Published: September 23rd 2008September 2nd 2008
Anyone traveling through Europe MUST experience the travel opportunity of an overnight train. I guarantee it will be one memory of your trip you will never forget. This is even more memorable if you travel through some Eastern European countries.
Our first overnight train ride is from Venice to Budapest. We board the train and get settled into our private cabin. We had several options on this overnight journey. We could have gone in to the second class coach which was nothing more than reclining chairs. I called this the peasant section because this folks were packed into these coaches and had no room to store baggage. Another option was to go with a coach shared by six people. We have read too many horror stories about these accommodations. Although you are in a cabin and the bunks fold down, you are sharing these close quarters with 5 other strangers. These cabins are separated by sex so Lynne and I would have been in two separate cabins. Theft is also an issue in these cabins. We opted for the private cabin and have no regrets about spending the extra cash for this luxury.
Fortunately, we have talked to
fellow travelers and read stories about the overnight train experience so we were not as shocked as other people may have been. Our route takes us from Northern Italy, through Slovakia and Croatia before crossing the border into Hungary. We enjoy the beginning of the trip with some great conversation and I begin to crave a cup of coffee. Sure I could go down to the primitive dining car and get a cup, but why pay for coffee when I could make it myself, right. I attempt to use the power outlet in the cabin to heat some water in our water heater. The power is not enough to heat the element. Hey, minor setback. I still have my MSR Pocket Rocket stove and a fuel canister. I know, you’re probably saying, he’s not going to use a camp stove on a train is he? Well, guess what. I enjoyed my coffee and Lynne enjoyed her tea.
The cabin was configured with three bunks. The bottom one was folded down for Lynne and the top bunk was mine. We left the middle bunk folded up because there was not much room between the bunks. I had a ladder to climb
up to my evening perch. A nice touch is that fresh linen was provided for each bunk.
The journey to Budapest would take 14 hours with 21 stops along the way. During some of these stops, the train would drop cars going to other destinations and pick up cars along the way. After a couple of stops, we climbed into our bunks to get some rest. A few hours after drifting off to sleep, we encounter our first “passport control” checkpoint. During a passport control checkpoint, the border guards board the train and begin banging on doors. You open your door and wait your turn. When they appear at your door, you hand over your passport and answer their questions. Where are you going, where are you coming from, how long have you been travelling…? They flip through all of the pages of your passport and if everything is in order, they stamp your passport and you can go back to sleep until the next checkpoint. Sometimes the train stops during this whole process and other times they board the train and ride along as they check passports. We were awoken four times during the night for passport control
so sleep was not good sleep at all.
We arrive in Budapest at about 11:00 AM on Saturday, 30 August. We had not booked any accommodation prior to our arrival. We decided to wing it because the guide books said there was a Tourist Information Center (TIC) in the train station that arranges budget accommodations.
Upon our arrival, we are bombarded with people scamming on all of the new arrivals. Euro is not the currency in Budapest so we find the ATM and it is not working. We need to get some Hungarian Forina. As I approach the money exchange to trade a small amount of currency, this guys asks if I need to exchange money. I had read about this black market money exchangers. They are actually illegal, but this guy was standing 5 feet away from the legal exchanger and had much better rates. This is clearly a case where local authorities condone this type of business and probably get a kickback from these guys. I exchange a small amount of Euro and we head out to the front of the train station.
We head over to the TIC and the gal points us towards
a hotel across the street from the train station. The price is much more than we really want to pay. I smell another scam disguised as a Tourist Information Center.
Due to lack of sleep, the barrage of scam artist and unfamiliarity with the local money conversion, I begin to freak out a little bit. This is the first place anywhere on the trip where I did not feel right upon arrival. We sit outside for a few moments and try to regroup and figure out where we will be sleeping. In a few moments, this older gentleman approaches us and asks if we need a room. At first I was going to listen to him just for entertainment value. Guide books warn about dealing with these room hawkers at the train station. He tells us about a room located nearby and the price. The price was certainly appealing. At first, we were of the impression that the room was in his apartment, but upon arrival we learn that the room is at a widow’s home. We had previously read that widows rent rooms to travelers to help pay bills and buy groceries. We check the place out and
decide to take the room. Our host did not speak any English, but we didn’t have any problems communicating with her.
She gives us a card with all of her information and a key for the front gate and front door to her flat. We secured the bags and decided to explore the town a little bit. We ate at a street side café and got some Pita sandwiches. They were quiet tasty and hit the spot. Next we set off on the Metro. Here is another scam rum by the rail authorities. When you buy your ticket, you have to validate it. They have metro police at many of the control points. Sometimes they check your ticket before going through the control point. If you fail to validate your ticket, they charge you about $40.00 on the spot. We talked with a lady from the UK who was nabbed and had to pay in this little scam. She demanded a receipt and they were extremely reluctant to give her one. They finally did, but only after some intense negotiations.
We rode the Metro to the City Center. The Metro and bus system in Budapest are the most confusing
we have encountered so far on this journey, but we finally figure it all out. We walk around the City Center and notice how run down this city appears as well. The old architecture is really spectacular, but ill maintained. We walk across the Danube River and catch a bus down to the Gellert Thermal Resort. We were scoping the place out for the next day, but just didn’t get the right feel for the place. It seemed very institutional and we had other options. We jumped back on the bus and headed back to the train station. Believe it or not, there was a KFC right near the train station so we did some chicken for dinner. We headed back to the room for the evening and got some rest.
On Sunday, 31 August, we woke up and grabbed some quick breakfast. We take the Metro and a bus to get to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. This is one of the largest thermal spa complexes in Europe and the oldest on the Pest side of the city. Upon entering the facility, we rent a couple of towels which turn out to be more like bed sheets. We change
in the changing cubicles and secure our stuff I the lockers provided. Upon exiting the changing area, we walk into a beautiful thermal bath area. We soak in the first indoor pool for a while before deciding to head outside. Once outside, we are blown away with the magnitude of the outdoor pool area. There are three separate pools surrounded by a beautiful yellow building. We soak in all three of the outdoor pools and then head back inside. The interior is a huge maze of different dry saunas, steam rooms and thermal baths. The thermal baths vary in temperature and we even find some medicinal baths. We end up spending the majority of the day in the complex.
After leaving the complex, we determine that we will return on Sunday, prior to our scheduled departure. The thermal baths have put us completely at ease. We grab a bite to eat and head back to the room.
On Monday, 1 September, we woke up and headed over to the train station to secure our bags for the day. We would be heading out on a train back to Venice in the late afternoon. After securing the bags, we
headed back to the thermal baths for another relaxing day in the spa. Life is good. We enjoyed the experience of soaking in the thermal baths of Budapest.
After soaking most of the day, we headed back to the train station to board our train for another overnight train to Venice. We go through the border guard routine again and actually have some laughs about it this time. During one of the stops in Slovania, the border guard took my passport and started talking to someone on his radio. I asked if we had any problems and he said no problems here, you are fine and left. That was a spooky moment because at the previous stop we saw them take two people off of the train for some reason. We arrive in Venice with only about an hour layover before boarding our train to Rome. On Tuesday, 2 September, we head to Rome for our next quick stop. We will not spend much time in Rome because we had taken a five-day trip here only a little over a year ago.
Again not many photos from Budapest, but enjoy the ones we have posted.