Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-6: The Arrival in Belgrade

After a good night's sleep, I was awakened around 7:30 in the morning hearing that we were about to cross the border into Yugoslavia. A Romanian customs man asked me if I had something to declare with respect to the luggage that I was carrying. "Nothing to declare"


--I replied inviting him to look into my luggage. "No, that will not be necessary" --he responded as he went away to the next passenger. After some 30 minutes, we crossed into Yugoslavia. A Yugoslavian border man entered the train checking for passports and stamping the day into each --April 13, 1969. Everything went smoothly as expected. In about four (4) more hours, we reached our final destination for this train --Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

As the train approached the Station, I looked through my window for my two Yugoslavian friends to whom I had sent a few days ago my telegram informing them of my arrival. To my relief and joy, I was able to spot one of them and we briefly waved to each other. As we met in the Station, we embraced each other and engaged in some small talk conversation. As we left the Station, right outside I saw a giant black limousine (a Russian Chaika model) with two (2) small flags attached: a Romanian flag and a Yugoslavian flag. As I was staring in dismay at this car, my friend was advising me (in Russian --our common language of communication) that "this car is waiting for you!".


Stunned by what I had just heard, I stopped moving! I was numbed and in total disbelief. My friend immediately continued by saying:
"When we received your telegram, we informed our Director of your arrival. This is our car from the Observatory and this is how we greet our foreign visiting scientists."

Recovering from the shock, I advised my friend that I was not here in any official capacity representing the Romanian Observatory but that I was here on my vacation. To this, my friend responded that from my telegram there was no way for them to determine this, and that they assumed that I was coming to Belgrade to do research. Then my friend, patting me on the back, continued:

"In any event, everything is now arranged and you need not to worry about it. Let's go!"

"Go WHERE?" --I asked him in bewilderment. "We are going to the Observatory where we have reserved for you the Observatory's guest apartment, that is where we are going!" was his answer. Still not believing what I was hearing, we entered into the waiting limousine which drove us to the Observatory. Once there, my friend went with me to the guest apartment that was reserved for me. Catching my breath with these totally unforeseen developments, I asked my friend if we could meet here in a few hours around 5 PM. He agreed, telling me that he would bring with him his colleague and my other friend who was unable to come to greet me at the Station. We said goodbye and there I was, all confused, not knowing where all this was going to lead.

Since I had not eaten for quite some time and I was starving, I looked in all the cabinets of the apartment to see if I could find anything to eat. I was unable to find anything except a big bag containing sugar. I boiled some water and I put some sugar in it, and this was my first "meal" in Belgrade. Somehow it stopped my hunger! I had very little to unpack from my suitcase as almost everything in it was filled with presents. (In fact, the only thing that I unpacked from my suitcase was a suit and a white nylon shirt. The nylon shirt was extremely practical as you could wash it in the evening and have it ready to wear on the next morning!)

I was determined not to use my available 200 Yugoslavian dinars on food or other necessities of life as I had no idea where I would be needing that money for my escape to the West. Aside from the presents that I brought with me, I had smuggled, inside a pack of cigarettes, 5000 Romanian "lei" which I knew to be worthless currency here. And that was everything that I had at my disposal. Aside from this precarious situation, I was enormously concerned that my whereabouts somehow would be discovered by someone from the Observatory in Bucharest. I did not like at all the situation in which I had been boxed into. There were too many factors and variables outside of my control which could have brought everything down to an abrupt end.

Well, it was 5 o'clock in the evening and my friends arrived. I was genuinely glad to see my second friend, who I particularly liked. I gave him a nice Romanian tablecloth as a present. He immediately invited me and his colleague to dinner in his house as he was eager to show to his wife the new tablecloth he received. Boy, I sure was very glad of the invitation as my hunger was coming back. On the way to his house, I asked him if he could arrange first thing in the morning to see the Observatory's Director as I needed to explain to him that my visit here was that of a tourist and not of a scientific exchange purpose. He was somehow surprised to hear that, but he assured me that as a matter of protocol the Director would see me first thing in the morning.

Next morning, this second friend and I went to see the Director. After thanking the Director for the hospitality and the guest apartment that was arranged for me, I asked the Director for a favor stating to him in the presence of my accompanying friend this:

"You see I am here on my vacation, and I would be very grateful if you would not mention this to my Director in Bucharest. You see many people back home would be jealous that I have money to travel abroad and afford to have such a beautiful vacation."

"That is no problem" --the Director replied, "but I am glad that you told me this as I inevitably would have mentioned this in my correspondence to Bucharest." Somehow relieved of the assurances received, my accompanying friend and I left the Director's Office with a tiny smile.

The rest of the day was pleasant as I became acquainted with many of the members of the Observatory, learning a little bit about various scientific projects that were in progress. As a result of another present given to one of the fellows that I met, I got invited again for supper. What was to be my next move towards my escape still eluded me. I needed a good night's sleep!