When I’m getting a train away from the city I often get a wonderful feeling of liberation. It’s as if I’m leaving all my worries behind and heading into a bright new future where things will be different. I think some people have a similar feeling when they vote for a political candidate who has promised change. Obama springs to mind.
It’s a wonderful feeling – a mixture of excitement, optimism and discovery – and it’s a good moment to write an article like this. Currently I’m on the train from Bucharest to Constanta, Romania’s Black Sea port. The fact that Constanta is one of the ugliest cities in Romania does nothing to subdue my enthusiasm and energy about getting away.
Of course I know this effect will only last a few hours, and by tomorrow I’ll be back into my routines and the new beginning was nothing but a chimera. But it’s nice while it lasts and I also think it’s therapeutic to have these moments when you can let go of everything – isn’t that the purpose of mindfulness and Buddhism?
Interesting things happen on most train journeys in Eastern Europe as you come into contact with ordinary people, far more than you would in the airport where everyone is making a big effort to look sophisticated, middle class and distant. Often a minor drama is played out in front of you.
You also get ripped off as the authorities in Bucharest’s main station allow all kinds of scammers to wander through trains and make deals. I got cheated by a charming magazine seller who sold me a “new” copy of National Geographic which turned out to have been published in 2006. He also threw in as a bonus a “new” history magazine that was dated 1971.
One of the skills that I have developed as a traveller is to turn problems into positive outcomes. This incident is a case in point: I’m not annoyed with the magazine seller for cheating me; on the contrary, I’m grateful to him for selling me an issue of Nat Geo that has a series of photo essays about Romania’s gypsy communities.
And the history magazine from 1971 is a real gem as it’s full of articles that were written during the Communist era and have a red hammer and sickle printed at the start of each piece. It’s fascinating to see how the Communist’s used history to justify their actions and it’s not often one stumbles across this type of document.
I’m finishing this article at my destination, a few days later, at a place called Techirghiol (pronounced techy-ghee-all) – where I have booked into an old fashioned spa in the hope that I can fix my dodgy back once and for all. Each morning I go to the dark sulphuric pools with a bunch of old men and do exercises, then for my mud bath and various forms of electro-therapy. It only costs £300 which is what you’d pay for a British spa – for a single day.
I’m feeling great. Maybe this is a new beginning for me – a world without back pain – and if I follow their advice (keep fit and come back every year) then I’m sure I’ll be able to keep travelling to a ripe old age.
Photo credit: Manuela Boghian