Monday, November 5, 2012

Trains, Pains and Uncomfortables

Peregrination - Europe - 2012 update:  

  Being an avid rail passenger, when I decided it was time for me to backpack from Bucharest to Munich my first choice was of course the train. In retrospect it was not such an ideal choice... 

I just love taking the train ordinarily. So, when the locals in Romania looked at me funny for favoring a long train ride vs. taking a plane (which cost about the same) I didn't think much of it. However, in the back of my mind was the one train trip that I took from Hungary to Germany in 2004 that didn't go so well. It wasn't a complete disaster but it was nerve racking and a serious a pain. What happened was, I went to the station in Budapest about 2 hours early. I found a spot next to the track for my scheduled train. A fellow backpacker and I sat drinking beer and conversing while I wait. Then, some time had past and the train was late. After 10 minutes (from scheduled departure) I began to wonder what was up. Up to this point, I had never know trains to be late (my experience was with Western Europe). To make a long story short the train never arrived and I ended up waiting overnight in the station until the next one arrived in the early morning. I missed all my previous connections and I was never really sure if I was even going in the right direction until I got out of Hungary. The train was also totally run down and had no amenities to speak of. Plus, the toilets were disgusting. I felt really sorry for any women on board that couldn't hold it.

That brings me to present day. When I looked up the schedule for Bucharest to Munich I saw that I would only have one change of trains. Online the connection showing was in Vienna. So, I was getting excited and looking forward to the 25 hour ride. I was picturing conversation and beers shared with fellow travelers on board in the lounge area and soaking in some terrific scenery on what should be a relaxing and pleasant trip. Nothing could have been more opposite from my experience. My first clue should have been when I went to purchase the ticket that the change of trains would actually be in Budapest not Vienna. Of course, I didn't want to let one previous rough experience ruin things for me and I kept thinking how fun the ride would be and that surely things would be better going through Hungary this time. I was wrong! First, the train from Bucharest was fine but no frills. Or if there was anything (such as a lounge car) I could not access it from second class. I was alone in my cabin and being that I left late in the afternoon the sun set early on this leg of the trip and I couldn't really see anything out of the window. Okay, I thought. This will be a long dull journey but at least I'll get there eventually and there's no stress. Wrong again! At about 4am the train stopped in the middle of the nowhere. We all sat on the tracks, in some remote area, which looked like a scene out of some post apocalyptic film. Dilapidated trains were surrounding us on both sides. It was as if the one I was on went there on purpose to die amongst it's confederates. To make matters worse the heat shut off and it was about 0 degrees outside and so it was inside, after about 30 minutes (it also never came back on)! After, what seemed like forever we finally started moving again and I checked the time. It was 6am. Great! I would be once again be stuck in a situation from Budapest trying to get a different train out and wondering about my connection. The biggest issue is communication.  I don't speak Hungarian and the Hungarians aren't learning English at the pace of the rest of the world. So, finding someone to tell me what train to take at what time, what track, etc. is tricky. I finally figured out if I take one headed for Salzburg I would at least be going in the right direction and I could make another connection (an added one from my original schedule) to get to Munich. To make matters worse I was scheduled to meet my cousin in Munich at 17:15. If my train would have been on time I'd have no worries. I was supposed to get in at 14:35, plenty of time to find our meeting place, relax have a beer and lunch, etc. Now I was running a couple hours late and had no idea how long I'd have to wait for another connection that would take me from Austria to Germany. I was hoping my nearly 3 hour buffer from before would be enough to make up the difference. Well, good news. It was but just barely! 

After I got off in Salzburg I went as fast as I could to find the reader board for schedules and noticed that a train was leaving for Munich in 7 minutes. No time to waste! I haled ass with my 40 pounds of luggage in my arms and on my back and just made the connection. Relief, or so I thought. I'll still get in early and finally have that beer! Nope. The train wasn't the express, it made every stop along the way putting me into Munich at 17:20. The worst part was I hadn't been able to update my cousin that I was running late and I was starting to think I was going to end up having to find a place to stay for the night until I could reach him. Yet, another hassle I wasn't looking forward to after what was supposed to be a pleasant trip turned into disgusting, freezing, lonely and exhausting. Well once there, I bolted off the train in Munich and sprinted from track 5 to 20. I was able to make it by 17:30 just as my cousin had decided to leave the station and await a message from me since he figured by then I wasn't coming. Luckily, I spotted him on his way out and after all that we met up. 

11.6.12 Amendment: I can hardly believe I almost forgot to mention the most frustrating portion of this recent trip, which happened at the very start. I somehow boarded in the wrong section of the train and worse I had to get to the correct train-car because the train actually split at one point with one section (the one I was on) headed somewhere else then where I was going! Okay, fine no problem right? Wrong! I could not go through the train to my car because it was on the other side of first class, which was locked to coach. I would have to wait until the train made a stop, get off with all my bags in hand, run to my car and get back on all in a matter of seconds before it took off again! What a trip, glad it's over...

It's nice to be writing about this now from his comfy couch in his cozy apartment and gazing out the windows at the clear blue sky. It sure beats living it. On that note I'll think twice about trains from Eastern Europe that involve long schedules and connections. Basically, if I can't use one like a bus, on and off and without transfers then I think I'll just fly. I'm flying back to Bucharest from Munich to catch my return flight to the U.S. in 2013 for sure!

I managed to get some pictures along the way despite my tension and being beyond knackered. Click this LINK if you want to have a look.    


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