Halloween V: Hell Train II: Redemption

We had achieved what we had set out to do, spend Halloween night in a “vampire” castle. The grand experience was over though and as we groggily got to our feet the next morning; we still had five days left in Romania. We had blown our Romanian load. How do you fill the better part of the week, when you have no idea of what to do? Well, if at first you don’t succeed, drink, drink again.

Because we are Americans, and thus perpetual eat monsters, our move was to grab some traditional Romanian cuisine. Down a narrow alley and up several flights of stairs to an establishment that promised food and drink we went. It was a lovely pub that delivered on its promise with delectable eats. The wait staff was fun and excited to talk to us foreign devils. There was still some holiday spirit left lying about the place so they decided to inject it into their serving staff, who went about their activities in costume. It was great fun getting our order taken by a skeleton, having the drinks served by a zombie, and bussing our tables was a lovely young man decked out in Rastafarian blackface. Wait what? What the what, with the blackface? Yes I’ll have the fries, but can you hold the racism? As an American who is mostly white but doesn’t think the South should rise again,

I found it infinitely perturbing watching this guy go about his business in full minstrel show attire. Not for the first time was I reminded that Central Europe just does not have a firm grasp race relations with black people. Unsurprisingly there’s not a lot of variation in melanin levels in this part of the globe, and as such they find it hard to wrap their head around racism being seen as a negative my non black people. They go about race relations like black people are from fantasy novels, somewhere between elves and cave trolls. But my friends did describe it as having the best schnitzel in the world, so at least there’s that going for it.

We took our time just exploring all that the bohemian shopping district carefully crafted to relieve wealthy foreigners of their money had to offer. We toured, funnily enough, the Black Church so named for the grand fire which blackened the walls and roof of the religious structure. Crepes of delectable nature were consumed at frightful speed. I bought a Swiss Army knife because I had very little faith in the Romanian transportation authority not trying to slow cook me again. My girlfriend purchased a beret, it’s stylish. As the day went on, the wind chill kicked up and the air went from being crisp to being almost frozen. Everyone is in winter coats and here I am wearing a button up and a t-shirt. Not to be deterred, we braved the cold to quest for liquid refreshment. We purchased a much alcohol and retired to our flat to watch 1930s Dracula in Transylvania and playing drinking games. To complete the theme, we decided that we needed to drink Bloody Marys. The cans of tomato sauce that I believed that I purchased turned out to be cans of shriveled tomatoes floating in red goo. Not to be deterred by a little thing like edibility, we mixed up cocktails that could be described as Bloody Mary adjacent. The night ended as well as expected.

The next day we had one more stop at the crepe place and went souvenir shopping for friends and family. Our time in Brasov was at an end, and it was time to get to our next location. We got on the train, and picked the first cabin that had room. After the train moved on some girls come by and said we needed to move because we had taken their seats, they then proceeded to unhelpfully block our exit thus making it more difficult to vacate their cabin. We meandered up the train to procure a new cabin. When the ticket taker comes by, he takes our tickets and mumbles in Romanian how we’re in the wrong place, however he must have decided that attempting to make us understand how foolish we were was high above his pay grade. He shrugs off the inconvenience and walks away. At speed the scenery is gorgeous. Once we pass the city limits, hills and mountains jut into the sky. The autumn colors decorate as far as the eye can see making the hills appear on fire as they pass by our window. The tall hills turn grey and then disappear into a white cap of snow which then blends into the clouded sky.

We achieved Bucharest and to save money we walked to our Airbnb. Bucharest is a city of interesting atmosphere. The majority of the buildings are of old communist design, geometric to a fault, seemingly designed to discourage individuality or excitement. Oppressively dour is a way I would describe parts of it, and what a lovely hue of depression they invented to go along with it. It felt like a place where boiled cabbage would be considered too spicy for native tastes. Perhaps it was the oppressive sensation radiating off of every concrete surface or perhaps it was the activity of the last few days but we ended up crashing hard at our flat. It was a strange sort of vacation away from our vacation, Bucharest. We would get up in the morning and like infant birds wearily clamor for sustenance. Sluggishly we ventured forth to what remained of old town where the most expensive food and drink could be obtained in tourist friendly themed establishments, being careful to avoid the strip clubs and “massage parlors” every five meters. We would consume meats, potatoes, starches, and all things fried in amounts suitable to power our languid ramblings through the few square kilometers of old town that we could muster the energy enough to peruse. The walking served only a momentary diversion for our minds and bellies, entertaining us so that a few hours hence we could devour and drink again. We didn’t so much eat, as we became one with the gorge. Three full days, this was our existence, with me leading the party out in the mornings and back to the flat ever so much heavier in the evenings.

There was this statue of a naked man holding up a dog though, so that’s nothing to scoff at.

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The next day we left bright and early for Sibiu to see if we could get a little bit more historical before we had to return home. We only spent six or so hours in Sibiu, but it had an amazing old town. All signs point to Sibiu being the tourist capital of the entire country of Romania, and a city with a great deal of history behind it. We went to a Scottish Pub and later a Romanian one because food perpetuates our very existence. We took many pictures.

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Our grand adventure was for all intents and purposes supposed to be over as we boarded the ten hour night train home. However, the spirits of transportation past weren’t willing to let us go without a final struggle. With long journey ahead we had made sure to get assigned beds in a sleeper car. Once boarded, we discovered we had a travelling companion who I shall henceforth refer to as Lord Bed Thief. You see, Sir Bed Thief had deprived me of my sleeping location and was rather asleep for me to make a fuss over. Ascending to the less comfortable top bunk I proceeded to become unconscious with both rapidity and efficiency for what should have been a long and enjoyable rest. What actually happened at 4:00 A.M. was commotion in the car and a conspicuous absence of motion that one would expect from a train. Over the better part of an hour commotion evolved into utter confusion, culminating in all of the passengers being told to vacate the train. Into the blistering pre-dawn frigidity we were herded to a farm cottage labeled a train station. It was very much not Budapest. We were on the Hungarian/Romanian border and replacement busses were on the way to send us on our way. Still confusing but a plan of action it was.

A large luxury liner shows up, and becomes filled with miserable people immediately, filled into the aisles with standing passengers. The bus doors close and then the bus proceeds to very quickly do nothing but wait for the next hour. Continuing the theme, we have no clue as to why. By 7:00 in the morning a second bus arrives and this time my travel companion and I rush the bus to get actual seats for this journey of unspecified length. The second bus fills up quickly too, but runs into some unforeseen snags. A woman named Mustard Pants is one of the last to board the second and presumable last bus. For room reasons, she had to have her bag in the other bus which caused her to experience a luggage meltdown, a fact which she loudly and Americanly made known to the bus. Seeing the necessity for compliance and being yelled at by her friends convinced her to take the path of least resistance.

Then, lastly, to cap off this particular leg of the journey, right as the busses were readying to trundle on a louder and more wrathful yelling erupted from the front of the bus. Who decided that their needs were not being properly met in this whole bargain, why it was none other than Monseigneur Bed Thief himself. The treatment shown to him was unusual and horrifying to his refined palate. To this point, there had been two Hungarian police officers groggily looking over the proceedings, and his wrath was not to be ignored by these simpletons, a fact he made known first to the bus driver and then rather wisely to the two police officers. Proclaiming the illegality of cramming this many people onto a bus, he held on to that point like a token to ward off common sense, demanding to see managers, highers up, or any who should know that Grand Vizier Bed Thief felt such inconveniences. Around the shrieks of blind malice was the missive that if the bus did not leave in five minutes we would miss our connection and the next train to Budapest would leave in six hours. The cranky huddled masses we not willing to extend leniency towards His Excellence during his one man crusade against injustice. Cries of sit down or get out were flung, and Great Chief Bed Thief knew his mutiny had failed. He made sure to stop and take pictures of the police officers and the bus license plates, all the while promising to rain hellfire upon his persecutors. And with that he disappeared into the misty morning, presumably to kick an orphan out of bed before complaining that the comforter wasn’t down. As a nice change of pace though, it was fun to hear a disgruntled Romanian on public transportation yelling in English.

The “illegal” busses took us passengers to the first of two separate train transfers. Inconvenient, maybe, but for the first time in five hours physical progress was being made towards our final destination, I was not about to complain out loud. Seeing its other plots fail to defeat, us the vengeance demon that controls all Central European transportation returned to its old tricks. The heat was cranked to levels that would make magma ask for a fan, and windows locked tight to preserve our essences as they left our bodies. However, I held a talisman of light in this infinite darkness. Swiss army knife in hand, I opened the windows to the literal applause of my fellow travellers. Thus defeated once and for all was the Spirit of Helltrain.

A bus ride and two separate trains later, we finally arrived home at the station a mere six hours late. I complain, but later we discovered that we had actually been the lucky train. The ordeal was caused because the train ahead of us had derailed. All in all, could have been worse.

Well, that was a hell of a saga. I promise that I am finally finished and you my readers are finally free from the month of October 2016. I can proceed yet again closer towards the present. Thank you everyone for seeing this holiday recounting through to its end. Join me next week for something, anything not this. Until then, good day, good night, and good reading.

Halloween IV: Blogsurrection

A party in Dracula’s castle? How could I refuse? When I originally outsourced my fall vacation to the whims of my friends, this was the big selling point and basically the only point of the entire trip that I had any knowledge about. I had decided that a mystery vacation to a country I’d never been to would be a grand scheme. How pleasantly surprised was I when the train deposited me and my party to our first location Brasov. For the low, low price of surviving the tribulations of Hell Train, I was treated to a feast for the eyes.

Founded in the early 13th century by Teutonic Knights, the city was perfectly positioned to gain economic and political and influence, due to it being situated at the middle of trade between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. This affluence helped the city to grow into the impressive place that it is today. It is not hard to recognize the old world beauty of this town. Resting in a valley, like most cities in a mountain range, the city is overlooked on all sides by lush forested mountains.

It is a city which is proud of its heritage with a great number original medieval buildings still standing in the historical center. This medieval splendor is something that was eminently visible once we realized that our Airbnb had a rooftop terrace. Red roofed buildings radiate outwards from the center of the city, reaching outwards to the fall tinged hills overlooking the town. It was definitely something that my meager photography skills struggled to adequately represent.

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After a brief period for refreshment we began to prepare ourselves for the evening’s event. Donning costumes and preparing makeup our little group became ghoulishly presentable over the course of a few hours. The evening greeted us with a fall’s expected chill as we set foot into the grand square of the city. Our destination this evening is one overpriced taxi ride further into the Carpathians. The village of Bran is a small and unassuming mountain town that looks as though it is normally home to ten shopkeeps. However, on this date, the population was bolstered by what had to be several thousand foreign merrymakers. The one main street and every store front were bursting with ghouls and ghosts. The boisterous becostumed crowd was here for the draw of the evening. The city too donned its costume for Halloween.

“I can’t believe that we’re standing where the real life Dracula lived.” I’m sure that my brain boozily muttered to itself as we turned down the walk which would lead to the famed structure Castelu Bran. Bran Castle, as it very simply translates, nestles itself picturesquely between two very large and prominent mountains in the Carpathian range. Fittingly, the castle in question is also a place that lies in between fact and fiction. The purported infamy and mystery surrounding this location has somewhat less to do with historical truth than with the power of myth and misunderstandings.

Over one hundred years ago, an Irishman with a flair for the melodramatic heard the name of a Wallachian prince with a nasty reputation. The prince’s name lent an air of mystery to the Irishman’s manuscript about malevolent supernatural beings that went bump in the night. It is also believed that said Irish author was exposed to an image of a castle in distant Romania, one whose exterior could easily instill a sense of foreboding and dread. It would be a place where readers could imagine repugnant rituals and devilish deeds being perpetrated. Thus was the most classic of horror tales penned with strange connections to the reality which inspired it.

Closer to historical record though is that various internal power struggles in medieval Central Europe led to Vlad Tepes also known as Vlad Dracul also known as Vlad the Impaler being captured by a Hungarian army because anyone who is blessed with the moniker “Impaler” probably isn’t the nicest guy. Our dear old Vlady did indeed reside in Bran Castle, but he only did so for a few months as a prisoner in transit.

Now, whether due to it resembling the descriptions of Count Dracula’s Castle or its location deep in the Carpathian Mountains or even due to the fact that encouraging the connection brings in tourism dollars, this structure has been irreparably associated with the Dracula mythos.

This string of historical research was likely lost on the line of hundreds of entrants just looking to witness Halloween glory. Fictitious or not the castle was sure outfitted to draw on the expectations. There was something awe inspiring in the way an imposing obelisk was cut into the night with Technicolor laser light shows. It sets the stage rather well. There was a kaleidoscopic light display running its way across the face of the castle. It was a feast for the eyes, crimson hues danced across the roiling beclouded sky. Blood dripped down the most prominent façade. It was very gothic in the pants with too many zippers kind of way.

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We went up the hill that lead to the castle. There we traded in the trite and uninteresting activity of waiting around in a big open exterior area for the glamour of standing still in line through claustrophobic stone corridors of a castle. There was only one path to take and it corralled the drunken masses single file through the castle. My girlfriend had again taken on the persona of the undead pirate, which was something that a string of drunken Russian pirates loved to no end. I don’t speak Russian, but I do believe that they were inviting her to be their captain. She tactfully declined. Our tour proceeded under the watchful eye of “Vlad Dracul” who excitedly offered photo ops to good looking women.

Rain fell as we descended slick stones towards the last event of the evening. Down in the clearing, overlooked by the castle’s watchful gaze, a driving beat was fueling a heaving mass of becostumed bodies. This was the part of the evening I most looked forward to, an all-night dance off led by the creatures of the night, only to disperse as the dawn drove the undead to their darkened corners. As we stood in line to get into the bursting at the seams tent, the light rain became torrents of water descended upon us. What had been the polite concept of the line then decided that all life depended on entering that tent. We were swarmed as the rains pelted the cold and angry mass awaiting to gain entry to the capacity filled party. I was excited to play up my role as lord of the dance, but I could glean from the looks of my friends and the angry words from their mouths that they were unwilling to wait for the line to dissipate. So we called it there. We left the pounding beat and luminous castle behind to procure near suicidally reckless transportation back.

We were cold and tired, but since me and my miss were all dressed up we decided to give partying one last chance. We marched up the central tourist area looking for an establishment to haunt and found and Irish basement bar. In the brick vaulted basement there was joyous chaos. Dancing on the table was highly encouraged. We got some drinks and listened to Romanian punk rock music as I loosened into my groove. Before too long the DJ worked his way into 80s and 90s English hit songs. I twirled and swirled to the music, but I really came into my own as Tina Turner began to roll down the river. A circle was formed so that I could ply the wondrous wares of my motion for my growing fanbase. Camera phones came out, and I was the evening’s dancing queen. We left not long after because a flock of floozies elbow checked my Pirate Queen to get a closer look at me. Good for my ego, not so good for the happiness of my long term partner. Somewhere along the way my vest was unfortunately sacrificed to appease the deities of dance.

Thus do I wrap up my tale of Halloween havoc. Tune in next week as I finish recounting the events of fall break and finally proceed with my life. Thank you for coming along with me through this adventure, my fair listener. To all of you out there, I say good day, good night, and good reading.

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.

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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.