The bus leaves Budapest in the early evening and is due in Cluj Napoca, Romania at 530AM. The winter nights are long and dark. Once on-board, the movement of the bus rocks me to sleep.
I awake at 6AM with the bus still gently rocking forward. Immediately, I recognize that we missed our stop. The moving blue dot that is us on Google Maps is nowhere near Cluj so I guess we rolled through much earlier than we were supposed to. Now the moving blue dot is nowhere near anything.
Jerred is still sleeping and I decide not to wake him—at least not until I have hatched some semblance of a plan or an idea of where we are or a notion of where we are going. I feel amused in the full definition of the word. This is unexpected and interesting and I love unexpected and interesting. Also Jerred is here. I’m not lost in Romania on my own. When he wakes up and I calmly inform him that we missed our stop and calmly, he accepts this new information before asking where we are and if we should tell the driver. I say I don’t know—I don’t think the driver could do anything at this point. Cluj is a far distant dream.
We watch the moving blue dot on my phone until I run out of wifi, then Jerred begins the watching game on his phone. We guess possible cities we could be heading towards, where we might stop, and are wrong each time. So we stay on the bus.
The wheels finally stop at Miercurea Ciuc. My good mood is turning to dust. I am a hungry vegan somewhere in rural Romania and it’s Sunday so everything will be closed. Maybe hopelessness starts to seep in. Maybe I feel that Jerred isn’t appreciating how hungry and worried I am and it’s Sunday in rural Romania which means I’m probably never going to eat again.
Miercurea Ciuc is lovely. It really really is. The first glimpses from the dirty bus window are idyllic and magical: snow covered, little mountains hedging the village, the road emerging from the forest. Clean air, no industrial sounds, peaceful, empty. It’s strange how you can find yourself in a place that you never could have imagined before.
Jerred plays in the snow; I try not to slip on ice. The buildings are boxy and colourful, the roads cobbled, and Christmas trees crowd the squares. We find an open supermarket with no fruit or vegetables and Jerred exasperates Who doesn’t have vegetables? and I’m just like dude, we are in the middle of Romania in winter on Sunday. Of course there aren’t vegetables. We try a cafe but find nothing there either.
I’m hungry and annoyed.
Jerred is the perfect picture of optimism. It’s something that I should absolutely treasure in this moment but instead it just makes me more frustrated. I want to be horrible and temperamental and this wonderful, cheery man is ruining my unhappiness. I take comfort in knowing that at least his hopes and dreams are bloated and futile—that he will never find a hearty vegetarian stew in this tiny quiet village on a Sunday.
When he finds such a meal after a short walk through the suburbs (where one would never expect to find a pub with a vegetarian dish), the angry beast inside of me is biting mad, snapping jaws, enough fire to bring Rome to the ground. I am ridiculous and horrible and frothing with misplaced emotion. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic. It would be hilarious if this was a movie and not my life.
The soup is too expensive and maybe not vegan so I go for a walk and spend twice as much on an avocado and some old bread from a dingy corner shop. I’m too proud to tell Jerr this.
Today is the sort of shitshow that is one of the reasons why I LOVE travelling. And I know this. The unpredictability, the magic of tiny precious moments, the beauty of the unexpected. Days like today with all their wildness and brilliance are a beautiful by-product of living life out of the harbour, away from the shallows of safety and security and into the depths where anything can happen. I try to live a life of intensity and unpredictability—get restless whenever a rhythm feels too steady. I desperately want to surprised.
I am aware that this is a weird and wonderful day and I am missing it because I can’t shake my temper. I know. I know I know I know. I just can’t seem too cool down.
I go back to the pub. Jerred tells me the soup was vegan after all. I tell him we are going to miss our train. He says it’s fine. I say we are going to miss our train.
We nearly do.
Maybe we get a bit lost along the way. Maybe Jerred walks too slow.
We arrive at the station with literally a minute until our train to Brasov is due to depart. Jerred dashes to the counter and purchases two tickets in record time as I stand by the broken automatic ticketing machine feeling useless.
Maybe 30 seconds left. So we run out the door. RUN. There are lines of trains sitting in rows on the tracks outside—ours is in the second row. We can see is through a gap in the nearest train. A man, maybe a conductor, maybe dressed in navy blue with a hat, is standing by this narrow hallway waving his hands urgently in rotating windmill motions and saying something like, HURRY. I’m not sure if he is actually saying HURRY or the Romanian equivalent but the meaning is undeniable either way.
Jerred and I vault through the opening, the weight of our packs temporarily irrelevant. A pair of clydesdales charging with determination instead of the weighed-down mules that we usually resemble.
And we throw ourselves onto our train.
The train: rickety, squeaky, shaky, smelly, rusty. We enter a carriage already occupied by an elderly couple and a train employee. It is hot like a sauna—a shock after the snowy streets and too much to handle after our recent sprint. The next carriage is more bearable.
I adore this train and it softens my mood a bit. It’s so unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced—less perfect and not streamlined or sterile. This train has seen some shit. It rolls through the Romanian countryside swaying and squealing as farms and little wooded creeks and tiny villages pass by. The sun begins to set and it is my favourite time of day—those magical hours that stretch from ‘golden hour’ to twilight. I photograph as Jerred naps against the scratched, foggy window, the countryside slowly disappearing.
We arrive in Brasov, find our hostel, settle in, breathe a sigh of relief. This isn’t where we intended to end up but we’re so happy to be here. Happy and hungry. I am more exhausted than angry, yet this is fleeting and vanishes completely when the local “vegetarian with vegan options” restaurant is revealed to no longer be vegetarian and only has vegan options on weekends and it’s a weekday. Jerred orders a warm, gooey pizza and I get a bland salad that is more of an assortment of leaf clippings than a human meal. The anger returns.
I fume, resenting him for being only vegetarian and not vegan and therefore easier to feed. I don’t usually struggle finding food on the road but today has been rough. Jerr chuckles good-naturedly, tries to use warm language to diffuse the bomb that I have become and I’m not sure if his sweetness if because he is actually the kindest human in this world or if it’s a begrudging sweetness, delivered perfectly but really just a cover for him thinking that this whole thing is absurd and I need to calm the fuck down.
The next thing to do is find a supermarket. It looks obvious on Google Maps but in reality, we can’t actually find the entrance. We walk around and around in the dark—the little blue dot that is us tap dances a circle around the red pin that is the supermarket. I am tired. I am done. I am overcooked. I stamp off in the dark, determined to climb my way to the shop entrance if I have to. It’s completely dark and in that complete darkness, I walk straight into a thick, metal, unmovable chain and it feels like my shins are busting open.
The pain is shocking.
I yell at the stars. It’s less about the pain and more because I am so angry, so tired, so overcooked. I scream at the stars and shout a challenge to the Universe and curse the great all powerful nothingness that is toying with my life and I am screaming at myself because GODDAMN who am I try to fight God?! When you try to fight the Universe, the Universe will always win.
Anger is a shit weapon. I shout it out from my body.
I give up.
The rage leaves me like an exhale in the winter air, released from my lungs in a fog of warm smoke.
I crawl into Jerred’s arms. We find the supermarket. We go back to the hostel.
The day ends.
I fall in love with Romania. Brasov in the snow is breathtakingly beautiful. The cobbled streets, empty huts still standing from the Christmas markets, and colourful blocks of houses woo me effortlessly. Jerred spends a few days in bed with a fever but once it passes, we climb to the top of the little mountain that sits in the city and the cool light washes over everything and it is pure winter magic. I am dazzled. The anger doesn’t return, not even when Jerred and I lose each other in Bran after he goes sightseeing in a castle and I end up unintentionally bushwhacking, nearly sliding down the steep incline when the soft soil gives out. Back on safe ground, I am eating a langos that an eager Romanian woman dunked in heaps of icing sugar when I see Jerred through the window of the bus leaving town and it just seems funny.
Another unexpected twist.
Listen: you can always change direction.
Sometimes we get swallowed up by an emotion—by a story—for what is an emotion but a story that we experience in our body? It happens. Always try to do better, forgive yourself when you don’t, hope that you are surrounded by loving humans who will forgive you too, who will let the boiling salty sea of rage roll off their skin as it were just a lukewarm breeze. Say sorry, let it go, I try to believe that we are all trying our best.
And notice your life. Please, please, please notice your life. Look around, see the little big miracles. The honey is in the little things. Getting lost, getting found.
The magic is in the waves.
Photographs from January 2018.