A travel moment in Budapest

The train was modern, the seats wider than those on a London commuter train although that’s really not saying much. The inspector punched my ticket as I gazed out at the exhaustive wheat fields and their startled rabbits.

‘500 Forints’ she said apologetically.

‘For what?’ I asked, turning from the window.

‘You must have seat reservation, 500 Forints.’

I floundered slightly like all good Englishmen, and went red. ‘I don’t have 500 Forints, I don’t have any Forints. I - I can pay you in Euros…’

‘500 Forints’ she insisted.

I had been in Budapest for exactly 26 minutes, changing trains from Bratislava in Slovakia en route to Romania. I had my passport and a wallet full of Euros, but no Hungarian Forints to my name. However, I wasn’t particularly worried, I had my ticket all the way to Bucharest, and a promise that on no account did I need a reservation…

The inspector hung on for another agonising minute or two, waved a hand and moved on. Had she been convinced I was an embarrassed tourist completely unprepared for Hungary, or calling ahead for the police unit?

My heart rate slowed just as the train came to a juddering halt. The carriage emptied as burley uniformed men unable to speak English came aboard and demanded I depart with them. They led me to another uniformed attendant, who looked like he ran the show.

‘Passport’ he said. I handed him the battered document which had travelled from London over ground with me. ‘Good’ he said to my surprise, after the scanning the photograph. ‘You need that train over there for Bucharest. Enjoy your trip.’ I skipped to the waiting train and quietly promised to visit Hungary properly soon enough as recompense, seat reservation and all.

I Packham

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