Saturday, August 9, 2008
Roaming Back to Romania
So after a nice afternoon tea with sister-in-law Peggy at a local manor house (2nd pic), I booked my flight home to the USA for August 20, and the next morning I left to start the long journey back to Sibiu. I opted to ferry across the English channel again as it totaled only ten pounds whereas taking the chunnel would cost me about fifty. Upon reaching the ferry station in France, I and the other pedestrians de-boarded. Most people bring their cars across, it turns out, but a small band of us travelers were hoofing it. When we got off the bus from the ferry to the ferry station, we found that we had to wait for another bus to take us to the train station. I had to use the bathroom, and when I got out, I saw the bus pulling out with everyone else on it! I could either wait an hour for the next one or walk 1/2 hour to the station, and get to see some of Calaise along the way, as I wanted to do anyway. I did what Bill Bryson would have done and walked. The part of Calaise I walked through wasn't worth photographing, but there were some nice clocktowers and steeples peeking out from behind the rather bland rowhouses. Too bad there was not time to explore.
I had no reservations, but got the next train as far as Lille, which, according to the lady at the station, was as far as I could go that day... to go further "was impossible", she said. When getting to Lille around 8pm, it seemed like a nice enough place. I scanned the destinations for all the departing trains from there and didn't recognize a single one. They all sounded French, and if I got on the wrong one I might end up who knows where. I decided to see if a hotel room was available; if it was, I would stay. Right across the street, surrounded by cafe tables, was the little hotel with the grandiose name "Hotel Continental". The had a decent room for a reasonable price, and best of all, internet, so I took it and set out to explore a bit of Lille's old town in the fading twilight. It actually is a VERY nice town, full of beautiful old buildings, cobblestone-lined streets and cozy cafes and bistros. As usual, there were the local losers who asked me for money; I think I was asked about 6 or 7 times that night. Now, you've seen my photos on this blog: do I look rich? Or just stupid? Wait-- don't answer that. Anyway I got pretty good at giving the brush-off.
There were also the usual "punks with pups", creepy-looking cretins begging for money who always seem to have puppies or kittens with them, getting money from suckers who feel sorry for the animals. I tried asking some where they got them from, but (of course) their english only went as far as "spare euros?". I photographed some, including this long-haired dude.... I'll say one thing: they certainly are the most interesting-looking of all the people there, even if they are a bit weird.
But think about it: if you're reduced to begging on the streets, is a dog or cat really something you should be taking care of? Aside from the food issue, can you really provide a good home and life for the pet? I tried to lecture these guys about their kittens, but they seemed to be in their own world; long-hair seemed proud of his kitten and tried to show me little video clips on his cell phone (yes, cell phone--the nice kind that I don't even have!). The other one just smiled and said that he was from Croatia. I knew I wouldn't get through, but I just thought I'd try.
Anyway I left shortly after to catch a series of trains to Brussels, Frankfurt, then the overnight to Wien (Vienna), then Budapest. At each stop there's always a wait for the next train; sometimes it's just time enough to step outside the station and sniff the air, like in Frankfurt, and look around and say, "So, this is Frankfurt. Huh. Pretty modern-looking," or some such profound quote. Often there's a couple of hours to kill, like in Budapest, where I caught up on things to do at the station (exchanged cash, reserved the next leg, sent a few fast emails) then went out in search of some doggy treats for the ones in Romania. In that country there were no biscuits, no dog houses or beds, no doggie toys or anything except the basic kibble and canned food. So I wanted to bring a dog bed back to Baby and some chew treats for the rest, which I quickly found with the help of some friendly natives of Budapest. I discovered the Arena Plaza Center, a gigantic mall (complete with IMAX theater) comparable to anything in the West. So the rest of the trip to Sibiu I carried a ridiculous-looking pink doggy bed that stuck out of a too-small bag, along with a sackful of biscuits and rawhide treats enough for a hundred eager mouths.
Then I hung out on a series of night trains for the journey into Romania, meeting a motley assortment of colorful characters along the way, like the gay New Zealander who talked with everybody a little too much, or the Romanian taxi driver hanging around the dreary train station at Arad at midnight who was also craving someone to talk to. I almost brushed him aside when he first asked me where I was from, as he seemed like the typical local "wants-something" guy, but he turned out to be a very interesting hour of chatting about Bush, Scandinavia, and the crazy president of Romania. Hey, at midnight in a decrepit train station you take what you can get. I even found a street dog hanging around, being ignored by the locals sitting at a grungy "cafe". I petted it in front of them, no doubt earning their disgust.
Finally, exhausted at 6am, I was met at the Sibiu station by Sanda who had generously invited me to stay at her place while there. She took me home where I collapsed for a 12-hour sleep!
Next: final Romanian adventure.