One bad discovery and a long, long train

Trip Start Apr 08, 2007
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Trip End Oct 01, 2007


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Flag of Romania  ,
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Yet another day behind schedule, I've had a frustrating last couple days. I had the intention Friday morning of waking up, picking up a ticket for the night train to Târgu Mures, and then spending the day out at the big oil town of Ploiesti. Unfortunately, things didn't work out just as I planned. The surly woman at the CFR office - who called my number, waited three seconds and then helped the next person before I could even get there - informed in a less than pleasant way that the train in question didn't have any couchettes. It wasn't that they were no longer available . . . they just plain didn't have them on this particular train. Now why anyone would want to take a train where they had to sit in a stuffy, uncomfortable compartment all night is beyond me, but clearly I had to make a quick decision. So after a couple minutes running through the possibilities, I elected to take the day train out, leaving from the Gara de Nord at 12:30pm.

Which essentially shot my plans for the day - at the time of the booking, I only had about two hours to get myself together and packed so I could hustle to the station on time. So, after another quick errand with Brândusa, back to the apartment I went, and I quickly set to throwing all my things together in the bag. I was just about ready to go when I noticed something was missing: my black Moleskine travel diary! Strange . . . I could have sworn I'd seen it recently. I seemed to recall having taken it downstairs to the office at some point to help in typing up travelogues (like this!), so I ran down there to dig around. No sign of it. Not good.

I spent the next twenty minutes frantically searching through every nook and cranny I could think of, but there was no sign of it anywhere. Noon approaching very quickly, panic soon ensued. The only absolutely certain recollection I had of when I had last used it was during my one evening at the Hotel Carpati. I knew for sure that that was the last time I had actually written in it, so perhaps I accidentally left it there somehow? So bang on at 12pm, I hurry out of the building and around the corner to the hotel, finding the same woman at reception that had checked me in days before. But she has no idea what I'm talking about - she hasn't seen a thing and no one's reported anything. She calls up to the maid's service upstairs; they haven't found anything either. Since the room has had new occupants since then, it would surely have turned up by now. I thank her and then hustle back to the apartment.

By this time though, it's clear that I have next to no chance of making my train. Brândusa has no answer to the question "what do I do about my train?" so I rush back out the door and down the way to the CFR office once more. Without any certainty that it would work, I'm desperate to change my ticket for the next day. Fortunately, it does work, and I manage to get it rearranged - for the additional price of 2.20RON - at 12:25pm. Whew! But the problem remains.

Brândusa tried calling both Giacomo and Anca to ask if they had seen it, but neither had any idea about it. Repeated searches across the day yielded nothing at all, so in some ways I probably should have tried to catch that train anyhow. I really have no idea what possibly has become of it. It's 100% certain that I had it at the hotel; if I left it there, it would have been found by now. I also am fairly sure that I had it at Brândusa's flat, because I have a faint memory of carrying it down to the computer for reference at one point. I know that one night I ended up leaving my camera, SD card reader and hard drive down there, and I could have left the journal as well. Yet neither Giacomo nor Anca have any recollection of it. The last possibility I can think of is that it might have somehow fallen out of my bag during the daytrip to Târgoviste. I remember opening my bag once or twice to get my eyedrops, so there's a slight possibility it may have slipped out on the maxitaxt. Yet even that seems very unlikely, and in any case I'm not even convinced I had it with me then in the first place.

Whatever's happened to it, I'm thoroughly gutted to have lost it. Every single thing I've done - the food I've eaten, the places I've gone, the things I've seen, the people I've met (and their names), the experiences I've had, etc. - is in that thing. Without it, I have no concrete record of my trip from basically Ljubljana through my second day in Bucharest. That's nearly a month and a half of travel experiences that's vanished into thin air. Sure, I've worked hard at updating this thing, but it's at best 60-70% of the trip written here (probably less). I even had it in mind to add a little more to these entries once the trip was over, using the journal to fill in the things I forgot. Now it looks like I'll be missing a good chunk. Very disappointing.

Adding to the frustration then, Friday was basically a wasted day. I had to scratch my plans for Ploiesti and then really didn't get out and do anything of note for the rest of the afternoon. I did get to call Mayu one more time by internet phone (and relate the story), which at least helped to lift my spirits some. But other than that it was a day that really would have been better spent moving on elsewhere, especially since I'm starting to get behind on my schedule.

Saturday's long day of travel didn't help much either. It's a pity the night train wasn't a viable option (at least in terms of safety and comfort), because I ended up spending the entire day sitting in a cross-country train. On top of that, the air-conditioning unit didn't function for the whole trip, despite the fact that I was riding on the highest, most expensive class of train in the country (an InterCity). The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the passenger in the compartment closest to the window refused to open it for the first two (hottest) hours. "It'll start working soon" he repeatedly insisted. Of course it never did. And, as nice as Transylvania is to travel through scenery-wise, 9+ hours on a train in the middle of the day (when I'm already leaving later than I should be) is time that could be much better spent. Frustrating.

Târgu Mures didn't exactly rub me right when I finally arrived at about 9:30 last night either. I had hoped to get a room at the cheap Hotel Sport just up the way from the station, only to find it closed and under renovation (with a big fat hole straight through one wall!). Having already called two other places early in the day and found them full up, I was a bit worried about actually finding anything. After the long-ish hike into town, I did manage to find *something* at least, but - despite the 2-star rating of the place - it was much pricier than I had planned for. Apparently I had perfectly timed my visit with a big music festival that was taking place in town across the next few days, and hotel costs had doubled as a result. So for the privilege of one night in a central hotel, I had to shell out 176RON (159 once they knock off breakfast) - over three times what I had planned. Ugh. . . .

In light of that ugly financial dent, I decided right then and there that I was only going to spend one night in town. So first thing in the morning today, I checked out and had the hotel receptionist call the bus station to inquire on buses on to my next destination (Odorheiu Secuiesc). I had already managed to book a couple nights in a much cheaper hotel there (just €8 a night!), so all I needed to do was ensure that I could get there. Fortunately, there's a bus leaving at 4:15 this afternoon, which has given me just the right amount of time to see what the city has to offer.

That's a very good thing, because Târgu Mures is a really nice city. The town center has been well-maintained and carefully restored, and even the bland late 20th-century architecture that would otherwise mar its appearance has been given a new paint job to help it blend in better. In fact, the town sports what is likely the most tasteful Communist-era civic center in Romania, dominated by a squat, clunky theater (that's still at least marginally attractive) and a recently renovated hotel. I guess the Hungarian population makes a big difference - they must actually care about fixing up their town centers.

The highlight of the town is its fabulous pair of Secessionist buildings set at the western end of the central Piata Trandafirilor: the Culture Palace and the County Council Building. Both are absolutely stunning examples of Hungarian Jugendstil architecture and they're fascinating to examine up close. Romanian nationalism has definitely made its mark on the town though, with the downright antagonistic addition of a Romulus & Remus statue and a bust of Mihai Viteazul (i.e. the guy that conquered Transylvania back in 1600) complete with historical map glorifying his campaigns right smack in front of the two buildings. The local Orthodox Cathedral - built in the 1920s after Romania had absorbed Transylvania from Hungary - has a particularly provocative interior scene, depicting a cross-carrying Christ in traditional Romanian garb being whipped by soldiers in Hungarian dress. Way to rub salt on the wounds, boys. Nothing like a gloating victor.

There were riots here in the early post-Communist period as well, believed to have been manufactured by Romanian nationalists (and encouraged by the then Iliescu government). In many ways, Hungary has still never gotten over the loss of the region to Romania either, especially this particular area, which is so close to the heart of Hungarian traditions. For all the past troubles though, people seem to get on pretty well, and both Hungarian and Romanian mix freely in the town center. While the city used to be some 80% Magyar in the early 20th century, it now has a plurality of each ethnic group, so it really is an interesting blend of the two cultures. Perhaps that can account for its apparent prosperity relative to the south - people here are more used to living in a multicultural environment and are thus better oriented towards the influences and ideas of Western Europe.

Târgu Mures isn't an especially large place, so I was able to take in most of what it had to offer today. There's an intact citadel still set prominently on a hill just beyond Piata Trandafirilor, and the backstreets are filled with beautiful old houses that look straight out of a Hungarian provincial city. The mix of churches in the center - Catholic, Reformed, Uniate (Greek-Catholic) and Orthodox - makes for an atmosphere much different from that of Bucharest. It's thus understandable to some degree why some people used to call for an autonomous status for Transylvania in the 90s - the way of life here really is a far cry from the Regat at times. Most of all though, it's refreshing to see a former trouble spot getting along so well nowadays.

I'm off to Odorheiu Secuiesc next, known to the Magyars as Székelyudvarhely. Apparently some 96% Hungarian even today, it's going to be the first place I've been in Romania that really isn't the least bit Romanian. Ought to be interesting.
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