The Train Journey
The train from Serbia to Hungary leaves Belgrade at 6:45 in the morning everyday, even on Orthodox Christmas day. Its scheduled arrival time at Budapest’s Keleti Palyaudvar station is 2:37 in the afternoon.
The train has become the poor man’s mode of transport – the wealthy fly, take the bus or drive themselves.
The trains are a mixture of old and new carriages, some with air-conditioning, heating, individual lighting, electric sockets and anything one could want from a long-haul train journey that only costs €26 for a return ticket. In others, there are laminated wood walls, an iron rack above each worn velour seat, mis-matched curtains of a different colour and length, sometimes with lights that worked and sometimes not. On the up side, the seats in these carriages do lift up and pull out to allowing one to make a weirdly angled bed.
The train departs slowly. The conductor walks up and down the train every time it leaves a station, rechecking everyone’s tickets, even though there are only a few people on the train. The flat plains of Vojvodina stretch into the distance with the odd telegraph pole or traditional Serbian haystack interrupting the view now and again.
After the conductor finishes his rounds he slips off for a quiet coffee in the restaurant carriage, which is almost empty until lunchtime. It then starts to fill up slowly as people explore the train.
At the border, the guards are to the point and even a bit hostile.
As the train gets closer to Budapest the houses become better cared for and an hour later than expected the train approaches the Budapest suburbs.
The passengers are clearly eager to get off, constantly looking out the window hoping to see any sign of the train station.
Eight-and-a-half hours after leaving Belgrade the train pulls into Keleti Palyaudvar. Over the journey the train has gained a lot more passengers, making getting off the train a lot less relaxed than getting on. The station in Budapest is far more crowded than Belgrade, with hundreds more people mingling and waiting for their trains, but at the end of the platform, two guys have found a spot to pull out a chessboard for a game.