Another day, another long train journey and another opportunity to meet and greet the locals confronted me. I was at the train station waiting to go from Belgrade to Brasov. The aging stocky Serbian woman attacked the dilapidated ascent to the railway platform with her cumbersome valises three steps at a time. At each pause she dropped her bags with a thud that almost matched the exasperated sigh from her tar-infested lungs.
A short week ago I would have scrambled down the steps to help her; however, six days of schlepping my backpack through 3 countries had worn me out. I was momentarily shocked that at 60 the woman and I were most likely the same age. We ended up sitting across from one another and conversed for three hours regardless of the fact that neither one of us knew one word of the other’s language. Smiles, nods, and a lifetime of speaking when no one was listening anyway, made us both at ease.
Getting to my airport lodging the last evening would not be easy. I needed to navigate from the train station, take a subway, and board a special bus to the airport terminal where I was to pick up the hotel van. As I am that person who can get lost going from my hotel room to the elevator, I often need to ask for directions. In my excitement of emerging from the subway and seeing the #783 bus approach, I jumped on, disregarding my commitment to verification. I punched my prepaid card and sat back to relax, enjoying the familiar sites. It was not long before I realized they were a little too familiar. I was going the wrong way.
The simple solution of hopping off and crossing the street was more problematic due to the limited kiosks for purchasing a new ticket. I plopped back down and covered my head with my hands, struggling with the possible options, apparently indicating my dilemma to all. The buzz of conversation among the passengers caused me to look up. The woman who had initiated the dialogue was looking for someone to translate her idea to me. Two young women approached me and told me to stay on the bus as it completed its loop. Not only would I get to the airport on time but I would save myself trouble and money! Each and every one of the passengers waved to me as they disembarked.
Although it is a relatively new member of the European Union, Romania still has problems to overcome before touting itself as a tourist mecca; but the potential is there. The official tourist office saying is “Romania: come as a tourist, leave as a friend!”