The Orient Express: Leg 5, Bucharest to Budapest

09:10. I’ve really enjoyed my stay in Bucharest but it’s time to move on.   I don’t feel too guilty about only staying two or three days in some of these cities as I’m sure I will return within a few years.  Train travel in this part of the world is convenient, comfortable (not luxurious but comfortable) and still relatively cheap.  Later this afternoon I will leave Bucharest on the 5:45 overnight sleeper train, arriving in Budapest, Hungary tomorrow morning around 10:00.  I have stored my backpack at the hotel and will spend one more day poking around the heart of old Bucharest.  

09:22. Within a block of the hotel I came upon this nice little gift shop. I’m not sure what I will get but don’t carved elephants just scream Bucharest?  If not the elephants, I could always pick up a nice used alternator or some cutting edge circuit boards. The store may be here when I return later today but I doubt that it will be here next year.  Across the street is a massive condo and office tower development to be known as The Mark.  The old buildings on this side of the street are being preserved but I’m sure the existing businesses will be driven out.

11:38.  I’m badly in need of a haircut – it must be at least an 1/8th of an inch in places – so I stop at a place called The Urban.  It’s a pretty cool shop and the hipster/barber only charges $7 for a basic cut with clippers.  I suspect there are shops that will do it for a quarter of that price but…

11:30.  But those shops would look something like this… 

12:05.  It was a tough decision between The Urban and the old school barber who has found a way to make hair look like velour.  Here are some more random shots from my last few hours in Bucharest.

5:16. I’m back at the train station and have just enough time to grab something to eat on the train and perhaps make a bet at the in-house bookie shop.  

5:30.  I didn’t get into the Sport Bet shop because I got sidetracked by another image of Donald Trump.  As best I can tell this sign is advertising a festival of international documentaries.  Look closely and you’ll see: (1) a Russian matryoshka doll, (2) Donald J. Trump with hands so small they’re invisible, (3) The Devil (?), (4) a character wearing a gas mask and holding a nuclear missile, (5) a news reporter (thery’re very, very dishonest, you know, so unfair), (6) Arabic-looking guy with a bomb strapped to his chest, (7) priest, (8) unhappy-looking babushka lady (who may have made me lunch yesterday).  I’m sure I have missed something but it will probably be an interesting festival.  

5:32.  I still have 28 minutes to kill so I look around the station.  Apparently Sarah Coventry moved to Romania once I hit Grade 4 and stopped buying her brooches and pins for my teachers.  You can buy just about anything in a Romanian train station! 

5:52. I board the train and find berth #36 in car #272.  I have the top berth and in the lower berth (notice I didnt’ say bottom) is a very stylish guy who is wearing a scarf and jeans with quilting/padding on the thighs.  Hmm.  He’s friendly and talkative and actually took a few photos of us with his phone before I got this one of him.  He was aware that I was taking it, in case you’re wondering, but he thought it would be more “artistic” if he looked away.  Perhaps he’s a wanted man!  We chatted for a while but unfortunately he was only going as far as the first stop.  I was left wondering why he would pay a premium to ride in a semi-private sleeper car for a little over an hour?   Hmm.

9:25  Johnny is long gone – sigh – and I’m sitting in the top berth, my back to the window, counting my toes when we pass another moving train on the adjacent set of tracks.  The sudden and extremely loud ‘whoosh’ scares the crap out of me!   

5:41. The attendant has knocked on the door and informed me of a “passport and security check” in 15 minutes.  I suspect that his advance warning is similar to the warning we got a few years ago on a gay cruise that was returning to US waters.  Sniffer dogs were boarding the ship so the astute cruise director made an announcement: “Gentlemen, if you have any party supplies that you don’t want the dogs to find, please go to the back of the ship RIGHT NOW and make the dolfins happy!”

6:04. Passport  and security check complete.  All is good.

6:27. We’re still stopped and I can hear a woman crying.  I can’t see what’s happening on the dark platform but I suspect that she has been removed from the train.

6:42. Were moving, minus one passenger.

6:12. My iPhone now reads 6:12 so we must have crossed a time zone at the border. I don’t see a new stamp in my passport so I find the attendant and ask if he knows what it should look like. He thumbs through my passport for a minute before locating the stamp about 7 pages back. I hope this won’t be an issue when I leave Spain and have to prove that I’ve been within the Schengen Zone for less than 90 days. It sure looks suspicious with the latest stamp being right beside one that I got more than a year ago when I left Cambodia.

9:50. We are on the outskirts of Budapest.  It has rained during the night and now looks cold and wet.  I don’t see anything green but instead fields of brown scrub, long dead grass and a lot of mud. Houses that back onto railway tracks are rarely the best in town and this community is no exception.  Every house has at least one dilapidated tool shed, chicken coup, greenhouse, wrecked car, and numerous piles of lumber, bricks, terra cotta roofing tiles, car parts, culverts, telephone poles, etc.  Apparently this is where the scavengers, salvagers and recyclers live.  There are few landscapers, that’s for sure.  The scene reminds me of Arlo Guthrie’s The City of New Orleans:

Riding on the City of New Orleans

Illinois Central Monday morning rail

Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders

Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail 

All along the southbound odyssey

The train pulls out at Kankakee

Rolls along past houses, farms and fields

Passin’ trains that have no names

Freight yards full of old black men

And the graveyards of the rusted automobile.

9:55. We have entered the city proper.  Gone are the rural bungalows and junk-strewn lots that back onto the tracks and now it’s mostly public housing – identical blocks of mid-rise buildings.  

9:57.  This must be an even better neighbourhood as the houses are blocked by a tall concrete barrier. 

10:10. We are inside the station but still moving slowly when I hear a dog make one short, sharp yelp from the hallway just outside my cabin.  Damn, they’ve returned with sniffer dogs!  Not that I have anything to hide, you understand.

10:12.  It turns out that a young couple and their service dog were in the cabin beside me for at least the last half of the trip.  It was the only door on the train that was closed all night.

10:30.  I’ll spend some more time exploring Keleti Railway Station when I return in a few days for my onward journey to Vienna or Prague or Bratislava or wherever it is that I’m going.  I still don’t know, exactly.   My main priorities at the moment are: (1) caffeine, (2) wifi, (3) finding a hostel.  

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