Close calls on the Gypsy Train

When people mention Romania I always seem to hear a mention of the dreaded Gypsies that you meet all across Europe and how annoying they are. I had come across them a few times so far and was a little worried to be heading to the country they seemed to originate from but had to go and see Draculas castle in person.

I left early in the morning from Varna and took the train to the Romanian border and waited a few hours to get my connecting train onto Bucharest. I could have taken a direct train but it would have cost an extra 4 Euros which adds up to a night’s accommodation in a lot of the countries I was travelling at that time and I knew how much fun waiting in train stations and people watching can be.

I found where I needed to be at the station and got my ticket and was immediately pounced on by taxi drivers telling me that the train was delayed for 6 hours and that it would be better for them to drive me there and that 15 euro was a very good price. I returned to ask the ticket lady if the train was indeed delayed, to which she replied ‘of course not’. Well that is what I guess she said anyway, couldn’t understand really but the taxi drivers immediately said she was wrong.

I spent the next 2 hours waiting for my train, trying my best to ignore the constant noise of the drivers harassing me. When my train arrived on time and I headed for it letting them know that it was here and not delayed, they all couldn’t care less and just went outside to wait for the next tourist they could try to scam.

I have always found that the best judge of what there is to do in a city is to wait for the local scammers to come up and offer you things. In Cambodia they offer a trip to the killing fields, to the shooting range, they then offer drugs or women to you so you know that those are the main sights in town that you can consider going to see. I had been in Bucharest for less than 30mins and I was offered drugs, then girls, then boys! I declined on all three and decided that with those choices I would only need one day in the city to see the sights before I head for Brasov and Draculas castle.

Brasov is probably the main tourist trap in Romania and it was not a disappointment. I enjoyed wandering the little town and taking the walk up the hill for the fantastic view that it offered. The scenery was amazing and the local life around the streets was a great thing to experience. I had already decided to head to Sighisoira the next day and that I would take the cheapest possible train, as I always do, to get there. I had been told by many locals and tourists that I should not do it as the train is dangerous for tourists and dubbed the Gypsy Train for a reason.

I said ‘screw it’ and thought that if I can survive my Indian journey then I can survive a few gypsies. I got to the station and got the ticket for the 4 hour train ride no problems and was happy to see when I got onboard that the carriage was completely full and the majority of people seemed friendly, as most Romanians are, and having a good time. The only problem I had was the local drunk who decided to sit opposite me and mumble away a load of crap for the next few minutes.

I had sat next to a lot of drunks and knew that when things like this happen they always want something from you, so be strong and except nothing from them or they will use that against you later. Mr Drunk started to sober up a little and pulled out a plastic bottle of what can only be described as ‘rocket fuel’ to start drinking. He offered some to me and forced me to smell it but I held strong and let him know nicely that I would go without.

He really started hammering the stuff down and the more he drank the more he looked at me and yelled some stuff. I was guessing it wasn’t good stuff when most of the people in the carriage were looking around and seemingly a bit embarrassed by him. One older man came up and told me to ignore the drunk and go to sit with him, he then signalled that the drunk was a very bad man. I said I was OK and knew I would be with so many people on the train. The ticket conductor kept passing through and laughing at me, I made a point of always giving him a big smile back.

As the journey went on Mr Drunk had nearly finished his half litre of rocket fuel. I also noticed that a big majority of people were leaving the train and I was left in the carriage with Drunkey, a young man and his daughter and around 4 others. Drunkey also seemed to notice this and started to get more animated in his attempted conversations with me. He now pointed at me, signalled money with his fingers and showed a fist or two to me insinuating that if I dint pay I would be in trouble.

I called his bluff and pointed to my wallet and said ‘yeah it’s OK I’ve got money, no problem its fine’. This continued for another 25mins and I was starting to feel really uncomfortable. The climax came when Mr Drunk stood up and came towards me and fell on top of me, I had my fists clinched and was ready to wallop him when I realised that he wasn’t lunging for me, he was trying to pull the emergency stop but was too drunk to stand.

It turned out that Drunkey had missed his stop and now needed to get off the train urgently. The locals all stopped him from pulling the emergency stop so he just mumbled some expletives, I assume, and headed for the door. By this time the train was not moving at full speed but it was moving at a decent pace, Drunkey didn’t care, he opened the door and despite yells from people to stop he stepped out of the train. We all looked back and saw him laying across the tracks beside ours and moving a little trying to get up.

I am not sure if he ever did get up or if he just passed out and got run over by the next train passing through. Either way I wasn’t so bothered about it, if a train had got him then it might have made life a lot easier for his family, living with a drunk like that as a poor villager must be a horrible thing.

I was now relieved and thought the worst was over so I offered the young guy with his kid another cigarette. I had given him one earlier to try to by his support when Drunkey was giving me hassle. I think the only reason I smoke when I travel is that I find it a great way to start a small friendship with locals, hoping that when things seem dicey they will then feel the need to help you instead of turning the other way.

This policy seemed to pay off about another 30mins further into the trip when a huge gypsy farmer came into our carriage and once he found out I spoke English it was game on. He looked me up and down and with a sinister look in his eye he just mumbled ‘ahhhh, English’ and smiled. I knew he was only thinking one thing….Money.

He sat opposite me and starting trying to have a conversation which I had to go along with in the hope that if I made a nice impression then he wouldn’t rob me as he seemed to be planning. The young man came across and joined him, leaving his young daughter at the window on the other side of the carriage. The conductor then came through and laughed at me more than he had before, I again beamed my smile back and just thought ‘Oh feck’

Our conversation went nowhere as expected but it kept being about money, no matter the language people speak you can always tell when things are about money, it’s that small thing of rubbing fingers together that gives it away. I knew was I was in a spot of bother and had it confirmed when I was left out of the conversation and farmer man, with forearms bigger than Popeye’s and full of cigarette burns, started talking with the  young man while pointing at me and doing that finger thing. I was very annoyed with myself for getting into this situation but kept smiling as though I knew nothing was wrong and thought about what I had on me, where, and what I could afford to lose and what I would have to fight them for. I even considered grabbing the guy’s daughter and using her as some sort of leverage, that would have just got me killed though, but a fight is a fight and you have to do what you have to do to win.

To this day I am certain that making cigarette friends with the young man is what saved me from a mugging as throughout the whole discussion about me he kept saying ‘Nah nah nah Polizei Polizei’. I don’t care where you are from, this translates into all languages as they are only talking about one thing.

At the point when I was most ready for it all to go horribly wrong the train went into a tunnel and everything went pitch black. I immediately freaked and put my arm directly up along the middle of my face, covering my throat in case anybody lunged and tried to grab me by it. I used my other had to search my pocket for my lighter and lit it as quickly as I could so that I could see exactly what my two potential attackers were doing. The tunnel seemed to go on forever and when the light came at the end I truly understand the meaning of the famous quote.

The train continued and I was super excited when we reached our stop and couldn’t get off quick enough, making sure I was protecting my pockets the whole time. The conductor gave me one last laugh, the young man invited me to his house and said that if I bought his daughter a new bike that she would be so happy and the Gypsy farmer just stayed on the train looking very very disappointed.

I told the young man that I had to go meet with the friends that I had told them on the train would be waiting for me at the platform, it’s not lying if it’s self preservation, and walked quickly in whatever direction he was not headed.

I made it to my hostel and told the young guy on the desk about my train trip, he was amazed that I had taken the gypsy train and not surprised at all by the story I told him. I never did actually make it Draculas castle either.

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