Friday, April 22, 2016

Lady in Seat 63 - Belgrade to Budapest, slowly

Belgrade station 
I was in the mood to move on and on the advice of The Man in Seat 61, decided to take the train to Budapest.

The thing about the station at Belgrade is the smell. I heard it was much worse a few months ago, but it was still pretty bad. There are people living in the park beside the station. I don't know who or why. Lumps of possessions or people under plastic tarps. Worn tents, litter, piles of bulging plastic bags. People milling around, sitting on the ground, lying on the benches. And right across the centre path, a stream of purposeful people like me, heading to work or going somewhere meaningfully, not making eye contact, not looking around, not breathing too deeply that stink of unwashed humanity, sewage and garbage. Two young men with dreadlocks have set up a couple of urns on a park bench and are handing out paper cups to a small queue of men.

It's a Serbian train to Hungary. We stop at the border and I'm stamped into the Schengen Zone - the last time for a while that I'll need to show my passport to move from one country to another.
 Not much to see as we head across Serbia. Pocket-handkerchief fields being tilled and planted manually, rural houses with fruit trees, rows of vegetables, hens and beehives. Small stations in tiny towns.

A long slow morning drags into afternoon rumbling across the plains of Hungary, as the farms get bigger and there's more machinery being used.

Hungarian train on the left, Serbian on the right
No restaurant car, no coffee service. No power points, no WiFi. No other english speakers. The sunset was the most exciting thing happening here.

The day's journey ends with a buzz at Budapest Station - I'm getting somewhere now.

This is Keleti Station, the place we saw on television last September when crowds of angry refugees who were camped outside 'rioted' in protest against the station being closed. On 3 September it reopened and those buses arrived and took thousands of the homeless refugees to Germany. There were no refugees to be seen during my time but I saw quite a few homeless folk in the subways of the metro, and a few by the river too.

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