Our Train at Budapest Station
After a couple of days in Prague, it was time to catch the train to Budapest, a seven-hour journey through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. We were excited at the potential for seeing the countryside and views offered from a train carriage that would offer the unspoilt rather than the signs, barriers and verges of a motorway or the blue and white nothing out the window of a plane. We downloaded lists of birds and animals peculiar to the region to help identify what we might come across.
The train itself didn’t disappoint. It was a large, imposing diesel and our seat was in an old fashioned six-person compartment similar to those featured in “Stranger on the Train.” Our fellow travellers were welcoming and chatty. One lady, Svetlana, was returning with her partner to her home in Budapest and was eager to tell us where to visit and what to be wary of. My first question concerned the type of countryside we were to travel through. I had visions of mountains and barren spaces, wild vistas and sweeping flatland.
“Industry likes railways, so mainly you’ll see the backs of industrial estates, scrap yards and such like and a lot of farmland.”
This was not promising but I consoled myself with the notion that having travelled that way often and being a local, she had probably become blasé about the world around her and what would be new and fascinating to us, was too familiar to rouse any depth of feeling in her.
The journey started promisingly enough. We travelled through a dense and extensive forest. The sun streaming through the trees which when combined with the onward rush of the train caused a flashing effect as of a strobe light so intense, I feared for any epileptics that may be on board. We strained our eyes into the forest trying to catch a glimpse of bears, boars, wolves. The chances were remote and we saw nothing. It was more likely we could have spotted some birds but, whether because of the speed we were travelling, the time of day or just through sheer bad luck, we didn’t glimpse so much as a pigeon.
Once out of the forest, the scenery disappointed. The stations we stopped at along the way were drab, dingy, uninspiring places but their names such as Brno and Bratislava intrigued us as to what the cities and towns behind them may be like?
As Svetlana had warned, the rest of the journey was barren fields and the backs of industrial estates but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. The buffet car offered a fine bar and more than passable food.
The waiter was a gift from heaven to an author ever on the search for characters. Our stay in Prague had inspired me to attempt a Kafkaesque short story. The waiter’s polite attitude only partially concealing an assured superiority coupled with his job of travelling up and down the same line for seven hours every day, offered the perfect material and the story is now complete, awaiting revisions.
Svetlana continued to wax enthusiastically about her home city. Top of her list were the spas but we hadn’t come equipped for bathing and subsequently gave them a miss. The Hungarians are very proud of them so this was probably a mistake on our part. If you are considering visiting Budapest this is a generally recommended attraction.
Finally, just short of Budapest, Svetlana asked us how we intended getting to our hotel. When we showed her the address, she remarked on it not being a very salubrious area. We expected this to a degree, as a necessary risk of taking up a special promotion. When she learnt we intended taking a taxi she launched into a very serious warning about which taxis to take.
“They are all yellow so it is hard to distinguish the crooks from the genuine taxis. Only take one with a logo on the side. These are quite small and hard to see, especially when moving and you are trying to flag them down.” She then went on to list the companies that could be trusted, all the others will overcharge.
Finding a taxi proved more difficult than you would expect outside a mainline station but that was probably just us not looking in the right places. We had a drink and then set our mind to searching one out. We were finally successful about half a mile from the station.
I asked the driver for a price before we set off, as Svetlana had told us the maximum we should pay. His price seemed reasonable, despite being a little more than Svetlana’s advice, but we were ready to check in and this was convenient. Outside the hotel, we paid him and only as he drove away and we stood there with a handful of change, did we realise that after all the precautions, we had still been had.
Kudos to his skill and daring and a reminder to us to try to understand the currency a little better.
Outside Budapest Station