Sunday, August 03, 2008

Trains of Hungary

Yesterday, we went to Balatonkenese, the second town on the west shore of Balaton, almost opposite the river from Siofok. A friend invited us to a small BBQ. This being the first ever invitation, we were intrigued. I really did not want to go since I knew they would have to speak English just for us.

So we go get our train tickets: Deli pu to Balatonkenese and return. No problem. I checked the Hungarian train site and took a screen shot of all of the returning trains so we could leave at any time. The train going was 3 minutes late leaving Budapest, HOT as hell. I swear, I could have baked cookies in the train car and the seats were the old-fashioned bench like seats. All of the windows were open, yet there was not a modicum of a breeze coming through.

Thinking it was only a 2 hour trip, we only had a small bottle of water, not knowing if we had consumed a barrel full, we would have sweat it out and never needed the WC. We get there over 20 minutes late. They have a lovely home two blocks length from the train station. The party was nice. There were some conversational strains when they turned to us to translate their lively conversations.

They all decided they are going to the lake for a swim and are curious why we don't have our suits; no one suggested it, but I don't do swim suits with anyone I know personally. Perfect time to announce we had to make the 4:26 train back to Budapest. My department head checks my print out to make sure I am correct; she is sincerely disappointed we would not join them to the lake, and we take off. We are at the station with time to spare, but no train. I looked at the schedule on the ticket office door and the 4:26 is not listed there. The next train is at 5:29 and shows Budapest Deli pu. Okay, it is blazing hot, but we are covered, so fine. There is NOTHING around to get fluids. The little restaurant at the station is locked shut. Okay, we can survive this.

The train comes; they make some announcement at the train. There are only two tracks and the station is not much larger than our apartment, so no sophisticated equipment, let alone English translations. The train was headed in the right direction, the time was correct, so we board. Most trains have signs on the door listing their destinations. The train coming did not, so I did not think anything of the fact that the one we were climbing onto did not either. It was jammed with high school kids and difficult finding two seats together, but we finally managed. Only alter alternate windows would open, but those that could were open to the max. Noticing the puddles on the floor as we passed other passengers, we knew this was not a good omen. Within 30 minutes, we had contributed our own pools of water to the others; again, it was hot enough to roast a turkey. The open windows were a spiteful mirage of relief.

The conductor made his rounds for tickets after we had melted for an hour. He accepts the tickets from the two sitting with us and then ours. Looking at our seatmates, he says something in Hungarian. The young woman across from me gives the conductor a slight nod in my direction that I happen to catch. My thought was that he was questioning why one of our tickets had been discounted, but he did not ask for my teacher pass and I was too dehydrated to make the effort to dig it out if he did not insist. After a shrug, he moved on.

Two hours and forty minutes later, already off schedule by a half hour, we reach Budapest-Kelefold, the suburbs of Budapest. The next stop was Kobanya-Kispest, the end of the Blue metro line, followed by the small airport. No stations are announced ahead of time. Unless you know the stops, you have only minutes to catch a glimpse of the sign as you whisk by it entering the station, grab your things, jump over other’s luggage and legs and run to the door.

Ron made a comment that we crossed the river if we are stopping at these stations, but why would we cross again to return to Deli, which is on the Pest side? I check the schedule yet again, showing it to him for further confirmation. That is what the schedule states. As we leave this last station, panic rises in our throats choking off the hot air that refuses to circulate.

Ron decides to find someone with some English skills, but it takes him two cars to find success. We missed out on all Budapest opportunities. The next station would be another hour away, a town called Cegléo. We pour ourselves onto the platform and then into the station. I realize I don’t have much money with me, not expecting the need. Between the two of us, we can purchase tickets and buy a soda. We have 30 minutes to wait for the train back again, which will bring us to Nyugati, a closer station to home than Deli making this a minuscule reward.

Looking at the electronic board of arrivals and departures, we seem to think that our train will stop at platform 4, so we descend into the tunnel to cross under the tracks arise again on the correct spot. However, when the train arrives, the sign, which has been accommodatingly put on the door shows that this train has been to Budapest already and is on its way to Szeged. We found a young conductor to ask where the Budapest train was, but not only did he not speak English, he had no idea. However, he took some pity on us and looked around until he found a sign with the information and pointed us to track 6, which meant another tunnel excursion and seconds to ascend as the train arrived.

Planning on being home by 7:00 pm, we finally walked in the door at 11:20 pm.

Pin It Now!


Anonymous said...

I wasn't a bit surprised by your experience. It's pretty hard for foreigners - especially from civilized countries - to get used to Hungary's "fabulous" railway system. Some basics to prepare foreign tourists for the horror they're gonna encounter (should they have the courage to travel by train). I hope you'll publish my comment so that people who have never traveled on Hungarian trains and are planning to, can see what to expect:
1. when buying a ticket, be familiar with the price and format and always check if the date is right, because they are prone to either rip you off right at the start or give you the wrong ticket, so that later the conductor can fine you. (They've tried this trick on me, and I'm Hungarian) There surely must be a way to pump some extra money into the bankrupt company!
2. Never - I repeat, NEVER - expect a train to be on time. Should such a miracle occur, then be pleasantly surprised. Remember, you're not in Switzerland!
3. If possible, try to avoid going to the toilet, chances are pretty high that you'll get some kind of contaigous disease! Lucky if you don't just by sitting in the cabin.
4. Railway tracks are in a miserable condition, so the average speed these communist wonders are capable of is around 30 miles/hour. And interestingly, the more money the government spends on improving their state, the worse they get.
5. Don't get excited if the departures/arrivals board does not indicate any delay. They usually announce a delay several minutes AFTER the train is due - if they announce it at all. And never believe that the final amount of delay is the one they announce for the first..second..third.. .. time.
6. Be prepared to avoid dehydration. There's neither air conditioning nor a possibility to buy refreshments on most of the trains. Perhaps only on Intercity trains where if the air conditioning is on, you might freeze to death.
7. Conductors, ticket clerks, and railway staff in general DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH or any other foreign language for that matter. No wonder: They surely don't have the incentive to learn for an hourly wage of 2 dollars (probably even less).
8. Be familiar with all the stops on the way to avoid the experience you described.

You might think that this crazy guy is exaggerating. But believe me, I'm not that far from the truth at all.
I'm sure you've heard about the recent train accident in Hungary when the train de-railed. The reason is obvious and it should be a sign of warning for the government. Since luckily nobody got killed, I guess nothing's gonna happen.
Welcome to Hungary - Gateway to the Balkans.

Post a Comment