Riding the trains in Eastern Europe is an adventure. Here are a couple of things we’ve encountered:
- Most people believe that a draft will make them sick. As a result, windows and doors in the train berths are rarely opened for air circulation. Berths can become stifling hot, but opening a window to get fresh air is not looked upon favorably. Last summer when I traveled in the heat, I gave it an honest try – I was sitting next to the window, so I reached up and opened it about 6 inches. An elderly woman eyed me with contempt and then stood to her feet, stepped to the window, and promptly closed it. I thought I’d die of suffocation before reaching my destination. That was like a “don’t try this at home weight loss program” – sweat off a few pounds in transit! Thankfully, today’s trip was totally comfortable. Gene and I enjoyed a berth to ourselves for the first 5 ½ hour leg of our journey, and this train’s engineers seemed to have mastered the art of regulating the heat in the berths.
- Switching trains adds stress to one’s journey. Maybe that’s because we don’t understand the languages spoken here, so we can’t decipher the arrival/departure announcements over the loudspeakers. Or maybe it’s because the station masters wait until the last moment before they post the appropriate platform number on the departure board – or they post a number and then change it as the train pulls in. Perhaps it’s because there may be only 10 minutes between our train’s arrival and our next train’s departure. We have to hope that the arriving train is running on time, get off with all our luggage, find a departure board, hope that the next train’s platform number has been listed correctly, and then run for it!
Today’s switch was stressful. Thankfully our arriving train was on time. We climbed off with luggage and backpacks in tow, walked across the tracks and climbed onto the covered platform. That’s when we discovered that our connecting train’s platform number wasn’t listed on the departure board outside. So then we wondered, Is it not listed because our next train hasn’t arrived yet? Or is it not listed simply because the station master hasn’t updated it recently? Or is it not listed because this departure board isn’t working properly? Gene walked into the station to see if he could find more information, but no such luck.
In the meantime, I asked a uniformed man if he spoke English. He shook his head. Time was ticking, so I tried to communicate anyway. “Kosice?” I asked. He held up one thumb and forefinger and said, “One, two.” Then he pointed down a nearby stairwell and to the right. He repeated his hand gestures for emphasis and then walked away. Ah, I thought. Perhaps our next train leaves from platform 2. Or… maybe he didn’t understand what I asked, and whatever he said bears no relevance whatsoever to my question.
A moment later, a man’s voice made a lengthy announcement over the loudspeaker. A crowd of 50 or 60 people pushed through the station’s exit and headed down the stairwell. I caught the word “Kosice” in the announcement and figured they were all bound for our destination, or to one of the stops along the way. But I was guarding our luggage, and Gene was nowhere in sight, so I had no choice but to stay put and hope that, if those folks were heading to our train, we would join them in time to catch it, too.
It felt like eternity until Gene returned. We grabbed our luggage and headed the direction that the crowd had taken – down a long flight of stairs, through an underground tunnel, and up another flight of stairs to a platform between tracks. But there was no train. And still no number listed on the departure board. And that 10 minute window between our arrival and departure was now down to mere seconds. Were we in the right place or not? If we missed our connection, we’d have to spend the night in that town and find our way to Kosice on Wednesday, and that wouldn’t work well with our hostess’ busy schedule.
We must have looked like lost foreigners, for suddenly a young man came from nowhere and spoke to us with a heavy Eastern European accent but in perfect English: “May I help you?” I wanted to hug him!
“Can you please tell us the correct platform for the train to Kosice?” I asked.
“Number 2. This is it.” He smiled reassuringly. An angel, I’m sure.
Seconds later, the train roared into the station. Our reservations were for Car #3. We watched helplessly as Car #3 ripped past us and then stopped ‘way down the platform. My oh my, it was a long run. My backpack weighs at least 20 pounds, and I was hauling two suitcases – the handheld one weighs about 25 pounds and the wheeled one weighs about 45 pounds. By the time I got to Car #4, I couldn’t go another step. My lungs felt like they were going to burst from breathing the frigid air.
“Keep going,” called Gene, also on the run. “Our car’s the next one.”
Forgive me for sounding unspiritual at this point. At the threat of collapsing beside the train and thereby missing our ride, I opened my mouth and out spilled the words: “Just get on the stinkin’ train!” I’ve never seen my husband move so fast.
Car #4 was the dining room. Imagine us hauling our suitcases between the linen-draped tables, trying to keep our balance as the train rocked and rolled and picked up speed. Boy, was I relieved to fall into our seats when we finally reached Car #3. And so began the next leg of our journey to Kosice, Slovakia. Another 4 hours lay ahead. My computer battery died enroute, so this turned into a welcome time of relaxation and rest.