We’ve done a great deal of traveling with a fair amount in third world countries and maybe it’s that I’m getting older but the past 24 hours have come near to hellish.
We planned this trip to start in the Balkans with the first half ending in Budapest. The plan next had us taking a train to Prague. The central train station was to be about six blocks from our hotel in Budapest and in Prague just a little further. We purchased round trip first class tickets through Rail Ninja* for a 9:35 AM train direct to Prague. Easy day right? Get up and head to the station around 8 and after a seven hour train ride – Prague.
A bit of information about communicating in Hungary. First there is very little signage or instructions in anything other than Hungarian. Hungarian is one of the worlds most complex languages and because of the average word length, especially in street and town names it is difficult to keep things straight. While many Hungarians speak at least some English (especially if they are in restaurants and shops), the more bureaucratic they are the less likely they speak anything other than Hungarian. Think police, bus and transit workers and especially on trains or in train stations.
Hell – Part One
It hit 100°F yesterday with little breeze. While we live in a sub-tropical area this day in Budapest was intense. Normally we love Budapest and do a lot of walking around the city. Not yesterday. We did decide to stop by the train station just to confirm our train location and time.
The first problem we found is that none of the schedule boards the Euro-Liner or Prague (Praha) listed. The second problem was the Nyugati station was undergoing major renovation and most of the interior offices had been relocated. Still 100°F.
Following signs to an i location we found a group of women at card tables with piles of papers and signage not just in Hungarian but also another language. It turned out they were there for Ukrainian refugees to help with finding living accommodations. They told us we needed to go to the “International Ticket and Information” office. Still 100°F.
That office was behind the station in a trailer. Windows closed – air conditioner broken – twenty people in line and one window open. Still 100°F. Almost an hour and a half later and the loss of a quart of fluid we get to the window. Showing our ticket she passed back a slip of paper that explained in bits of English that the high-speed tracks into Nyugati station were being replaced and we would have to catch a local train in the morning to Szob to catch the Euro-Liner to Prague (Praha). That train left a half hour earlier than the originally scheduled Euro-Liner. Still 100°F.
That evening after the Sun was setting we went out to visit a ruin-bar that was listed as having good burgers – it had cooled off now to 94°F. The bar was very active in a ruined sort of way but it was located on an interior courtyard and it’s still 94°F.
Hell – Part Two
Not happy to have to start our trip with a local train ride for an hour, we got to the station and made the train. About a half hour into the trip the conductor came by to check our ticket and launched into a long explanation in Hungarian with the word bus thrown in several times. Acting like a stupid American, I asked a number of questions in English that resulted mostly in weak smiles and shrugs. Finally a woman sitting a few rows back intervened with some broken English. The explanation turned out that the tracks were out before Szob and we would be transferred to buses for the leg into Szob. We asked what station we’d get off at but that produced no answer we could understand. When in doubt – just follow the crowd. The air wasn’t working on the train and the temperature had climbed again to 94°F.
The train stopped at a small train station where there were five buses lined up. By the time we got off the train the first bus was full and we got onto number two. Only a few people were putting the bags under the bus and we were concerned about the confusion at the other end so carried our bags with us. Soon our bus was full but so were the three behind us. The two right behind us pulled out and went around us. The last bus pulled up behind us and before we could pull out three men with bicycles came up. Our driver got out and started working at getting the bicycles into the bus storage and the last bus pulled out leaving us behind. Ten minutes later we got under way.
Arriving at the Szob station it turned out we had to cross the tracks near the entrance to get to our train, which I wasn’t sure I could do handling a suitcase and heavy backpack and dropping down off the platform. Finally I made it and am now writing this from the cool comfort of the Euro-Liner cruising along at about 100 mph.
I spoke too soon – two hours from Prague we stopped. We sat for two more hours while an accident on the tracks ahead was cleared. Getting to Prague and leaving the station for a fifteen minute walk to the hotel it suddenly starts pouring.
Some days nothing goes right…
*Before the trip every attempt we made to book a train, either with Czech Rail or EuroRail ended up forwarding us to Rail Ninja. A service charge was added and later when trying to get help on two different issues returned a response “not our problem – check with the local rail service”! More on this later.