Interrailing in Eastern Europe
- Submitted by: Sam Garforth
- Submission Date: 11th Feb 2005
These are the notes I made for myself after my friend John and I returned from an Interrailing holiday. I had to write it fast before I forgot it or got fed up with writing so it really is just notes rather than a great novel. It contains lots of details that I wanted to remember that the reader might not find interesting but also contains some important events and observations. I also wrote it because I wanted to warn people about the dangers of going to Eastern Europe but I couldn't get anyone to publish any article about my experiences.
Sat 1st August 1992
18:00 Berlin to Warsaw
In our carriage on this train: Compartment next to ours 1 girl (Irish so had Polish visa trouble), and two English guys. Age approx 21. Not sure of their exact planned route after Warsaw, they mentioned Prague and Cologne, Athens then Istanbul. Compartment a couple past them 2 young English girls aged approx 18. Compartment at other end 2 English girls age approx 21, one in a Spear of Destiny tee-shirt, the other was almost like her sister. They planned to spend the whole month in Eastern Europe eventually catching a plane from Istanbul. There were also two Dutch people (I only met one) with very thick glasses and a bicycle, elsewhere. We were the only people in the carriage.
In the night, after crossing into Poland, I woke up seeing someone looking into our carriage in the dark. I thought it was John, but he was on the bench opposite. The person gestured an apology and I went back to sleep. In the morning the two young girls were in tears. A small bag had been stolen. It contained one girl's contact lenses so she couldn't see. They asked the guard for help but he was very unhelpful saying they should go to the police and that he couldn't do anything.
We got off the train at Warsaw central station. I left my rucksack with John and got on again to go to the toilet. I thought it was the terminus. I heard the engine start. I opened the toilet door. The train door slammed. I turned the handle, the door locked. I tried to open the window. It was locked. The train pulled out. It wasn't fast but I couldn't get out. I felt like I was in a James Bond film. The Spear of Destiny girls were on to but they meant to be. The guard didn't speak English but said we'd been at Warsaw central(e) and were now going to Warsaw something else. At first I thought John was at the wrong station but eventually remembered that the night before we had discussed that we were going to Warsaw central. At the station I waved my arms about to find out which platform to get back to Warsaw central. The train people just ignored me but some people helped me. About 45 mins later I was back at central. The station was massive. I ran around everywhere, shouting John's name but no-one responded. Eventually I found him with the trio from the next compartment at Left Luggage. 'Phew', I thought, the bad bit of the holiday over. John and the trio talked about how bad the economy was there and that we could just buy a house for the night. Actu- ally prices were pretty similar to here, just the wages are different. We had to say how much the rucksacks were worth and pay accordingly. It was a lot more than the price of the lockers which obviously weren't safe. The trio left to find coffee and accommodation and we went to the Bureau de Change in the dark depths of the station and changed 20 DM. We went upstairs to reserve our ticket to Krakow and another one from Krakow to Bucharest. We found the Spear of Destiny girls who had discovered that there was nothing at the other station and that this was where they really wanted to be. They gave me an aspirin as I'd had a strenuous time and had a headache. We went to the ticket office to book our train. The woman did not speak English and there loads of people behind us waiting (despite there being being about 15 windows). Using a pen and paper we were told we didn't need a reservation from Warsaw to Krakow so we just asked for one from Krakow to Bucharest for the fol- lowing day. She made us tickets which we didn't want so we had a row about that, someone helped out and we ended up with some reservations. After we'd paid, a kid came up and asked if he could help as he spoke English. It turned out we'd got a reservation from Warsaw to Krakow for the following day. Totally useless. We gave up and went back to the S.O.D. girls. We had told the boy which train we planned to get out that night.
John and I went to the nearest hotel and had a very nice breakfast (salad, bacon, bread and lemon tea for me). Got ripped off with the bill as they added an extra charge (VAT or something?).
We met the young girls in a travel agent (we were trying to find the tourist information place to get a map. We bought one there.) The girls had been to the British Embassy. The man said this happens a lot. He said there are mobs working the trains. The train staff are often part of it. You shouldn't really travel at night and one person should always be awake. They would get some new glasses the next day. We sat outside the agent talking frightened for a while. I can't remember what we said. We asked at the travel place and then at a big hotel where they spoke English. We asked if it would be safe to travel to Krakow at night, what the trains were like and what the station would be like. (Our plan for the holiday, based on our experiences in Western Europe a couple of years earlier, was that we would do all our travelling at night and make sure the journeys took the whole night, thus saving us the price of accommodation and giving us full days every day to see as many places as possible.) The hotel receptionist said Krakow had a big, well-lit safe station.
We followed the map to the interesting parts of Warsaw. This involved walking through what felt at the time to be very dodgy areas of the city. Very run down, desolate and quiet. Everyone had vicious dogs with them. We went past IBM, past the student areas. About four hours after we left them (11:30) we met the trio from the next com- partment. They were finding that, as the book said, 'searching for accommodation in Warsaw is a depressing and soul destroying experience'. We directed them to the tourist information place. We were glad we would be leaving that night. It was a very hot day and we'd walked a long way so we bought a coke and sat in the street drinking it as it was one of those old glass bottles and you had to take it back to get the deposit money. All the cars were really old and travelled at about 30 mph, screeching around corners. We went to a few renovated churches. I remember taking a photo in one, that's next to a statue of Copernicus(?), of a concrete block that was just about the only brick from the ori- ginal church. On the wall was a b+w photo of a pile of bricks which was the church after the 2nd world war. Outside another church was a beggar who John said had AIDS. We had a coffee, bought a camera film each and batteries. There weren't many shops open as it was Sunday. The Polish are supposedly very strongly catholic. We went to see the tomb of the unknown soldier. It was guarded, has fire burning (the sun was blazing) and was housed in three arches, the only remains of some big building. We saw lots of soldiers, marching and playing band music.
We went to old Warsaw. On the way there an English speaking man asked us to take his photo and then we asked him to take ours. I'm sad to say that I doubt if I would have handed my camera to someone again in the same situation. Old Warsaw is a big market square rebuilt to look as it did in 1944. It is like stepping back in time as is well worth seeing although the Marlborough umbrellas spoil it a bit. I noticed one stall selling perfumes and thought that it was a bit strange that there was a green waterpistol in the middle of them. I later read that this meant that he was selling armaments. We went to the Bureau de Change and changed 20 DM. We sat down in the square to look at the scenery. We took some photos. John pointed out that a guy was staring at us. He was dressed like a 1960s scholar. Looking down in thick glasses and tweed jacket carrying a book. John thought that the guy might be gay. We walked across the square to look at some paintings that were on sale. The man followed us. He wandered around pretending to look at the market stuff but not really doing so. We walked all over the square and he followed. We gradually stopped trying to avoid him seeing us seeing him. We stared at him. He kept following but still looking at paintings. We sized him up as if to take a photo of him. We walked very fast diagonally across the square. We lost him.
We looked at a mermaid, by a castle. We took a photo of it. I can't record every time we took photos but a lot of my memories are of taking photos. We found the museum we'd been looking for but it was shut as the previous day had been a holiday. We sat outside and sulked for a while. The market people got angry with us (or maybe they were just laughing at us) as they thought we were waiting for it to open, so we walked on. We had a meal (chicken kiev and beer). I went to the toilet at the res- taurant and the women queuing outside were furious when I came out as it was the ladies. Then it rained. We sat in a church (just in the doorway as there was a service taking place). We gave two girls the cuddly parrot we'd got with the films, then talked to them for a while. I think they were German or Scandinavian or something on a school trip. We walked back. We saw a large lady, with her husband, urinating in a house doorway. It was raining so we rushed back and got to the station at 18:30 for our 22:30 train.
When we were looking at the train times (down in the dark bit) I noticed that there was a guy standing there looking, glazed, at the times. He was obviously more interested in the people there. I was annoyed with John as he talked very loudly to me about which train we were going to catch and pointed at it. We went to get our rucksacks. When we got back the guy was still there watching someone else. I explained this to John, he didn't really believe me. The guy (age approx 20) talked to someone else (age approx 35), who had a small leather bag under his arm, the two of them quickly walked up the escalator, across the hall and stood separately looking at the train times on the big notice board over the ticket offices. They went and stood in ticket queues for a while, then in other queues, they each did circles around the hall, met up and went back downstairs again. In the next hour we saw them do this routine a couple more times. I saw a group of three lads come in. Two average people aged about 21 and a short fat kid older than he looked wearing a baseball jacket. They walked across the hall and stood in a circle talking to each other looking over one another's shoulders surveying the scene. After a few minutes the two average ones went up the stairs to the gallery that overlooks the hall and the kid went off to stand in a food queue. For the next hour the kid stood in various queues behind people with bulging pockets or open bags, looking at them, never buying anything. Sometimes he made contact with the people watching upstairs. Sometimes he spoke to the people with crutches. Sometimes bangs went off - (those cap crystals that you throw at the floor) and everyone looked in the direction of the noise. Now and again the police walked in and various groups of people quickly walked downstairs only to re-emerge soon after. Exactly on the half hour the groups disappeared. Exactly on the next half hour they all reappeared again. There were other suspicious people. One person seemed to be on his own and for all the time from 19:30 to 22:20 he walked around the hall down the stairs and then back again, looking at train times, food and resting. He looked like a British towny one on drugs age approx 22, wearing a thin plastic jacket, school trousers, and he carried a purple polythene bag. As he walked past the light you could see it contained a foot long dagger. The point of it stuck out of the bottom of the bag. One or two people in the hall noticed it and were visibly disturbed. We were worried as we realised how organised the gangs were. We decided it would be safer to stay in the hall as there were many people with rucksacks there, and to get a fast train in the morning (we still believed that rucksacks meant interrailers meant friends). I tried to reserve a ticket for the next morning's train but it was fully booked. There was a fast train going to Krakow at about 11pm but that got there at about 2am but we thought it might be too dangerous to arrive there then.
22:30 Warsaw to Krakow
At 22:20 we went down to look at the train and assess it. In the dark middle level where the bureau de change and train times were were a lot of the dodgy people. We said 'this is obviously where they do the deeds having sussed the people out upstairs.' John saw a guy with a black and red checked jumper, an evil smile and a couple of books. We went down to the platform. I said that we should find people with rucksacks to get onto the train with as they would be interrailers like us, but everyone had rucksacks and most of them seemed to be Polish. We walked down the platform, the train came in. Its hard to remember exactly what happened next, I think I tried walking towards a couple of different carriages and I remember a lot of bustling, people walking past each other to get to different carriages, strange as there were no reservations and they were all equally busy. We followed some western looking interrailers, plus many others, onto the train. Many people followed us. We got about a third of the way into the carriage. No-one was going into the compartments and the couple we could see into were full (about 8 people and loads and loads of baggage ie rucksacks). We said 'Oh well we knew there'd be some bad journeys like this where we have to sit in the aisle to sleep.' John was behind me getting onto the train. More people came on until we were pushed closer to the centre of the carriage. The person behind him said in perfect English, although he was obviously Polish (he may have told John that he was from Warsaw or some- thing) 'would you like to play my guitar?' John said that unfortunately he couldn't play but it would be nice if the guy played for us. He didn't. I thought that this was strange that someone would want their guitar played by someone else but wouldn't play it themselves. He smiled all the time and was with his girlfriend. We relaxed. We'd left that dodgy station and we were obvi- ously safe as it was a busy train with interrailers, couples and families (the compartment that we were outside of contained 3 girls aged between 7 and 16, father 50, mother 42 and three others I can't remember). The next compartment had closed curtains and the light was off. I pushed up the aisle to the next one which had an open door but the light was off. I saw two seats there (I couldn't see whether the other seats were occu- pied. I wondered whether we could sit there. The Western girls were just outside this compartment. I looked at them wondering why they had chosen to sit in the aisle instead of in the seats. I assumed they had a reason and that there was no point in us trying to sit there.
After a short time John pointed out that we were sur- rounded. We'd learnt what dodgy people looked like in the station. At one end of the aisle was one thug (the black and red jumper, age approx 28) and another one at the other end. Signalling to one another and looking at us. The two western girls looked at them. I made some expression to the girls indicating that I wasn't happy with the situation, they seemed to reciprocate. A few people walked down the aisle so we had to stand up to let them past. A drunk (age 40, with a blue and white hori- zontal striped sailor's tee shirt) came past with his mate (a sober thug aged 28). He pushed against people. Particularly against John. His hands were all over him. John said he was looking for his money belt. John threw the guy off him. There were a lot of angry unintelligible words and hard stares and eventually the mate took the drunk through the rest of the carriage. John burst into the family carriage by us and put our rucksacks in to keep them out of the corridor and away from the thieves. The family were very helpful and seemed to appreciate our situation. I asked the mum and dad where they were going. They said Zakopane (the end of the line). I asked when we'd get there and they said something like 07:30. John asked them when we got to Krakow. The drunk and his mate talked to the thug at the other end. Then they came back and talked to the black and red guy. The black and red guy talked to the people around him. Smiling guitar man looked at us. Most of them seemed to. An old guy appeared. A bit like a drunk, but not drunk. Very thin, aged 50 something, no fat, wrinkled hanging skin, carrying an empty old leather zip bag like a bus conductor might carry. He took the seat we had been sitting on that folded down out of the wall in the middle of the aisle. He put his head across the aisle to the opposite wall and pretended to go to sleep. From now on guitar man only spoke, in whispers, to his girlfriend. Always smiling and looking at us (not smiling at us though.) Now and again his guitar in its soft case got banged. He didn't seem to care. I sat in the doorway of the family carriage. It was very uncom- fortable but I had to make sure that the door stayed open so that they could help us. Over time we decided that getting off at Krakow at 04:00 would be dangerous and that we might wait until Zakopane and get off in daylight with the family. Every 20 mins at the start of the journey lots of people would come past and we'd have to get up. I'm convinced that this was a ploy. Stopping us sleeping so that we'd sleep soundly when required. After I realised this I stopped getting up. When I did get up I always moved into the compartment so there was no excuse for people finding my money belt, but I kept my arm across the aisle to keep my place. I slept for the odd couple of minutes while John stayed awake. It had been a very long day and was probably about 01:00. Then John lay down under the old man's seat, on top of my legs, with his feet touching the Western girls bag. I said this was a good idea to maintain some sort of commu- nication with them. I was worried about them. They seemed be doing stupid naive things like holding their purses loosely in their hands, and both going to sleep (over the week I realised that this was setting an example, a ploy these people often did.) One of the girls, the one with short brown hair, started mouthing something to me. It was Polish so I couldn't lip read it. I climbed over the old man to talk to them. (By now the thugs had moved about. Red and black was right next to the girls, virtually on top of their rucksacks, although they did get sensible at one point and sit on them. He had a 'Lets Go Eastern Europe' book and a note pad. He pretended to make very scarce notes on it. Another thug had taken his place between us and the nearest door.) We established that the girls were from Warsaw, and that we were English. The blonde wavy haired girl spoke better English so I spoke to her. I asked how she was. (All the time I was looking at black+red with visible fear). She said 'alright' but out of his sight tilted her thumb half way down. She asked where we were going. I said it was too dangerous to say. There was a bit of a communication failure but she got the idea that I wasn't going to tell her. I asked where she was going. I didn't recognise the name. It may have been Zakopane but I don't think so. The name was something more like Bergen or Copenhagen. I asked what time they would get there. The blonde girl had difficulty talking. The other one had lost interest in talking. I thought she didn't know how to say the time in English so I told her to show me on her fingers. She was reluctant to do this. Briefly I thought she was afraid of Black + red seeing. I asked again. She spoke to the other girl, who was pre- tending to go to sleep. The girl lost her temper and shouted in perfect English 'nine o'clock' indicating that she didn't want the conversation to continue as she thought it was futile. I took the hint and went back to John. I was confused that their train journey would end a couple of hours after the train was supposed to. I thought a lot, with the following conclusions: They didn't know or care what time the train was getting in. They lost interest in me when I wouldn't say where I was heading, probably the Polish question she originally asked. They had jeans on which Polish girls (aged approx 22) couldn't afford. The jeans were rolled up, and baggy at the thighs, they obviously didn't fit. They had trainers and rucksacks etc which they couldn't afford. They never ever smiled. The only smiles we saw in Poland were the evil smiles of red+black, and guitar man. This turned out to be a good way of determining a nationality, especially if you smiled at them and they didn't return it. The girls lost their interest in me. They stopped going to sleep. They spoke to red+black. They stopped looking concerned. They ate their packed lunch. Actu- ally I did see them smile at one another. The blonde girl took out a passport, a small red one like the British one John's got. She was looking at it and then she practised flashing it at people so they couldn't see the photo in it. Now and again the old man stood up to have a smoke out the window. He left his bag on the chair. This was obviously why he carried an empty bag. John and I chatted very quietly. We were scared. We were constantly realising that all these people who got on separately and had spent hours separately actually all knew each other. There were odd people at either end of the carriage, by the doors that we couldn't see. Starting at the door we came in at; there was a thug, the first compartment which thugs constantly went in and out of, then guitarman and his girlfriend, then me in the doorway of the family, then John, then the old man, then the two Warsaw girls, then red+black. After him there was a very big bloke in a plain white shirt, I wouldn't really say he was fat just solid. About 6ft, aged 40. He had two kids with him a boy and girl aged about 8 and 10. The man showed the kids how to sit with their heads across the aisle. The two kids talked together, looked at us and giggled. I said happy birthday to John (today was his 25th birthday). All the way I had been thinking 'as long as I stop them finding my money belt, containing tickets, passport and travellers cheques, I'll be OK'. I was worried about what I'd do if a ticket man appeared. He did. I saw him appear at the opposite end of the car- riage. A quick calculation would indicate that if all the compartments were full, which they should have been to justify that many people in the aisle, then there were about (26 in aisle + 8*8 in compartments = ) 90 people in the compartment and we were 2/3 of the way away from the inspector. Immediately I stood up, stepped inside the family compartment, lifted my shirt and tee-shirt and took my ticket out my money belt. The family watched me, obviously very amused. When I came out of the room, 30 seconds or so later, ticket man was already upon us. John had to get his ticket out of his rucksack. I was a bit embarrassed bothering the family. Then mine. I wanted to get it over subtly so no-one would know where we were going but I think he asked us even though it was written on the ticket. I put my ticket in my top pocket, as a sort of decoy. John also and put his ticket in his top pocket. The ticket man quickly did the family and then disappeared. John's rucksack fell on the young girl's head (age approx 7). They all thought it was really funny. We'd got up the nerve to go to the toilet, but every time I went there there was someone in it. The ticket man went back along the train, speaking to black+red on the way, who subsequently spoke to most of the other people in the carriage. The family seemed to be trying to close the door. The young girl wanted to sleep. I forced myself against the door. The family were the only people I trusted and I wanted their pro- tection. The woman in the family gave me a sandwich, cheese I think in the usual solid bread, and one for John which I gave to him when he returned from the toilet but he hardly ate. I was really tired. I dreaded getting to Krakow as I wouldn't be able to do a thing, I just wanted to go to sleep. I kept drifting off.
By now we were certain that everyone in the carriage was waiting for us to arrive at Krakow at which point they would, by any means possible, take our rucksacks, pass- ports and money. There was nothing I could do. I just had to sit there for hours watching the time tick by, watching the moment get ever closer. I know it sounds melodramatic but I was really scared at the time and very tired. I had no strength, I knew that I wouldn't be able to defend myself, I just had to sit there and wait for my life to end. I remember also being very angry that the British media had put us into this position. British people may be more aware now but in 1992 there had been lots of news stories about people in the east being freed from communism, having revolutions and how this was the first year that we'd been allowed into these countries. It was even worse for younger people as they were being taught it at school and so lots of young people were keen to come to Eastern Europe. I was very worried about the younger people that we'd met who would be making similar journeys and I was very angry that we hadn't been warned of the dangers. I vowed that if I got out I would do everything I could to warn people about this so that it didn't happen to other people. The country may have been freed from its previous governors but not only were there no real official governors to take their place but also people had developed a way of thinking and behaving that will take generations to change.
As we approached Krakow everyone in the aisle stood up. They all looked out of the windows. Guitarman visibly and audibly cracked and flexed his muscles. He told his girlfriend to sit calm. The Western girls, obviously now with red+black and against us, started to smile and rub their fists. The blonde one took out a pill box. She swallowed a small pill and offered one to the dark haired girl, who declined the offer. Red+black put his book away. The old man sat up for a moment then put his head back against the opposite wall very solidly. The big bloke sat with his kids obviously against the opposite wall. Some thugs appeared out of the first compartment. John with typical genius decided to wind them up. He asked guitarman when we would get to Krakow. He replied that he didn't speak English and refused to converse, even though he and John had had an English conversation at the start of the journey. We stood up. John put his head out of the window. Red+black also had his head out of the window and John says that Red+black was staring straight at him, glaring viciously and flexing his fists. The two girls, he says, were practising stealing with their hands. They were also glaring at us and seemed to be preparing for a 'ruck'. We looked at the station. It was totally dark, small and run down, not like we were told by the guy at Warsaw. We never actually saw a sign saying the station name, but John says he thinks it really was Krakow. The family man, unprompted, said that this was Krakow. I nodded and did nothing. He looked concerned and said it again, starting to rise. I ges- tured for him to sit down. His 16 year old daughter started getting John's rucksack down, I put it back and explained that we weren't getting off. The train stayed in Krakow station for a while. There was obviously tension and confusion all around. Although everyone had stood up no-one at all got off the train. We pulled out. John and I sat down. The family girls went down the car- riage to talk to someone. Now we were even more worried, if that's possible. They'd all known we were getting off at Krakow, many who we hadn't told. It seemed pretty obvious that they had been going to attack us. It dawned on me that the family had been in on it too. I'm not quite sure why. It probably came out of the fact that everyone else was, but it all fitted. I thought of the sandwich as being the last meal of a condemned man. I've also thought about whether it was drugged. I felt really tired afterwards, but then again it was late. I'm sure that the reason why people kept pushing past us, making us stand up, was to make us tired, and then after that everyone had pretended to go to sleep to encourage us to do the same. So now their opportunity to steal our stuff relatively easily had passed. We tried to guess what they would do next. The most obvious thing to do would be to just throw us off the train as it travelled at high speed. No-one would ever know.
The train stopped for quite a while pretty soon outside Krakow. It wasn't at a station. A queue of about 25 people dressed in trainers, jeans and rucksacks got onto the back carriage of the train. Then it changed direc- tion and headed back again. John went into his rucksack to get his passport. While he was doing so the 16 year old girl seemed to be going through his rucksack. The girl actually had her hands right down in his rucksack with his. They had no qualms at this stage, thinking that their ownership was now a fait accomplie. John went to the toilet. He says 'getting to the toilet was diffi- cult - the people standing near the toilet had placed all their rucksacks (approx 4) against the toilet and one girl was lying against these so I had to move the girl and approx 2 rucksacks to get in.' He put his passport, ticket and travellers cheques in his shoe. He put toilet paper in his top pocket so they wouldn't notice that the ticket had moved. I went to the toilet to relieve myself. I'd been waiting ages. My passport was too big to go in my shoe. At least I'd got a money belt, unlike John, which I'd protected from most people on the journey (turning in such a way that my arm always blocked it when people passed) but the family knew about it and so pre- sumably everyone else did. We didn't really know what to do. The family girls who had stood at their window while we were at Krakow, now stood at our window, blocking the only means of escape we had left. John and I argued and kept changing our minds about what to do next. John had wanted to take his rucksack but I had explained that it would slow us down and was a good decoy, which is why he'd retrieved his stuff from it. The only things of any real value were the cameras, although the photographs were irreplaceable I think there were about five rolls of 36 pictures that I'd taken in the last week. The replacement value of my rucksack and its contents was about &Lsterling.700). Our lives were under threat so retrieving physical things wasn't really important.
Everyone gradually sat down. They seemed to want a rest having worked themselves up.
John went to the toilet. They let him get there, so I followed him. When he came out we quickly chatted and strolled into the next carriage. A lot of people looked up at us. Thugs we'd seen earlier who were sitting in the aisle of this carriage. They were taken by surprise. Many were eating packed lunches, identical in content, packing, and container, to the ones the Warsaw girls were eating. I saw a couple of guitars, with identical cheap cases to guitarman's. They all had jeans, trainers and rucksacks. We trampled over them, not really caring about standing on them, not wanting to be slowed down.
John says 'the people in the 2nd carriage seemed to know who we were. I turned back half way along this carriage and some blokes were visibly laughing at us'. In a com- partment in the middle of this carriage were a lot of thugs, (in darkness?) one was in the doorway with his arms up. John worried that he could easily bring his arms down onto us. John ran through. I quickly followed without looking to the side. When we got to the other end we found we were at the front of the train (which until recently had been the back of the train.) People were sitting on the door footplate so that the door couldn't be opened. I explained to John that we couldn't get out of there. I took him to the opposite door, saying that our only chance would be if this lock also opened at a station. Meanwhile we pulled into a station, not to a platform though. A guard I didn't recognise went out through the protected door. We followed him. He looked at us, conveying nothing, and got straight back on the train again. We walked quickly into the station (John says 'we ran like &*@#'), briefly looking to see that no-one was following us. They weren't and the train set off again straight away. No-one got on, no-one got off. The train had stopped purely to let us off.
We went into the train station. We looked around for the phone but there wasn't one. For a moment we kept our manners and waited in the ticket queue, then we pushed past and asked if we could use the phone. Nothing. We emphasised that it was for the police. Polizie. The man in the queue said something like 'has your baggage been stolen? Ah yes' indicating that it was a regular occur- rence. He said there was no point in calling them as the police station was only 2 km up the road (people often gave figures like this when it was actually much less). We set off into the dark, not having any idea where we were (we were at Skawinie), and not trusting anyone. I tried to make John run but he explained he couldn't as his shoes were full. We stopped a couple more people to ask the way and got to the village. I found a phone and dialled 997. I had made a point of remembering this freephone number when I read about it outside the travel agent in Warsaw. It didn't work. I tried another phone and here too the number didn't work. John found the police station. It was in darkness. We banged on the door, woke up the police and they let us in through the first door. We told them that we'd just got off the train from Zakopane and people were after us (gesturing the cut throat sign that we got used to doing) and that our baggage (a Polish word) had been stolen. The man made a phone call. He shouted a lot, but then the Polish do that. John says he said that this was ridiculous, yet more people had had there baggage stolen on the train. John got the feeling that this was a regular occurrence. Like many others they were confused about why we were in Skawinie as the train shouldn't have gone anywhere near there. I was exhausted. John had been sleeping much more than me saying that we would be OK until we got Krakow but I had stayed awake. Pretty soon after we got to the police station I collapsed on the floor and left the talking to John.
The policeman phoned the British Embassy I think (John says he didn't) and he also spoke to someone at the Holiday Inn. John spoke to these too as they spoke English. Through these John asked for help. They rang someone at Zakopane, I don't know if it was the police or the railway, probably the police as telephone numbers are very hard to come by in Eastern Europe. We wanted to go there in a police car to get our stuff and possibly the crooks but they laughed at this idea. They assured us that our stuff would still be on the train in Zakopane. We were let through the next lot of doors, given a bottle of flat orangeade each and told that at 8 o'clock (3-4 hrs later) a translator would arrive. John went to sleep on the floor. I dozed but was worried about my glasses. The case was still on the train. Just after 6 there was a phone call from Zakopane saying that our stuff had dis- appeared.
Incidentally, John read in The Times the following Thursday that a general strike was threatened and workers were asking double the average national wage, &Lsterling.250 per month. I.e. the older workers were earning &Lsterling.31.25 per week. Presumably the young- sters we saw would earn less, definitely not enough to afford the stuff we saw them wearing and carrying.
We also later saw the film - 'Lena and her 100 children' which was about people taking exactly this route in the war to escape Poland. Most people would think it was all in the past but it's still happening. The film glossed over the acquisition of passports just saying that they bought them on the black market but not saying how they got onto the black market.
In the morning we spoke to the vice commissioner, he didn't speak English and wasn't very helpful. He gave us a written statement of what had happened and the Krakow police station address.
10:30 Bus to Krakow
We weren't happy about doing this but we tried to get a train. There weren't any for hours. With help from a woman selling papers and a nice bloke who walked us all the way there we got to the bus stop and got tickets. Again with numerous help we got trams and ended up at Krakow central police station, having had a beer to help John face the day.
We went to see Tomasz, the Komenda Wojewddzka. Tomasz was very open and friendly, and spoke relatively good English. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and chino type trousers. Aged about 35. He explained that he is in charge of combating organised crime in the city. He said that Krakow is not as bad as Warsaw. That when the Russians pulled out of Poland there was no-one left who was organised enough to run the country except for the organised crime groups. He said there were three major ones. The biggest one came from Gdansk and is far too big to try to say how many people are involved in it. He said it contains many VIPs. People in the mob take up governmental positions for 6 months get paid enough to retire on and leave. In this conversation, like all the others, we lied about the number of people after us; toning it down to make sure that they believed us. Tomasz said that we needn't be frightened of violence. Train people just steal things. However if we wanted to have fun with girls (prostitutes) in Krakow we should expect knives and guns to become involved. He said the laws in Poland were not very good. That although drug dealing is illegal possession is not. That if he found someone with a truck load of heroin there'd be nothing he could do. He is worried that within a year the organised crime syndicates of the world will be holding there con- ventions in Krakow. We told him we thought that judging by the passports, luggage, everyone knowing each other, and the train being off route that these people were leaving the country. I asked if they'd escaped but he misunderstood saying they'd escaped with our luggage. In the light of day John had decided he wanted to carry on with the holiday and go to Istanbul. He would certainly prefer to carry on to Bucharest than go back on the Warsaw train. These appeared to be our only choices. Given that we were told that Krakow wasn't as bad as Warsaw I agreed to delay my wish (to either go home or the South of France) by going to Auchwitz, as we were virtually there anyway. We were going to go there today, and sort ourselves out the following day. As it turned out it was more logical to do it the other way around. We needed a hotel, toothbrush, money etc. Tomasz gave us a list of 6 hotels. He said don't go to three of them, the biggest ones as they're run by the mob. Go to Hotel Pollera, or Cracovia hotel (the best).
After another beer, losing the hotel list, getting it out of the rubbish, and a tram drive and a lot of walking we found that the most convenient hotel for the station was Hotel Pollera, UL. SZPITALNA 30, Krakow Poland 79870. The room between us cost 330000 zl.
We went to a bit of grass by the station. I went to sleep. We had to move on. I'm not sure if someone told us to or if John wanted to as people were circulating around us. We went to a station, the wrong one. John got hold of a map and had a long chat with an old Polish guy. I fell asleep again. We went to the station where there were loads of people of the type we were now familiar with; people with rucksacks, looking through timetables. We saw that the train we wanted needed a reservation, but we didn't have much money, and weren't quite sure what we were doing. We sussed out the station. Walking the route that we would have to do at 02:30 to get the train. It was a long, badly lit series of subways and wooden corridors, extremely dangerous. We worked out how to approach it from the other side. There were taxis there and I vaguely remembered signs of a police station around. We went out, got some soap, toothbrushes etc and a piece of bread to share. We tried to buy a glasses case but couldn't afford it. No-one would take our travellers cheques or credit card. There were lots of Bureau de Changes around but they all wanted hard currency. At each one we attracted followers. I heard some English speaking people in one that doubled as a travel place. I spoke to a girl explaining what had happened to us and that we were scared and wanted to team up with other Westerners for safety. She wasn't inter- ested. She was American. She said the chains (organised crime groups) are really bad but that they (a group of about 5) had been in Poland for a month and could cope thank-you. They were going to Auchwitz the following day. There was a trip going but they'd prefer to make their own way. We went to the hotel and slept from 16:00 till 20:00.
At 20:00 we tried to get some money at the hotel, the guy told us the only place was one of the ones we'd been warned against, miles away. He showed us on the map and we set off. It was dark, a long way, down some very dodgy streets, across the river. Considering we hadn't really eaten in 30 hours it was a very hard journey. When we got there we changed some money and went into the restau- rant. We had a drink at the bar. We were parched and I couldn't really manage food. I drank 3 bottles of coke straight down. John did similarly with beer. We asked for some chips with hot stuff on but they turned out to be crisps. We watched the proceedings. There were about 4 people working together in the foyer, plus a few prostitutes. They dressed in Hawaiian type shirts and chino type trousers. They were slightly dark skinned but not very. They appeared to be separate. They took the places in turns. One would pretend to be waiting for someone in the foyer. After a while he'd go over and use the phone, another would take his place, they'd chat now and again. One would go out and talk to taxi drivers, one would come in and sit on the corner of the bar. He'd buy a drink and chat to a mate. The bar staff and chef acted strangely towards him. Serving him seemed to be quite a palarva with three or four people separately involved only briefly talking to him, but they obviously knew him. He hardly drank his drink he just watched people at the bar and restaurant. John wound him up by staring at him. He'd wander back and forth between the foyer and the bar. We went to the reception and asked how to get safely back to our hotel (we looked like dirt by the way). She told us which bus to get and gave us bus tickets out of her bag for nothing (another invest- ment, we thought, like the sandwich on the train). We walked quickly out of a different door, swerving, changing direction, passed taxi drivers, across the bridge to the bus stop. There were two people hanging out, surveying the scene on the bridge. They never both- ered us but when everyone had caught their buses and our bus had gone straight past we were a bit worried. Simi- larly when everyone had got off the bus and we didn't know where we were going. Anyway we got to the railway station to reserve our tickets to Bucharest. As usual the ticket saleswoman didn't speak any English and as usual there was a helpful person there who spoke perfect English. Three very dark skinned men wandered around while we bought them, all carrying walking sticks, but not knowing how to use them for walking. A woman tried to offer us accommodation and we quickly went back to the hotel, commenting that the station was actually quite well lit and not a bit like the place the train had stopped the previous night. I had a bath. The first of the holiday although I had had a shower in Oslo.
Got up at 07:00. Put on our only clothes which we'd washed with soap the previous night and hung out to dry. We ate breakfast which was OK. No-one there had smiled. John went out to buy shaving stuff. I stayed behind guarding the passports. He said he was followed all over. He'd checked out the station. He'd walked unnec- essarily around in a square, without cutting the obvious diagonal and someone had followed him. We had a shave and stole a small hand towel each. We wrapped them around our waists, down our shorts. We checked out of the hotel.
We had about 10 minutes to run about 4 miles across town to get the tour bus that we'd seen advertised for Auschwitz. The advert said English language tour only 9.5 USD. Still needing food and sleep this run was very difficult. The bag containing toothbrushes, razors, foam, soap and toothpaste broke over the street. At the place where the bus was supposed to leave there were a few people about. We saw two girls who looked Western and asked them if they were waiting. Despite turning out to be in exactly the right place they said in American accents that they were waiting but they didn't know if it was the right place. They looked very nice, tied back long blonde hair, jeans, trainers, carrying an empty plastic canvas bag, and wearing a Budapest 7th youth something teeshirt each. They didn't smile at all and went back to talking to each other in Polish. The bus arrived and we all got on. I made a bag out of my tee- shirt and put the stuff in it. The man came around col- lecting the money. He said 'where are you from?' to some people as he sold the tickets. John replied 'Siarad Cymraeg?' (which means 'Do you speak Welsh?') and stuck two fingers up indicating that he wanted two tickets. We set off. On the back row were three girls who I presumed were Scandinavian because although physically they were the same as the Polish they had expensive haircuts. They were quite tall. Behind me were two people I can't remember, I don't think they were around much. Across the aisle from them were some Americans. Thirtysomething yr old couple. An Irish thirtysomething chatting to an American woman. In front of them next to us was a girl who at first glance appeared to be Western. She was about 23. She had a bad haircut. Waved but falling. She had knee length jeans that didn't fit. She had unshaven legs and never smiled. She carried a cloth bag hanging down her back from both shoulders. She ate her packed lunch from it immediately (a standard one). She offered us some of her Lilt. Obviously a routine invest- ment as she didn't talk any further. (The ploy about eating the packed lunch immediately, which many people did, is that it is a justification for carrying an empty bag around). Immediately in front of us was a guy on his own with just a camera and a money belt. (Everyone had pretty big external money belts which they often let hang loose and open, similarly with their small rucksacks that they carried - setting an example). In front of him were two guys I thought were together but at the end of the day they went separate ways. In front of the girl was a couple. The guy had a very brightly coloured rucksack, the girl was quite frail. In front of them was an Amer- ican on his own, late 20s with a notebook and paper and glasses. In front of him a big fat sweating thug in shorts and tee-shirt that were too small, sunglasses and a material rucksack that hung open, initially containing a black novel, later containing 'Lets Go Europe'. He couldn't speak English (despite them being English lan- guage books, and it being an English language tour). Two places in front of us were the two girls that we'd met before alighting the bus and down the front was an old Jewish man and wife and an Italian grandad, grandmum and kid (with a gold chain and snarl). The tour guide, bus driver, and another guide who soon got off. Pretty quickly I pointed out that hairy legs was a crook and John pointed out the thug.
We went to Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and stood in the signal box listening to a recording of some guy explaining something. I think it was to do with the place still being as it was in 1945 when it was discov- ered and about 3 million people dying there, although the Russians now say it was only 1.5m. And we could look out over the whole camp, which was just like 'The Great Escape' type of thing. Lots of small brick 'huts', a rail line running through the middle and wire and lookout posts all around. Totally silent except for the humming of grasshoppers, which sound like the humming of the electric fence. However it had grass, whereas apparently it didn't during the war as the prisoners ate it. Anyway unfortunately I didn't hear much of the talk because I was too busy watching the rest of our party. The Budapest youth girl came and stood immediately behind the thug and stared into his rucksack. I was confused as I thought they were part of the same gang. Either they were both working the place separately or she wasn't really looking in it. I drank my can of coke that I'd bought on the way in. The temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius. We got taken around the site. We saw the men's sleeping quarters. He said a thousand or two people slept there which was virtually impossible to imagine as it was a pretty small hut. Each bed was about 3ft wide and was for 8 people. Through the middle were bricks through which heat went. He told us a nazi joke. About as sign blaming death on lice or something. Now and again, especially at this bit a few questions were asked. Girls in the gang would ask the other people to repeat what the guy had said claiming they didn't hear it. They weren't very good though at making these con- tacts. Initially they would try to befriend people similar in appearance to themselves. Then we saw the latrine. A hut with holes in the middle. We were told a large number of people had to use these only at 17:00 each afternoon and if they were too long they were severely punished. One person took a photograph. We walked further; to the station. We saw a picture of people getting off the train just where we were standing. There was a soldier splitting them into two groups. One group were sent to another queue straight for the gas chamber. We could see the end of the queue in the photo and we could see the gas chamber in real life. It was a very long queue. We looked at the relics of the chamber, the incinerator, the showers. We saw the monument, mainly steps, containing 3 million stones, one for each death. It was a lot of stones. Hardly anyone took any photos. Each time we stopped the Budapest youth girls, hairy legs, and the thug all seemed to be standing such that they were right behind someone who had a small rucksack on their back. Now and again they'd ask really stupid questions. Especially hairy legs who wasn't very good at this and didn't really seem to be in the gang. At the place where they burnt the bodies, which had been wrecked by the prisoners who worked for the nazis in the hope of living longer (the partisans) who then started a revolt, she asked 'where did they get the materials?' Eventually a genuine American tried to bail her out by asking where they got the dynamite. Still a stupid ques- tion. The guide said to ask at the museum. The American bent down to read a sign. Hairy legs knelt next to him. He stood up, she stood up. We went on to see the place where the women were kept. Similar to the men's but it had en suite bathrooms and the only painting on the walls that was allowed. There were also some disturbing drawings by prisoners that were done after 1945. People seemed to drift around corners, adjust themselves and come back. I similarly adjusted the contents of my money belt so it didn't show so much. It was around this area that I started checking out other people. I noticed the Scandinavians who seemed worried and I think were prob- ably OK but nervous and by the end thought that I was trying to steal from them because of the attention I'd given them. I started to worry about the guy who'd been sitting in front of us as I realised he hadn't taken any pictures. Well actually I saw him try to take one at the monument and the film rewound. John said he saw him accidentally brush the camera against a wall and it went off. He didn't seem to care. The American guy with the notebook started talking to the thug. I couldn't hear what they were saying. I was worried he was letting himself in for trouble. As it turned out they were speaking Polish and were together. At one point in Auschwitz I looked at his pad to see what he was writing. He was hardly writing anything. The only things he wrote were messages that he showed to the thug. Via the kitchen we went to the bus as it was time. On the way to the bus we stopped at a hut for a coke. John and I were second in the queue. John had been saying he was worried the thug was watching him, not surprising as I expect John had been giving him hard stares. I had said not to worry as if the Budapest girls were after the thug then he must be OK. Anyway in this queue loads of people pushed in. Nearly everyone. John had the money in his shirt pocket and I subsequently realised he also had his travellers cheques there. With holes in his jeans pockets and everything stolen he had nowhere else to put stuff. The thug leaned straight over me and stared into John's pocket, for a good couple of minutes while John tried to sort out the money for a coke (well actually he bought a beer but I didn't expect him to and he didn't like it as it was caramel flavour.) The thug was looking through his sun glasses and I think he was pretending to be hot and knackered and that's why his head was hanging. I looked straight at him, behind the lenses but I couldn't catch his eye as he was just looking at John's pocket. Everyone else seemed to get served. The Italian woman shouted a lot and kept changing her order. The guide got annoyed that we were nearly all late but I think this was an important time to suss out where people kept their money. The coach took us to Auchwitz.
I talked too loudly on the coach as I hadn't totally worked out that the guy in front of us was dodgy. John was upset when I told him that he was right about the thug being after him. I said I couldn't take his stuff as my money belt was already too big and we were putting all our eggs in one basket. I later worried that the guy might have heard this. We were taken to Auschwitsz the 'Panstwowe Muzeum - Oswiecim Brezinka' - The State Museum in Oswiecim-Brzezinka (established by the Government of the Polish People's Republic in 1947 on the site of the largest Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.) We saw a documentary film in English taken during the liber- ation of the camp by the Red Army. The film mainly showed us pictures of people being freed, carried or walking to ambulances. It told us all their names. It showed people on the beds we'd seen. After this we were introduced to another guide. I think she was the wife of the first guide. We went through the gates with another nazi joke on 'work gives freedom' and to the first red brick building. The place was much more 'modern' than Birkenau. I saw hairy legs pretending to follow where we were on the map in the leaflet we'd been given. Her finger was drifting around and nowhere near where we actually were. The outside of the buildings were the same as in 1945 but the insides had been turned into a museum. We were shown in many. We saw a cabinet full of human hair, some material made out of it. Another cabinet containing shoes, another with hair and shaving brushes, another of glasses. Yet again I should have been very disturbed by this, I think John was, especially as I was not expecting it. The others, though were not listening to the guide, and I was watching them to see who was not listening. Hairy legs was often at the side looking into cabinets. Whenever the guide said ' and over there is' and turned round, very few people followed her gaze. This was the point where the Scandinavian who looked very like a Budapest youth girl started getting scared of me. We saw a model of the gas chamber. People queuing outside, people being gassed, bodies piled up. People being incinerated. By now the thug was on John all the time. At one point John stopped at a cabinet and I noticed that the thug, the Budapest girls and possibly a couple of others we'd worked out to be crooks were all around him. If they'd pick-pocketed him no-one would have seen a thing. I pushed through them and talked to him. We saw a hallway full of portrait photos of dead people. We saw rooms to the side with straw 'mattresses' on the floor. Thug just walked straight down the middle of the hall. By this time the Budapest girls' empty bag was full (and thugs book had changed). I know they bought a bottle, but there were other things in the bag too. They pulled out a camera. It was in a case so they looked at it for a while and carried it. Later they'd taken it out of it's case. They pressed a button and the film rewound. I saw her take one picture later. Not of the place but of us, the whole group. We got taken down to some dark cells. John was ahead and on his way back said it wasn't worth seeing, really saying don't go down there it's too dark, but the guy with the bright rucksack had had the attention of the Bucharest girls for a while now and if he went down there alone with them they'd have got into it as they were walking very close behind him (ie up against his rucksack). I walked very close behind them. They kept stopping to look at insignificant things. I waited behind them to queue to see the insig- nificant things instead of going past (there was no-one behind us.) They gave up and walked straight through. We saw a reconstruction, I believe, of the wall at which they shot people. At what turned out to be the last place of interest, a cell where people were made to stand, all the crooks gathered to take photos. No-one else knew this was the last place, and it was one of the least photogenic places. Not the place to take your first photo. I hung around for a while. They took a few photos, some with flash some without. Then I left. I guarded the toilet while John put his stuff in his shoe. I tried myself but the passport was too big. John and the old Italian guy stood at the toilet door waiting for the other to leave. It was very unnatural but neither would give in and leave. This was the only time I was suspicious of him, although his grandson was a bit dodgy. When we got out the guy who'd sat in front of us was sitting on a bench next to two tourists. They got up, and at exactly the same time he got up. They went towards the buses and he went to the bar, then as he reached it he swerved away, towards the toilets, then behind a post then he turned around and watched. He saw me following him. I'd done some pretty blatant things to upset them, they were starting to drift together. He'd started talking to the Budapest girls, thug was talking to the American with the pad (who had a money belt like mine which is not supposed to be warn outside the clothes but he did), and they were still after John's money. We delayed getting on the coach until the very last minute. John said the fake American was worried that we weren't boarding or something. On the coach fake American showed a message to thug, the groups sat together. Hairy legs finally managed to strike up a conversation. She talked to the wife of the American who'd bailed her out (who found this particular conversation very boring). They talked about America. Each time legs would say 'I've been there, it was really beautiful' or wonderful, she had a few superlatives but not many. American woman would say 'what did you do there?' and she'd say 'we just wandered around, it was really nice' and then they'd have the same conversation about the next place. She'd never been to any of the places. All the groups lost interest in us. John said they'd finished. Done all their stealing for the day. I thought they were getting ready to jump us when we got off the coach. I gave John my old university library card and explained to him that a credit card was the most dangerous legal and commonly carried weapon for self-defence and that its edge should be used like a knife. As we pulled up to the stop we ran to the front of the coach to get off first. I ran from the coach, but John wouldn't as his shoes were full. We hobbled a bit. Apart from the pair that we thought were together and left separately I don't know if anyone else got off the coach. The coach pulled alongside us. We pretended to go one way then went the other after it left. After walking a couple of miles we came across the Scandinavians. John said they couldn't have got there as they didn't get off the bus and the next stop was miles away.
It was only 15:30. We'd got back an hour early. Prob- ably neurosis but I thought this might be another ploy to make people hang around the dropping off place waiting to be met. We'd got 11 hours to wait until our train. We bought me a new glasses case and cloth. We didn't really have enough money, and the cloth wasn't really good enough quality not to scratch the lenses but its all there was. No-one would accept credit cards, despite lots of signs in the windows.
We went to our hotel, that we'd already checked out of. There was just the porter and receptionist who didn't speak English, at least not to us. They were quite nice. They let us sit there for an hour or so. It rained hard. We saw an English woman arranging to eat in the restau- rant at 6 o'clock. We wanted a meal. We went into the hotel restaurant and got guided through to a different restaurant with an entrance off the main street. The meal cost 207000 zl. There were two people sitting in there. The typical mob casual dress, 35 yr olds. They were slowly drinking beer. For the 90 mins or something we were there they never ate anything. I had sort of steak and chips but the steak was horrible and the chips were overcooked. My stomach had shrunk too so I ate very slowly. John drank beer. First Belgian then a native one I think, I couldn't really drink mine. I wanted to stay on good form. John got neurotic about the two blokes. He was looking at them. They were looking at him. My back was to them so I couldn't see them, but they could probably see me adjusting my money belt. Now and again thugs came in and used the toilet and left. At exactly 6 o'clock a party of about 40 people came in. All ages. All dressed like tourists. One had a three foot high blue cuddly toy in a polythene bag. They all had lots of bags bulging with boxes which must have been empty judging by the ease with which they carried them. A short man with a moustache stood in the middle and talked briefly in Polish and then they all sat separately hardly interacting between tables. They all had beer or coke, then soup. They were very slow.
We paid the bill by credit card and left. We didn't go out the street door. We went straight through the hotel and up the stairs to the toilet. We considered going out through the window but it was too high. After waiting 10 minutes we went out of the front door of the hotel. As we walked up the street a man was waiting on a corner. I can't really remember him. Late 30s, brown jacket, white beard carrying a bag. It was very wet from the rain. As we passed him he came to life and started walking. We slowed down. He stopped and read a sign on the car that he'd been standing next to. It was probably a for-sale sign. After we'd gone a few feet he started following. We got to a junction and hesitated. So did he. We looked at he hut selling papers etc. We talked about how to get rid of him. John was worried we were too loud as another guy was standing by us. We pointed in various directions, we walked slightly in various directions then went straight across the road and over the barrier. As we walked up the next road a man carrying a leather attache case (age approx 55) in trousers and a white shirt came to life on the other side of the road. He started walking in the same direction as us at the same speed. We turned around and walked back. So did he. We went back again, so did he. We'd decided that everywhere was too dangerous to wait for the next 8 hours so we looked for the police station. We believed there was one at the railway station. Maybe John had seen it on the map. Quite a lot of people watched us in the area outside the railway station. We saw a policeman walking into a dark no-through road. It was too risky to try to follow him. We walked around the area outside the station. We walked behind three girls who were dressed immaculately in really nice western clothes, carrying rucksacks. They were walking barefoot through the puddles. They didn't seem to notice. We stopped and waited for a guy to walk past. I pretended to point out some graffiti to John. The guy paused and looked at it too. We completed our circle and I said there was a police station on the other side of the railway station so we went around it. At the next junction we were going to cross the road. Someone who'd been going to catch a bus there started to cross the road. We stopped, talked, and walked on a bit. He went back to his bus stop. We crossed the road. He didn't. We walked on, back across the road over a bridge, under the railway bridge. We saw a sign saying police parking. We looked around for a police station but we couldn't see one. There was a phone there. John wanted to see if the lady who was hanging around really was going to use the phone so we waited. Eventually she did use it. I wanted to use it to call the police and find out where they were. She took at least 15 mins. In that time a police van pulled up. We followed them into the building. It was a police station. I was determined that I wasn't going to leave this place and go back out there again. I'd found sanc- tuary. They weren't very keen on talking to us. When they eventually came over to the desk we said 'do you speak English?' The guy said 'No I'm sorry I don't speak English' and went and sat down again. I was stunned. As John says he said this in perfect English. I hassled him more. I was angry, scared and desperate. He refused to understand what we were saying. I showed him our paper with Tomasz's name on it. He said that this was a dif- ferent police station. I asked him to ring Tomasz. He wouldn't. I asked him for Tomasz's number. He wouldn't give it to us. He just told us to take a tram to Tomasz's office. I didn't want to do this as the streets were dodgy, the office was a long way away and Tomasz had finished work 3 hrs earlier. People had come in behind us. John was scared and wanted to get away and the police obviously wouldn't help us.
We got a tram to Tomasz's place. The guy on the gate stopped us but we we shouted 'urgent, emergency' and may have shown him Tomasz's name, and he let us in. We got to the desk and they gestured for us to go straight in. They may have had word from the front gate or they may have recognised us from the previous time. Anyway they were watching telly. We went up to Tomasz's office. Of course he wasn't in. At some point a guy appeared who didn't speak any English. He told us Tomasz was gone and expected us to leave. We didn't. Eventually he rang Tomasz's home but he wasn't in. I gave him our receipt from the Skawinie police station. I thought this would be a good opener. They could explain to him all about our experiences on the train and we could take it from there, saying that we were still in danger on the street and wanted to get out of this place, either by police car or an escort onto the train. The guy got the wrong end of the stick, as all the sheet said was that our baggage had been stolen. John got very annoyed with me for sending the guy down the wrong path. Numerous futile telephone conversations took place. They were all in Polish so we don't know much about them. We didn't appreciate at the time how few telephone numbers they had. We tried ringing the a hotel which John mistakenly believed was the one that he'd spoken to before. We rang a few useless numbers from the map. John spoke to someone who said they spoke English and would help. John told his story and they then passed him onto someone else. He told his story and they passed him onto someone else. Each person he spoke to spoke better English but was less helpful than the previous one. He wanted them to act as a translator. The final one said they wouldn't help. John said that it was the police asking for help. They said why don't the police ring then, he said this is the police and they said that they still wouldn't help. We gave up in despair. Another guy came in and left with reports a few times. They talked for a while and we were passed onto him. He took us to his office. It was next door to Tomasz's. There were loads of pictures of naked women, a poster of the film 'Millers Crossing' depicting the mafia shooting someone in the head in the woods, and a Julia Roberts film poster. I thought it was 'Sleeping with the Enemy' but now I think it was that one about dying. We sat there for a while with him and his uni- formed mate, who spoke better English but had nothing to say. We tried to write them messages but none of the pens worked. Suddenly they jumped up and took us out to their unmarked police car. They drove us away from the town, very fast, screeching around corners, through red lights (but apparently you're supposed to do that when turning right), past a cemetery, towards Warsaw. We ended up at the one of the hotels that we were warned about. He didn't pay the guy to watch his car, he told him he was with the police. There were crooks and prostitutes all over the foyer. We met the woman on the travel desk and went and sat with her in a hallway sepa- rated by glass from the swimming pool. She was one of the ones John had spoken to on the phone. I told John to tell the true story, rather than the toned down one and he agreed but it was difficult. We started at the begin- ning with the journey from Warsaw and we stayed there for most of the time. She got angry and said we were making it up. That she'd been in the tourist industry for 26 years, since she was 18 and that she travels all the time. She's totally safe. There's never any trouble on the trains. We said that she was Polish so in less danger and that anyway things were getting worse. She said we were offending her, by criticising her country. We said we loved her country and all the people we'd met except for one or two. She said we'd walked off and left our luggage behind and that in 80% of cases the luggage would now be at a left luggage office. She didn't accept it when we said that we'd checked and it wasn't. The whole idea was that she would translate for us but I don't think that she told the police much of what we said. The three of them spent most of the time laughing at us. I remembered that Tomasz had said not to trust this hotel so I didn't. She asked why we hadn't gone to the train guards for help. We explained that we had reason to think they were in on it. John tried quoting Tomasz to her to prove things were bad. I don't think the police were happy that John did this. As the police were left out of most of this, as she wouldn't translate to them, they got fed up. They didn't hear the majority of the story and asked what we wanted. We asked for an escort onto the train. We got up to leave. I was so annoyed and preoccupied that I left the tee-shirt con- taining the toiletries. The guy pointed out that I'd forgotten my baggage again. It was very embarrassing and John gave me another row. They laughed at us. John asked the woman to offer them a drink from us. Without doing it she said they didn't want one. We sat in the car with the uniformed officer and waited 10 mins or so for the other one to talk to the woman. We got taken back. They offered us food. John confused it by not understanding and also saying we didn't have any money. We said we were thirsty and they stopped and bought us a bottle of coke. We went back and sat in their office again. After a while they leapt up again and we went off in the car again. This time to the railway station. We were terrified that they were going to dump us there to wait for 5 hours. They took us to the police station within the railway station. The place where we'd seen the policeman walking to earlier. They talked for a while then took us to the luggage loading part of the station. We were put into a little room in the back. Our policeman friends said that we'd be put onto the train and they bid us good-bye.
We stayed there for a while dozing. I set my alarm. Soon a couple of station workers came in. One lay on the bench. One across three chairs. They put the lights out and we went to sleep. At 02:00 we went back to the police station. There was a prostitute who they'd called over as she spoke English. She said she had a 16 year old daughter who spoke better English. They got some food out for us. Bread, rotten apples, overripe toma- toes, old salami. Another last meal of a condemned man? Another investment? Another scavenged meal. We had some black sugared coffee. I didn't fancy eating as it wasn't appealing and my stomach had shrunk but John said that I had to as our train journey was to be 25 hours long. We talked a lot to the prostitute and when I pointed out that the train should have arrived (John's watch had been stolen) An armed policeman took us to the train. I wanted everyone to see that we had police protection but John ran on ahead. We found our carriage and got on. We sat in our seat for a while and then decided to hide in the toilet until we'd left Poland. John talked about economics and said that it was understandable that Poland was like this but that none of the other countries would be. It was very uncomfortable and unpleasant in there. I sat on half the lid and dozed. I sat with my foot against the door to stop people coming in. John sat on the other half sometimes and often stood looking out of the window. He said we were near the border and that it would only take a couple of hours. At about 06:30 we heard the ticket inspector. We chased after him and per- suaded him to check our tickets. He said we were still in Poland. We went to a different toilet. At about 9 o'clock we got to Czechoslovakia. A soldier got us out of the toilet. They followed us into the carriage. We took off our shoes and got our passports out. They read them over and over, then a woman gave us an inquisition asking how much hard cash we had etc. She said she was customs. John asked if we were in Czechoslovakia. She seemed to think it was a stupid question. John was annoyed they were hassling us so mush (another guy checked our passports after), I was glad they were making it so hard for people to follow us out of Poland. We stayed in the carriage. I finally relaxed. At last we were safe. It was all over.
02:30 Krakow to Bucherest
On and off we slept until about 16:00. There were a few people around. A couple of potential thugs, a woman, one guy on his own (he looked like an inter railer but we'd stopped falling for that one). The train was pretty empty. A few people - ticket men, passport people had thought we were going to Budapest. We thought maybe it would be safer to get off there rather than travel over- night. We asked when it got there and had a couple of different answers. One was noon and one was about 18:00. This was confusing as we couldn't see how it could then get to Bucharest at 04:00 or whenever we were supposed to get there. It turned out that it never went anywhere near Budapest so I don't know why they should think that that's where we were going. (They had a funny alphabet by the way). When we'd asked the woman she got up and went to a different carriage. The potential thugs came in and asked whether we were English. I think we said 'non-comprende' or something. They came back with a tin of sardines (we'd had one for this journey, given to us by people at Voss but they'd been stolen). They asked if we had a tin opener. We said 'no' and they went on. At the border from Hungary to Romania we stopped for a long time. Once all the passport checking had happened and we'd bought our visas (fortunately John didn't need his photo that had been stolen) the other potential thug got out of the train and filled up a plastic coke bottle with water. He stayed outside the train talking to his mate through the window. We stayed lying down (as we'd been sleeping/passed out in the heat/exhausted) trying not to attract attention. A kid of about 9 came running down the train selling packets of cigarettes out of his pocket. John says that he stopped at the next carriage which had the potential thugs in it (I don't think that they began the journey in the carriage next to us). We never saw the kid get off but that must be why the guy stood outside the train, so that the doors wouldn't shut. Or maybe other people got on. He was certainly watching out. We tried moving down to the next carriage; the couchettes. A thug, not a train person, stopped us and said we couldn't go past as people were sleeping. We went and sat down again. Over the journey we had very small sips of our coke. It was a boiling day. At the first stop after the border hundreds of people got on. Mostly dark skinned gypsies. They were carrying ridicu- lous things. Big bags of boxes (like in the hotel) and some had pieces of scrap metal, bits of cars or some- thing. I saw a massive silver cog.
When we got the nerve again we headed the other way to try to find a safer compartment. We saw that in the end compartment of our carriage were about 6 vicious looking thugs staring at us. Most of the compartments were wrecked. The seats were pulled up. There was scrap paper everywhere. The seats were stained. One had a coke bottle containing urine in it. The next carriage had few people in it but most of it was wrecked. John points out that people tended to accumulate in our car- riage. Earlier a guy had followed us from one carriage to another. He had looked like a lone interrailer, but wasn't. He got off the train at a station and walked along the platform past our window and got into our car- riage. The next carriage was like entering another world. It was packed solid with gypsies; all over the aisle. Junk everywhere. Half changed babies lying abandoned on seats. Dressed in dark clothes. We went back in again and sat in the previous carriage. We closed the door, and the curtain and sat silently. Immediately a thug came along, opened the door, looked at us and walked off. It was obvious that he'd been looking for us. We shut the door and curtain again. A guard came along, opened the door and curtain and shouted at us, probably saying that we shouldn't shut the curtain. We shut the door and curtain. We couldn't turn the light on. Gradually the carriage filled up all around us.
It got to twilight. All the other lights were on. I thought they'd disconnected our light, but a guard came along to check tickets (or was it the passports, they kept checking both of them even though we'd crossed the border) and he turned the light on. We looked out of our compartment. It was buzzing. There were suspicious looking people everywhere. We were scared. It was going to happen all over again. John started looking out of the window. He pulled the small tables down and was seeing how strong they were for standing on. I wanted to go back to sleep. I might have been ill, or fatigued, we were living off very little food, or it might have been that I'd had virtually no sleep. Although we had slept during the day, in Hungary, I'd tried to stay awake as John was sleeping a lot. John says that at this point our compartment door had been opened three times, the third time by a young bloke in a black shirt. He was a Romany - darker skinned. He annoyed John because he was merely opening the door ajar, subtly hoping that we wouldn't notice, so that he could observe us from the outside. He looked evil. John said that we might have to jump off. I considered it. We talked it through. I think he wanted me to persuade him that he was imagining it, but he wasn't. I just wanted to get out. The sun was coming down and they were congregating outside our compartment. John went outside and begged a cigarette from the lady from the next compartment. I remember her as being white but this is because she had a white jumper on. John says 'she was darker skinned - a Romany although not a gypsy'. He smoked it properly. He offered it to me. I pretended to smoke it. I thought he was sussing her out, seeing if she was good or bad. Although she gave the cigarette relatively willingly she wasn't friendly, it felt like another investment/last cigarette of a condemned man. John looked exasperated and really needing the cigarette. She laughed at us. We took the cigarette inside and shut the curtain. John said that the cigarette was to make him high enough to jump and that I should have some. I had a few drags, but not many.
After the cigarette we slowed down through a station. We asked each other if we really wanted to get out, if we were really sure, if there was no alternative etc, and that if were going to do it it had to be now. John hung out of the window and told me to throw the towel-wrapped toiletries out. I did. He jumped. I put my head though the window and looked at him. I saw him getting up. He looked OK. I climbed out through the window. My new glasses case fell from my shirt pocket. The train passed a series of wooden pillars. I quickly stretched my arms and hung against the train. I tried to learn from John. I didn't think he had landed very smoothly. I was worried that if I rolled towards the train its wheels would cut my legs off, but I didn't want to jump away from the train or I'd be out of control and I wouldn't fall very well (I think this is what John did). I released my hands. My feet hit the floor. I lay down, letting as much of my body hit the floor as possible to spread the blow and stop myself rolling too far. I was OK. I watched the train. It was slowing right down to a stop. People would have seen us jump. I thought it might be stopping for us. I stayed lying down so they wouldn't see me. When the train had stopped some dis- tance away. I got up. John was staggering towards me. He wasn't sure whether I'd jumped. We walked back down the line. We picked up some of the shaving stuff and the two towels that we'd stolen from the hotel. We couldn't take all of it. I couldn't find my glasses case. I saw that John had blood down his face. There was a man standing outside of his house watching us. I started walking towards him. John stopped me. We walked away. We didn't know what to do. We'd been through a station but we didn't trust train people. I said we should hide in the woods until morning and then get another train. We went to the woods. We were wandering all over. John was concussed and so wasn't really in control. We heard dogs barking. He thought they were wild dogs. I thought maybe the police had set the dogs on us thinking we were Polish people crossing the border. John climbed a tree. I said this wouldn't save us and we went back to the line. We looked at some carriages for transporting stuff and thought about sleeping there but John was in a bad way so we went back to the station.
(clock foward 1 hr)
The station master was very surprised to see us. He was 23 and called Sorree. He had short straight dark clean hair, and a tidy guard's uniform. However he also had trainers on. We told him that we'd jumped off the train, he gathered that it was the number 26. He took John to a well for a wash. It was a virtually dry hole with a bucket that he lowered a long way down and eventually came up with just a few drops of water. While they were there I drank water out of his coke bottle. It wasn't very nice. He made me a cup of coffee. He used a drop of water from the coke bottle to wash the only cup with his finger. He poured water into a small jug and boiled it on the only ring. 10 minutes or so later he poured the water into the cup with a few coffee grains. He put some damp sugar in. It was horrible but necessary. I shared it with John. Later John drank out of the bottle explaining we'd had so many injections before we came away that we were immune to everything. He was wrong. Sorree made a phone call. I asked if it was the police and he said it was the local one. I don't think it was. Sorree went away and came back with two large 40 year old women and two kids. One kid (age 14), Catalin gave us his name and ddress to write to him in English. First he gave the station 'Birzava, Arad, Romania' and another name (his brother I think, who was the other kid). Then he changed it and gave us a different address. One woman dressed John's head wound. She spoke some English so I spoke to her and explained the situation. They were shocked. Catalin spoke French so John spoke to him (he was much better at French than John. Well John disputes this. The kid spoke more fluently but didn't have as good a vocabulary). They went away and came back with food. More stodgy bread and green peppers. There was nice cold battered meat. And some cheese I think but John ate that. He said it was more mild stuff like they gave us at the police station. They went away and came back with more. Mashed beans, that tasted a bit like baked beans. John said we needed to eat. Just to ignore the taste and ram it down. He tasted the stuff which the woman called bacon. He amused himself by telling me that it was delicious and to eat it. It turned to be lard and was horrible. Now and again people offered John the hos- pital but he declined it. He talked to the boy about what to do next. The boy said it would be 'prudent' to travel by day and 'plus plus prudent' to get an aeroplane. John was scared of planes, but was rather concerned at the emphasis the boy put on saying don't catch trains. A lot of people over the next few days blamed it on gypsies, saying avoid people with dark skin but actually I think that most of the trouble we had was with lighter skinned people. Sorree said that he would travel with us to Sumeria the following day and put us on the train to Bucharest. He told us to sleep at the table. John lay on the table leaving me nowhere to sleep. Sorree directed me to the waiting room. John and I both went in there and slept on the benches. Sorree put the light off.
At about 04:00 people arrived. They bought train tickets and went out. I went to the toilet. Well I went to the place that was called the toilet but it was just four stainless steel walls with a horrific smell and a mad screeching cat inside, so I went against the wall. More people arrived. One was in a train outfit with his wife. He didn't leave. He slept in the waiting room. I thought we'd probably be safe there with him. More people arrived. I tried to stay awake but found it dif- ficult. John says that he stayed awake. At about 05:30 we went back into the office and slept there. Sorree just ignored us. He had been very chatty before but now he wasn't. (Actually it wasn't 05:30 it was 06:30, I hadn't realised I should have put my watch forward when we entered Romania.)
09:30 Birzava to Sumeria
When we awoke again there were a few people around. There was one guy who was big, aged about 40 in a shirt and jacket walking up and down outside the door. (I won- dered why, in such hot weather, everyone wore trousers. It turns out that it's because of the mosquitos. I got a lot of bites. Sorree spent a lot of time hitting them). There was another guy who immediately looked like a thug. He was introduced to us as an electrical engineer. Everyone seemed to look to him for guidance. He and Sorree talked a lot in Romanian. We asked Sorree what they were saying, but the guy told him not to say. We often tried to get the conversation around to how we were going to get from Sumeria to Bucharest but they just wanted to talk about British pop music. We went out to the line and found my glasses case and talked about whether we felt safe. We didn't. Catilin arrived. The electrician stopped him and talked to him. They looked at us. After that Catilin, who we'd talked to for ages the previous night and got on really well with, refused to acknowledge us. His brother was wearing expensive western cycling shorts.
At 09:30 Sorree started running around packing up. I was confused as I thought we were an hour early. the train arrived. We went to get it. I fell over as my legs were shaking with fear and weakness. No-one came to my aid. We got onto the train. We were taken to the top front deck of the double deck train, by Sorree. We met his friends. A mad man who thought he was the ticket col- lector. Another train man. Now and again they went out for a smoke. John kept drifting off to sleep. He said the previous night that he kept passing out and seeing double. I spoke to Sorree about his upbringing. He'd been to school, university and train school. He was 23 and had been a signal operator for a year. We talked a lot about what we saw out of the window too. The fact that all the crops were dead. Everything was dry as there'd been no rain for weeks. This year like the last had yielded no crops. A big friend of his appeared who hardly spoke English. He had hands that looked as though they'd been put in a vat of boiling oil. Sorree told our story to him, as he did to many people. They were inter- ested in our money. It was difficult as we wanted to buy someone to escort us to Bucharest but we didn't want them to think we had enough money to mug us for. The mate tried to buy some English money from us. I offered a travellers cheque but John didn't want to rip them off as they wouldn't be able to use it. We needed some Romanian money for the taxi otherwise we'd be stuck at Bucherest station at night. We asked them if they knew anyone who could escort us. Sorree and his mate had a big argument. Sorree said that he had to go back to work so couldn't he take us. The mate told him he could say he was ill, or swap shifts or something, and take us to a Bureau de Change and then we could pay him. Then they changed the subject. As the man left they had the same row again.
Next we met the real ticket collector. At the next stop they bought a couple of melons and fed us. Next we met the two people sitting opposite. They had a political debate. They dismissed one of them by saying that he was a socialist. The debate was basically about whether it was better now that Ceaucescu was dead. It happened two years earlier. But his brother is still alive running the country from the luxury of prison and nothing much has changed. I got talking to the guy sitting opposite this one. He spoke pretty good English. They were all train engineers. A few conversations happened together. I told this guy that we wanted a bodyguard, to sort of get him to persuade Sorree. It appeared that Sorree had decided to take us. Then we were told the ticket man would take us. We'd have to stay at his house and go the next day though. The guy I was talking to said that that was just wasting time. That we'd be getting there when it was still light (probably true if we got the train half an hour earlier and now the clocks had changed) and that the taxi drivers were OK if you didn't go with a gypsy, that there was a police station there, it was a well lit safe place and when you arrived there there were four big hotels right in front of you as you walked out of the station. A room would cost about 800 lei. He said the ticket conductor was taking an indirect route there. We were just about persuaded. Encouraged by this guy who seemed to understand exchange rates Sorree swapped our &Lsterling.5 with 400 lei of his so that we could catch a taxi. It later transpired that the exchange rate is 700 lei =&Lsterling.1 and that I'd given him a couple of weeks wages. Still he might have being doing us a favour giving us as much as he could for as little as we could give him.
As we got off the train at Sumeria we were introduced to a 31 yr old woman engineer named Piloiu. She said some- thing like 'I may be a woman but I'm still a good engi- neer'. Sorree said she would take us to Bucharest. He said good-bye. Corina took us to the station master who didn't have anything for John's head. He looked at our Interrail tickets and made a phone call. The only time our tickets were questioned. But I think we still needed a reservation. He gave us two proper tickets. Corina took us to the works canteen. She bought us virtually half a loaf of bread each, some soup, and some more beans of the flavour we'd had the previous night. I can't remember what else but it was quite a lot and we didn't have time to finish it. She told us about herself. I think John asked her his standard question about how the Olympics were going. She gave us her address and asked us to send her a telegram to say we'd arrived safely. The 'accelerata' train arrived. She said that she wasn't coming with us, even though earlier she'd said she would if we wanted her to and we'd said we did. She took us through the train to the platform and down to our car- riage. She came onto the train and told us which were our seats. We said good-bye.
11:57 Sumeria to Brasov
Our carriage contained one man and three women. The man and his wife were George (actually Constantin but he asked us to call him George because, I think, he thought it was a good English name that we could say and remember) and Goby (Gabriela) from Brasov. The girl was a medical student aged about 22 I think, called Diana who was from Orsova. She had tied back long blonde hair and quite western summer clothes. She had some English (Polish language) books with her. One was DH Lawrence, a book I didn't know. The other was an author I didn't know. It was hard to talk to her as she didn't speak English very well. She smoked and apparently drank coffee. (A stimulant for exams I think). The other person left before we really got to know them. She was about 25 and had a white top and rather bad eye make up. When we arrived George spoke to the ticket conductor. I think he was complaining about us, as we didn't look very good. The ticket man (who we didn't know of) seemed to explain that we were British and probably told him more. George seemed happy with this. George opened his bag and gave us a sandwich each. It was egg and a strong cheese (I thought the strongness was pepper but anyway.) We left our dry loaves of bread that we'd brought with us. We told him our story. Train, fenetre, superman jump, cut throat, twice, Krakow, baggage. He said 'My God'. He told the women. They said 'No?!' and we said 'yes' and he said 'My God, I'm sorry' and I said 'it's not your fault' and this went on for quite a while. John kept drifting off into sleep/unconsciousness. Eventually we broke away from this and talked about the Olympics, pop music, films, Ceaucescu. George is 25. He wore very smart jeans, shirt and maybe a cardigan. He had a large bright bag. His wife was thin. She was 21. She wore a holey wool jumper. She went to the toilet and he subtly gave her some toilet paper from his back pocket. (I know it's not a very nice subject but I'd been looking for a toilet to sit on since we entered Romania. The train on the journey to Sumeria had really horrible toilets. Just a filthy hole that dropped straight through to the ground beneath, no flush or anything and no toilet paper.) Goby was very quiet and didn't speak English. Her sister was in Germany and she wasn't able to visit her. Maybe she was German. His brother was in Germany and was a bad boy because he never visited and George couldn't visit him (it is very difficult for Romanians to get visas out of the country). They married 18 months ago. There were problems about the relations attending each others wed- dings. George, Goby and Diana got into a conversation. They told me they'd been telling her that George had been a 'spy'. He had been conscripted into the Ceacescu army but had been part of the revolution and had killed people. Since the revolution things in Romania had improved by 0.0000000001%. (A lot of this conversation was carried out using a pad of paper and a pen as well as waving arms around etc.) In 10 yrs time things might get better. Romania, as someone said the previous night, is 50 yrs behind Britain. He said that 25% of people didn't know until two years ago that there was a world or even planets outside Romania. He said that their capacity for learning had been repressed. He showed us his train timetable and was very excited that he'd got information.
Information was very valuable. George, Goby and Diana had a conversation about DH Lawrence. They shouted so much I thought they were going to hit each other. George said that he worked for a water company. He later showed us a translation book which said he was a lathe operator but I think that just meant he was an engineer.
When we stopped at one station George got out and bought coke or something for all five of us. He also gave John and me his bottled water. We were supposed to all share it but no-one else had any. We talked in English very loudly with the door open. George had said, as had the train people on the earlier train, that you shouldn't travel on the train at night but in the day it was per- fectly safe. People in their early twenties with shorts and rucksacks started gathering outside our compartment. There were many open windows to smoke out of but the one outside our compartment was bolted down. When the 'interrailers' discovered this they took an axe (about a foot long, like a tomahawk) out of their rucksack and attacked the window. George saw this and was disturbed. At last someone had seen that we weren't making it up; that people were giving us more attention than one would normally expect. When he finally realised that we were just going to turn up in Bucharest on our own with nowhere to stay, and we asked if there were hotels in Brasov where he was getting off, he had a chat with Goby and after calming her a bit he asked us to come home with him. (Visiting Brasov was originally in our plan anyway as it is in Transylvania and we wanted to visit Dracula's castle, but at this point we just wanted to get to the airport and get home). George was definitely worried by these people. When we got to Diana's stop he walked her off the train to her platform and then shouted to her out of the train window. Goby shouted too. Unfortunately while he was gone a man brought his bag in and put it on the seat where Diana had been then went away again. We managed to keep the rest out, but I wanted George to hurry back to fill compartment. For the next hour the people outside increased in number and aggressiveness. I was terrified. So was George. He kept trying to calm Goby and making plans with her. John was oblivious to it, he was basically unconscious, but he could see I was worried. George kept saying to us, 'you come with us to Brasov' and showing us the minutes passing to when we would arrive. John was annoyed that he kept repeating himself because he didn't realise the significance of it. The man with the bag came and sat in the carriage so we couldn't speak easily. As the man went out to smoke at the window George picked up his paper and asked if he could read it. A ploy to tell the man and the interrailers that he was Romanian. No-one had spoken loud English for a good couple of hours. He showed us the paper and said it was political propaganda and not worth reading. It had nothing about the Olympics in it.
George tried to pack away my towel. I think he was offended when I wouldn't give it, but I was so grateful to have it. It's a good distraction to stop them noticing my money belt and excellent protection against a knife. George made more plans with the worried Goby. I didn't really know whether to trust him, but I could see from his behaviour that he didn't want all this. But then again maybe all he was worried about was Goby getting hurt and he was still going to get us. After all it wasn't chance that made us sit in that compartment. I woke John and told him to be alert. He went back to sleep. When we got there George took control. He said 'Easy easy' meaning wait a while for the train to clear out then we headed for the exit. I think the order was Goby first but with him virtually on top of and around her, then John, then me. The people in the train moved very slowly. We were stuck in the aisle. The interrailers stared at us but didn't do anything. There were very menacing people in the neighbouring compart- ments too. We got to the door and it was broken. Surely not a coincidence, as George seemed surprised and had probably used it at least twice already. We went to the next carriage and got off. John was scared as he didn't know whether to trust George. I said it would be alright as long as Goby stayed with us. If he sent her off some- where it would be a bad sign that there was going to be trouble and he wanted to keep her out of it. We stopped and looked at train times. I was worried as George was pointing and talking loudly about which train we would be catching to Bucharest and people were drifting around behind us. Goby disappeared. We soon found her outside the station though. She'd bought a Romanian/English translation phrase book from a news stand. More informa- tion. George was happy. He went through the whole book picking out key phrases to say what was happening. He said that Goby had a heart condition, but not to mention it. She went to a chemist as she was feeling ill. We caught a very busy tram. Nobody paid.
When we got off Goby said good-bye and went. George said that she had gone to her mother's and that we would see her in a couple of hours. John wanted to make a run for it, he really didn't know what was happening, all he knew was that I had said that we would be safe as long as Goby didn't leave us. I was scared but I remembered George's reactions on the train and decided that he was the only chance we'd got. I just had to trust him and John just had to trust my judgement. There wasn't much else we could do. We caught another tram.
When it reached it's destination we crossed the road. We walked away from the road into desolation. There were a few big block buildings. The were a few broken cars. The land was just rubble. The kind of place people get taken in London, Liverpool and Newcastle thrillers to get shot. There were suspicious people all over the place. People who lived there but would do anything for a pass- port out. George pointed out a small garage with a few cars around it, that looked like Renaults. He mentioned a make of car and seemed to say this is where they ori- ginally made this particular make of car. We walked around the building and into it. It was like a wrecked 1960s tower block but more wide than tall. He showed us where his mail arrived. The front door was broken off. He shrugged. He was a bit embarrassed. We walked along the corridor. A lot of doors were open. They were just rooms with virtually nothing in them. Maybe a broken mattress, broken pipes. We got to his door. We were dreading it. It had a china knocker thing with an '11' on it. He opened the door and led us in.
It was really nice. About 9'x16' at an uneducated guess (John, who's better at estimating says 9'x14'). There was a slight partition at the door end where there was a sink, cupboard, and folded table. He asked us to take our shoes off. In the main bit was a really nice rug, a sofa, and some shelves. There were also some shelves at the partition. These were covered by a blanket so looked quite nice. At the end of the room was a 22' 1967 black and white telly that hissed, a table, and some curtains closed by the window. He was very embarrassed by his poverty. He often picked out the word 'poverty' in the translation book etc. We told him how nice his home was. He told us to have a shower. John and I discussed the fact that I didn't want to leave my money belt while we all went to use the communal shower. John decided to wash at the sink saying it would damage his head to use the shower. George switched on his walkman which was on the shelf, connected to two small speakers. The autostop didn't work. It was a German girl called Sandra that I've never heard of. He also played Roxette, and had Aha and a couple of others. All the tapes were bootleg ones that he'd bought. He gave me some sandals and took me to the communal shower room. There were also a couple of wrecked and filthy communal toilets there and no light. It was very awkward. There were about 8 showers but he said that only one worked so we both had to use it. We took it in turns though and it was OK. When I got back to the room while George was still bathing John was in a state. He'd been in my money belt and stuck all his stuff from it down his underpants. He was convinced I'd been taken away to be shot. When we'd left John had turned down the walkman to hear what was happening and George had come back while I was in the shower and turned it up again, apparently to drown the shots. John says that this was the most frightening part of the whole trip. When we got back George went through his clothes. He went through all his underwear, saying 'mine, mine, Goby's' etc. He only had about 4 pairs of underpants and he gave John and me a pair each. Similarly for socks, shirt and jumper. They were all pretty tatty and far too small but I was very grateful. I was sure one of the reasons we were under attack was that we looked like tourists and if the mob were really after us all the time the fact that we wore the same clothes every day was helping them. Unfortunately he didn't give us any trousers. I kept looking through his book looking for 'thank-you' and 'I hope I'm not imposing'. When John eventually worked out what was going on he was over- whelmed. George gave us a leather bag too. (Until my luggage was stolen I always carried my stuff around in the day in a polythene carrier bag, leaving my rucksack in a locker. I had thought that this would show how poor I was but in Eastern Europe they don't have polythene so it actually showed that I was wealthy.) He folded up our dirty clothes in computer paper and put them in the bag. It transpired than Goby was a bookkeeper and this paper had figures on it. He unfolded the sofa which became a bed and told John and me to go to sleep. It was only 19:00 but Goby would be back soon to make us a meal and we had to get the 03:00 train. We said we didn't want to get a train at night but he said we'd be OK as he'd be with us. John slept. I didn't really.
At about 21:00 he got us up. In the middle of the room they'd laid the table. They gave us some brandy-like home brew made by Goby's father. It was really strong stuff, I couldn't really drink it. Some more beans, this time looking like beans. Cheese like in the sandwich, pate, and a plate of salad each. I drank quite a bit of water too. It was all very nice. We had some very interesting conversation and watched the Olympics on telly. As they don't have satellite they only had one channel. We also saw the news. They like 'Howard's Way' (something we didn't guess when they were trying to talk about boats as a form of travel on the train) and 'Twin Peaks'. They love American stuff and are mislead into thinking its perfect in the west. But it is pretty good compared to the way they live. But still they took it a bit too far in their understanding of the amount of goods we could afford and the level of employment in Britain. Goby showed us her wedding photos. They were married on 12.04.91. She was very happy with us. Whenever they came across Goby's sister George would make a noise and hunch his shoulders implying that she was a monster. We saw all their family and they gave us a picture each of the pair of them. Whenever we said 'are we imposing' he said 'no you are my friends I like you'. (Whenever he said 'I like' he actually said 'I like you' eg 'I like you Beatles'. John tried to correct him once but it was quite endearing.) When Roxette sang 'Joyride' he picked up on the line 'hello you fool I love you' and said 'yes, I love you' to us. Three of us went to bed in their double sofabed, and when Goby had finished clearing up she got in too. He set the alarm. I'd set my watch alarm. I felt quite safe and slept.
03:30 Brasov to Bucharest
When my alarm woke me up at 2 am I remembered that their alarm had gone off but no-one had woken up. I lay there looking around. Next to me George appeared to be fully dressed. When I went to sleep he was not dressed. What had he been doing? Did I want to wake him up? Did I want him to take us into the darkness in the night? If I left him we could sleep until sunrise. I lay and thought until just gone 02:10. I woke up George. John woke up. The light came on. He wasn't properly fully dressed, it was a track suit. He gave me some packed sandwiches. Goby had stayed up last night making them from the left- overs. Surely he wouldn't have given me these if we were being lead to our death. There were three cups of cold coffee also laid out for us by Goby the previous night. We said good-bye to Goby and set off into the darkness.
The streets were dark. There was no street light. We didn't go along the road. We took a short cut across waste ground. My socks kept falling down. George's feet are much smaller than mine. I walked in the middle of the backstreet. Dogs kept going wild, throwing them- selves at gates as we passed. They were barking all around. We walked alongside the railway line. We walked across it. We walked along the platform and into the station. All around there were unsavoury characters. George was obviously not totally comfortable. I asked if he was going to buy a ticket. He said 'no'. My hypoth- esis was the following: Goby had a heart condition and would probably die without money. George wasn't in the mob but knew that there would be a reward if he handed us over to them. He knew that they were to be found on the trains at night, so he kept us until then and now he would hand us over. He wasn't strong or confident enough to get us, especially on his own doorstep, but here there would be a big gang. It sounds neurotic to mistrust the nicest person I've ever met but it was night, dangerous
and we'd seen enough wild stuff. George walked straight through the station and out through the entrance. Within the double set of doors was a newspaper salesman. George had a quick glance at the papers. (Obviously a ploy to show he was Romanian). He walked past all the street sales people to an off-license kiosk. He bought a bottle of coke, which he didn't really want. They gave him the wrong change. He com- plained. They gave him some more change. He complained again. They counted out more money until he was happy. We went back in, looking at the papers on the way. We walked around, and then sat on an empty side of the hall. We hardly spoke English at all. He showed us phrases in the book. 'These are presents from me' relating to the clothes and bag that he'd given us. 'Attention' meaning be on guard looking after our money and passports. He said when the train would arrive. (03:20, leaving at 03:35.) At about 03:30 we went to the platform. At 03:35 we waited until everyone else had boarded the train then we walked down and sussed out the best place to sit. We got in. He said he would deal with the ticket man, he would do all talking in fact. We should go to sleep. He put the light off as soon as possible. John went to sleep. I still was not sure. I stayed sitting up for the whole 4 hour journey. After half an hour to an hour George left the carriage. This was it. He'd gone to get the mob and his cash. I saw a shadow come back past the compartment and then look back in on us. I'd have to speak to them in English. It was George. He came in and lay down again. At last I knew 100% that he was OK. I relaxed. George lay on his side with his arms folded on each side of his head. He looked like a soldier and he was there to protect us. I had told George I didn't have a ticket which wasn't really true but the interrail ticket would have given away that we were British. When the ticket man came George gave him, I think, 400 lei and said it was for the three of us. It was four notes anyway. I was confused that the collector didn't give him any change. I now realise he didn't buy tickets, he bribed him.
Bucharest was the most dangerous station we've been to. There were dodgy people everywhere. Lots of people were handing out cards and saying 'Istanbul'. George tried to explain it but I didn't understand him. I thought it was something to do with wine although I'm not sure why. I think there was a picture of a decanter on the ticket. John now hypothesises that they were selling train reser- vations to Istanbul. If this is the case then we would have been in trouble getting there. George said that Istanbul was near which was annoying as that's where we wanted to go but we'd given up by now. (Our planned trip had been to go to Bulgaria, Turkey and then back via Prague.) People had all sorts of scams going. Two men were carrying a case between them and kept stopping for rests and to swap sides, it was very balletic. One woman carried a big iron bar for no particular reason. Everyone was delaying and bumping into us. We went to the toilet. I still needed to go, the dodgy food and water were taking effect, but it was too busy and the doors were virtually non-existent. The other two had a quick wash. George offered us food but as I say I couldn't really eat, and Goby's meal had filled us up anyway. We went to the railway police station. George asked them where the British Embassy was. They were no help at all. Very unfriendly. John and I imagined how we'd have fared turning up on our own. And in the inter- railing book it had recommended coming here. We'd been so impressed by the book on our experiences in western Europe but it was so wrong in the east. We wondered whether the writer had ever even been here. A taxi driver came up to us in the station and hassled us to go with him. George asked how much he'd charge. It was about 800 lei. The same price as we had been quoted as the price of a hotel room. Ridiculous. Outside the station there were no hotels at all, let alone the four big ones right in front of you that the people from Birzava had told us of. George asked a few people for directions; a couple of taxi drivers, a couple of people on the street. Each time he'd look at us and give an expression indicating whether he trusted their answer. Everyone gave us different answers so we had to assess from the collected data which was the true direction and who were trying to send us down dark alleyways. We got to a bus stop. We asked a couple more people for directions. One girl looked OK and then he noticed her zip was broken so she wasn't trustworthy after all. George looked at lots of nice looking girls too and then told himself off saying that Goby wouldn't approve. We caught a bus. We didn't buy a ticket. We asked more people. We kept intentionally going the wrong way and then doubling back. It seemed like we were lost but often we were just trying to throw off followers. My memories of the city are that it was very big, dusty, concrete, grey/white and the only real signs of 'western civilisation' were a couple of very big advertising boards, they may have been neon I can't remember, adver- tising Coca Cola and Marlborough cigarettes.
Eventually we got to the Brittanic Embassy. We'd never have found it ourselves. It was 07:30. The guard said to come back between 08:30 and 09:00. We went and sat in a park at the end of the road. There were some women sitting there. George talked to them, to show he was Romanian. They were workers at the Embassy, apparently. I don't understand why they were waiting so early. When we came back an hour later they were still there. James mentioned later that Romanians have no qualms about talking to strangers. We went to a restaurant. On the way there someone arrived at someone's gate they shook hands very close and quickly walked in closing the gate, keeping it as closed as possible for the procedure. We bought some really fatty horrible bacon and egg, some bread and some of their coffee (funny tasting water with a couple of beans at the bottom). I said I wasn't feeling well and needed to go to the toilet. George came with me. He positioned himself by the restaurant entrance such that he could watch over both John in the restaurant and me in the toilet. I was ill. I ate the bread and drank our coke. John and George had a conver- sation. George asked for us to write an invitation at the embassy to invite him and Goby to visit us in Britain. Without an invite Romanians are not allowed to leave the country, this is why some people, especially Catilin, had been so keen to swap addresses and for us to write to them. It became clear that this had been a driving force for George putting so much effort into helping us, but still no reason to think badly of him. He'd risked his life for us and he could just as easily have mugged us and we were, and are, extremely grateful. John took it a bit far. John asked if, just between the two of them, George wanted to stay in Britain after the holiday there. George misunderstood this and was really happy as he thought it was an offer. I felt really sad that John had offered this that we couldn't give. I think to a certain extent though John did believe that he could offer this to George. We would willingly have paid for his travel, and would have to as otherwise he could never afford it. John said that at the time it wasn't practical as we had nowhere to put them up but George and Goby should spend the next few months working hard on learning to speak English and then we would bring them over. Someone asked us for money. People were watching us. We went back to the garden and then to the embassy.
We met a Romanian woman outside the Brittanic Embassy who brings things over from Britain with a charity. She said that money is safe (only send 20 quid though) to send but that mail gets read. But if we contact the following we will get help: 'British Airways, Captain L W Gruber, B747 Senior Training Captain, Crew Report Centre, PO Box 747, Crawley - West Sussex RH6 0FH. The woman said we could send the invitation fro George at any time so we agreed to leave it at that for now and concentrate on getting ourselves out of the country. They said that we could see the vice consul, but that George couldn't come in. They searched us and put a metal detector thing around us to look for guns and we went in. George waited outside so that he could take us the the airport. We met someone called James who had also been waiting outside and came in with us. The people inside weren't as helpful as we'd hoped for. I think they looked down on us because of the way we looked, which is silly because if we hadn't;t been in such a state we wouldn't have needed to go there. The vice consul had lived in Romania for two years and she had never had any trouble travel- ling in her chauffeur-driven limousine. She said that she would try to get us a plane but it would be very hard. She said that we couldn't be taken to the airport as they were understaffed. She did seem to be busy but all the other staff wandered around bored. They moaned about the air conditioning. They moaned about how hard it was to get a decent cricket pitch in Romania, and they talked about places to buy cheap porcelain. They had really old fashioned pure British accents. It was just like a James Bond film. I never thought people really spoke like that. She said that she had got us a plane, to England at 10:15 the next day. John wasn't too pleased, he didn't want to go home, he was still talking about carrying on to Istanbul or anywhere really rather than cut his holiday short, but I thought he should have his head seen to. She sent us, and James who's passport and ticket had been stolen, down the road to a hotel to buy a ticket. She said how great she was and how lucky we were to get this booking.
Outside George was busy helping someone fill in a form. We went and bought the ticket without him. I paid for mine and John's using travellers cheques. They were one hundred and fifty pounds each. James paid for his with dollars which he retrieved from his shoe. On the way back I saw two people walk past one another, in opposite directions, in the street. Their hands brushed together and a small knife passed between them.
When we got back we bade farewell to George. George kissed us on both cheeks, our bristles scratching, and shook us each firmly by the hand. John said that he'd get him out and he left the happiest man in the world. When John realised we hadn't given him any money, and I pointed out that in England he still wouldn't be free if he was an illegal immigrant John wasn't so happy, but we'll send him money and we'll do our best for him. The vice consul woman said that there was a doctor but she was too busy to help John who may have a cracked open head. She gave him a plaster and told him to have a wash. We didn't want to go out on the streets so we stayed there for the next four hours, reading the papers, waiting for James. He was sent all over town to get a passport. He spent all his reserve money. He had to pay three bribes, one into someone's personal bank account, one on his second visit to a police station just for them to stamp a statement prepared by the vice-consul. He had a permanently booked taxi driver who turned out, he said, to be an undercover cop. In the embassy we met a guy who worked for the South African embassy. He said 'this is not Europe'. 'It is the wild east, like the wild west, come to South Africa, it is much safer, except maybe the train to Soweto.' He said 'I always travel by plane and taxi in Romania. You should never use the trains.' When the person he was waiting for arrived he told him he'd been talking to us and how nice we were but the British person completely ignored us. When one couple working at the embassy met another guy working there they talked about their planned weekend. She smiled a massive smile and he told her where you could get the bargain price porcelain near there. As soon as he left her fake smile totally disappeared. She did this again to someone else.
When the Embassy shut at 14:00 (John says 13:00 but he didn't have a watch). we went with James. He was far too loud, speaking English on the street and carrying his enormous rucksack. He'd been working with Romanians in an orphanage for 3 weeks and they were OK, and taxi drivers are great. John took the map and pretended to be George weaving about and going the wrong way. John was getting neurotic. It was very hot and he was wearing a jumper. I put my dirty shirt back on as it covered my money belt. We had looked like dirt in the embassy but that was what our disguise was for. We passed a really big queue of people waiting to buy bread from a bakers. We passed people selling grapes and other things out of car boots. We went to the French embassy. I wish I could remember exactly why. We were told to go and pay some money somewhere, I think into the French embassy guy's account and be back at the French embassy by 3pm. To do this, and the other transactions necessary to get James' passport in time we had to get a taxi to drive us around, he was OK.
We went to a Bureau de Change but it took far too long and people started to build up around us. We left. For some reason we went back to the hotel where we had bought our tickets. I think it was probably to change some money. We met the girl who'd sold us the plane tickets as she was leaving for home. She was really pleased to see us. Something was wrong with the money James had given her I think it was five pounds short or something negligible like that (I also remember Scottish money being involved, maybe he tried to give her that but she wouldn't accept it.) I think she had cancelled his ticket because of this so it was lucky that we bumped into her. We tried to give her the rest of the money and she shuffled James into her boyfriend's car and we all stood around it so that no-one on the street could see money being exchanged.
We checked in to the hotel that the vice consul had arranged. The receptionist asked to see our Bureau de Change receipt as the Romanian money was down, and he took our passports. There is a lot of forged money around so you should never change money on the street. The three of us got a room and brought some beer up. It was 4pm. James gave us some clothes. A top, socks that fitted and at last some jeans. We told our stories. James had been working at an orphanage up in the hills. The Romanians who he worked with had taken him on a couple of trips into some towns, I think Brasov was one, but basically he had spent all of his time in the coun- tryside and when he had been in towns he had been in a very big group with Romanians who knew the area. He said that the orphanage at the start of the three months was a horrible place, many children were virtually dead from starvation. Basically he had to teach the Romanians running it how to treat children, that you shouldn't hit them with sticks or starve them or lock them up. In par- ticular it was the violence that bothered him. He had had to pay for his fare there and hadn't been paid any- thing and had been living in a very basic way. It didn't sound very appealing. He said that he wanted to do it again. He found the change in the kids over the time very satisfying. John says that he would like to do it too. James was planning to use up all his leave from work the following February and go again just for a couple of weeks.
at about 19:00 we went for a meal in the restaurant oppo- site the hotel. It was a secluded and safe courtyard out the back of the restaurant. There were some rich British people there eating and drinking wine who talked as though they were on a package holiday and were seeing a very different Romania to what we saw. We had a good meal. Steak again. John had alcoholic ice cream and we had a couple of beers. At 21:00 we went to bed.
My alarm got us up at 06:00. We had been warned to book taxis rather than just get in any car who's driver said he was a taxi. We may even have booked one but I can't think how. We got in the first taxi in the rank outside our hotel. John and I were nervous all the way to the airport but James said that he recognised the route. The airport was a really basic place. Just a concrete building next to a runway in a field in the middle of nowhere. We waited a while and drank coffee. There were a few undesirable people hanging around in the foyer. Even- tually we Walked through customs which was embarrassing. James' passport had been stolen. John and I both held our arms up to indicate that baggage had been stolen and we had nothing to be searched. They laughed. Once in the departure lounge people were OK. We drank a beer.
10:15 Plane Bucharest to London Heathrow. Tarom airline.
(clock back 2 hrs)
We got the plane, Cost 342,250 lei? (&Lsterling.155). It all went well. Once we got our feet on firm ground and through customs we finally relaxed, although the people that know me will tell you that I didn't really relax for another six months afterwards. I knew that these organised crime groups were very organised. Some are very far reaching but I don't know which ones we came across. To help us in the event of losing tickets or passports or other documentation we had had copies of each everything in one another's rucksacks, unfortunately these had all been stolen, so these people knew where I lived.
I've since read the following extract from from a U.S. Department of State Advisory dated March 5, 1992:
'Travellers to Poland are advised that while business and pleasure travel is generally safe, reported incidents of crime against foreign visitors and local residents have increased. Travellers are advised to exercise particular caution against thieves when traveling by train, public tram and buses. Street crime in Poznan and Krakow is not as prevalent as in Warsaw, but travellers using the train stations in all three cities should exercise caution.
Trains, Trams and Buses - Organised groups of thieves and pickpockets appear to be operating in the train stations, trains, trams and buses of Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow and other major cities. The groups operate by surrounding the traveller to distract his/her attention while boarding or exiting the train and then picking their pockets. Such incidents can be avoided by alert trav- elers who safeguard their valuables.'
Since then we've sent money and letters to George and he hasn't received any of them. He has sent us letters asking why we haven't been in touch since the telegram. We also got a letter and photograph from Catilin which we've ignored. The charity lady that we met outside the British Embassy got in touch with us. We went to see her in Worthing and gave her some money to give to George. She later came back to us asking what to do with the money as she had failed to find him. In November he sent us a letter saying that he was going to work in Hungary for three months. So we've now lost touch with him.
I've tried to get various forms of this published to warn travellers of what they might be getting involved in, but no journalist was interested in writing an article. The Independent and The Guardian asked me to write a 1200 word version (this version is 24600 words) which I did but it wasn't good enough because it contained just a few basic facts and the basic facts are that very little actually happened to us. Because we managed to avoid getting into serious trouble it is virtually impossible to get people to believe that we didn't just imagine the trouble that we avoided.
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