Sometimes things happen that make you want to quit it all. You are scared and alone and tears are flowing down your cheeks and everyone you know and love is so far away. And in the moment you find yourself wishing for the comforts of home, or the last hostel you were in that felt safe and where you made friends. But you get through it and it becomes a story, one that you will be telling and laughing about for the rest of your life and you realize it’s one of the reasons you are doing this. And last week was one of those stories.
I left my hostel in Slovakia late, I miss-timed myself at breakfast and ended up missing my bus. I’ve learnt not to worry too much about these things. I was traveling on my interrail ticket so I could just get a later train, not a big deal. But somehow the bus got me into Poprad in time for my train and I jumped on it thinking the hard part of the day was over. Yes, I had a lot of traveling to do that day. I was heading for a small city in Northan Romania that had come highly recommended but wasn’t all that easy to get to.
I had chosen to break up the journey, this way there would be no hanging about train stations in the middle of the night. My first day had 4 trains, the first an easy domestic trip from Poprad to Košice, I almost missed the train and then it was running late. The interrail websites travel plan left me with only a 12-minute connection. We arrived into the station after my next train was due to have left but it was sitting there waiting for us.
This train was heading onto the Ukraine, and so was I. It was hard to understand why I needed to make this particular detour but so far the interrail website had never done me wrong, why would it now. The place I was heading to was called Chop, it sits right on the border with Slovakia and Hungry. I sit on the train staring out the window at the passing scenery, Every km there is a marker post counting down to the border. The ticket collecter checks everyone has a passport on them, she isn’t satisfied until she has seen it.
I start to get uncomfortable, maybe a stopover in the Ukraine isn’t the smarted idea after all. We reach the border and scary-looking guards board the train and check everyone passport, I haven’t had mine checked since I flew into Norway almost 3 months ago. We are held at the border to ages before being allowed to move on. We reach chop and hour before I think we will, I forgot to factor in the time difference, the ticket collecter hurries me off the train, three of us get off, we are met by an angry seeming soldier who shouts at us to hurry up as she is waiting.
We are lead into the customs hall, I get my passport checked and stamped and then another soldier asks me what I’m doing here. I say I’m waiting for a train connection and I’m let through into the station. By this point, I had been to a few ex-soviet countries, but this train station felt like I was back in the ’70s. it was large with benches down both sides and a rather oppressing feel to it. Two old women in aprons stood watching the comings and goings of the few people who sat on the benches, I felt incredibly conspicuous, a young girl on her own with two backpacks, one, as most people have been kind enough to point out, almost as big as I am.
I sit watching the time and writing in my journal. Everything is written in the Cyrillic alphabet and so the only thing I can read is the arrival and leaving times of the trains. They all seem to stop at the station for half an hour or longer which seems odd until I realize that they are keeping them so they can do the border checks.
I watch a queue form in front of the customs office door. The time that my train is due to arrive is approaching. I think I need to be in the queue too. I join the line and look around me. I want to ask someone if this is where I need to be, but I’m not sure who. I see people walking about with massive wads of cash, it makes me a little uneasy. The man next to me is with young kids, I decide to ask him.
I ask if this is where I need to be for Hungry, he looks confused and it’s clear he doesn’t speak English. I get out my phone and show him the name of the town I’m heading to. He grabs me by the arm and practically drags me to the ticket office window. I’m a bit taken aback but he talks to a woman who appears to be his daughter and she turns to me and speaks to me in English.
She asks me what I’m doing here. I tell her the trains sent me, I’m heading to Debrecen in Hungry and the website told me to come this way. She can’t seem to believe that a website would do that. It makes geographical sense she says but you don’t come to this bit of Ukraine without a local who knows the system, they still do things the old way here she tells me.
She asks if I have a ticket, I show her my interrail card. She tells me that’s not going to get me out of the country, to leave you need a ticket with a signature and stamp on the back. She asks if I have money, I have euros and my card I tell her, she shakes her head, that won’t work here. She shows my pass to the person behind the ticket office window. No, that won’t get me out of here. She calls her dad back over and they pay for my ticket (3 euros), it cost 90 something Ukrainian hryvnia, the price printed on the ticket is 66. in this part of the world, you still need to pay a bribe to get anything.
She gives me my ticket with the stamp on the back and tells me to stay with her. I’m beyond grateful. We pass into the customs hall and they check the back of our tickets and then check our bags. The customs officer finds my citalopram, he takes it out and starts waving it about.
“Box! Box!” he shouts at me.
Fuck. I don’t have the box.
“I have a doctors letter!” I tell him,
“I have a doctors letter!”
“Yes, I have them from a doctor!”
And with this he lets me go.
I get my passport stamped again and finally, I’m on a train heading to hungry. We cross the border and at the station, the Hungarian border guards come on and check our passports and bags. “Why are you here?” one of them asks me. “Tourist?” Yes, I nod, I’m a tourist. I get off the train and realize that it shouldn’t matter why I’m here, I have an EU passport, I can be in Hungry for whatever reason I want.
By the time I reach my hostel in Debrecen I’m tired and hungry and just want to eat and sleep. But when I get there it’s not what I expected. It’s just a one-bedroom flat with bunk beds in and there isn’t another woman. I don’t like this.
I dump my stuff and go out to find food. I haven’t really eaten anything proper all day. I end up in a cafe and have cake for dinner, it doesn’t help. I don’t want to go back to the hostel. I don’t want to sleep in that room. I decided to just get my stuff and find a hotel or something, somewhere I have a room of my own. I get back and then can’t get through the gate to the hostel. I ring the doorbell but no one comes. I stand waiting and pressing the bell over and over. A man comes out another flat I have no phone signal or internet so he tries to call the hostel for me, we get thought and someone says he will come, the man leaves and I carry on waiting.
No one comes to the door, the man comes back with a woman. They try to call again. I start crying, these people are being so nice to me and I’m stressed and tired and I can’t hold everything in anymore. I finally get into the hostel, the owner sees that I have been crying. They get me to sit down with them in the kitchen, I don’t want to, I just want to leave but I’m ushered in. They ask me what’s up. I say I don’t like the lack of women. It doesn’t feel safe to me. They listen and can understand what I’m saying, there is a small privet room, it doesn’t have windows but it has a lock on the door, I can sleep there if I want to. I start to calm down. If I have my own room I will be ok. I stay and sleep ok, but I’m glad to leave in the morning. I just want to get to Romania now.
The journey the next day is easier. I get to Sighetu at about half 4. I walk to my accommodation. When I get there I’m greeted by a middle-aged Romanian woman. She doesn’t speak English but she seems like a nice person. She shows me around the house and then gets her daughter (who organizes everything) on the phone. We have a quick chat about what time I want dinner and then I hand her back. I’m given soup at half 5, then the rest of my meal at 8.
For the next few days, I’m treated like a queen. The area of Romania I’m in is really interesting and I enjoy looking around. My host is amazing. I get my washing done and get a 4-course meal every night. On the second day, a Canadain woman comes and we eat and chat together, it’s perfect.
After the stress of getting there my time in Romania is better than I could have hoped for. It feels like a different world. I see gypsy camps by the side of the roads and horse-drawn carts. Most people don’t speak English and I have to use google translate if I need to speak to people. Everything feels different and I love it.
On Saturday I have to leave, I have booked an overnight train from Baia Mare to Bucharest. Armed with a bus timetable to Baia Mare I confidently set out to the bus stop. I hypo on the way and when I get there I’m feeling a bit shit. There some old woman waiting for the bus. “Baia Mare?” I ask. They shake their heads and point at the time table, it looks like the bus I thought I could get doesn’t run on a Saturday.
I go into the train station and ask if I can get a train, the woman speaks English and shows me on the train map why I can’t get a train. She says the bus might come. I go back out and wait for it. Nothing comes. I start to panic. There are taxi drivers standing around, the keep staring at me and leering, I don’t want to need to get a lift with one of them. I try phoning, Dragos, my Romanian friend but he doesn’t pick up. I go back to the train station. The woman sees me and phones a taxi company to ask a price to get me to Baia Mare. She organizes one for me, it feels safer this way.
The taxi driver comes, he speaks a bit of English. We drive through the mountains, the clouds are low and the roads wet. This doesn’t seem to bother him, the roads around here feel a bit like wacky races, everyone overtaking each other whenever they can. He also has a habit of taking his hands off the steering wheel, crossing himself, then putting his hands together in a prayer every time we pass a church. I can’t help but wonder if God, if he/she exists would priorities road safety over arm gestures to accompany the prayer?
I reach Baia Mare and get a phone call from Maja making sure I’m ok. It feels nice to know that even though I am hundreds of miles away I have friends who are there for me when I need them.
I know this was a long one so if you got to the end thank you, I hope you enjoyed it!
The girl with the braid in her hair xxx