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.

Transylvanian Tales 19Jul08 | [NickM] 0

As dawn broke over the hills of Romania and the sunlight crept into our cabin we awoke to the picturesque Carpathian mountains.

We pulled into Sighisoara and made our way to Nathan’s Hostel, it was only 250m from the station, so even we couldn’t get lost on the way. As was becoming a recurring theme in our travels, everyone was extremely helpful and welcoming, marking on our maps the location of every possible amenity and site of interest we could possibly want. Within about fifteen minutes of arriving we had dumped our bags and were off, despite our bodies telling us to rest.

As with any new currency we encounter, we have to work out a rough conversion to pounds to figure out how much money to withdraw. Usually we withdraw far too little but in this case we miscalculated and ended up withdrawing about 500 Lei each. Although that’s approximately £130, but this combined with the fact we could have a full lunch including drinks for about 17 Lei (a LUDICROUS £3.60) means that our wallets would still bulging with Lei well into Serbia.

After going to the bank we made our way up to the Citadel, which was a lovely collection of quaint buildings and fortifications mixed with tourist traps, namely the ‘Torture Room’. This was indeed, a room with about three pieces of A4 dotted around on the walls, a few pictures and some incomplete information about the various torture methods. Oh well, it only cost 2 Lei.

There were two other mini-museums that proved to be a lot more fruitful, including the story of the local aeronautical physicist Hermann Oberth. One of which was up a large clock tower that provided a great view of the surrounding countryside.

The highlight for me was the church at the top of the hill. Although fairly plain compared to some of the more extravagant ecclesiastical buildings, it had a stunning vista and location.

After seeing the sights of Sighisoara, and stopping off in the supermarket for an ice cream, we retreated to the hostel for a well-earned break. After a couple of hours of lounging in the sun in the garden of our hostel, our stomachs were rumbling, so we walked to a local restaurant recommended by the exceedingly helpful manageress of Nathan’s Villa. Luckily, we had finished just as a group of about 70 arrived to swamp the restaurant (with matching T-shirts).

During the evening, we met several interesting characters: There were two Austrian fellows, a couple who were effectively English (born in Italy/Switzerland but moved to London years ago), the owner and Mike. Mike was an American/Irish man who had been born in the former, and lived in the latter, for 10/20 years (depending on when you ask him). He had been working at the hostel for about a week, but the owner assured us in no uncertain terms that he had been drinking every day since he got up, and this tension came to a head during the evening, and after a few drinks, he had been evicted. Mike claimed it was because of the “Stalinist regime” in place that “wouldn’t let him listen to ‘Oasis’” (Don’t worry, it didn’t make much sense to us either). And to celebrate, the owner went out and bought a round of beers for all of us. But to be fair, he was a nice enough guy, so I wish him all the best in getting home to Ireland in time for his best mate’s wedding even with zero funds, after wandering drunk into the Romanian night.

God speed.