A Train ride through Transylvania (abridged)

The overnight train from Bucharest is swaggering through the foreboding mountains of Transylvania. Jerry has demanded silence whilst he proves that he can complete a killer Sudoku in less than 45 minutes. So I gaze out of the window and contemplate the journey so far.

Bucharest railway station was old, dreary and strangely large, built by someone oblivious to any sense of scale. On the platform we had weaved through huddles of seemingly destitute people in dark grey clothes, more resident than transient.

Our train had slithered into the station like an impossibly long snake on wheels. By the time we found our first-class seats at the far end, we were already half way to Transylvania.

Even the guard was over-sized. He greeted us warmly and kindly offered to transfer us to a more comfortable sleeper compartment. There, in broken English, he requested 50 RON (about £10) for the upgrade. Our Romanian was not so much broken as awaiting manufacture. We deployed the international gesture for “you have to be kidding” and indignantly grabbed our bags ready to slum it in our original seats.

Suddenly, a smartly-dressed young woman appeared in the corridor. First class, she explained, swarms with thieves, who would rob us, kill us in our sleep and jump off with our suitcases. In the sleeper carriage we could at least lock ourselves in.

So, swallowing our pride we back-tracked and grudgingly handed over the cash. Our eagle-eyed guard, smelling more notes in my wallet, offered us a small range of on-board beverages.  Cleverly, we asked for the price upfront. Unsurprisingly, we declined to pay 100 RON for a bottle of Stella. We were English. Defiantly, we would rather die of thirst than suffer further exploitation.

Now, 45 minutes into his Sudoku, Jerry is still scratching his head as we roll in to Brasov. No obvious robbers or murderers on the platform, but the guard waving his flag has a look of Christopher Lee as he flashes his teeth.

It is midnight and time for bed. We work out that our seats should fold out into bunk beds through a complicated series of levers and locks. But this will require a special key which we are determined not to pay for. So, we lift and force the back of the seat into an upper bed and suspend it by some very precarious hooks. It sways dangerously as I climb up. Should it collapse, I will be propelled unceremoniously onto the floor and Jerry, lying on the seat below, will be killed outright.

Neither of us sleep more than a wink. The carriage sways like a drunk in a congo dance. The relentless grate of the wheels on the track grinds through my skull. I speculate about the mysteriously materialising smartly-dressed woman and shiver. I wish I had noticed her shadow. I reach over, check the door is firmly locked and close the window. It is getting a little chilly outside. 

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