In this instalment, you will meet such characters as A) a stray dog, B) a Mongolian Mail Order Bride, C) Elderly Bon Jovi Dancers, D) the worlds worst busker, E) a man in a dumpster and F) Vladimir, the frequent pisser.
I seem to have a habit of arriving in places at the family friendly time of 5am on a Sunday morning. Again I negotiated the subways, amongst the many revelled/dishevelled and shirted/skirted up Austrians, all recently spat out of nightclubs. Entering their train was akin to the out of town drifter entering a saloon in a western movie. I wish it was a saloon; a stiff drink would have caught me up to them marginally, and it would have allowed me to live out a lifelong dream of wearing a cowboy hat…but that’s another story.
Not a lot happened in Vienna, not a lot does. I did manage to stumble upon a little authentic Austrian bar. They served an array of items- goulash and beer (not necessarily in that order). The place would have been empty, but for a few seventy year olds, dancing to Bon Jovi, whilst concurrently playing darts. As we sat and ate our meals, a stray bracelet left the wrist of a dart thrower, landing in my food. We finished up and left before false teeth started flying our way.
Bratislava is an interesting town, and home to a number of things.
Its main feature is a ridiculously oversized supermarket (Tesco). It did not sell anything I wanted, but did sell car tyres in the same section as the fruit and veg, and had an internet café, complete with one man doing his grocery shopping online (the logic of Slovakians).
The world’s worst busker also comes from Bratislava. He has over one hundred different songs, each with the same lyrics “praise the lord”. Some of the world’s best hecklers can be found in a semi-circle around this man, a real hotpot for talent.
Budapest is down as one of my favourite cities. It is a really laid back and easy going place…although one particular morning at my hostel may not be the best example of this.
The hostel owner, Joseph, lived at the hostel with his mail order Mongolian wife. One morning, whilst I transported muesli from bowl to mouth, they had a mighty fine domestic. This was a text book fight, covering all the important features of a great husband and wife feud, there was your irrational shouting, fierce pacing, inventing of swear words, hands thrown in air, awkward muesli consumption (well, by us, the guests) and glass vases being thrown against a wall (all from the wife of course!). I was quite taken aback by all of this for many reasons, particularly the uncertainty it created as to whether I would get to see Heartbreak High dubbed in Hungarian that afternoon (the Mongolian woman’s favourite show each day).
A famous part of Budapest is the thermal baths, and Turkish bath houses. I decided that I must experience one of these, and marched (not literally) onwards to the pools. It was a fantastic experience, and first up, I tried the whirlpool. This threw me around and around with a bunch of tanned 70 year old Hungarians, who were hell bent on keeping their hair from getting wet. I then attempted the hot and cold pools. The 40C pool was nice; I then tried the 20C one. Bloody freezing!
I avoided the massage with the large moustached man and set on my way. It is important to note that brill cream in Budapest is predominantly used on the moustache rather than the hair…but I digress.
Cluj-Napoca was a necessary stop in order for me to get to Brasov. I had no idea what to expect, but suspected I may be lynched by a mob of Gypsies who required a new iPod, camera and a used tooth brush. What awaited me was not too dissimilar.
My first mistake, as I stumbled from the bus bleary eyed at 5am (again!), was to make eye contact with a stray dog. He persisted to follow me down the street, nipping at my grimy (but fashionable) jeans. A swift kick (a gamble on my part) thankfully got rid of him. I finally got into town. As I passed a dumpster on the street, I was greeted by a rising dusty mop of human curls. A guy, rummaging through the bin was popping up for air, before diving back in for that elusive half eaten pizza.
I finally found my hostel, after being the subject of much local staring. I was able to check into my room straight away, an empty 16 bed dorm. After spending a good 2 hours decided the ergonomic and aesthetic points of each bed, I finally decided on one and went to bed (the one that allowed the sun to shine directly on my eyes, good one Amos).
Cluj-Napoca was actually a blessing in disguise. A very colourful town, from buildings to the outfits of the Gypsies…who never got to my lint filled pockets in the end. The nightlife and bars were mighty fine here, and cheap. I had a night on the town with a random Belgium guy I met in the hostel, whose claim to fame was his one metre rats’ tail at the back of his head.
Next stop was the capital of Transylvania, Brasov. To get there, I had to catch a train for seven hours. This was quite an experience. To begin with, it was full of disfigured beggars. They would come into our cabins, wave their fingerless hands or open wounds in front of my face, and hold out their hand for payment. My reaction to this was to turn up the volume on my iPod, even though it was switched off.
My cabin on the train consisted of me, four 80 year olds, and a 20 year old, all Romanian. I spoke with them all, the older ones via the translation of the younger one. We covered such things as Romanian farming, the price of milk, and the weather (of course), and of course the amputee beggars. One old man cracked a joke to me, and it seemed to be the best he had even told, he was mighty proud. I gave him my best pretend laugh, but not sure it cut the mustard …it seemed to deserve more abs muscle in the laugh. It was great to talk to some locals though, even if I could not understand a word…all part of the experience!
Catching a train for such a long time makes for plenty of interesting observations. For one, you know everyone’s toilet patterns. Old Vladimir up the carriage was an ‘every-ten-minute-man’, whilst Gheorge in my carriage (the joker) would have false alarms once an hour. He ate a whole chicken during the ride (a cooked chicken that is).
Romanian adherence to smoking on trains is quite a sight. Smoking is of course illegal on the trains, but men will open the doors and hang on the outside of the moving train for a dart. When the train went in tunnels, plunging the carriages into blackness, an array of little red lights would suddenly appear, followed by the smell of burning tobacco…which quickly subsided once the tunnel became no more.
Brasov was a great place, in fact its slogan is “probably the best city in the world’, directly ripped off from Carlsberg (or vice verse…damn plagiarism). From Brasov I was able to visit Sighisoara, birthplace of Dracula! Whilst there, I visited the torture museum, which consisted of a two metre square room with a ladder in it. Worth every cent.
The most interesting person I met was a dyslexic accountant at my hostel, who explained that he was currently out of work due to some health reasons…mixing his 2’s and 5’s up no doubt.
Last stop in Romania and boy what an absolute dump! Bucharest is home to one million stray dogs, and is one of the dullest places known to man. As soon as I arrived, I was shown to a dorm that may as well have been a sauna. It was at least 60C in there, and featured an older man there watching Lethal Weapon movies on his laptop whilst sitting on his bed in nothing but a towel. I literally RAN to the train station, and bought the first train ticket I could out of there….never go to Bucharest, lesson to you all peoples!
Now I find myself in Varna, Bulgaria. I have managed to wind up with a job, and am living right on the beach. I will be dropping anchor here for a well earned summer. Varna is a whole other story, stay tuned for the scoop, coming to an inbox near you soon….all I need to say at this stage is I indirectly work for the Bulgarian mafia….