Night Train from Budapest
It was the 29th of June and the end of a hectic and broiling hot weekend spent in Budapest meeting relatives on my father's side, as we went back to the Keleti Pályaudvar (eastern train station) accompanied by my cousin and her husband. Savvy about the problems with Gypsies hanging around the waiting areas (pickpocketing, grab & run, panhandling, drunkenness, rowdiness, etc.) the 6 of us had formed a protective circle around our pile of luggage.
Our night train for Munich, #268, pulled in at 9:15 p.m. and was due to leave at 9:45 p.m. We had 2 private compartments reserved: one for my wife and me, the other for my daughter and my wife's niece.
We said goodbye to my cousin and her husband and my wife took out the Eurail pass with the compartment reservations to find which car we were to be on. We approached car #261 and were greeted by the conductor who asked if we had reservations. My wife showed him the tickets, which he took from her and pointed down the passageway. She protested that she had not filled in the dates on the tickets—failing to do so would make them invalid. He said no problem; he would take care of it and promptly disappeared.
We climbed on the train and settled in our compartments. At 9:45 the train left the station heading west. The train stopped several times and I had to show our passports twice as we neared the Austrian border. Just south of the border, at around 11:30 p.m., there was a peremptory knock on our compartment door. Two large men in railroad uniforms stood there. One of them said that there was a problem with our tickets since they were not filled out and they were thus invalid. The penalty, which he pointed out in the small print on the back of the ticket, was $200. Did I have the $200 in US$ or Hungarian forints?
Smelling something fishy, I explained what had happened, that the conductor had taken the tickets assuring me that everything was fine (to which the man who was doing the talking stated that HE was the conductor). It didn't seem to make any difference. Once again I was asked if I had $200. I replied that I had $130 US plus about $70 worth of German Marks. This should have solved the problem.
The speaker hemmed and hawed a little bit and then looked at me and said there was another way. I could pay HIM US$100 and he would fill out the tickets and everything would be okay. But this was illegal and I would have to promise that I would not say anything about it since he could lose his job over it.
I asked him to explain the situation again to me and his proposal again. This time he did not mention the $200. He repeated a couple of times that it was illegal and I had to promise not to say anything. I finally agreed to give him $100 if he filled out the tickets first. Not having any idea of what repercussions there could be against me and the 3 women traveling with me, I just wanted out of the situation. He filled out the tickets and I gave him $100 whereupon he and his companion left.
A few minutes later we reached the Austrian border.
Return to 1997 - The Grand Tour
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Last modified: 01/06/2000 04:42:35 PM
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