I’m back. It’s not like I stopped writing. I just stopped doing things here after I was asked to become a regular contributor at Pointless Overthinking, a slightly odd but very international blog that seems to be growing in popularity at a rate that is best described as “exponential.” Bogdan, the blog’s creator, is Romanian. Back when I first started writing for him, we exchanged a few interesting emails about the weird train trip I took from Istanbul, Turkey, to Bucharest more than a decade ago now. I’ve now done nineteen pieces for Bogdan’s PO.
I’m reminded of how much of a wild-haired nomad I used to be. My trip to Bucharest can serve as Exhibit A. On a whim, back when I was living in Turkey, I jumped on a bus from Ankara to Istanbul and then climbed aboard a rickety train—there wasn’t a restaurant car or anything of the sort—for a twenty-plus hour zig through mountainous Bulgaria until we came to Sofia and then a zag at the capital that would take us to our final destination.
When I left Turkey, I had no guidebook in hand, no maps of Romania, no list of “must sees,” and not even a room reservation. I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was flying while blind. I was simply flying—high above the clouds—and was probably a touch giddy due to a bad case of oxygen deprivation.
I arrived in Bucharest and somehow bounced around until I took a room in a weird, Soviet-style hotel in the heart of the city. The place could have been the setting for a Franz Kafka novel.
I spent the next week wandering, stumbling upon things, seeing visions, and was eventually nearly mugged by three bandits posing as police officers. The three wanted my money, but I wanted it even more than they did. After a brief bit of wrestling on the sidewalk, I prevailed though I was a bit ruffled and scuffed after the encounter.
I wrote this whole thing because I mostly wanted to come to a point where I could ask the following question: Why ever travel with a guidebook in hand? Guidebooks only tell you what others have seen, usually see. They tell where the herds travel and graze. Why do what others have done and usually do?
By the way, that’s a very serious question that requires some major contemplation.