He had stood up suddenly and was looking out the window and yelling.
“Szob! We’re in Szob! My brother lives in Szob.”
Just then our phones beeped simultaneously; “Welcome to Hungary. A call home will cost you $4 a minute.”
We’d boarded the train together in Warsaw and were the only ones in the 6 bed sleeping compartment. The night before the Polish conductor had taken our tickets and warned us to lock the door from the inside. “Thieves.” He said. “Czechs.” He shrugged, “and Poles.”
We’d slept badly but now it was morning and the sun was right outside our window, following the train as it raced by the Danube.
Small cottages in light blue colours and oddly shaped wooden houses – one had the driveway on the top story accessed by a small hill next to the house -lined the banks of the river and on the hills on the other side were huge mansions and castles. It was about 6.30am.
The man who shared my compartment looked to be in his early sixties, was bald and wore austere spectacles. He’d lived in Australia since emigrating from Hungary in the early 70s. As a 23 year old he’d fled his homeland and lived for 9 months in Italy as a refugee, desperately trying to learn English and Italian. Eventually Australia opened its doors and now he has two Aussie kids and works in Darwin as an Engineer.
He gave me a crash course in Hungarian history and as the train was pulling into the station at Budapest wrote some essential words and phrases in Hungarian down on a piece of paper. “That should be all you need.” We said good bye on the platform and I went off to wrestle with a couple of surly ATM machines and then ambled, cash in hand, to the bus stop.
The ticket machine had an “English” button but refused to speak to me in anything but Hungarian. I appealed, ticketless, to the driver waving 500 Florints at him. He rolled his eyes and gestured aggressively for me to sit down.
As the bus scuttled through the grey, Eastern European streets past the “London Second Hand” stores and kebab shops that had become so familiar to me as an expat in Poland I anxiously examined every new passenger, checking for a ticket inspector. An officious looking man in a red shirt with a name tag and what looked like a clipboard hurried towards to bus and I began to edge towards the door, ready to make a run for it. He turned away at the last second and delivered his ‘clipboard’ to a waiting letterbox; the postman.
Exciting the bus scot-free a few stops down, I proceeded to get very lost. Wandering the streets in the vague direction of my hostel, I thought about the gentleman on the train. I imagined him, barely older than me, slipping across border posts at midnight and living amongst refugees before boarding a plane bound for the other side of the world.
Those of us who travel by choice are the lucky ones, the privileged elite. Those who travel not be choice but out of urgency, out of desperation, away from everything they know and in search of a kinder world, they are the truly intrepid.