BootsnAll Travel Network

Budapest: Mirrors

Before I tell you this story, let me first inform you of a strange fact about Budapest. Around the city, in the subway entrances, you can buy your train, bus and tram tickets from a person sitting behind mirrored glass. Why? I don’t know. But just be sure to keep that in mind as you read on.

Our train cabin door opened, and the steely-eyed man in military uniform pierced Bec and I with his gaze, “Passports!” The Croatian-Hungarian border had arrived. Bec and I had caught the train five hours earlier from Ljubljana; a quiet night had been spent there, as we let our legs recover from all the hiking we’d done in the previous few days. The officer checked our passports, stamped them, and handed them back. We were now in Hungary.

I’d spent the past few hours engrossed in my latest book, and so was travelling backwards in the cabin, allowing Bec to sit by the window and watch the passing scenery as it went rushing by. But after a few minutes stopped at the border, the train began moving back the way we’d come, and now it was I who was going forwards.

A strange look came over my face, one of confusion, and Bec reassured me that this had happened to her before, that the train would just go back a few hundred metres, probably to switch tracks, and then continue on its way. But it didn’t really happen that way. The train started picking up pace, and soon reached what felt like top speed. I tried to return to my book, but couldn’t. I shot Bec another nervous glance. Five minutes went by. Doesn’t sound like much, does it, five minutes. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five one thousand. That there little sentence took you about five seconds to read. You read that another 59 times, and that’s how long we’d been going the wrong way. Bec started to get worried, “Uh, I’d like to turn around now”. Read that little sentence another 60 times – and ten minutes have gone by.

“Surely they would’ve told us if we needed to change trains at that last station. Surely. They’re not going to stamp our passports and then leave us on a train going back to Croatia.” Bec said it almost more as hopeful question, than as a statement. And even though way down deep in the back of my mind, hidden behind old childhood memories and squashed up against almost forgotten lecture notes, I knew that she was right, it still took a good twenty minutes of sitting on a train going in the wrong direction before I could believe that perhaps this is the right way. But then, hell, we didn’t have much choice did we?

Darkness was wrapping itself around the train, but that didn’t stop us craning our necks at each little station we rolled through trying to get a glimpse of a station name to see if we could locate it on our Hungarian map. After what felt like an eternity of passing through dark suburbs with just a sprinkling of orange lights, the train crossed over the Danube, and stopped at the main station in Budapest, at around 10pm.

The word we’d received was that in Budapest, public transport ticket inspectors were in abundance, and very quick to slap you with a fine should you travel without a ticket. The number 7 bus would take us from the station to the hostel we’d been recommended, but we first had to find those tickets; the last thing we wanted after an 8 hour train ride was an argument with a uniformed official. I had read in my guidebook that tickets were available at the entrance to each station, so with our conspicuous packs hanging off our backs, we trudged, tired and hungry, to the station entrance. No ticket machines in sight. You lose again, Lonely Planet. Back inside the station, and a sign saying something that looked vaguely like ‘tickets’ pointed downstairs, into the subway. So down we went, and approached a magazine stand to ask for tickets. No luck there, “Tickets at subway entrance at end of hall,” the lady pointed.

Walking through the windy tunnel, we emerged out into an open concreted area filled with drunks and homeless people. Up ahead we saw the entrance to the subway, and trotted past, trying our best not to draw attention to ourselves – not easy to do when you look like a turtle walking on its hind legs.

The entrance to the subway was narrow, with a blank wall down one side, and a mirrored that started at about waist height lining the other, just past which were two ticket machines. “Ok, how much are the tickets,” Bec asked. “Uh, don’t think we’re going to have any luck here.” Both machines had sticky tape covering the coin slots, and some Hungarian scribbled on a piece of paper stuck on the front. “Shit, what are we gonna do?”

I sighed a heavy sigh, and we just sort of stood there in a bit of a trance, spinning around to see if anyone could help us.

“I’m over here.”

There was a security guard leaning up against the blank wall, doing his best to ignore us. He certainly wasn’t going to help.

“You two. Over here.”

A couple walked past us, validated tickets that were already in their hands at the machines at the end of the hall, and disappeard round the corner before we could even think of how to approach them.

“Hello. Over here.”

Huh? I could have sworn someone just spoke to us. Bec seemed to hear it at the same time, and we looked around with bemusement. Was it coming from the roof?

“Yes. You two, tickets over here.”

Bec looked at me, puzzled. Were we flipping out? Who the hell is talking to us. I looked at the mirror. At the base was a little semi circle section that began spinning back and forth, “Yes. In here.” I looked at Bec hesitantly, she was as freaked out as I was. Then, from behind a mirrored door, stepped out a guy in uniform who pointed at us, then dragged his finger down to the semi circle at the base of the mirror, and stepped back behind the door.

We approached the mirror, and heard a voice from a speaker above our heads, “What would you like?”

“Uh, two, uh, tickets, for the bus. Please?”

The semi circle wiggled back and forth, “Three hundred forty.”

We placed down some money, and the semi circle spun 180 degrees, then spun back with two tickets. “Thank you.”

All we could do was shake our heads and laugh. We seem to be doing a lot of that on this trip.

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One Response to “Budapest: Mirrors”

  1. Natalie Says:

    Budapest is on our list of favourite cities ever! Its a shame you are not there in the height of summer as the bars that open up on all the vacant lots are cool! There are some really good record stores too – one round the corner from where we stayed (Museum Castle Guest House) where there is also an excellent restaurant…
    Anyway – love all the ‘blogs’, you write well if at length… good luck with the rest of the trip

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