Florian. The bored, overweight carriage manager with a few missing lower teeth on the ¼ full Bucharest to Istanbul train. I was initially grateful for his boredom because it probably contributed to him not noticing that my Inter-Rail ticket was for the wrong month. Then a group of three Bulgarian conductors got on, double-checked the tickets, and noticed. After trying to wriggle out of it, including attempting to call Rail Europe in the UK, they seemed to pluck a fare out of the air – 25euro, which I paid.
After giving him a generous exchange rate on an Australian $5 note, and paying too much for a mineral water, it seemed natural to have a chat. After establishing that he disliked this route because the train was almost always empty, and there was no-one to sell drinks too, he asked me if I drank, smoked, and then celebrated when I finally responded ‘yes’ to ‘Do you fuck?’, and expressed further relief when I confirmed it was women, not men.
He shouted me a beer, and we talked in broken English. He liked boxing, was a fan of Danny Green (from Perth) and was a former semi-professional cyclist. He also enjoyed conflict with his wife and children, because without it life would be boring, he mimed. While I enjoyed the conversation, and deeply appreciated his grasp of English compared to my total lack of Romanian or German, the rapport sort of got undermined when he tried to get more money from me.
Florian wanted a tip for him to keep quiet about the date of my ticket when the Turkish guard got on, and as appreciation for not charging me for the Romanian leg of the journey or to bargain on my behalf if it came to that. He qualified this suggestion with the assertion that he was ‘no gypsy’ and ‘no bin Laden’. I considered this and said I could speak to the conductor myself. Regardless, in all subsequent exchanges he made a point to rub his fingers together and remind him I should give him money. In the end I gave him the 5 euro I had left – he was not impressed. I am fully aware of my wealth and part of me that thinks everyone on this trip is just there for my amusement, but getting scammed in Bucharest and realising I am spending more money than anticipated is making me less willing to just give money away…
We shook hands as I left the train.