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Crowds of people moved around the Budapest train station in a frenzy trying to catch trains that would lead them to places I could only imagine. I sat on a bench observing them as they moved along; I pulled out my copy of Smile While You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson. As I caught up on his latest adventure, my girlfriend walked up and sat next to me asking me if our train had arrived yet. I shook my head and tried to keep reading but I was more than distracted about the upcoming train trip.
About a month before I ended up in the Budapest train station I found myself sitting in my apartment thinking of places to go for my next trip. The idea of Budapest, Hungary was on the table but I wanted one more place for my ten days of travel. My girlfriend, Ashley told me that we could take a train to Romania, especially to the capital, Bucharest. A fear came over me but at the same time the idea thrilled me. Traveling to a part of Europe that seemed to be almost shunned by the rest rubbed me in just the right way. It was decided; we would head to Romania, which most Europeans considered the land of the Gypsies.
Romania gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1877, then was brought under Soviet control after WWII; broke away from communism with the fall of the “Iron Curtain” in 1989, and on January 1st 2007 joined the European Union. Romania is now an up and coming upper middle class economy with a high human development trying to set its name as a respectable country in Europe. I am sure the average western European would not know these facts about Romania due to the high misunderstanding that Romanians are Gypsies.
The Roma, more commonly known as Gypsies, are an ethnic group that originally derives from the subcontinent of India. This ethnic group is spread throughout Europe and makes up only 2.6% of the Romanian Population. Due to the Gypsies similarities to Romanians, people tend to mistake them as Romanians and vice versa. This misunderstanding has given a negative outlook on Romanians and this opinion on Romania is what encouraged me to book my train tickets and explore this Eastern European land. I wanted to make up my own mind on this country and not let the biases of others affect my decisions of where I traveled.
Sitting in the train station these thoughts ran through my mind. Was it really safe for me to travel to Romania? Did I make a mistake? I took a deep breath as Ashley told me it was time to board the train. I walked along the train cars still questioning my decision. We came upon our sleeper car and got settled in. I sat and stared out the window observing the bustling train station. I heard the doors close and the train started to move. There was no turning back now; I was on my way to a country I was specifically told not to go to by other people. The sound of the rattling tracks soothed me, as the night grew darker. People passed back and forth by our cabin with no fear of where we were all headed. I grew hungry and impatient and decided to explore.
As I moved along the train, groups of people were scattered along the way smoking cigarettes and watching me as I passed. I found the dining car on the train where a few people drank, smoke and ate. I grabbed Ashley and headed to the dining car so we could get something to eat. I worked on my screenplay while we sat in the dining car and drank some wine, Ashley correcting the pages that I had finished. After sometime the conductor came up, he was a friendly little old man that loved to talk. He spoke no English but he communicated with us in Italian. He himself was from Romania which gave me a sense of comfort since he was so friendly to us. He spoke fast asking where we were from, how old we were, and why we were on our way to Bucharest. He left to go back to work and I continued to work on my script. The smell of cooking poultry and smoke was somehow calming to me as the rattling of the train tracks continued.
The conductor suddenly came back and grabbed me by the arm, pulled me away from Ashley and led me to another man sitting down. He pointed to me and said, “Alex,” then pointing to the man sitting down and said, “Alex.” The conductor sat me down at the table as he went back and retrieved Ashley and another lady. I was a little confused of what was going on but the man whose name was Alex smiled and laughed and asked me in English where I was from. I told him California and he began to praise my home telling me that he has traveled up and down the state. I found out that the lady and Alex were both from Romania and were on their way back home.
The questions then began from Alex, who led the conversation, and they came one after another. He finally asked why we were on our way to Bucharest. I told him that we thought it would be fun and that we had never been to Romania. He looked at Ashley and I and said, “Oh man you are going to be ripped off!” and continued to go on about how he would not have enough time to teach us how not to be ripped off. He kept looking over to the lady for back up on what he was saying. The lady was a young, attractive, light haired Romanian English teacher. For the life of me I cannot remember her name but she was very friendly and kept reassuring us that we would have a great time in Bucharest. I was not sure who to believe the man who shared my name or the attractive English teacher.
After awhile it did not matter because we all began to drink deeply from our shared bottle of Romanian wine and to get to know each other’s stories of our past travels. The night ended with just Alex and I continuing to drink. My fear that I had made the wrong decision had left for the moment. Maybe it left because of the amount of alcohol consumed, or that I just spent an entire night with two Romanians who were incredibly friendly, teaching us about their traditions, and way of life. I would like to believe that it was the latter. Either way I was calm and reassured of my decision for that moment. I said goodnight to Alex and thanked him for all his help and slowly walked back to my sleeper car and went to bed.
I woke up in the morning with a slight hangover. I sat up and rubbed my head. The fear of my decision had come back, but not as strong as before. I opened up the curtains to our car. The sun was above the horizon running off the shadows of the night giving light to beautiful farmland. The country slowly turned into urban landscape until the train came to a stop. We gathered our bags and headed over to the exit. I stepped off the train into the crowded station and took in a deep breath, realizing the air was no different here than back in Rome. I scanned the crowd and a calming sensation came over me. My thoughts cleared and I came to the realization that I made the right decision.