic bonds, we packed up our things and made our way for the international train station in the center of Budapest. The common misconception in our group was that unlike an airport, with its myriad security measures and other delays, there would be no need to arrive early to a train station. The issue with that line of thought was that buying tickets turned out to be a greater test than anticipated. We were generally unprepared for the amount of difficulty that would arise from our attempts to give money for services. The big issue was that the international ticket salespersons were not anywhere near the domestic ticket vendors. Instead they were at the opposite end of the building with a line spanning the time of two network sitcom broadcasts. Needless to say we missed the train we had planned on taking, but there was no need to begin worrying. The next train would be along in oh say four hours. Unfortunately, all of us travelers live far enough away from the center of the city to make it impractical to regroup at home and wait out the deadline. In addition, missing the first train had made us paranoid, so rather than straying in search of entertainment, we spent the entire time lounging about in the station with a bottle of wine.

Let me make special note here if I have not made this point clear in the past. The European approach to open bottles of alcohol is a beautiful thing.

Several hours and a few bottles of wine later, the general consensus was that it would behoove us to ascertain from where our means of exfiltration would depart. The optimist in me assumed that this would only require a short perusal of the arrivals/departures board. In true keeping with the adventurers’ curse, the letters and numbers on our tickets didn’t seem to coincide with anything going on across the board. Bear in mind, none of the three of us spoke more than fifteen words in Hungarian, and we likely understood fewer. Keep this in the back of your thoughts as this little linguistic fumbling point will come into play more than a few times over the course of this trip. We experienced a sarcastically joyous shift in situation from having all of the time in the world to having precious few minutes to settle the hectic confusion. The time of our departure was crawling ever closer and panic was beginning to set in for if we missed this train the party was threatening mutiny. Attempting to salvage events, we went to talk to the woman at the information desk. She was unsurprisingly somewhat less than informative. We asked what we assumed was a simple question, “What track is our train going to be on?” I believe she understood the concept of our queries, but refused to answer them in practice.  Essentially being shooed away from our last source of assistance, we proceeded to run up to every train which arrived and ask what its destination would be. Eventually we received a half hearted and mostly Hungarian answer from a tired looking porter. We boarded the locomotive and began our voyage in earnest. Having planned to leave in the afternoon, no one was more surprised than us when we actually left closer to midnight.

Next Stop, Brasov!

Fifteen hours on any means of transportation is never what you would call a comfortable experience. However, when you combine more than half a day in cramped quarters with external extenuating circumstances, the experience can turn downright heinous in nature. In an attempt to negate as many negatives as possible we did acquire comfort of a cabin. Said cabins seated six which left us sharing accommodations with two Hungarian travelers. Us Americans were in high spirits once we finally confirmed that we had boarded the correct train, and we laughed and joked with each other for the next few hours. It became apparent from the smirks on the Hungarian’s faces that they understood more than a few words of English. Conversations were struck up and wine was shared. While we didn’t exactly strike up lifelong friendships with them, it was our great fortune to pass the time with pleasant company.

As I continue to set the stage for the grand descent into suffertown, I would like to elaborate on some lovely extenuating circumstance. In our great hubris we brought something like three bottles of wine to ease the pains of travel. Water? No thank you, fish make love in it. With the foresight of a fruit fly we neglected any other form of sustenance whether solid or liquid. Either reasoning that we could purchase goods on the train or just failing to contemplate that problem at all. Autumn was upon us, and we were on track towards some pretty hefty mountains. Because of the falling temperatures some unknown hero at the train company decided that the best way to keep passengers nice and comfortable would be to lock up every single window to keep the encroaching chill out of everyone’s tootsies. Locked them up nice and tight with weird square bolts that I could in no way interact with for good measure. Don’t want any of that cold air getting into anyone’s cabins. Then just to make extra special sure that no one could even contemplate the visage of that old scamp Jack Frost the heaters were placed at our disposal. Those heaters really worked too. So prodigious were these heating apparatuses they produced a surplus of heat, so much they were just giving it away. Buy one ticket get a free case of heatstroke absolutely free. These deals are absolutely crazy and we’re just giving them away! We’re even giving you the illusion of choice by giving you a climate control knob. Try not to touch it though, because the only settings are heat and oh sweet Vishnu why is it getting hotter. Don’t sweat it, unless you have working sweat glands, in which case you are probably going to sweat over everything; just uncontrollably sweat. Sweat for your life quite literally! The evaporating skin moisture is all that prevents your body from becoming a pressure cooker and slow roasting your innards to a golden brown. You see, the name for Hell Train originated less from the minor inconveniences that arose during our journey but more from the train’s uncanny ability to replicate conditions present on most white dwarf stars. As evening pressed its sweating heaving mass into night, events took a turn for the feverish. A mixture of dehydration, the ingestion of wine, exhaustion, and the inexplicably inescapable heat sent me on a winding flight through, around, and over consciousness with nary a hint of personal control.

I finally fully returned to a state resembling sentience a little after dawn, feeling as though the Sahara had taken up residence in my throat. With spirit reuniting with body I sought refuge from the oven that had mistakenly been labeled as a passenger car. It seemed the gremlins who see to the security of all portholes peering out of Romanian locomotives did actually make a mistake and allowed the mobility of one such edifice. There seemed to be only one window in the entire car that wasn’t locked. Situated in the narrow hallway, it opened inward to allow for a total of three inches of heaven granted respite. In my best defense against boiled brain soup, I spent every hour I could stand huddled up next to the source of refreshing oxygen.

From that flaunted vantage point I made my survey of the world passing by. It may just have been my life flashing before my eyes, who knows. The flatlands gained a sway, decorated with villages no greater than farms every few kilometers. The villages grow in size to small towns radiating outwards from the white church spires reaching heavenward along verdant backgrounds. The farther east we travel the more the hills roll and rise to meet then overtake the train on either side. The land became more generous with its hues. The fall crisp of air has cut into the trees that populate this land. At speed the dead and dying leaves blend to blood red and vibrant orange waves moving as the tides.  We are being flanked by nature’s splendor. The hills crest into mountains before we spill out into the waiting valley. The land is tall and grand. We have breached the Carpathian Mountains.

Carpathians.jpg

I have one last episode of note before we leave the train behind. A few hours after we had arisen from our broiling slumber, so did a man of mythical anger. He was a soul of such constant agitation that his angered cries were clearly perceptible from the end of the train car to the other. We were nearly five cabins away from him, but his voice managed to sound as though it emanated from inside my own head. To be fair to this man, he did seem to have legitimate grievances to air. A bellowing voice, howling out at the world in Romanian, he alternatively yelled at his phone, at his cabinmate, or at the uncaring fates in the air about how he needed to get a lawyer. The Hungarian in our cabin was relatively versed in the language which filled the air, and she was kind enough to inform us of the madness which would have otherwise passed us by. It seems that the angry Romanian had been arrested for some offense. It is hard to think how a man who could be heard clearly from twenty meters away at five in the morning could possibly run into issues with the law, but stranger things have happened. To add a cherry of madness to the unending cacophony that this interloper presented, he kept going on and on about how he was either beaten or bitten and so he had some kind of legal case to be argued. Yes, bitten or beaten, our impromptu translator was at a loss as to which, and really at this point the mystique is too great for me to choose. To really belabor the point, this man began screaming about his many troubles as the sun graced us with its loving presence and finally decided that he had adequately made his point when the train arrived at Brasov no less than six hours later.

There weren’t really any surprises that Hell Train had left for us. We had but to endure the tests that had been pressed upon us. Beset through all senses, we awaited our salvation. Time alternately slowed or quickened in an attempt to greater disorient me. But, like that we were released. We had reached the promised land of not being on a train. As the train slowed to a rest at our destination the cabins emptied of their weary wards. We were released from the sauna and everyone who stepped down from the train breathed many an audible sigh of relief at their liberation.

Thanks for sticking with me; these posts seem to be dragging longer and longer each week. There’s a lot to say, but I am also populating these posts with extraneous chaff. I’ll see what can be done about this as I move forward with this blog. Tune in next week folks to bear witness to how Halloween happens in Transylvania. Until we digitally meet again, good day, good night, and good reading.

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