OK, so we got up Thursday morning for our last few hours in Budapest. It’s been hot. HOT. I check out the forecast, and sure enough the high for the day is going to be 100 degrees again. Fine, we’re leaving anyway. Then I look at the forecast for Zagreb: 106 degrees. And we’re going to be on a train without air conditioning for six or seven hours to get there. YIKES!
I have time for one last morning hike, so I crossed the Danube over to the Buda side and climb Gellért Hill, where Budapest’s Liberty Statue (or Freedom Statue, depending on the translation…) stands. It has an interesting history – erected in 1945, it was originally a tribute to the Soviet troops who liberated Hungary from the Nazis, reminding us that at one point the Soviets were thought to be the good guys. Of course, that was before they imposed a Stalinist system and then crushed the 1956 liberalization. The original inscription, “To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes,” was changed after the 1989 liberation to “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary“.
Besides the history, of course, the view from up there was beautiful.
Then it was off to the train station. Unless you have reserved seats – and we couldn’t get any – it’s often hard to figure out just where you belong. In this case it wasn’t clear where the first class car was v. the second class (we were traveling second…), and then you have to try to calculate which side of the train will be more in the shade. Eventually we found seats that seemed to work for us, and we settled in for a very hot ride. As expected, no AC.
Fast forward a few hours. It’s hot. There’s nothing to like about the ride, but our seats are comfortable and the car we’re in is quiet. Then a train official comes through and says we all have to move up to one of the five front cars; at the next stop they’re unhitching a bunch of cars, including the one we’re in, and only the front ones are going to Zagreb.
We all pack up our gear and start heading forward, with dozens of other people from other cars, until we get to a place that’s too crowded to move anymore. And it turns out we’re probably 30 minutes from the next stop. So now we’re crammed in, hotter than ever, and not remotely comfortable or quiet. When we finally do get into the next station, there are hordes of people just like us, trying to crowd into the front few cars. Definitely more people than seats. And the smells – oh my god, dozens of people who’ve been sweating and drinking beer for hours on end, crammed into small spaces. You didn’t want to be anywhere near the bathrooms in those cars.
We get lucky, though, in a sense. I find a cabin that appears to have only a couple people in it, though the racks are full of backpacks. The gents inside invite us in, and mayhem ensues. They’re Irish, and they’ve been drinking pretty much non-stop for four days. Yeah, we were in a party car, with friends moving in and out, always with a beer (or three) in their hands. Instead of a disaster, then, we had a great time. I couldn’t always understand what they were saying, and I didn’t share their love of beer. But if you’re going to be crazy hot – as one of them said, you know you’re hot when your shins are sweating – you might as well do it with happy Irish!