Thursday, August 10, 2017

She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes

Ok, so maybe it wasn't the best idea to sleep in a railway carriage.

Bunks to begin with. Small bunks at that. Tiny cabin. Toilet at the end of the corridor, showers in the donger outside.
Neither of us slept well - didn't help that we have an excited young family in the next cabin room to ours - and these were not built with sound-proofing in mind!

Breakfast was good - cold meat and cheeses, bread, fried eggs, juice and tea or coffee.  As we are eating (at 8 am) all these coaches and cars begin to arrive. Turns out, that during the summer  holidays, this steam train trip is VERY popular! Thankfully, as guests of the 'hotel', we have reserved seats. 

On the way to the train, we pass a collection of traditional building set in a museum setting within the grounds. It is only open on weekends, but we can take photos from the outside.  Take a look at the woven wicker fence! It was stunning.

The first train laves at 9 am, so we are no sooner done with breakfast and loaded our worldly goods in to the car, than we are off to beat the hordes to our seats. Now, getting on to that train was quite an interesting affair for me. One step up at 2.5 feet and then another a metre higher! Think of a beached whale, helping hands and a husband under my bum! Can you get the picture?

Who could have thought that a little train could have so many people so worked up?! (Well, I can - you should see Michael's face!!)  There are obviously more people than will fit on this train, and as we pull out of the 'station' the people who will now take the second, or third, train that is doing the trip today, film our departure (like brown's cows) and kids young and not so young run alongside for as long as they can.

Today we are headed high into the Mamamures Ranges where there are no roads and no towns.
The mountains tower over us and the trees, some hundreds of feet high, cling to the side of those mountains for dear life. A small mountain creek meanders through the narrow valley floor. There are lots of small logging camps (1-2 buildings) and the detrius of human waste is just left at the river side, to find its way into that little waterway. We pass by as locals go about their simpler daily life. 

But nothing can beat the mood in the train, and the wonder from gazing out at the world from up here. There are at least two staff in our carriage and many more following in a van converted to rail travel. We stop to take on water (from the river) and people clambour down on to the track and up to the goods van at the front of the train where the railway staff man a small 'kiosk' selling coffee, beer, soft drinks and pastries.  Once watered, the whistle blows insistently and everyone gets back on board.

The trip takes 2.5 hours and we end up at a large clearing where picnic shelters, tables and slab seats set up in the sun, and in the shade, plus a huge camp kitchen is found. Right on the stream bank - 'No Swimming' says the sign that many ignore. 

People are lining up to order their lunch - barbequed mixed grills with rice, coleslaw and that inevitable bread. Michael joins the queue while I find us a seat in the shade. A whole 46 Lei for two plates plus three drinks - that is $15 people for grilled chicken and sausages.

I guess it makes sense when you are high in the forests to build everything from the timber that surrounds you. But it is built beautifully and with care and attention.

All too soon, we hear the whistle of the second train as it arrives. Again, it disgorges its multitude of people who again rush to join the lunch queue and no sooner are they through then the whistle of the third train announces its arrival.

In the meantime, a number of the staff have donned traditional clothing and are performing traditional dances to loud, slightly grecian styled music. The whole scene is quite surreal and the place has the air of the train picnic holidays. Very festive. There is also a small museum, but with the number of people here, we can't even get close.

After a couple of hours, our train comes back in to view, the little steam engine puffs importantly and the whistle declares that it is time to head back.

We  trundle along in the afternoon sun, and with bellies full, there are a number of people snoozing to the rhythmic swaying and the regular clunking of the rails under the wheels.

Hours later back in town, we need to hit the road but first we need to buy petrol. Turns out that it still takes the equivalent of $70 to fill the car - to bad that is not cheaper!

Back into the mountain roads we go - more poor condition, although here there are more roadworks, and still maniacal drivers taking all sorts of crazy risks. 

We stop at the top of a pass to buy gelato and take a quick breather before heading down into Bistrita. I had hoped to get closer to the Bicaz Gorges, but am buggered, so we'll call it a day here.  We get to town with no accommodation booked - bad idea, as there is literally one hotel with rooms left (and I have to stop to do a quick search on to even find that). The Hotel Diana has been a grand old lady in her day. But her day is not today.

There are no smoking signs everywhere, but the whole place reeks of cigarette smoke - the bed linen, the towels, the carpets, the curtains -you get the drift. The room is very spacious, but the furniture old and the high-ceiling bathroom is mould lined. Too bad that the dollars are not
there to re-do it to its former glory.

We eat dinner in a restaurant that seats 200 at round tables of 10, with us the only ones there. After dinner, I'm up to write the blog - and book some accommodation moving forward. Turns out the summer holidays are crazy here.

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