Suceava to Buzău; First-class at last; Buzău, the stray-dog capital of Romania; Cheap hotel, slow pizza and air hockey

In the morning we made our way to Suceava’s main street to grab the bus to one of the train stations - north or south, we didn’t care, the train went to each in its turn. It’s nice in Suceava - you can pay for the bus when you board, and it was only 1.50RON each for the ride (about CAD$0.60). We got to the station in plenty of time to get tickets and food for the trip, and I was pleased because we finally got a Romanian rail employee to give us a first-class ticket. I shouldn’t have worried about it in the end - there seems to be no difference between first- and second-class in Romania. Our compartment was full of old women shouting at each other. I assume they were friends since the shouting was interspersed with bouts of cackling. The carriage was swelteringly hot, with the sun pouring in, but the old women, being old women, like it that way and wouldn’t have the window open. By the time they left partway through the trip we were nearly ready to drop dead. I tried to close the curtain across the compartment door to block the sun, but it was broken and the whole curtain rail came crashing down. Fixing that (or rather, re-jury-rigging it) took the better part of fifteen minutes. A nice Romanian couple named Bogdan and Christina got on, and we spent the rest of the trip chatting with them about where we’d been in Romania and places we were planning to go. Bogdan reminded me of other Romanians I’ve known, in that he seemed to be testing me on my judgement of which places were good to go. I think I passed the test, because he only took exception to one or two of our choices. He did recommend very strongly that we not miss the Făgăraş Mountains, though, saying that they were very beautiful. I’d been thinking that I wanted to do some hiking in the mountains anyway, and this confirmed it, so I decided to buy a map and trail guide when it became possible.

We became a bit too involved in talking to them and nearly missed our stop. We had to push our way through narrow corridors with our packs through the crowds of people boarding the train, not making any friends in the process, and hoping that our stop really was our stop and that we weren’t getting off at the wrong stop in the middle of nowhere (this last worry happens on every train trip we take, though).

The first thing we noticed about Buzău - aside from the heat, the dirt and the smell of urine pervading the platform tunnel - was the pack of stray dogs around the station. Romania is, I think the stray-dog capital of the world. We’d been warned and warned about the dogs and how mean and dangerous they are, but I’ve found them to be mostly happy and friendly, if about the most filthy, brawling, noisy gang of mutts I’ve ever seen. Sheryl is always having to stop me patting them, or at least reminding me to wash my hands afterward (wash, disinfect and decontaminate, possibly). But he, filthy mutts need love too, and these guys are starved for some affection - at least the ones that don’t shy away scared when you hold out your hand. I think the life of a semi-feral canine in Romania isn’t such an easy one. In any case, there were more strays around the train station in Buzău than I’ve seen in one place anywhere in Romania so far. I entertained myself watching them while Sheryl went scouting for a place to stay the night.

Contrary to our experience in other places (like Blansko in the Czech Republic) the cheapest place around turned out to be the hotel across the street from the station - 95RON (about CAD$40) - only a little bit more expensive than a hostel, and the best we could find. Dumping the bags, we headed out to find something to eat. Sheryl had found a restaurant with a nice terrace and we ended up there, waiting 45 minutes for the slowest pizza ever. When it came we choked it down like starving wolves and I don’t remember tasting it at all. The glass of beer we’d each drunk on empty stomachs while waiting for the food may have contributed. As we were leaving, Sheryl saw an air-hockey table in the bar and we played until our arms ached. It’s one of our fun things to do while drunk actually: to go down to the Fun-Land arcade on Yonge Street in Toronto and play video games and air-hockey. We found out only the next day that Fun-Land has closed, so it’s fitting that we had a valedictory game of air-hockey halfway across the world. I’m somewhat crushed by Fun-Land closing. I grew up in one video arcade or another, and have spent many more happy hours than I should really admit as an adult in them, too. There are so few arcades left now - they’ve been a dying breed ever since the introduction of the original Nintendo game system in the eighties. It makes me sad to think of one less arcade in Toronto, since there’s only one left now and I doubt it will be around long - but it also makes me sad to think of the city I left changing while I’m away. It won’t be the same place when - if - I go back.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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