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Kylies’s Travel Diary

Friday, 12 Jan 2007

Location: Budapest, Hungary


Now getting to Budapest turned out to be an epic journey! It is a long way, which unfortunately for us ended up being longer.

We were going by train (or I should say trains). Firstly instead of getting the quick ferry back from Santorini, we had to catch the slow one (about a 16 h overnight journey compared to 3 hours!) as it arrived a couple of hours earlier. We thought we needed this bit of extra time in order to be able to get to our train in time. When we arrived back in Athens we were glad we gave ourselves this extra time, as (the dread of all travellers) There was a tube strike until 3:00pm (and I'm pretty sure it just started as soon as we got there). It never is very assuring to here people say - 'no trains now' when you ask them directions. Consequently it was madness on the streets of Athens. No taxi would take us, so knowing no Greek we asked around and were eventually informed that we had to catch 2 buses. The second bus was going at a snails pace though hoards of motorbikes and cars. I don't think there were any road rules at this point. In the end the bus driver turned around and said to the passenders - I'm going back now - can't go any further. So we had to run with our suitcases and just made the train.

Next, we caught the train from Athens up to Thessaloniki. We didn't even know if we would get here or not, as on the news there had been massive flooding up in Northern Greece. The pictures were pretty extreme - larges trees uprooted etc. I actually asked someone where all the flooding was. It could have been anywhere in Greece, but it was Thessaloniki. Where we were heading : ( It turned out OK though. The trains were running by the time we went, so we shared a carriage with a bunch full of chain smokers and a Milan model. Our train was however very late and there was stress that we wouldnt make the next connection.

Thankfully we arrived in time and were loaded on to our little end Hungarian carriage on the back of a Greek train. Our little lonesome end carriage was to be disconnected at different points along the way and reconnected to other trains when it passed through the various countries.

There was of course a little Hungarian conductor who came with the Hungarian carriage. He was very cute. Couldn't speak much English. Like the Greeks, he also smoked like a trooper. We almost lost him when the top bunk collapsed on him, but managed to help him out. He asked for our passports and asked about Visa's. We didnt have any visa's - to which he just said - 'Mmmm, problem yes, problem', but didn't say much else, just 'We'll see'.

A word of advice: All little-English speaking foreigners know the word 'Problem' or 'Problem' - regardless, when they use it, they often understate its real meaning. When they use it, there is usually a big problem.

Now if you look at a map the most logical way to get from Greece to Hungary is just straight up. But for some reason our 36 hour train journey looped to the right and went through Bulgaria/Romania. At the Border of these two countries, we were happily enjoying a card game when the border police came in and again informed us that there was a problem. Another guy who spoke English came on and said 'Australian's need visa to enter Romania. You do not have a Visa and cannot procede any further. You must get off the train now.'...............'and quickly please as the train must move on.'

We had really made ourselves at home in our little carriage and I honestly dont know how we managed to pack everything up so quick and not forget anything. Our little Hungarian carriage master again mentioned 'Mmmmm, go back Sofia and catch nother train'. SOFIA WAS YESTERDAY! It is miles away. We wondered why he let us proceed so far when he knew there was a 'Problem'.

We got off the train in our sleepy state - we were really psyched up for being inside a couchette for 36 + hours, not being randomly dumped in................Where were we anyway? The police took my passport and ran across the tracks. No one here spoke English (I now have a dodgy little stamp array in my British passport which shows that I left Bulgaria, entered Romania and then Left Romania and Entered Bulgaria all in the same day (and the next day I went to Serbia). The one guy who did speak English was there to either really help us, really rip us off, or maybe murder us and dump our bodies in Serbia. I'm still not really sure - but I wasn't taking any chances. He was at the exit of the big concrete dark cold palace structure without the ornings.......waiting for us - 'Mmmm New Zealanders' he said before we even said anything. 'Can't cross the border'. 'Nooo', I said cautiously, 'Australians'. 'Still can't cross the border' he said.

In short he was offering to drive us across the border across Serbia. He said we could cross that border. He was a taxi driver. We thanked him but opted for the bus. He just wouldn't stop lingering. He told us we would miss the bus back to Sofia, as it was leaving soon, and that we would then have to wait whole weekend before Visa place opened and then it could take several days, and we would be stuck in Sofia for maybe a week, maybe.

What was happening! Our travels had gone relatively smoothly so far. None of these travel nightmares.

He was right though, the bus was about to leave. We didn't have the right currency, and couldnt find the place the bus lady pointed us to to exchange money. At this point we were panicking. We did not want to be stuck here. We were in the middle of know where, and could be sleeping on the street if we were stuck here for the night. Taxi driver came to me and asked me if I wanted money for the bus. He would exchange euros with me. I didn't really trust this guy, he opened a huge box full of money in front of me. 'Oh my God'. 'Its OK, taxi driver' he said. If all Bulgarian taxi drivers carry around that amount of money - they must be a target for crime. 'Australian dollars?' I said, thinking that he wouldnt want these. 'Sure' he said - exchange one for one. Quick lonely planet consult revealed that it is not 1 for 1. 'No - he said, you are not in Romania, you in Bulgaria - Bulgaria is 1 to 1' I can't remember how much I exchanged, maybe $50, but I wanted to keep it to a minimum in case I was caught with illegal currency. He told me I would need to exchange more, as I would need to buy food and pay for a hotel - and everything would be shut when we got to Sofia (5 hours + bus drive back the way we had just came). Why on earth did he want Australian dollars. 'No, thats OK' I said.

We just made the bus. The jouney was over 5 hours long. We left at around 4:15pm, and arrived well after 9:00pm. We got to watch city slickers with Bulgarian subtitles, which looks something like this: 3a pb6g 3eo 4pa - thats right, it has numbers in it! wierd.

We caught a taxi to a backpackers which was in our lonely planet book. I had to get out the taxi and go and see if they still had room, before the taxi driver left us. I had to walk down a little dingy alley, open a creeky old spiderwebby broken door, and go up a old fashioned spiral cement staircase. It was dark and covered in spider webs and broken to bits - I thought it was going to give way on me. I didn't even know if the backpackers was up here or not, but was up at the top I could see a glimpse of light. It really was like something from a horror movie, bits of cement were falling away as I climbed, my heart beating way too fast. When I got to the top there was a door with colorful drawings and writing which said something like 'Outside it may be gloomy and rainy, but inside here is always exciting!' .............. that's really nice.

They did have room left. Craig stopped at the bottom of the staircase when we were bringing the luggage up. He couldn't believe I went up there. 'You!!', 'Up there' (Normally Miss Scardy Pants).

The people who ran the backpackers were lovely, they made the place really happy with lots of bulgarian things like jugs etc. stuck all over the wall in our multiple person huge bedroom. As soon as I got there her husband replaced my crappy quilt with a nice big fluffy flowery one. I was glad, as I think I was strating to get sick at this point. They made us a lovely breakfast, although we couldn't really communicate with them as we didn't speak Bulgarian, so it was a lot of smiles. The husband got me to rey this runny home made honey in my herbal tea, which he was telling me lots about in Bulgarian. It was good - was the general jist.

The next morning was chaos again with going to check up on Visas to any other country we were going to/thru. We managed to get the 1:00pm train to Budapest via Serbia - Take 2.

Things went fine until our train stopped in a Serbian train yard at about 2:00am in the morning. This was not unusual. The trains stopped all too regularly for little men to bang on the wheels with metal sticks (apparently a regular occurence in Eastern Europe). But when I woke a couple of hours later to realise that we hadn't moved + all the lights were off in the train + NO ONE ELSE SEEMED TO BE AROUND!..................I thought we had missed our stop and were left in this dark train in a spooky train yard by ourselves. I could see spires in the distance and thought we must be just outside Belgrad. It was a little worrying as our train was meant to arrive in Budapest at 5:00am in the morning. Shit scared we thought the best thing to do was to keep our curtains closed and lay there quietly. In the morning when it was light we could take our suitcases with us and walk into Belgrad?? when it was safer (If we hadn't been locked in the train). It was several hours until we thought we heard a body roll. Phew.... we comfirmed that it wasn't either of us and therefore ther was at least one other person on the train. We could sleep easily.

No-one knew what was going on the next morning. And not many people spoke the same language. An Asian boy who could not speak much English simply informed me that the timetable is a lie.

Anyway, to cut a long story now. We got to Budapest in the end. Which is a good thing, as I loved it there. : )