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Sep 05

Next stop, Sighisoara

It was about 8.00am when this Jamaican train conductor sticks his head into our compartment. “Sighisoara? It’s the next stop. 9.30am.” There was at least one more hour of sleep left in the journey, so I just rolled over and shut my eyes.

We woke up at about 9.00am to the sight of Romania rolling by through the window. Romania is much more like the Eastern Europe I envisioned it to be. Cornfields dotted the landscape, occasionally punctuated by small villages which were composed of a group of dilapidated buildings with cracked walls, broken windows and little old gypsy women sweeping pathways with brooms made of sticks. Transylvania was misted over and the hills in the distance took on a hazy, dreamy and soothing complexion as we neared our destination.

The train chugged to an abrupt stop at 9.35am. At this time Dorian and I were still struggling with our backpacks in our cabin, so we had to make haste. We stumbled into the impossibly narrow train corridor where another train conductor inquired, “Sighisoara?” and pointed towards the exit on the other side of the carriage. I just nodded and made a beeline for the door. In the way were pieces of luggage and passengers bound for Bucharest, puffing on early morning ciggies. I can only assume they were still half-asleep because most of them inconsiderately refused to move out of the way, so we just brushed unapologetically past them and if our backpacks maimed them along the way, so be it.

When we got to the vestibule area, the train door was shut. “What the hell do we do?” Dorian asked. I managed to open the door, and just as I did so, the train started chugging forward again. “Shit! Jump!” Dorian yelled, and I readily obliged.

“Ah, nothing like a drama to start the day. At least we made it. Ok, let’s find our hostel.” Oblivious to the lack of signs identifying the train station, I forged onwards, not noticing Dorian becoming increasingly bewildered. I must have been distracted by the small gypsy boy who was after my bottle of peach iced tea. Sighisoara looked like it was in bad shape, with deserted streets and the same dilapidated buildings we’d seen on the train.

Out on the main street, the road signs weren’t quite matching up with what was in the Lonely Planet. The hostel was only meant to be 50m from the train station, but nothing resembling accommodation was in eyesight. Dorian observed that we had passed several buildings along the way marked with “Medias”.

“Uh, I think we might be in the wrong city.”
“Can’t be!” I replied. A few seconds later, we decided to head back to the train station information office to ask, somewhat sheepishly, “Where are we?”
The answer came back as dreaded, “Medias.”

Turns out we had jumped off the train about 35km too early and were in the village of Medias, a village which was noticeably absent from the Lonely Planet.

Luckily, there was an old regional train bound for Sighisoara only half an hour afterwards, and we finally reached our destination, slightly shaken, but otherwise fine.

Romanian Currency
One of the reasons why I refused to believe that we had got off at the wrong stop even though the streets weren’t matching those in the LP’s map was that sometimes the LP is out of date. We bought a copy of the Eastern European LP which was published in February of this year. When we got into Sighisoara for real, we went to the ATM. I was all ready to withdraw 10 million lei but I grew suspicious when the highest preset amount offered to me on screen was only 400 lei. I got cold feet and cancelled the transaction.

Turns out, as we discovered on a nearby poster, that only in July the Romanian government had decided to slash four zeroes off their currency. Had I not cancelled, I would have been attempting to withdraw about A$400,000.