We’re going through changes 22Jul08 | [Gill] 0

Tuesday morning was a conventional interthink start – an early awakening for sightseeing to make up for the fact that we’re only in each place for a couple of days.  The pressure was really on today though, because we discovered on arrival that Monday was the day everything was closed, so we had even less time to gorge ourselves on museums.  Imagine our delight when, having got up specially early, we discovered that our guide book is full of dirty lies and the museums we planned to see opened at 10, meaning we had to wait around for ages in the town square, grumbling about the warm beds we had left behind.

Whilst the museums were alright, none of them seemed particularly staggering, although maybe that’s because we were tired and we’ve seen so many recently.  The highlights of the visit was probably finding Guildford on a very old map of Europe (and the elaborate mission to take a picture of this whilst avoiding the gaze of the grumpy security guard), and bumping into some French people who’d been in our hostel in Sighisoara.  We also seemed to repeatedly get on the wrong side of the staff, for instance in the gallery, where Nick S committed the heinous crime of pointing at a picture so that his finger extended past the imaginary line created by the rope in front of it, which was punished by some hag coming along and saying “Can your words not be good enough to show the picture without you going past the line?”.  The group was later rebuked for sitting on chairs (and indeed earlier by the police for sitting on the ground), and at the beginning of every exhibition someone wanted to pick a fight about whether we had the right ticket or not.

By now it was drizzling, and so things did not bode well for our visit to the open air ASTRA museum, which was a large collection of traditional rural Romanian buildings spread round a lake.

No doubt it is very pleasant to stroll around in good weather, stopping to admire the old wooden skittles alley or the house of a tanner and so on.  In the rain and the mud however, the long walk is less appealing.  Furthermore, we had all been looking forward to reaching the “working inn” part way round for some hot food and drink, so we were disappointed when the ordering process went like this:

5 hot chocolates please
No hot chocolate.
Oh.  OK well we’ll get 5 cold drinks and just get hot food.  4 plates of chips and 3 omelettes please.
Omelettes not in afternoon.  Chips not served by themselves.

It seemed that we could find nothing satisfactory as the majority of the menu we had been presented with was apparently unavailable, and so in the end we sat there with our cold drinks feeling miserable.

The night was a night we had been dreading for the whole trip.  An overnight journey to Belgrade, but consisting of 3 trains and 2 long waits in stations with facilities that were limited at best.  One such example of this was the toilets at Vintu de Jos.  After hanging on with all our might, since the toilet on the train was enough to make a blind man with no sense of smell throw up, we dashed to the station toilets.  The womens’ was however inexplicably closed off, and the mens’ left something to be desired.  The best thing I can say about it is that the absence of a working light at least meant you couldn’t see how dirty it was.  Still, this was better than the next station which had nothing at all.

On our second train we made friends with some random middle aged drunk Romanians who insisted on giving us their compartment.  Their kindness also extended to frequently offering us some suspicious beer in a plastic bottle, however we gracefully declined this hospitality.  Despite not speaking a word of Romanian, Nick S managed some sort of conversation with the ringleader, which mainly involved gestures so wild that he accidently flicked off his glasses, and translations for the rest of the group that ran something like “The old man is very happy.  He would like to be friends with us.  He may or may not have just pissed himself.”  (This theory was later dispelled when we realised the intense stench of piss occured every time someone opened the door in the carriage and the air from the toilet at the end wafted down the corridor).  Although we were slightly wary of these men and decided not to fall asleep whilst they were still on the train, in the end they did just turn out to be friendly, if rather inebriated, eccentric locals.

Our second train station wait was longer than expected, as our train was delayed by about 45 minutes.  Cue 5 freezing, hungry, smelly English teenagers standing on a platform in the middle of bloody nowhere descending into delerium as they wonder where the hell their train is (English translation of Romanian train boards being totally out of the question).  Things even got desperate enough for the last Dextrose to be cracked out, and for Rio to be finally allowed to tell Maz the longest and most disappointing joke the world has ever witnessed.  By the time our train eventually came we were on the verge of throwing ourselves in front of it.

But no, in the end, tired, very cold, hungry, smelly, and slightly less good friends than before, we finally made it to Belgrade.

Having a lei-in (sic) 21Jul08 | [NickM] 0

Oh my goodness. Surely not. It can’t be.

But it is. It’s happening at this very moment.

Those were my exact thoughts during interthink’s first ever lie-in.

Until now it had been considered a curse word, usually spelled l**-i*. But today was different, this was a state-sponsored lie-in. Authorised by the Stylianou Bureau. This was a first.

Stumbling out of the hostel at around midday we ambled towards the town centre up the main street that we had visited the previous day.

Here at interthink, I believe that it is fair to say that nutrition does not come high on our list of priorities (it’s somewhere between good witticisms to put in blogs and quality F1 puns), the point being proved by our breakfast that consited for most of a freshly baked roll (nothing in it, just the roll) and for me, a Maxibon ice cream.

Filled up with wholesome food, the tour of central Sibiu eagerly kicked off with the Piata Mare (main square). A lovely open space with fountains in the middle that the girls took great delight in running about in.

The square was flanked by the Evangelical Church and the Council Tower, both of which we visited. The former had some nice marble architecture inside but the tower was a slight disappointment when compared to the tower of the Evangelical Cathedral, which was where we headed to after. The inside of the cathedral though was not at its best as the roof was being refurbished so there was a massive lattice of wooden scaffolding inside.

At this point in time we took some time out for a little drinky. Four fifths of the group went for wither a hot chocolate or coke, but Miss Phillips had other ideas choosing a ‘Bullfrog’. This multicoloured concoction was a mixture of about 8 different types of spirits. A little much for three in the afternoon? Apparently not. With Maz noticeably more bubbly than earlier on we climbed the giant cathedral tower. This provided us with views stretching for miles in all directions across the city and beyond with the gargantuan Carpathian Mountains looming in the distance.

At this point it began to rain, no real surprise there as the bad weather had been following relentlessly since Vienna, but we still had one more stop left on the itinerary for the day and we’d be damned if a few Eastern European rain clouds were going to stop us.

This was to be my first time going to an Orthodox Church and I was surprised to find just a large open space inside with no pews. There were a few portraits of Saints that people would kiss and some seats at the side to sit on for quiet reflection, but it was remarkably empty. It was a real contrast to the set-up of almost any church you could find in the UK. Of course, our resident Greek Orthodox was completely au fait with all of this.

After some rest back at the hostel, we decided some authentic, rustic, homemade, honest, good ol’Romanian cuisine was in order (Gordon would be proud). George, the hostel owner suggested a place down the road called Dobrun. We went in and it looked very nice, although our tourist status was quickly confirmed when it was just us sitting in the non-smoking section of the restaurant.

Our lower level of being was also later confirmed as we failed miserably to translate the Romanian menu without the help of our waiter. Me and Maz ended up ordering from pictures in the menu and the others, using various gestures and speaking loudly ended up getting something they wanted. The food was considered by all to be pretty good – not difficult considering it was hot and we hadn’t cooked it, so full and content we returned to Chess Hostel and fell asleep. Apart from 2 of the party who stayed up until 3 listening to Bill Bailey on the iPod and playing Cribbage, who maintain it was worth it.

Culture Club 20Jul08 | [NickS] 1

After a night of scandal, our hurricane-tour of Sighisoara ended with a routine we had only too become used to. Today, however, after getting on our first train at a time still unknown to us teenagers (I think they call it ‘morning’), we stopped at Medias, the town helpfully described by our hostelier as “crap, a dump, full of industrial s***”. There was no point in showering as fragrant Romanian trains managed to eat away at the most hygenic of Brits, so our sweaty bodies assembled on the platform to wait for our connecting train. The modest view consisted of two hulking industrial towers belching smoke to the north, a half-finished industrial construction sandbox to the south, and where the Carpathians should have been to the east and the west, we were flanked by a mountain of industrial waste. It’s fair to say that we couldn’t wait to get to 2007’s European Capital of Culture.

The smell arrived before the train did. Boarding, we joined a 10-strong clan of Romanians in the scorching heat that only appears on our travel days, mixing with the loud blare of Romanian power-pop from a certain youth’s mobile phone and harmonising with the inimitable screech of a baby far too young to be allowed on public transport, we made ourselves comfortable. Bad move. The unnatural habit of trains stopping at every station, not listed in Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable for Summer 2007, left us in a state of panic. Where did we get off? What’s this station? Sibiului? No. Next one. Halta Sibiu? Go! Go!

Amidst the fray of us getting off and the dust settling from our transportation trundling away, a few things dawned on us.

  1. Our train was delayed by 15 minutes, yet we seem to have arrived early.

  2. We appeared to be the only people getting off at the current stop.

  3. The station was little more than a pavillion, which was shut. (Hardly culture central)

  4. Rio’s small brown bag had been left on the train.

Bugger. It’s Slovakia all over again. After checking my phone to make sure we were still in the right country, we took the executive decision that, if we were in Surrey, we had got off at London Road instead of Guildford Mainline. Gill and I sauntered over to what looked like a timetable, joined briefly by some English-speaking backpackers who were looking to go the other way. Before we had a chance to converse with our stranded brethren, a tall bearded man arrived on the scene.

Are you from America?

No, England.

Ah, Great Britain?


And so it began. The man who had arrived was a charismatic German who spoke at a hundred miles an hour, punctuated his sentences with “yeah, man” or “it’s true, look it up on the internet”, had been taking a break from marking research papers (he was a natural science graduate of Aston, seriously, man, as well as having an MBA from the USA under his belt), often came to the station to buy single packets of cigarettes (he was trying to give up, man, you know?) and could take us to a police station to see if there was any hope of finding the little brown bag. Seriously, man, it was like, five minutes away, near the main station. Off we went, discussing everything from the Royal Family (seriously man, what do they do? I’d just go up to Buckingham Palace and like, kick them out man…I might have to take my brother as well, though, you know?), West Germany (I’m not East German, man…they’re like…backwards.) and the same story about how to get a job twice (don’t go to the newspapers, man, you have to go straight to the company and say, I want your job. Assertiveness, man. Seriously.). He had arrived in Romania to do his PhD at the tender age of 23, but when it transpired it would take him 4 years, he decided to get a job with the local German mega-conglomerate. With Gill on the verge of heatstroke, almost half an hour later, we arrived at Sibiu Mare Gare.

German, pigeon Romanian and very little English was flying everywhere between SPAT (The Sibiu Patrol Team), the tourist information centre and th ticket office, trying to establish whether or not we could locate our bag. The train we had been on terminated at Sibiu, and had arrived ten minutes ago, sitting on the outskirts of the station. We were taken on a trek to this train, carefully observing a bastardised form of the Green Cross code as we passed stopped trains, slow moving trains and countless pieces of track. Beardy-German in tow, communcations breakdowns galore, the (“strapping” – Ms. Yeomans) SPAT man let us on the train we had so prematurely disembarked. Trudging through the carriages, I found my discarded Buxton’s water bottle and we fanned out for a search…to no avail. In a CSI-inspired fever, I dived to the floor to conduct a deeper search, amid the others’ disappointed assertions that it would be fruitless. Yup. No brown bag. Sad face. Except, I did find Rio’s phone, a very worthy consolation prize. Slightly rejuvenated, we went to the “lost property” building, full of scruffy puppies and scruffy train drivers, again to no avail. Having been gone for over an hour, we thought it best to ring the others and tell them to get a taxi to the main station. Saying our goodbyes to the SPAT man, Beardy-German (with an e-mail address) and the tourist information centre, we were reunited with our comrades to pile in another taxi to Chess Hostel- a welcoming, rural place where the owner marked on our maps the location of every possible amenity and site of interest we could possibly want.

Our dorm was luckily next to the bathroom, but was also a thoroughfare for another room, and it appeared we had the only working shower, so the squeaky door to our room was a minor annoyance. However, the good-natured atmosphere meant there was no problem as we left for a wander and a bite to eat. Happily full of pizza, carrying shopping bags full of bread, cheese and ham for tomorrow’s jam-packed schedule, we returned home to doze. Time for bed, after a busy, busy day.

Or so we thought.

Ever the amicable group, we made another friend in a young Romanian (I know, a native!) engineer who was just about to start a new job and eventually the process of buying a house. Covering the usual light converation topics one would expect from a brief before-bed chat such as the weather, football, alcoholism and the Royal Family.

Having exhausted every Camilla-and-Charles pun we could adequately recount, the Romanian man left us at about midnight, after all, he had to be up in six hours. The meticulous planning of tomorrow’s itinerary would have to wait until tomorrow morning. For now, a scandal-free good night.