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I can reserve hotels, buy train tickets, even map out the routes that I will take between meetings. I can arrange by email or Facebook to see long-lost friends for dinner. I can be a great deal more efficient that I was 23 years ago when I first traveled through East-Central Europe.
On the other hand, all this convenience and efficiency can squeeze any sense of adventure out of the enterprise. There was a much greater role for randomness, for failure, and thus, for adventure.
For instance, when I first visited Bucharest in , I arrived on an overnight train. In my compartment were a British journalist and a French philosopher. Since all three of us were clueless about Romania, we decided to team up to explore this new land.
We stumbled out of the train station early that morning into a grey, empty world. Nothing was open. There were few people on the street. We were hungry, thirsty, and had no Romanian money. The first thing we did was try to change money. No banks were open, so we did what was normal back in those days: exchange on the black market. The official rate was 20 lei to the dollar in the summer of On the black market you got We found a fellow dressed in the requisite jeans and gold chains.
Halfway through the exchange, he pointed to some cars approaching and warned us that it was the police. He took our dollars, thrust a thick bankroll of lei into our hands, and disappeared. The cars, it turned out, were not police. And our bankroll, it turned out, was a fat sandwich with Romanian currency as the slices of bread and a lot of colored toilet paper as the filling in the middle.