Monday, March 20, 2006

On The Buses

One of the excuses I have for my break in posting on The Hungary Years is that I spent a week snowboarding in France. It's great fun and I highly recommend it. Though perhaps it would be better to go somewhere a little closer.

I've been on some great slopes in Austria and I've also heard good things about Slovakia and Bulgaria, though maybe they don't have it sorted as much as the Austrians.

The last time I went to the Austrian mountains, it was about 8 hours in a car. Maybe less. It effectively means you can go there just for the weekend, leaving early on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and returning in a too-tired-to-drive-safely-journey on Sunday night.

France was a little bit further and the sensible thing to do would have been to take a cheap flight to Paris and then hop on the TGV down to Grenoble. Instead, as we were on a budget, we hopped onto a bus at Varosliget and then crawled there over what was meant to be a 16 hour ride.

16 hours on a bus would have made it the longest single bus journey ever for me. Unfortunately, fate decided to really stretch it out and make it into a 32 hour ride.

Just to put that into perspective, normally if someone travels for 32 hours, it means they are jetting off to the other side of the world. With a stopover in Hong Kong.

Read the timeline

Here's a quick catalog of our hold-ups:
15:30 - Departure time

16:30 - Real departure time. 1 hour late leaving as people are late turning up, they have too much luggage and the drivers are suspiciously checking the engine

17:30 - Drivers announce that the engine is knackered and we have to replace the "generator" (I think this translates into the "accumulator" in English). We stop at the exotic Budaors petrol station on the M7. At least there's a toilet (the one on the bus is out of order) and a McDonalds. Tip: If you're ever stuck at the McDonalds here, go to the kids playroom, there's tons of stuff to play with (cso-cso, air hockey etc) and you're bigger than the kids so you get to play more.

19:30 - After 2 hours of backbreaking work (the small cso-cso table is much lower and it really does give you backache) we set off again.

20:30 - The bus fills up a bit more as we stop to pick up more people at Szekesfehervar.

01:10 - Nasty Austrian border guards hold us up for well over an hour. At first it looks like they'll just let us through. Then they seen there's some non-Hungarians on board (me and some Romanians), so they as to see these passports separately. After handing them back and waiting an hour, they decide it's not enough and we have to get out and go past the passport window to get them checked individually. And I thought things were meant to get easier in the EU.

07:40 - BANG! Bus driver deals with a blow-out very well. Changing the inside tyre of the bus takes a bit of time though. At least they have a good spare on board. Everyone crowds round to see the huge gash in the old tyre made by what looks like electrical cable left on the road.

13:20 - Getting close. We pass by Torino and are told it's only another 2 or 3 hours.

17:30 - 26 hours on the road and the snow we've been hoping for has arrived. Only, there's a little bit of an excess. It's snowing so hard that they've closed our road up the mountain. We have to turn back and find another route up.

20:00 - Back down the mountain and figure out route. The new ETA is extended by yet another 2 or 3 hours (didn't they say that back at Torino?)

23:30 - Hurrah! Finally arrive at hotel. 32 hours after planned departure. All should be okay except for the fact that no one is at reception and the 3 apartments we've booked turn out to be only 2. No matter, we're so glad of any accomodation, we squeeze in and sort it out in the morning. The girl (and her boyfriend) that left her big bag with all her clothes on the bus aren't so lucky. The drivers refuse to drive out from their hotel (about 3 hours away) to deliver it so they spend the next day hopping on and off more buses to get it back.

The snowboarding turned out great. Weather was a bit hit and miss also. The avalanche warnings were at their highest level every day and the rescue helicopters seemed to be working non-stop. When the sun came out, the views were amazing. When the snow came, temperature at the top went down to -22C and visibility was reduced to nothing and it was difficult to see the slope. But it all added up to "the experience".

Now the above sounds like a nightmare journey, but to be honest it wasn't that bad. There was plenty of food and drink. Good old, home-made palinka was passed around and everyone cleared their throats in concert as the old guy in front coughed up his lungs in his last days (he did survive the week to inflict his diseases on everyone on the return journey). Though saying that, I think next time, it's either the plane and TGV combo or Austria.

In a short but relevent snippet, I took this snap of a tourist bus passing through Budapest. I'm sure it's fine in Czech, but would you really want your bus emblazoned with "Sad Tourist"?

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