Well, back to the city of Sofia to be exact…
After my third (and final) love/hate relationship with Belgrade which has subjected me to visits to health care professionals, garnered a wealth of new friends, a bruised heart and a partridge in a pear tree, I find myself on an emotional stumble to the train station, bags in tow, six beers in, turning to take in a hostel dear to my heart for the last time. By my side is a particularly special someone that I have to leave. Time called on another temporary hostel love affair. Turning to see her disappear from view, I reluctantly bundle myself into a dark cabin filled with large, snoring Serbians, and whisper a distant tune into the air:
What’s the fascination, with lovers at the station, you have to tear yourself away…
I sing a few more bars as the train jerks into life, creaking over tracks and shaking through the gears. Smoke from a cigarette wafts from the adjacent compartment. I catch the aggrandised glow of the burning cherry, and I rise to light my own, leaning tentatively out a gangway window. Each grind of metal takes me further away. “I can still get a taxi back from here…and here…and here…” I ponder, exhaling fumes slowly into the cooling air, contemplating the romance of jumping off at the next platform. But she wouldn’t like that. Nobody would. Except for maybe me.
The harsh truths of the constant globetrotter once again sink in, around about the same time as I sink into my uncomfortable compartment seat for the next ten hours. “I’d rather know you for three days than never have met you at all.” It does little to lift my spirits. Darkness takes over as city lights recede, and I make out my companions in the gloom for the first time. A large, excessively hairy man and champion wheezer has beached himself over three seats on both sides, his exposed belly like a basted, shaggy chicken. An elderly, giant gentleman with legs like sequoias infringes on my comfort from distance. His long fingers interlock in a pose of unconscious contemplation. Death and his brother sleep. I sit with my back to the direction of travel, rest my head on shuddering glass, and with glassy eyes, close hooded lids and attempt an uneasy sleep.
It’s been a long time since I was on a train, and the transport has always held a mythical air regardless of current mood. Ahhh the romance of the rail. The irony isn’t lost on me as Mr Hairy breaks wind in his shuddering comatose. Chattering Serbian lingers from passengers down the aisle. A TV talent show is spotted buzzing in a distant signal box, the solitary viewer lit from the glow of the tube. The callous locomotive drives on into the night.
Traveling and relationships. That’s an interesting juxtaposition isn’t it? Never the twain shall meet. Certainly in my case. But after blinking blindly in early Bulgarian sun, roughly woken several times in a chilly night by officials demanding papers, I arrive back to a comfortable place. Within moments, I meet a lovely couple gracefully growing into the twilight of their lives. They’d each been traveling for over 20 years, having met on a boat in India 16 years ago, and inseparable ever since. With the added comfort care package of Yorkshire Tea, Marmite and Scottish oatcakes from my sister, they were the angels I needed. Someone, somewhere had been listening, and there was hope for me yet. India they say? Maybe it’s about time I get there.