We had a whole day’s travel ahead of us and I had already reached the end of my line. I have very few photos taken of me near the end of a journey. That is for good reason. As my wife has reminded me countless times, I always manage to book our trip a day or two longer than I should. This was certainly the case on a spring journey to Transylvania. We had already spent the night on a train, four nights in Brasov, three in Sibiu and a final one in Deva. Deva had been a mixed bag, with thrills and travails. There were two stunning trips to the old fortress ruins above the city, one by vehicle and the other by foot. The one by foot came courtesy of a morning run where a dog leapt out at me from its owner’s leash and managed to bite a hole in my sweatpants. Fortunately, I escaped without so much as a scratch. The dog’s owner and I exchanged a smile, then I proceeded to continue my scramble up the hillside towards the citadel. Once there, I was left gasping for breath and ready to go back to Hungary. It was all downhill here from there, both literally and figuratively.
The Downside – A Sense of Finality
The Deva Railway Station reminded me of the 1970’s with its bland colors, bad style and down at the heel atmosphere. Standing inside was only an option for those who style themselves sadists or paleo-communists. There was nothing likeable about the place. It was a concrete concoction badly in need of a good whitewashing. The station’s appearance was a shame because it frames most traveler’s first and last impressions of the city. Deva is a fine, modest sized city, that just so happens to have a fascinating history. It has a handful of fascinating attractions, unfortunately the railway station will never be one of them. At least not in its current form. One does not part from the station, as much as flee from it. Unsightly should be the standard definition of its style, an architecture that evokes a dreadful lassitude. My first and last impressions of Deva were of the railway station, a blight on the memory. The best thing I can say about my experience was that it turned out to be mercifully short.
My wife helped immortalize my mood a few minutes before our departure from Deva. That was when she snapped a photo of me sitting outside the station, in a chair close to the main platform. At that moment I was not so patiently waiting on the train that would take us back to Hungary. In the photo, I am surrounded by luggage and dressed in a blue leather coat. I am looking away, probably in the hope that our train to Budapest will soon arrive. I look haggard and irritable. The photo shows a different side of travel than the one I usually find in old photos, it might be termed, “the downside.” The final stage of any journey in Eastern Europe usually means just getting it over with. In this regard, the trip had already ended. These multi-day journeys do not end upon arrival at home, they end at the point of exhaustion. I was beyond this point when my wife took the photo in Deva.
Enervating Experiences – The Last Legs
I will never be able to quantify the time I have spent waiting on transport in eastern Europe. It must be considerable. Waiting at these places was necessary and often memorable, but that did not make it fun. In many cases, it has been the exact opposite. If something memorable happened while waiting, it was usually not good. The photo from Deva sums up the general experience. Looking grumpy keeps the beggars at bay and seedy types know to keep their distance. If not for the photo my wife took in Deva, I doubt I would have remembered that departure, mainly because it was like so many others. Public transport facilities in Romania have a great deal in common with other eastern European countries I have visited. It almost always involves waiting in unsheltered conditions, at the mercy of the elements or fellow passengers.
The photo from Deva brought back memories of journeys when I was beyond the point of exhaustion. The last legs of journeys when I was on my last legs. There was the morning arrival by train on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, drinking the strongest and worst cup of coffee ever. It left me wide awake with a perpetual dark brown taste in my mouth. There was the screaming drunk in Warsaw riding the city bus that took me to my hotel for a final night in the city. I feared for his life, rather than my own. There was the broken wi-fi connection in an Austrian hotel just outside of Vienna. Everything in the hotel had the sheen of Teutonic flawlessness, but the wi-fi would never work despite the front desk attendant’s protestations to the contrary.
There were so many departures from Debrecen that I have lost count of them. Standing amid a sea of students, I felt pangs of envy that they would be home in a few hours, whereas I would not be home for two days. There were airport food courts in Kiev, Budapest, and Bucharest, everything was clean and crowded. Everyone was well dressed. The peasantry must never be allowed to set foot beyond passport control. Nothing could have been further from the way most people in Eastern Europe travel. I found the experience enervating.
End of The Line – Summoning The Strength
Deva was the proverbial “end of the line” for me on that trip. Other stops down the line in Arad, border control and Budapest were a blur that vanished somewhere into the vagaries of my memory. All trips, good and bad, must come to an end. When and where that happens has less to do with geography and more with mentality. Once the joy of discovery and sense of adventure fades so does the will to carry on. Summoning the strength to finish off a journey is much more difficult than what it takes to start one. The “end of the line” is not a place, but a feeling. One that I dread and one that I hope to be lucky enough to have again and again.
Click here for: Inspirations & Aspirations – Subotica: The Destination, Rather Than The Journey (Rendezvous With An Obscure Destiny #16)