28th November 2016
We woke up in Bucharest feeling worse for wear and hopped in a taxi to the station. We managed to miss the first train but that at least gave us plenty of time (three hours..) to get some food. The station offered a number of options and we found shelter from the bitter temperatures outside.
On the train, the Roma sold magazines or begged. One was dragging himself down the aisle, feigning disability, when we pulled away and he leapt to his feet and jumped down to the platform with the others. After that the journey was calm and pleasant enough, albeit terribly slow. Romanian trains, it turns out, are not sprightly.
Still, we arrived in Brasov a mere three hours later and (coming across a Spanish-speaking Romanian to give advice) caught a bus into town. A Roma family boarded the bus and shouted down the ticket inspectors. They had no tickets and didn’t intend to buy any. We drove on, the bus now silent.
These were unlike gypsies I had seen elswhere. The idea I keep coming back to is that of being beside a docile lion. It can be as calm as it pleases. You’ll still feel ill at ease. This family (the children included) looked at the other passengers as if challenging them. And yet I believe it was just their way of being. Just as some warm French people can still appear aloof. Just as we can misread a Spaniard’s intimacy.
We had intented to stay just long enough to see the centre before moving on but had now discovered that trains only ran three times a day. We had missed one, taken the second and would now have to wait until 9 o’clock for the third.
We were now in the Saxon centre of Romania and the buildings had a distinct German character. Its German name Konnholn can be seen in the crowns dotted around. In 1950, it was renamed Cohel Stalin (Stalin Town) and had the name of the Soviet leader written in the hills above the city by planting darker trees amongst the lighter natives. When the name Brasov returned, the residents had apparently become used to seeing the name of their city above them and put up a new Hollywood-style sign (while cutting down those pesky dark trees).
We were still feeling pretty rough when we had lunch when we sat down for lunch. Somehow we thought this was a good moment to have traditional romanian fare. The sour soup, ciorbā had some nice flavours but the sarmale I had second was harder to swallow. It’s an Ottoman dish of minced meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and boiled for a few hours (cf its vine wrapped cousin elsewhere in the former empire). The result on this occasion was a soggy, oily affair that – I’m sad to say – didn’t stay down. (Similarly for my friend who only had a taste!). We did feel much better after and even managed a glass of tuicā.
We found out a bus was leaving a little after the train that would get us to Sighisoara half an hour sooner (I did say the trains were slow) so we had time for a drink in what seemed to be a cinema foyer.
After witnessing another pseudo-confrontation with a six year old Roma and her teenage mother, we were on our bus. In the dead of night. On unlit roads. Winding up what we suppose to be steep mountain roads.