September 30, 2008

From Big City Bustle to Small Town Saunter
Periş (Mureş), Romania

It was after only four short nights with our hosts in Cluj that that we had to push on. Baby Ana's second birthday was today, and relatives from near and far were schedule to flood Marius and Teodora's small home.

It was a bit of a stressful scramble to find our next CouchSurfing home, as the Internet-enabled computer was in the living room with our hosts, and they went to sleep with Ana around nine in the evening. This meant limited time to search and communicate with potential hosts over the course of only about 24–36 hours before we had to leave. (I didn't have an opportunity prior to line up our next host, and we were only made aware of our necessary departure on Sunday, the 28th)

Despite numerous other hosts in the city of Cluj itself, none were available or in a situation to accommodate two travelers and a baby. I'd reach out in to folks in a large eastern arc, stretching from Moldova to locations just north of the capital, but had little response.

Then, yesterday morning, fortune smiled upon us. A fellow named Alex, living out the middle of nowhere in the (Hungarian dominated) central region of Transylvania, responded. He said that he was headed out of town for the week, but his family would be happy to host us. I called him up that evening (after it seemed he didn't get a chance to see my e-mail reply) to ask if an arrival the next day would be okay with them. He called home, then called me back on our host's mobile—we were a go.

Just another example of how you (unfortunately) need to have your next CouchSurfing host lined up as far in advance as possible.

Travel to Periş

The trio of trains to Periş (Mureş)

I think it such an amazing thing to be able to plan our onward transportation online. After spending so much time in regions of the world where chaos and iffy departure times are the norm, finding buses and trains that depart and arrive almost to the minute of their schedules is nothing short of amazing.

But sometimes there are complications, such as our train transfer in the town of Tîrgu Mureş. We nearly missed it because the train was wildly early (of all things), and the station name was written 'Marosvásárhely Târgu Mureş' (the first word being the town name, but in Hungarian). The train was just starting to pull away when I kept it from continuing by standing halfway out the compartment door—whistles blowing angrily at me to get in or get off as the train ground to a halt—while Tatiana frantically struggled to gather her things, baby and backpack and jump out of the compartment to disembark.

Our early afternoon train out of Tîrgu Mureş was absolutely packed with teenage students returning home from school. I find the idea of a riding a train over a school bus much more appealing, as I'm sure the kids do. A small bevy of girls were wild about Aidric, and some of the boys annoyed that they weren't getting any attention because of him. (Some of the kids were actually speaking quite advanced English with us.)

The final train ride to Alex's village was short, perhaps only twenty minutes, but I'm quite certain that the memory of it will haunt Tatiana for many months to come.

The bulk of the train ended up overshooting the small village disembarkation point by 20 yards or so (the place is so small that there isn't a station, just a short concrete sidewalk running parallel to the track), and as a result we had to jump from the train into the ditch of the overgrown dirt and stone embankment.

The train agent was yelling for us to get off as Tatiana hesitated at the door. I was behind her and at an angle so that I couldn't see the ridiculous jump off the train that she was contemplating with a backpack on and Aidric lashed to her front, and pressured her as well. I'm not quite sure how she did it, but she landed safely (albeit in a very angry state) in the dry, head-high brush after taking quite a jump down.

I disembarked into the weeds without too much trouble, but as the train was pulling away Tatiana said that my head nearly got clipped by a carriage door that was left open. It scared the crap out of her, and I never saw it coming—I must've had my head turned to look at her and see if they were doing okay.

Small Town Life

Alex told us in his e-mail that his home was on the other side of town from the train's drop point, but we really didn't know what that meant. He also said to ask anyone in town where he lived and they'd know. …Right.

We walked over to a nearby gas station and after ten minutes or so of waiting and asking were happy to score a free ride to Alex's family home, about a mile down the primary road in town. (As it turns out, this village has just a handful of streets, with most of the inhabitants living off the main road.)

His parents were there to greet us, though they didn't speak a word of English. You can automatically tell that they're warm, kindhearted people. Aidric took an instant shine to Alex's father (as he did to Aidric). We were given a private room with its own entrance, quickly figuring out that it was Alex's comfortable bedroom.

Alex's sister showed up later in the afternoon, bringing Alexa (her 18-month-old daughter) along with her. She also lived in the cute home whilst her husband was abroad (a geologist currently working with an oil company in Libya), and has became our translator for the parents and source of information for all things local and Romanian (as she speaks English quite proficiently).

It's for You…

Simply one of the oddest moments I've had traveling came when we took a few minutes to walk around the small village and pick up some supplies from a corner market. We were sort of poking around the little store, trying to figure what we might be able to cook, when one of the girls came over to me from behind the counter and handed me a cell phone.

"For you," she said shyly, with a thick accent. I furrowed my brow and took the phone, giving a glace to a likewise confused Tatiana.

"Hello?" I questioned.

"Hey Craig, it's Alex! How are you?" came the reply from the small speaker.

I was shocked, and continued our conversation in amazement.

It was later revealed to me that the girl in the market was his neighbor, and very much aware of our intended arrival. As soon as she spotted us she gave Alex a call and handed me the phone—sneaky, sneaky.

Yeesh, this really is a small town.

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