I love to travel by cheap trains. Why is that?
In Romania there are a lot of options to travel by train. We have very old trains (slow train, cheap, stops in every station, not that clean, the air may be too warm or too cold very often), newer (faster train, more modern, much more clean, doesn’t stop in small stations, better air conditioning), fast train (very fast – in theory, I’ll get back to this -, expensive, stops rarely, clean – for Romanian standards, not for “as it should be”, close to perfect air temperature), and express (intercity) train (very modern, stops very rarely, expensive and, except for perhaps the toilets, pretty clean, close to perfect air temperature).
Now the descriptions above are the theory. In practice, when you have to pick between the trains, you have to factor these also:
a. A lot of poor Romanians pick cheap trains, and if you do this, you tend to have people with low income as partners in the train compartment;
b. Especially in the summertime, due to the heat, trains, even the fast ones, are forced to have speed limitations; for long distance travels, you should expect to be late; why doesn’t the SNCFR (Romanian Railways – Căile Ferate Române) announce that the travel will take 6 hours, instead of 5? I’m only guessing here, and I think that because if they announce 6 hours, even if they, sometime, can make the trip in 5 hours, they have to slow down to make it in 6; so, if in one week they have 10 trips, and out of those 9 take 5 hours and one takes 6 hours, they will announce that the train will take 5 hours and be late one time; had they announced that all the 10 trips will take 6 hours, then they will be forced to make the trip longer for the other 9 trips; why is that? Imagine you’re in a Lehliu station, between Constanta and Bucharest; the train, according to the schedule, will take 6 hours; you come to Lehliu station at the specified time, only to find that the train was earlier and you’ve missed it; this really can’t happen; you can be late, but not earlier.
As a side note, there’s a story from this summer with a train trip been late 9 hours for an expected 9 hours trip. So it took about 100% percent more time for that distance.
OK, so now you have an overall image on what are train options in Romania.
I like to travel by the slow trains, old, cheap, stopping in every station; why?
A. The rational reasons:
a. It doesn’t make much of a difference in time consumed: it takes around four hours from Bucharest to Constanza with the faster trains (little differences between one class of trains to another for the fast trains) and less than four hours from Constanza to Bucharest for the same trains (yes, a bit weird – different time, depending on your direction of traveling);
Now, with the slow trains it’s more than 5 hours;
Therefore, the increase in time is about 25-30 percent for the slow trains;
I tend to read on the trains, I read books almost only on the trains, so to me spending 5.5 hours on a slow train and reading is a good investment; I don’t care if it 4 or more than 5 – I read more and that’s it;
b. It’s cheaper: the decrease in cost is 40-55 percent for the slow trains; yes, the difference in budget for the trips is more consistent than the time spent (because other factors are counted – train condition, cleanliness); for people who don’t mind bribing, it’s even cheaper;
c. For me, the differences of cleanliness make little difference; I travel to Constanta by bus, from Bucharest station home by metro, and I can’t say there is a huge difference in the cleanliness of the chairs themselves; yes, it’s not that clean, but it’s not total trash either;
d. Better air condition – be it hot or cold outside, the more expensive trains have better traveling conditions.
e. You get to live off the beaten track; to break routine, most people would prefer going in a expensive holiday; I would much rather pick a slower train for the same reason; totally out of the modern life of Bucharest;
f. There’s a picturesque (perhaps false) idea that old, slow and out-of-this age has something romantic in it.
On the other hand, on a more expensive train (besides the better cleaning) I would have:
a. People offering extra-services – to me they’re irrelevant, I don’t buy things in train, but they do matter to others;
b. The chance to borrow something to read from the participants of the journey – magazines, newspapers; the travelers are more “elite”, focused on reading, so you can read cool stuff;
c. (if you care for this sort of thing) People which seem to be more elegant, distinguish, and all-in-all clean.
Also, please note that in a slow train seeing people drinking alcohol or eating sunflower seeds (yes, spiting involved) is not uncommon.
B. The irrational reason (but, oh, so important)
The most important reason: the people traveling by the slow trains are great.
Whenever I talk with someone about slow trains, the human factors comes up – you get:
a. People who talk too much with pretty much anyone (it’s much much easier to start a conversation in such a train; this can be annoying);
b. Sometimes dirty, often time poorly dressed, with very non-fashion hand bags, with some bad habits (eating seeds, cursing, drinking alcohol, putting music too loud, not paying the fee for the train, and instead of appealing to bribe, not keeping the place clean), sometimes smelly;
c. The overall factor of travelling with someone who is poor, in a lower class, when you can do better with a bit more expensive ticket.
OK, so now you know why others don’t like travelling by slow trains.
Now for my reasoning to the above statement:
a. I don’t mind people talking in the compartment, it’s often time very pleasant to hear a conversation; sometimes I take part to, others I merely listen; it’s very interesting, most of the times;
b. I really don’t care about other people’s behavior; sure, you would prefer everybody to be stylish, and clean, and with good manners, education and financial status; but I can live with you for 5 hours as my companion quite easily;
c. The status factor (“I don’t travel with the poor”) doesn’t inspire me.
And now for the reasons that I like so much the slow trains:
a. I get to listen to very active conversations – people have much less inhibitions in such a train; you get a big variety of human behavior, right in front of you; think of Roma people – talkative, sometimes arguing, oftentimes laughing, high spirits; sure, you won’t listen to high culture conversations, but the overall expression of human spirit is there; lovely thing to watch;
b. People are much more opened when communicating – in my last trip a woman was from the same village with the President of Romania; it’s incredible what kind of things she said about the President; lovely thing to hear, mixed thoughts, live emotions and very open affirmations; I was once in a compartment with a religious person from a minority cult; that person was more than opened to speak about his religion; sure, in a tight atmosphere this would have been sanctioned (“How can you talk about religion in public?”), but in that environment it fitted well;
c. I get to have good conversations – in a faster train the conversation is almost always blank; rarely do people speak, even more rarely everyone takes part in the conversation; in a slow train things get moving much more often and I had some nice conversation with various people; sure, from time to time you may start to wonder – “Why do I speak with this uneducated person?” -, but all-in-all it’s a nice experience;
d. You get to share food – I was once in a compartment with only one person; we talked for hours (literally) and at some time that person (he was from the countryside) brought up some food (he had some very unhealthy and yet so very tasty meat products made in his own house) and invited me to join him; I politely refused, and he very much impolitely insisted that I join him; that’s life! Ignore formality, come join me and take part to my lunch;
e. You have a very good idea on what the people are thinking; I live in Bucharest – concrete, walls, metro, lot of artificial things; people earn above the national average and the society lives to other standards than those in more rural areas; traveling by a slow train allows me to get a glimpse on what the “real” Romania (with most of the population) is like;
f. I feel at ease; sometimes it’s a bit strange to be in a compartment and take out a book; sometimes you look funny with two big bags; perhaps my t-shirt doesn’t look good after all this travel; you get the idea; put this feelings and thoughts in a fast train and they’re very much alive; switch the atmosphere to a slow train and you feel at home – you can’t feel bad because the others aren’t looking much better either; you feel at peace with yourself (I won’t say if this is a good thing, or a bad thing – since it may prevent improvements -, but the feeling is there);
g. I get to met awesome people – you may ask yourself “How is that possible?”; first of all, in order for me to determine if someone is awesome or not, I mostly need to hear that person say something (or se it doing something); in a fast train people don’t do much; in a slow train, things are quite opposite – a lot of things happen; the second reason comes from my perception vision of what’s an awesome person; as said before in articles from my top people list, I like the people behavior that breaks a pattern (in a positive way); so, if we take Cabiria for example, she breaks the pattern of a hard life in her own unique special way; now, if you start from a high standards way (you live in the upper class, are smart and good looking, have a good job), it may be harder to do something out of the ordinary; if you have low life conditions (according to society’s standards), it may be easier to show yourself worthy of a better dignity; I’ll explain this with two examples of people I’ve met in the train.
The first example is the example of a head of a family somewhere at the countryside in Romania. He seemed to be around 30. He had a wife and a baby (a little girl). What was out of the ordinary?
a. He gained few money at his job (a smaller salary than that of people with Faculty in Romania); very few money; his wife was keeping the household and taking care of the baby, so no money from here; they had some help from their parents (not much); in spite of his small salary, he was working hard, doing intense labor work (preparing bread and pastry), for long hours (working 12 hours, then 24 hours break, which meant that sometime he was working all day, while at other times he was working all night); no Saturdays or Sundays free; work and work again; before Romanian holidays, even more work; he wasn’t complaining neither for his small money, nor for the work conditions;
b. They had a lot of animals in the household; very very large number of animals; more work from this part also;
c. The family loved to raise pigeons for their beauty; they didn’t eat them or sell them; no, they raised them for their beauty; they had more than 40 families; inspiring, isn’t it? Also, they offered to give, for no charge, pigeons to be set free at events in Bucharest to some other traveler.
It’s easy to look at such a person (and family) and see their problem; it’s easy to say (and thus judge them harshly) that:
a. They didn’t speak very correct grammar – and yet, in spite of this, he got a job;
b. They didn’t eat very healthy – but they lived a better quality life than a lot of Romanians;
c. They didn’t earn a lot of money – and yet, in spite of this, he said he was doing expensive improvements on the house, from that very small salary.
Wonderful family to see, very good companions.
On my last trip from Constanza to Bucharest I met another person – a lady; what was so great about her?
a. It was emotional that she had a daughter and a little niece and, because they didn’t come to see her all summer, she was going to them instead;
b. She used to work as a primary school teacher – so she invested her time and energy to educate kids;
c. According to her, the financial crisis brought to the financial status of the family to worst times ever;
d. Her husband was working (and thus commuting) in Bucharest as a security agent, and he hasn’t been paid in the last 5 months; afraid that he won’t ever get his money, he still worked there;
e. Very talkative, open and positive thinker – she saw the good in any situation, she hoped for the better, she tried not to paint the reality in black;
f. A lot of problems due to some Romani people neighboring her village – they stole them a lot of things; she was still not looking dark on the situation;
g. Good observation skills, very involved in the conversation;
h. In the road from the station, in the bus, she let an older person take her place (no one else offered to do the same thing as her);
i. Very funny person.
Sure, you can look at her and see only that:
a. She was cursing from time to time (not too aggressively, but still);
b. She liked to talk about people from behind;
c. She wasn’t speaking very correctly.
Yet, all-in-all, she was a very nice human being, despite having a life more difficult than that of a lot of people.
So, you travel in a slow train, reading, with some people with not-that-great manners, in not very good thermal conditions, and you enjoy the other participant’s presence. What could be better than this?