Got up early and ate a very fast breakfast after finding out that the 1:00 train from Baia Mare did not run on Mondays. I was not looking forward to this long travel day, but anxious to get going, not knowing how long it would take the bus from Sighet to Baia Mare. Called a taxi to drive me to Sighet, said goodbye to Ramona, hugging her and thanking her for treating me like part of her family. She was so sweet and kind to me, and I had a very comfortable stay with her and her family, not to mention the delicious meals she cooked.
The taxi driver spoke pretty good English and really made a great effort to get me to the bus station in good time despite the traffic, and even stuck around and made sure I got on the bus. Phew! The minibus was full but I got a seat with room for my backpack and suitcase. A woman behind me attempted to make some conversation, and she told me that she was a pharmacist who made the bus ride weekly. When I told her my travel plans she offered to help me get my ticket in the train station.
As soon as we walked in the station, my heart sank...this was the oldest, dirtiest, and coldest station I had come across in all of my travels. Thankfully she took the time to talk to the lady at the ticket counter and was able to explain all the details of my trip which included changing trains, and crossing the border. Then she told me that the woman told her that it was not safe to walk through the underpass to the platforms, and that we should go outside and walk around to the back. As we walked around the side, I could see people hanging around in the passageway. We got to the back of the train station facing the tracks and I said to her something to the effect that it was going to be a long wait. I hated to see her go and leave me there by myself, but she had helped me enough, and I thanked her, and said goodbye. I tried to scope out the best place to wait where there were other people like myself, but they were far and few between. I did see a young girl with a small backpack, and decided there was power in numbers, so I stood near her in the main area of the station. The seats in the waiting area only had the derelicts and drug addicts that live in the station. I just stood the whole time, not touching anything, or getting near anything. The young girl told me her name was Alice and that she was a student. She spoke a little English and she even said that the station was horrible. Every time some guy started to walk past or near, the two of us kept our eyes on every move. We saw one guy puffing glue out of a bag walking though the station. Now I was sorry that I had gotten there early. It was so damp cold. That was one of the longest hours of my life. It was at this time that I wanted to tap my heels together three times, and say, "There's no place like home."
Meanwhile, I was worried about how I was going to get to the platform since I was told it wasn't safe to walk through the underpass. Alice told me I should cross the tracks and go through the break in the metal barrier. I wasn't sure I could get through with the backpack on, but I was going to have to.
Luckily, a train arrived, and Alice told me that it was my train. I felt bad having to leave her there by herself because her train was later. So I started across the tracks and bent down as low as I could to get through the opening in the barrier, and at first the backpack was not making it through, so I had to bend down even lower, determined that nothing was going to keep me from getting on that train. When I got on I breathed a sigh of relief, and noticed right away the heat in the train. I sat down and took this photo to show the station and where I had to go through to get on the train. The arrow points out the area I came through.
While I was getting settled in my seat and warming up, relieved to be on the train, I noticed an older woman getting on the train and she appeared to be saying goodbye to her son and his wife. She kept waving to them through the window as they started to walk away.
Eventually the train arrived at Valea lui Mihai where I had to connect to another train. As I was getting off the train the woman attempted to help me with my luggage. And as I was rolling my luggage over the very uneven ground toward the station she tried to help me. I went into the station to check on which train I needed to get on, and found out the train was already at the station. I quickly got on the train, noticing a family of gypsies carrying very large bundles of eggplants. This was a very old train with compartments, and as I was walking through to find a compartment, I saw the woman from the other train and she recognized me, and motioned for me to join her and another woman in the compartment. She did not speak a word of English nor do I think she understood anything I said. I showed her my ticket so she could see that I was traveling to Budapest.
Shortly after the train took off from the station, the conductor came around to check tickets. We heard what appeared to be a commotion and an argument between the conductor and the gypsies in the next compartment. I could smell alcohol and I think they were being reprimanded for drinking and making a mess in the compartment. When it was time for the woman to get off the train, she found a compartment that was further away from the gypsies and led me into the compartment. Then she hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. At the stop, my little lady led a beautiful young woman into my compartment who had just gotten on the train and was also traveling to Debrecen, Hungary to visit her sister, where I had to make another change of trains. So I gathered that she thought it would be safer if we traveled together in the compartment. And she motioned to the lock on the door. I thought that while we were at a stop and because I had someone in the compartment who appeared trusting and well dressed and spoke a little English, that I could have her watch my luggage while I used the bathroom. I really didn't want to use a bathroom on the train, but I didn't think I could wait until Budapest.
So I walked to the bathroom and no sooner had I shut the door and locked it, and started to undo my belt, when someone started to forcefully bust in the door. I quickly got my belt buckled, and just stood there silently, expecting that sooner or later they would leave. Thank God that door lock held! And they didn't let up. After probably only about a minute, when it appeared that they had stopped, and I didn't hear anything, I opened the door slightly to peek out, and I saw the gypsy guy and another man standing right outside the door. With both of my hands, and with all of my strength, I slammed the door shut and locked it as he attempted to push it open. I just stood in the bathroom for a couple of minutes until I didn't hear anything, figuring they'd give up and walk away. When I did finally open the door, nobody was there, and I ran back to my compartment and tried to tell the woman that had helped me, as she was getting off the train, but I don't think she understood. I got back in the compartment with the young woman going to Debrecen, and locked the door. I never did go to the bathroom until I got to Budapest, having waited twelve hours.
When we got to the border crossing the Hungarian border agent got on the train and asked for my passport. After I handed it to him, he said he would be right back in a few minutes. When I looked out the train window, I saw him run a short distance and into a building. It occurred to me that it could have been a scam and he was just posing as a border agent. I yelled to the train personnel outside that the man had taken my passport, and they told me not to worry, that he had to go get it stamped. Even with that information, I was worried that he wasn't going to get my passport back to me before the train took off. It seemed like quite a long time, but finally, he did come back and apparently he had to go to his office on the Hungarian side. Phew!
The train took off and at the next stop over the Hungarian border, agents came on the train again, and I had to give up my passport again to an agent who also left for some time before finally getting back on the train and handing me my passport. We finally made it to Debrecen where I had to wait about an hour for the train to the Budapest Nyugati Station. As soon as I got on that train it was a totally different environment. The train was modern, clean, and people were well dressed and were using their laptops.
After a three hour train ride, I arrived in Budapest, and changed the Romanian Lei currency that I had left over for Hungarian Forints. Then I walked to the metro station and got off the Opera Station, walked a couple of blocks, and finally got to the beautiful Opera Garden Hotel, where I was warmly greeted by the reception, offered a delicious cup of warm mulled wine, and shown my room. I was so relieved. After a delicious meal at the Cafe Bouchon, I had a hot shower and wrapped myself in the warmth of the heated towel, feeling safe, and briefly thinking what could have happened on that train.
I will never forget the kindness of the woman who helped me on the train. She was my guardian angel and took me under her wing. Below is a picture I took of her.