The group was making its way to Romania from Chișinău, Moldova via overnight train. We’ve been sweating in 38ºC heat with no air conditioning in our hotels and busses.
I was hoping to feel the sweet kiss of conditioned air for the first time in a week on this ride. Boy was I wrong.
We step on the train and are immediately disappointed at the lack of both light and cool air. I make my way to the sleepers and toss my bags down on the floor under the bed. Fuck! It’s only been thirty seconds and I’m already sweating buckets.
Surely it will cool down once the train starts moving?
Everyone is in a mad haste to open all the windows. The look on our faces is one of pure defeat as only every other window is openable.
The 592km ride will take us approx. 14 hours and includes a two hour stop over at the Moldova/Romania border.
As the train rolls off the platform the conductor takes our tickets and sets up his office for the long journey westbound. He immediately strips off his uniform and gets changed into flip flops and a bright orange bathing suit. I couldn’t help but start laughing.
There has to be a way to stay cool on this train!
The window opposite the conductors room was fully open, giving me an idea. The lack of airflow into the train was the biggest problem, so I held out the curtain with my arm to scoop the outside air into the carriage.
The blast of hot, moist outside air hit my face. It was cooler than the inside of the train. This will work.
I planted my self in this spot for almost two hours and slowly the gang would come by, one-by-one, to enjoy the breeze. Mark, a fellow Canadian, decided to improve on my design by making the contraption hands free.
Every now and then I would catch the conductor enjoying the breeze. It’s for this reason why I think he didn’t shut this whole sketchy operation down.
Hours passed and tension on the train was rising.
“Hey Dennis! Is there a German word for this heat?” I asked the only German guy in the tour group.
“Yeah. Scheisse!” quipped Mark.
The carriage erupted in laughter. The heat was getting to us.
After the first stop, a few locals got off the train and we had the entire carriage to ourselves. I ended up moving my stuff to an empty room.. I’m sleeping on the bottom bunk tonight! Finally some good news.
I notice the conductor is now back in his uniform, while everyone else was either topless or wearing their bathing suits. Hmm.. we must be close to the border now.
As we slow, so does the airflow and the passage of time. We all head to our cabins for the immigration officers to collect our passports.
I look out the window and notice a lot of train wheels and bogies. Hmm. Is the track gauge in Romania different than that of Moldova? Yes. Yes it is.
Slowly the train rises using four screw jacks per carriage. When the car is high enough the old bogies are replaced with new ones, then the car lowered again.
For fucks sake! Can’t we just get going again? The heat (and now smell) is getting to us.
We get our passports back and the train starts moving again. Awesome! But we’ve only completed half the battle. With Moldovan immigration out of the way we now need to tackle the Romanian entry.
The train slows again and we do the same “get in your cabins” song and dance as the immigration officers check our passports.
Michelle hands her passport to the officer and he proceeds to flip through the pages when a €5 euro note falls out. The officer quickly picks it up and hands it back to Michelle. The rest of us look at each other in disbelief.
“Michelle, did you have a five euro note in your passport AND you handed it to an immigration officer?” I asked.
“Yeah, don’t ever, ever do that!”. Said Andy.
I notice the look of shock on Frida’s face.
“Why not?” Michelle asked innocently.
“Because they might think you are trying to bribe them?!” We all answered in unison.
“You could get thrown in jail for that”, one of us said.
At least she learned this lesson the easy way!
We get our passports back and the train starts moving again. The air is much cooler now that night has fallen. By this time it’s about 10pm and most of us have decided to retire for the evening.
Eight hours later I get awoken by someone shouting “Bucharest! Bucharest!”. I peek out of my sleeper to see the train conductor frantically waking us up.
We’ve pulled into the station and are late to disembark. I guess the conductor forgot to set his alarm and didn’t wake up in time to wake up our carriage.
I jam all my stuff into my bag, get dressed and jump off the train. It’s just after 6am and already the temperature is in the high 20s. Damn this heat wave!