8th February 2017
Vlad and I woke early for our train to Budapest. Cathy had woken even earlier, for her bus to Split, Croatia. The city was gradually waking as we hauled our backpacks through it. Shutters were being lifted, lights were being switched on, and buskers were marking out their territories for the day ahead. We briskly walked to the train station, looking to claim good seats. We boarded the train, found an empty six-seat cabin, and stretched out across three seats each. Tired from the late night and early alarm, I quickly fell asleep. We were ready to relinquish our extra two seats each if other passengers needed them, but that proved not to be an issue. The train to Budapest was nearly empty that day.
Myself and Vlad had put no planning whatsoever into our Budapest trip. We were just going to turn up, and see what happened. As the train neared the city, we weren’t sure which station to get off at. We pulled into one for an unnervingly long time. I looked out the window at the display on the platform. It read ‘Ljubljana’.
“Do you think that means this train is coming from Ljubljana, or is about to head back to Ljubljana?” I asked Vlad.
“I don’t know, how close to Budapest does your phone say we are?”
“Well, close. But we could be closer. What time is it? When does the ticket say we’ll reach our stop?”
“Not for another fifteen minutes. Should we ask someone if this is the main Budapest stop?”
Vlad went around to the people in the cabins adjacent to ours, asking if we were in the right place. They didn’t speak English. We saw a man in a high-vis jacket on the platform outside.
“Maybe him?” I suggested.
Before we got off the train to ask the official-looking man if this was our stop, we gathered up our bags, and took them with us, just in case the train pulled off while we were outside. Vlad walked up to him, and showed him the ticket.
“Hi, is this the stop we should get off at?” he asked.
The man inspected the ticket.
“No” he replied, “You should get back on the train for another -”
At that, the train doors closed, and it took off, further into Budapest.
In the station, we learned that we were only a short metro ride from the centre of town. We also learned that they don’t use euros in Hungary.
“Man, we really should have done even the smallest bit of research before coming here” said Vlad. I agreed.
The metro stations we encountered in Budapest were huge, concrete-clad caverns, simultaneously looking like something from the 1950s and 2050s. Coming from Ireland, where nothing is ever built below ground level, I found them incredibly impressive. We emerged from the metro right next to a hostel Vlad was tracking on his phone. Flow Hostel is built on the third floor of an old, decrepit-looking building. The inside of the hostel is a bright, flawless, homage to contemporary living. A girl we met a few days beforehand in Bled was spot on with her description “Flow is what you’d get if you decided to build a hostel from an IKEA catalogue”.
The place was well-equipped, ergonomically designed, and immaculately clean, but slightly lacked the friendly, laid-back atmosphere that tends to come with the less perfect, more disorganised spots.
The staff were welcoming, and happy to help, but listening to our conversation with them, you’d have sworn we were the first guests in the history of hostelling to turn up to a place without a reservation.
“You want to stay here?” the woman asked us.
“Yes” Vlad replied.
“But you don’t have a reservation?”
“No. Is that ok?”
The woman looked at her colleague for a few seconds, then back to us.
“Er . . . yes” she laughed. “I suppose so.”
There was also a lot of confusion over the prices. She was calculating and announcing them to us both in Hungarian forint, and euro, but was never clear about which she was using. We thought we were getting the rooms for €45 each per night, then €2 per night, then finally settled on €9 per night.
After all the confusion and negotiating, we finally got checked in for three nights, with the option to extend later.
“Well buddy,” said Vlad, offering his hand for a high-five. “It wasn’t easy, but we made it to Budapest!”