Many Questionable Decisions
september 16, 2017
This is the story of how I jumped out of a moving train and almost got catfished by a foreign internet stranger.
It all started in a blackhole of Instagram hashtags on a lonely night merely one week into my new, Romanian life in Bucharest. I’ve come to find instagram as a great tool for finding trendy restaurants, scenic parks, and events while traveling. Which is how I met Nick*. Trolling through photographs under #romania (or something of the sort), I stumbled upon the profile of a super cute Romanian guy, so I was like - yeah, I’ll follow that.
Shortly after he sent me a private message and we started chatting about our lives and Romania and other things. He made a few well aimed compliments and sent pictures of his hometown in the countryside of Romania. We exchanged a couple messages a day - nothing crazy.
About a week into these harmless exchanges, I was out by myself on a Thursday night having dinner and then a couple of cocktails. Nothing wild, just treating myself after a long day behind a computer. But we all know the effect alcohol takes on our fragile souls - I was a wee bit tipsy and also feeling quite bubbly from my champagne based cocktails. Anywho, Nick and I were swapping messages more rapidly and he invited me to come to his hometown to see the Romanian countryside. My tipsy self, was like, “Sure! I’ll come tomorrow!”
I woke up the next morning to a text from Nick with the train schedule for departures to his town. And then I remembered my light hearted decision from the night before, which suddenly seemed much bolder without a couple of Aperol Spritz’s down the hatch.
But then I thought to myself - what better way to see true Romanian life than from a true Romanian - who also happens to be quite dashing? And my gut, which tends to only lead me astray from truly dangerous situations, was unexpectedly calm. After furiously texting two of my best gal pals, who gave their blessing and happily consented to alert the authorities should I go quiet, I decided to make the journey.
Now in addition to my guardian angel ladies, I also researched a couple of hotels in the area in case things got weird and I knew the upcoming return train schedule by heart. I also brought along Stewart for moral support, and also as my “character judge”. This baby has a keen sense for anyone remotely out of place in his momma’s life. I felt surprisingly confident in my choice as I boarded the train for a 5 hour journey.
It started out well enough. There were a few delays, but the train was surprisingly empty - we practically had an entire wagon to ourselves. Nick stayed in contact the entire time, reassuring me that he’d meet me at the train station. But things started to get a bit more complicated as I got further into the countryside. I began to regularly lose reception on my cell phone - so I couldn’t keep in contact. There were also further delays and it was incredibly dark outside - the sliver of a moon was masked behind clouds.
After 5.5 hours I knew we were getting close to our destination, but I didn’t know how close - time was all thrown off because of the delays. Additionally, these silly Romanian trains lacked any indication of approaching stations. There was no flashing light announcing the “next stop” or kind voice broadcasting destinations. The exterior signs as we approached each station were always either poorly lit or non-existent. Essentially you had to know when to get off based on previous experience - which I lacked. On top of everything my phone was rapidly losing battery.
And I started to get pretty anxious. As we began to slow for the next stop, I looked around for someone, anyone, to help. I spotted a gaunt man smoking a cigarette near the door of the train and asked him what stop this was. He looked at me with suddenly wide, gaping eyes and then shrugged. Okay, he doesn’t speak English, I thought to myself. Then I tried to pronounce the name of the town I was looking for, which I totally butchered. Again he shrugged and mumbled something in Romanian.
So what was I to do… my phone was about to die. I had no idea if I was in the right place or not… but I might be - at least I’m close?! So I began shoving my things in my bag and I attempted to cajole Stewart into his travel carrier. Then the train began moving again. It had literally stopped for 60 seconds.
Then I went into panic mode. I don’t know where I am. I need to get off this train. My phone is almost dead. I’m going to be stranded in this foreign land.
The train was moving quite slow to start, so I figured a disembark would be pretty simple. And it could’ve been. But first, I’d like to take a minute to highlight the false picture pop-culture and modern media paints when it comes to moving trains. Namely this lovely scene from Water for Elephants, one of my favorite books that is now a major motion picture, featuring my favorite actress, Reese Witherspoon.
Anyways, my departure was far from romantic. I jumped out of the train okay - we were still moving quite slow. I landed on two feet with something resembling grace. But Stewart (the more intelligent half of this duo) was not having it. And then the train doors started to close. Somehow Romanian trains are just old enough to lack a proper system for identifying train stops, yet are modern enough to have automated doors.
So the gaunt Romanian man was still at the door and we were both quickly realizing the pickle that I’d gotten myself in to. He jumped in to help. The door was only being kept open by my small suitcase, which was effectively stuck. I had to let go of Stewart’s leash as the train picked up speed and I could no longer keep up. My dog and my luggage were both still in the car. Never have I ever felt such dread. I actually almost didn’t share this story because I was so embarrassed and angry at myself for the whole situation.
Yet, there is a good ending, so why not share the lessons I learned and hopefully, spur a few chuckles. But before that, the climax of the story…
So, I was full on sprinting after the train, and screaming Stewart’s name. I’m not much of an athlete and I mostly wear shoes with a bit of a heel. But I ran like there was fire under my ass. And thankfully I was wearing what I had dubbed “my new favorite travel shoes” - these flat, lace-up, Havaianas espadrilles - super comfy and very chic. But evidently not practical enough.
It wasn’t my climatic leap from the train that caused injury. It was, in fact, my “sensible” fashion choice and unnerving clumsiness which brought me to this fate. Mid stride I simultaneously tripped on an undone shoelace and spied the man as he tossed Stewart flying out of the moving train. I came down on the uneven and rocky concrete with a definite thud, face first. Thankfully, Stewart was unharmed and immediately ran to me. As I slowly lifted myself up, I noted a pool of blood on the ground. Pain was mostly absent, thanks to the adrenaline and other funky, panic-induced chemicals coursing through my veins. Seconds later I was bombarded with the syrupy thick Romanian language as fellow passengers presumably asked if I was okay.
Then the station guard came out and started yelling at me and shaking his head, as I managed to finally catch my breath and inform the crowd that I was, “Sorry, but I only speak English.” Within a minute a few guys a couple years younger than me joined the circle - thankfully many younger Romanians speak English.
“I can take you to the hospital,” - the first English words I heard after this debacle. At this point, I know I’m not in great shape. I’ve never broken any bones, and I’m pretty sure if/when that fateful time comes, I’ll know. So I politely declined the offer, as now I had to figure out where my luggage was and, most importantly, where I was.
I was quickly informed by the crowd that I departed one stop too early. Shame. Luckily another train would arrive in 30 minutes, which would bring me to the final destination. Next I had to call Nick. Of course I was incredibly embarrassed and felt like a total inconvenience, which felt a thousand times worse, because he was effectively a stranger.
After quickly sharing my story and profusely apologizing, I handed the phone off to the station guard so they could figure out what to do about my suitcase. It was decided that the police would stop my first train to search for my bag upon it’s scheduled arrival in my final destination.
I was then led to a small office where I took my first glimpse at my face in the mirror. Blood. Everywhere. My whole face. My nose was like a facet. Thank god I was wearing all black, which masked the dark liquid spattered all over my dress from the blood pouring out of several open wounds. I rinsed off and cleaned up as best I could. A couple of my wounds wouldn’t stop bleeding so I did my best with a compress made of wadded paper towel.
The next train arrived and I climbed aboard with the group of Romanian teens. They kept me company and helped me with Stewart, and most importantly informed me when I should disembark. In the midst of all this, I received a text from Nick saying they couldn’t find my bag on the first train. I would later found out that they held up this already severely delayed train for 20 minutes as a handful of police officers searched every cabin and questioned the passengers.
Upon arriving at my destination, I was very aware that I was not a pretty sight. I was also still in shock and totally second guessing my entire decision to make this trip. Nick spotted me and ran over with a trail of police officers behind. He put his arm around me and asked me how I felt. I was then informed that my bag had been located on the train tracks just outside of the station I just left. The Romanian man with the cigarette must have managed to push it out.
At this point there was little room for relief - I was exhausted and still bleeding. But thankfully, I had stumbled into the greatest display of hospitality I have ever witnessed. I was ushered home, where I was gently cleaned and bandaged. A cousin was enlisted to drive 30 minutes (1 hour roundtrip) out of his way on a Friday night to pick up my bag.
The rest of the weekend was spent in a sort of time-warp trance. Nick lived on a farm with his parents and brother. No one spoke English, aside from Nick and a friend who spent a year in London. Aside from this vocal immobilization, my injuries kept me a little cautious. I was mostly okay - the primary pain was in my wrists, where I’ve suffered tendonitis since I was 16. Yet, every hour I felt a little stronger, a little more confident, a bit more sure-footed.
I walked the fields and ate berries straight from the bush, laid in the grass with an outstanding view of rolling hills, drank homemade prune liqueur with the distiller himself (Nick’s grandpa), strolled through a medieval monastery, licked ice cream from a cone while overlooking the river at dusk, and completely lost any sense of time. Nick’s family took incredible care of me - mainly by providing home cooked, Romanian meals comprised of ingredients solely sourced from their little farm and community.
The whole experience brought me back to my youth in every sense. I fell down and hurt myself. I was put back together and taken care of. I didn’t speak the same language as almost everyone around me (as a child there was a language barrier between my limited vocabulary and the broad and worldly understanding of adults). I ate what was presented to me when it was presented - half of the time without knowledge of what I was actually consuming. I ran around barefoot and ate fruit straight from the vine. I was even in a rural setting, with backdrops very similar to where I spent my childhood.
And I had these intense and contrasting feelings of being extremely out of place, yet fully welcome and safe. I'm very independent.I don’t like asking for help and it is very rare that I feel comfortable enough to let someone take care of me. But I think at the end of the day, that’s exactly what I needed - and it was truly my only option. If it took a face plant for me to realize it, so be it. I’ve been doing things unnecessarily alone or with minimal help for too long. I think a lot of me wanted to prove that I could do it alone. But I can’t - no one can. And no one should. Because you miss out on a hell of alot. And you also take away the opportunity for others to feel the joy that comes with making those around us feel happy, well, and even spoiled.
Trust your gut, have faith in humanity, and travel safe. xoxo, L
* name changed for privacy