Thursday, January 24, 2008
the old Euro City trains' compartments contain what can only be described as two long red high-backed benches, each scarcely twenty centimetres wide. They can be slept on, but not very well. My slightest movement or even the train accelerating invariably resulted in my sleeping-bag clad body rolling off the "seat" and onto the floor, where it landed with a painful thud. If falling to the floor punctuated my dozing in the eerie half light of the compartment and contributed to a growing certainty that the world was a horrible place, this insight was confirmed at 5:03 when the conductor entered the compartment, his face threateningly lit from below by the glow of his ticketing device. An unpleasantly high-pitched, whiny voice issued from the thin lips an unkind creator had streaked across his doughy face. The stream of Slovak, German and English words issuing from his mouth seemed to imply that we had done something horribly wrong. Our ticket wasn't valid. We had stumbled unwittingly onto the wrong train. We were lucky he didn't kill us on the spot, but we would have to transfer at 5:40 in Bratislava to the 8:43 train to Budapest. The small man grew increasingly agitated as he spoke and in his eyes glowed profound empathy with our unfortunate situation. When after a moment of silence he began speaking again, the sweet honey of temptation dripped from every word. If we paid him for an additional reservation to cover our Bratislava to Budapest journey in the train we were already on, this problem could easily be resolved. After angrily dismissing our suggestion that we pay him with the two beers we had bought in Prague, the conductor insisted we get off the train in Bratislava. Sleep deprived, ill tempered, we began packing and disembarked red-eyed, dry-skinned and cursing. In a moment of genius Jack set off on wild dash down the Bratislava station to a different part of the train where a kinder conductor welcomed us heartily. And so we arrived in Budapest.