Travel broadens the mind, it is said. Till you can’t get your head out the door, appended Elvis Costello. But more than that travel forces you to change some of the more negative elements of your personality. It makes you more tolerant, by necessity. It places you in the moment, as there is little time to worry about what comes next while you’re hurtling onwards. And of course it puts people in your path of all stripes and backgrounds, people you’d never meet in the normal course of things.
This outbreak of whimsy has been sparked by the events of last night, when a proper Travel Happening occurred on the sleeper from Budapest to
Bratislava Bucharest (whoops). A few of us went to investigate the restaurant car, which turned out to be a magnificently open affair with panoramic windows and extraordinary purple 1970s decor. We were joined by a Mexican musician with a mandolin and his American girlfriend and then – wonder of wonders – we were joined by the train staff. Drinks were taken. Songs in other languages were sung. Arguments were had about Messrs Assange and Snowden. It was one of those very fine things: an Unexpected Party.
We woke bleary-eyed to a very delayed train (was this anything to do with the presence of the train staff at the party?) emerging from the deeply wooded valleys of Transylvania. It was very beautiful and is dotted with little houses, some very old and some huge and half-built. An ancient iron bridge took us over a bright green river. I’m determined to get to the end of this post written in Transylvania without mentioning….
Before long the hills flatten out into gorgeous flat fields of green at the edges of which can occasionally be seen a family with a horse and cart , or a ramshackle collection of very ad hoc-looking shacks. Romania really is staggeringly beautiful – but this has only been the warm-up act before the Carpathians.
At Brasov the train begins to rise again, the roofs of the houses become steeper and steeper and almost unexpectedly the mountains rise up, so high they’re shrouded in cloud even in July. A gigantic cross looms down from one of them, and beautiful churches stand guard over towns which look, from the train, very well-off indeed, thank you very much.
There are echoes of the recent past. At one point a terrace of flat land has been carved out beside the railway. The concrete remains of old factories and warehouses – some down to their foundations – are scattered in the grass, like a Communist Pompeii.
We’re now into our second week. Ahead is yet another sleeper to take us to Sofia, from where a bus will take us to Skopje. I’m writing this on my iPhone with no data connectivity and no knowledge of when there will be any.
But, you know. Relax, man. Enjoy the journey.