| Krista Semotiuk is
a twenty-three year old travelling woman who completed a
solo four month trip through Eastern Europe and Turkey.
In true networking style, it was her mother who introduced
her to Journeywoman before she left on this adventure.
The train between
Brasov and Bucharest went by without problems but the
night train from Bucharest to Sofia was quite another
It was about midnight.
The train cars weren't marked. Luckily, I noticed a #475,
written by finger, in the dust of one of the cars. I jumped
on minutes before the train was scheduled to leave and
made my way to my couchette. It was empty except for a
few leering Bulgarian men who were into their booze.
No beds available...
No sooner did I
get myself comfortable in my couchette when there was
a knock on the door. A conductor explained that I had
to move; the car I was in "was no good" (whatever that
meant). He grabbed my backpack and I quickly grabbed my
other possessions and followed.
As I entered the
new car, the conductor shook his head and shrugged his
shoulders. It seemed that there were no more beds available.
But, the car was empty! I certainly couldn't believe him!
I explained in choppy French that I had paid for a couchette
all the way to Sofia--the entire trip--not only until
midnight, as he was trying to tell me. He refused to relent
and I refused to get too irritated.
Than, just as the
train was about to pull away, I realized that I had left
my mailing tube in the last compartment. This tube contained
15 posters that I had collected and carried for the first
two months of my trip. Determined to recover it, I ran
to the conductor and motioned that I had left something
behind. He, in turn, motioned for me to quickly run off
and get it.
Only in his undershirt...
The doors to the
last car were locked but my flailing arms and bad French
were attracting attention. Clad only in his undershirt,
a cigarette in his mouth, the conductor in the car that
was destined to stay behind, handed me my precious package.
"Merci, merci, merci!", I called to him. By this time
about 20 people were watching the entertainment and laughing,
repeating, "Merci, merci!". I joined in with their laughter,
gesturing at my absentmindedness. Posters in hand, I happily
returned to my designated car and we quickly departed.
He wanted more money!...
Now the new conductor
tried to explain that I had to pay him more if I wanted
a couchette. Keeping a smiling face, I shook my head and
explained back that I had no money, that I understood
my ticket, I had a reservation, and that I wasn't stupid.
All the time that
this was going on, one of the Bulgarian men from the previous
car was trying to help me. But after a while, I realized
that he just wanted to keep passing me in the corridor.
It was a tight fit and he kept brushing up against different
parts of my body each time he went by. The creep! I gave
him a piece of my mind and he disappeared!
I shrugged my shoulders
and contemplated how I was going to be able to stand for
the next six hours. The conductor went back to his compartment.
I stood outside, not intending to annoy, but singing and
humming to myself.
Love conquers all...
Suddenly he reappeared
and, without a word, opened a couchette for me. All full,
huh? Nonetheless, I smiled gratefully, thankful that I
hadn't given in, shouted, or stopped smiling during our
I brought the conductor a chocolate bar which he happily
accepted. Now, I had a conductor friend for the duration
of the trip. Coming into Sofia, he made sure that I was
awake and he helped me with my bags including all of my
And, I swear, I'm
absolutely positive that there was a tear in his eye when
we said, "Au revoir" at the station.
Ed. note: In a letter to Journeywoman,
Krista explained that travel in Eastern Europe can be
difficult for a woman travelling solo. She was pleased
that she had taken a friend's advice and packed extra
doses of flexibility, patience, humour and, of course,
lots of chocolate bars.
Which car, please?...
Never assume that by boarding the right train you'll
end up where you want to go. It's the right car that's
critical! Each car has an identification panel on its
side, showing on top the name of the city where it originated
and on the bottom, the name of its final destination,
with the names of the most important stops en route in-between.
But...don't be fooled. If you intend to get off the train
at a small town not noted on the side panel, you have
to find out before hand from the conductor which car you
should be on.
Ed.note: For anything else
you need to know about train travel but are afraid to
ask, go to www.raileurope.com.
The RailEurope site is loaded with excellent information
on fares as well as schedules. Bonus: You can book your
railpasses and tickets right on the net.
Guys talk trains...
The only way to
be sure of catching a train is to miss the one before
(C.K. Chesterton, quoted in Vacances a Tous Prix, 1958)
Just being in a
train and rushing on to somewhere is extraordinarily nerve-soothing.
(Frank Tatchell, The Happy Traveller, 1923)
Going by railroad
I do not consider as travelling at all; it is merely being
'sent' to a place, and very little different from becomin
(John Ruskin (1819-1900), Modern Painters.)
(Source: Flinging Monkeys at the Coconuts -- edited
by Trevor Cralle)
Travel Gods Smiled on
Since I always travel
solo, I make it my business to journey early in the day.
I like to arrive at my destination long before hotels,
hostels and B&B's fill up.
One day while travelling
in Britain, circumstances didn't allow for an early arrival
and I found myself getting into the city of Bath quite
late. I mused about this to my seat-mate, a lovely older
gentleman who lived in the city and knew it well. My concern,
I explained, was that the more moderate accommodation
in town would all be gone and I would be stuck with a
huge hotel bill.
He listened and
then directed me to a friend who was the manager of a
tiny gem of a hotel within walking distance of the train
station. "Tell him I sent you and ask his advice," he
The hotel manager
listened, smiled and asked what my "per night" budget
I replied rather sheepishly.
"Welcome," he said
with a smile.
I was shown to a
room filled with wonderful antique furniture. An inviting
handsome old bathtub (on legs) stood over to one corner.
Absolutely charming! It was immediately evident that the
rate for this room was probably three times my "per night"
budget. The Travel Gods were smiling down on me. Clearly
I was being given a very, very nice present.
I must confess.
I hardly slept that night. A lot of time was spent simply
soaking in that big, deep tub ruminating about the joys
of being on the road. And then, I wrote to all my friends
telling them what a terrific time I was having!
(Source -- a retelling based on one of Evelyn Hannon's
travel journal entries)
Things Have Changed On Trains
...but just in case
After reading "Love on the Train", British journeywoman
Paula Bardell sent us her memory of an unsettling train
trip in the mid 80's.
When travelling from
Athens in Greece to Dusseldorf in Germany via the Hellas
Express during the mid 1980s, my female travelling companion
and I had a rather unfortunate experience with a train
We reached Yugoslavia
(as it was still known in those days) at about 1 o'clock
in the morning and went through the usual rigmarole with
border control checking our passports. We were about to
settle down in our seats for a couple of hours shut-eye,
when the said guard -short, fat, drunk, and stubbly-faced
- came stumbling into our carriage. He stood leering at
us and began to talk away. We didn't understand the words
but ..... At this point we both became aware of the large
revolver hooked into his belt and smiled nervously, realising
that he was inviting us back to the guards room for a
Although my friend
and I were unmarried, we had been advised by friends to
always wear rings on our wedding fingers. We laughed at
the time but this useful piece of advice probably got
us out of a potentially unpleasant situation.
Thankfully the guard
spoke a little German, and my friend had a school girl's
understanding of the language. She pointed to her ring
and told him that we were married woman with children,
and we were meeting our husbands in Austria. Luckily her
ploy worked and the guard staggered off muttering under
And the morel of
this story? If you're going to visit countries where the
male population view women who travel alone as morally
loose, be sure to have your story ready and always wear
a wedding ring.
(Source -- Journeywoman reader report 1998)