If I remember correctly Douglas Adams said the lowest ebb occurs at 4:00 am. I bet Douglas Adams has never been on Hungarian railways. On hungarian Railways it occurs at 7:00 p.m.
When we left our place in the centre of Budapest we were in plenty of time for the walk to the station and the 17:04 train. I had a problem though. I could not orientate myself to where the hotel was in relation to the Opera House. A small matter, but one crucial to direction. As I mentioned earlier the word turns on such small things. Dieter however got his head around it and we then set off in the right direction. We had got into the habit of holding a conference (if that is the word when there are only 2 of you) when we get to junctions so that we can a) help each other map read, or b) share the blame if things go wrong. Well I must confess because I could not orientate myself when we started I was worse than useless. We were lucky, a number of people pointed us to the Railway station and some street signs also pointed to it.
We had left early as both of us have a thing about missing trains. Even so we were getting worried when we did not recognise anything. We continued to ask people and they continued to point in the direction we were going in and nod reassuringly. In addition to that there were the Burger King outlets on what looked like the appropriate corners,so we continued.
Just after we had come to the conclusion that we were in the wrong place we asked 2 more people. We were in luck. Their English was good, they said that the station was only 3 minutes away and best of all they said that they would take us to it. Oh joy!
When we arrived at the station we still did not recognise it. In fact it was the same bit of road we had stood in when we originally came to the conclusion that we were lost. We entered the station. The voice in my head said “It is a Railway Station Jim but not as we know it”. We looked around for something we recognised. Well the place where we had gone for information when we arrived was now a flower shop and the place where Diet had bought a map was just, well just missing. There were platforms and there were trains. Its just that they were the wrong trains going to the wrong places. It was of course the wrong station.
Given that it was just after 16:00 and our train did not leave till 17:04 all was not lost. It would be more accurate to say that all was mislaid. A taxi driver approached us. I showed him the ticket and said that we needed to go to Kelti Station. You could smell the scam in the air. I had the same feeling in my stomach as I had when I was trying to arrange a house move at short notice. People can see you are stuffed and they exploit it.
To cut a long story short we made it to the station, caught the train and ended up paying £24 more than the proper fare. On the other hand we were already lost by our own failings and if we had not got a taxi we would have missed a train that cost us £250. All in all we ended up loosing about the same as it cost for a meal for one in Paris. What matters though is having fucked it up and ended up in a needlessly vulnerable position.
I a glad we got a first class sleeper. It has to be said that a Hungarian first class sleeper is significantly different to a German one. There is a Buffett car but again not as we know it.
I heated up one of my traveling meals and poured out a small glass of wine from the plastic container I had the foresight to fill up in Budapest.
Its true, all is well in the best of all possible worlds.
Has this discolored my view of Budapest. Not at all – I love Budapest, it is magnificent, spirited,cultured and optimistic. I love its energy and the space it allows its inhabitants. Its taxi drivers however should burn in Hell.
2:45 am update.
Well we have now been traveling for 9 Hours and 41 minutes. Through Hungary in the daylight hours and through god knows where during the night. As I understand it we have now passed through our last border control till Venice. Border control is noisy a noisy process. Loud continual knocking on the door till you open it. Given that there are 3 different security devices on the door, opening it can take some time. Once the door is opened then is hand over passport and torch in the face time. This is followed by the customers check. Alcohol the man asks me. No I reply. We both look at the empty wine glass left over from dinner. Neither of us smile. He because he does not find it funny, me because I don’t dare.
At some borders the procedure is doubled. Once to get out of the country and then, after starting off again the train stops for the same procedure to be repeated for entry into the next country. I should have kept the map out so I could see where we were.
The Slovenia border control chaps were rather thorough. It is the only time in my life that my passport has been inspected with the aid of a magnifying glass. Oh how the stress of one of these inspections was reduced by Dieter, who having been woken from a deep slumber by one of the armed Slovenian border guards, looked the man in the face and said “Fucking Bastard” in his loud and lyrical welsh voice.”
All this would be OK if the Hungarians had decent pillows. They do not. They have stale marshmallows in old cotton bags.
A short while after finishing this bit of the blog I opened the curtains so that I could watch the night speeding by as I fell asleep. It was late, I was tired. I watched the night clatter past the window as I fell into a deep sleep. As I woke the next morning I watched the startled faces of the early morning Italian commuters as they stood in the sunshine with their noses pressed against the window looking in at at me. It took some time for my soporific brain to realise that they were glancing alternatively at the bedsheets which had slipped onto the floor during the night and my waking naked form.