I got off the train ready to hate Bucharest.
Our train left Veliko Tarnovo at 12:50a.m. I was traveling with Alex, a woman traveling independently for four months on the same route as me, if mostly done in reverse order, three months down and one to go, and with Andy, Minnesota Russian lit major my age. We didn’t get sleepers, just second class seats for which I knew my railpass would be accepted.
Which it was. Except on some random trains, there’s this annoying, insignificant “reservation fee” you have to pay. So while my pass covered my ticket, I still technically owed 2.50 euro for my seat reservation. Which ten minutes down the tracks, I was telling the attendant I didn’t have, playing ignorant, can’t I pay for it now? I hadn’t been sure about the reservation, though I’d doubted in Bulgaria I’d have to deal with it. The train station was in the next town and the cost of a taxi to and from it during business hours to “maybe” buy a reservation wasn’t worth it.
But the language barrier was tough. Rough. Until Andy steps up and saves the day, having a fluent Russian conversation with the attendant (the train was the “Moscow Express,” going from Istanbul to Moscow) and negotiating a bribe. Lesson learned: I’ve really, really got to get a handle on having small change. I had a 20lev note ($15) and multiple 20euros (40lev each). The attendant laughs. Translated, “It’s not worth that much.” Andy handed over a 5 in exchange for letting me get off at Ruse, the border city, to buy the reservation.
And at 3a.m., the ticket office in Ruse was closed, (and sounds of a departing train had Alex and speeding up different staircases to vacant platforms, our bags still on the train with Andy, but Andy’s train ticket in Alex’s purse… luckily, our train was parked on a different platform) but a 5 euro (now Alex’s small change) bribe got the conductor to sign off on my pass, validating my seat and travel history.
The stress maybe wasn’t worth it, but all in, the bribes cost me less than the cab to buy the legitimate reservation. Just McDonald’s breakfast for everyone in the morning.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been sick. And sick makes me cranky, and cranky in a city I don’t know makes me miserable. Basically, arriving in Bucharest on what was the dreariest, cloudiest day of my trip was crappy. It was like being dropped off in NYC not knowing the Empire State Building, Times Square or Statue of Liberty exist.
Just garbage, taxis, metros, people everywhere that could be pleasant or pickpocketers, and fast food chains. The hostel is four streets off the main road, and when dark and gray, sketchy as anywhere I’ve ever been. All the city reminded me of was the job I don’t have, the money I won’t have, and the things I “should” be doing right now.
I was not a campy camper two days ago. Feeling like junk, I went for junk food and laying in the hostel hammock (a bright spot in the day) and hoped tomorrow would be better.
Which it was.