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Budapest to Split

June 25, 2010

My last night in Budapest, I was supposed to meet up with a local college student, and she was going to show me around, but the weather was awful and my SIM card isn’t working quite right, so I wasn’t able to reply to her text message. I ended up watching the Greece-Argentina match with everyone at the hostel. It was so relaxed and companionable–the match ended and we stayed up talking about, I don’t know, guns, and the relative ease of acquiring them in the US, in Hungary, in Britain. Conversation eventually strayed to True Blood. It’s a thing in Budapest, too! Anyway, I was sorry to be leaving, as I’d really come to feel at home there, was beginning to get attuned to the rhythms of the hostel and the street and the city.

That said, I was still glad to be moving on. My impression of Budapest is that it is oddly quiet for a capital city–there’s not a lot of traffic noise, not a lot of rushing, and the people aren’t that noisy ,either. I’d say it’s almost somber. Maybe my impression was colored by the fact that it was chilly and rainy,and that I spent the better part of my time there by myself.

My impression maybe wasn’t totally inaccurate though. At the train station, I couldn’t make heads or tails of my ticket, had no idea where I was meant to sit. What’s especially scary (and I think very tricky of them to do) is that on some trains, at some point during the journey, some cars are uncoupled and sent to some other destination. This was causing me a lot of grief, so a porter showed me to my compartment, and the other person there was a guy from Glasgow. Before the train even left the station, he’d offered me a beer, and that is how we got to talking. He’s visited Budapest several times,and when I said I thought it seemed somber, he remarked that he’d often noticed people who seemed to just be miserable and plodding along. We speculated that maybe it had something to do with Hungary’s admission into the EU and how the hoped-for economic improvement never materialized, and things are in fact not going very well for Hungary economically.Β  From there, we kept right on chatting, about the weather in North Carolina, the weather in Glasgow, what a stroke of political genius it is that the GOP has tricked the working classes into being such loyal Republican voters; how Britain’s new coalition government will work out; how unfortunate it is that terrorism offers governments a convenient excuse for eroding civil liberties and other shady dealings; how typing on a tactile keypad is much nicer than a touch screen, and how Steve Jobs is a master at convincing people they must have something they never knew they needed (hello, iPad); how long it might take Greece to get out from under its debt; how incredible and audacious a project the eurozone is and where it might be headed; how cops everywhere tend to be the same sort of people, who get their kicks hassling and/or belittling folks, being officious for the sake of it (looking at you, Hungarian cops on the train; the merits of Red Bull & vodkas; etc. etc.

It was a long ride but a pleasant one, and we exchanged contact information so that when he and his Croatian girlfriend get to Split, we might be able to meet up for a drink. What traveling proves, again and again, is that people are on the whole GOOD and NICE.

I had two hours to kill in Zagreb, so I wandered out of the station and into town. The main square was tree lined, a wide grassy expanse, full of teenagers laughing and making out. I started to feel a little lonely, watching everyone having such a good time, and the drone of vuvuzelas on the TV sets in all the bars reminded me that if I were back in Budapest, we’d all be gathered around the common room to watch together…I felt weary at the idea of starting the whole process of getting oriented and comfortable in a new place.

I waited in a quiet corner of the station until it was time to board. The station was so quiet, and I was so absorbed in journaling that I didn’t notice the time, and made it to the platform with only a few minutes to spare. Once again, I couldn’t figure out which car I was supposed to be in. Back in Budapest, I’d reserved a sleeper car at a ticket office. The train was making those impatient noises trains make just before they pull away, so I hopped on the nearest car and found an empty compartment, next door toΒ  group of French backpackers. I showed the conductor my ticket when he came by, and said, “I don’t think I’m in the right car,” hoping he would reassure me that I was, or point me to where I should be, but he launched into a big explanation about reserved vs non-reserved cars. In Croatian. He wrote, “30 kuna” and motioned as if to say, if you want this sleeper car, you need to pay me 30 kn. I don’t know why but this seemed reasonable to me at the time and I gave him a 50 kn note, which he promptly put into his breast pocket. “Change?” I said. “ya, ya, ya. Change,” he said. And he left. Never to return. I’d been DUPED! RIPPED OFF!

I was pretty mad about this–at myself, mostly, for being so dumb. I should’ve just handed him my ticket and not said anything. I was also mad that someone would DO that, and that I had wasted money.(I felt better when I looked up the exchange rate, though. Only $8) Anyway, from there, I spent a long, lonely, paranoid night. I pulled the curtains closed and tried to sleep, but I could hear the conductors walking to and fro, and I once noticed one of them peeking into my compartment, where the curtain had not been pulled all the way to. I hate when people watch me sleep. I could hear the French backpackers in the next compartment. Every time the train stopped, I’d snap to full wakefulness, worried that somehow my car had been decoupled and left in some out-of-the-way podunk station somewhere, so I’d look out the window to see that the light from the next compartment was still on, and I’d listen for the guys to laugh. Once they went to bed though, I jut had to settle for reassuring myself that I was in the right spot, and even if I did end up somewhere weird, I would be fine. I do not know why I was so paranoid about this, actually.

We kept stopping at odd places–some of them didn’t seem like stations. once it seemed like some sort of depot, and the surrounding tangle of tracks was littered with defunct-looking train cars. On top of that, police officers kept boarding the train, or else I’d see them at every station from the window, or driving along side the train, where the road was near to the tracks, in a white jeep. It was all very weird and lonely and so different from my Budapest-Zagreb train. I was relieved to step out of the train and make my way to the main street in Split, and from there, through an alley under Diocletian’s palace, through more alleys to the hostel. It was only 7:30 am, so I napped for a while in the common room, until it was time to check in at 11.

I’ve got more to say about Split, but I will save it for when there are pictures to upload, because, man. MAN. It’s nice here. The first thing I did at the hostel was book a third night. I might add another couple of nights, too. Last night ,I was just thinking to myself that I was tired of doing most things alone, and then I was invited to go out to bars, and met a bunch of people, and feel like it could be nice to just hang out here and have a social life for a few days.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Luke Elson permalink
    June 25, 2010 4:59 pm

    Oh man it sounds like you enjoyed it, but I hate forced conversations like that!

    Taxi rides, haircuts, sharing a train compartment with someone… when there’s a lot of time to kill and you are expected to engage in conversation.

    It makes me horribly uncomfortable.

    • June 25, 2010 8:40 pm

      Haircut chats I’m really not so into, actually! So i’m with you on that one.

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