Train to Budapest

Last night, i decided I would take a train to Budapest in the morning. The plan was to get up early and check the train schedules online. My hotel was one of the very few who offered free Internet access in my hotel room, a nice luxury. But of course when i awoke, the Internet access was down. Oh well, I’ll give it a little time… took a shower, went downstairs for breakfast, and returned to my room to prepare for check-out. Tried the ‘net again, no deal.

So the plan was revised; I would just head to the train station and hope to get lucky. And get lucky I did; I arrived just 15 minutes before the train’s departure.

As I board, I notice that Pig Pen from the Peanuts is a couple rows in front of me, slapping his duffel bag in this very odd way, as if he’s trying to either knock the dust out of it (he’s succeeding) or somehow reshape it. He brought some kind of soft porn catalog along – with grids and all that. Leif Garrett is one row behind me. No – not Leif Garrett now – Leif Garrett then. The guy in front of Pig Pen is blowing his nose super-aggressively. Is this a sequel of the train to Vienna?

As we speed up, windmills.

Ticket check. One scraggly looking younger guy seems to be trying some kind of trick – right when the ticket agent enters the car he heads for the door, but his plan is sort of screwed up by the fact that he needs to pass the agent. The agent stops him and they engage in a very long conversation where the scraggly guy seems to be doing a fake “i can’t find my ticket” routine and goes through every slip of paper and every pocket on his body at least three times. The agent, having seen this act a thousand times if he’s seen it once, is buying none of it. The conversation lasts nearly five minutes. Eventually the scraggly guy heads in the opposite direction with the agent behind him. I will not see scraggly guy again, so I don’t know if they made him get off the train or of they just executed him.

Expanses of farms, alternating strips of green, yellow, brown – almost like enormous carpets laid out over the land, leading off toward the deep blue mountains on the south side.

Horses work in circles, running some kind of mill. Now, some softwood forest patches with some standing water. A pheasant swoops through a small meadow. Some kind of old wooden guardpost stands long abandoned but still seems to look out diligently over the expanse. Nests sit tucked into the tops of a few trees. Little notches in the forests far in the distance mark roads or other man-made disturbances.

Hmm.. a lady on the train with an orange “life preserver” vest over a green chamois-type long sleeve shirt; she looks sort of like a park ranger.

Concrete plants, other plants with big silos. A big farm hosts a roadside sign with a smiling strawberry that waves at us as we pass. More little watchposts – what are these? Some of the grass is so soft and long and white that it looks like a billion feathers. On the north side, a few dozen white windmills… then, on the south side – wow – probably 100 or 150 of the largest windmills I’ve ever seen, some colored a deep metallic blue, some gunmetal grey, rotating slowly. Some have little red tips, some a green gradation on their bases. What makes it most stunning is the sea of farmland and yellow flowers they are standing in… and while it may seem a juxtaposition at first, both represent man’s attempt to harness nature’s power, so to my eyes they actually feel OK together. The one closest to us is at a dead stop, as if it stopped working for a moment to watch us pass by.

We pass a stopped train with automobile carrier train that is probably 50 cars long; it looks like one of those car-carrying trucks but a great deal longer. Each train car holds a couple dozen new Volkswagens of varying shapes, colors and sizes. So, Hungarians have fahrvegnugen, too?

A small flock of sheep looks down over the parked cars.

Another guardpost, this one with a stovepipe – and a dude in it.

If you are paying one whit of attention, it’s not very hard to tell when you cross these types of borders. While the barbed wire has fallen with the communist bloc, it’s still pretty clear what’s up. Ditches remain along the border, the architecture changes significantly, the equipment and hardware and such change dramatically… you can just tell.

Another pheasant watching over a batch of ten or so windmills at a complete standstill. Ten or so train cars parked off to the side, each car with four big silver crock-pot looking things. I bet they are not crock pots.

I’m starting to figure out this train document-check thing. When officials approach you, and you don’t speak the language, here’s how to determine what they want. If they have guns, they want your passport. If they don’t, they want your ticket. The two Hungarian guys-with-guns look over my passport, ask no questions, and stamp it. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to when you get your passport stamped and when you don’t. Almost all of my moving around inside western and central Europe (including into and back form Slovakia yesterday) has been a no-stamp scene. I note the Hungarian guys stamped it where it says “exit” even though I am entering. But, I don’t really think this matters (he said hopefully.)

There is a clear green field and standing back a bit is a bunch of yellow-grey corn. It looks like 1000 cornstalks are standing on a green stage.

Before we enter Groz, I see a colorful village that looks like it is made of marzipan. Immediately after, we pass a farm with at least 300 crows picking through it. This can’t be good news for the farmer, I think. On the opposite side, a pale blue Datsun sits in the middle of a field, and off in the distance a couple of drab-clothed men do some kind of work in the field.

A pile of brush burns.

These are very, very modest homes – but there is color and flair in some of the designs.

We cross a bridge and then I see a field of new Mitsubishis. Two black lab puppies play in the back of a delapidated home, just as happily and enthusiastically as they would in the yard of a Dallas mansion.

At Gyor, we get several new passengers in our car. The most noticable addition to our crew is a very pretty blonde, maybe 20 or so, with sky blue eyes, full breasts held at full attention by a push-up bra, and a tight olive t-shirt that says “Drama Queen.” Baby, drama is my specialty. Let’s skip right to Act Two, Scene Three, shall we?

Pig Pen takes a phone call. His tone alternates between angry and bossy. I wonder if he’s noticed the Drama Queen.

We pass a huge pile of what look like cinder blocks, but they are made of some kind of metal.

Another of our new passengers sits right across the row from me. He’s a cross between Mark Foley and Brian Dennehy. Dressed formally but modestly, his face shows years of wear, he looks sad and weary, while still emitting warmth and authenticity. He darts his eyes over at me occasionally to check me out when he thinks I am not looking. He’s wearing a little brown conductor-type hat. I debate whether I should say anything, but my nervousness about the language barrier stops me short. I have found that the older people are, the less likely they seem to be to speak English, and communicating via my European phrase book is just plain awkward. So, I stay silent as he and I look out together at perfectly organized rows of fruit trees. Surely he likes fruit, a guy like that. Probably in pies, though – that’s the most manly way to eat it. I wonder if he smells my vodka? He looks at Drama Queen the way a peasant might look at a castle.

Pig Pen is ripping things out of his soft-porn catalog now. I don’t want to know why.

Hat-man puts on some thick funky glasses and begins to read. Fruit pie recipes, perhaps? No – a Hungarian Agatha Christie book (Gyongyoza elan, it says.) No more fruit and Drama-Queen-gazing; time to get down to business.

We pass several enormous, abandoned industrial facilities – obviously old, formerly nationalized factories of some kind. I love exploring abandoned buildings, and would be especially interested in former state-owned places like these… I hope i get the chance; they look incredible.

Three happy teenagers walk along a path near the track, one holding a walking stick he’d picked up along the way. An old icebox lies, without its door, in the middle of a bog.

It’s not even 4pm and the pink-blue Hungarian sky is letting go of the sun. The double-paned glass in the train makes it look like two suns are setting. I can’t believe it, but I see McDonald’s golden arches on a giant white stick a few dozen meters off the railway just like you’d see on the side of a US turnpike – a shining beacon for all those citizens of the world in search of an American-style waistline.

Pig Pen dropped something and is crawling around on the floor, mumbling.

A giant flock of sheep is almost the same color of the landscape – just below them is a small army-green railroad car that has been repurposed as a base for the shepherds.

A couple of those tree-bowling alleys. Two cemeteries full of above-ground tombs.

A little after four, and the sun has sunk below the horizon. The orange-and-blue sky looks like a painting. An orange glow covers almost the entire visible south and western horizon.

Another blonde whom I had not noticed before – configured similarly to Drama Queen but not as pretty – starts walking up and down the train. A single deer stands near the edge of a field looking south. Drama Queen would think that cute; too bad it’s too late for me to consult my Hungarian phrasebook and point it out to her.

Nose blowing guy has decided to incorporate intense coughing fits into his schtick. Is everyone sick in this world?

Some of the villages we pass have long stretches of homes that look so *alike* – but right when I get to thinking about how unoriginal they are, I see a group of homes that stand out – they look almost like something I would have built with my Legos as a kid. Red, blue, crisp, fun.

Drama Queen gets off the train at the first Budapest stop (Kelenfold), and Agatha guy follows her. Good luck, man.

And shortly thereafter I would arrive in Budapest’s Keleti station and find my way to my hotel.

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