We got up at 7am so we could make our 8:30 train to Budapest. We were bummed that we couldn’t go to the Saturday craft market along the river nor could we buy all of our handmade wooden spoons but it was going to take 8 hrs to get to Budapest so we needed to leave early. We dropped our keys into the landlords letterbox and off to the train station we go. We decided to double check our tickets to see exactly when we needed to be there and they said 7:40! It was now 8:00 which means we would have been early if the train was actually leaving at 8:30. Since we’d missed the train and had already turned our keys in we decided to go to the train station anyway to see when the next one was leaving for Budapest. Another complexity was the issue of getting our apartment. Apartments are more work in a lot of ways because there is no reception desk so you have to set up a meeting time so you can get your keys. Our guy was meeting us at 3:30. We now knew we couldn’t make it by then so we needed to contact him and hope he responds before we leave. We checked the Internet access point in the train station and because it was Saturday it was closed. I go to the ticket window to see when the next train was and the ticket lady said 13:20 so we had about 5 hrs to burn. There is a left luggage facility in the train station and for 2 Euros we were bagless for the rest of the day.
Now without our bags slowing us down we headed to the city center where I knew of an Internet access point that I could use to email the landlord. I emailed them and we spent the rest of the morning wandering through the craft market. We also bought our wooden spoons and a mandolin for slicing vegetables. The mandolin cost 18 dollars which is about half the price of any I’ve seen in the states. The spoon were 2 dollars each even for cherry wood ones. We loaded up on wood stuff, bought some postcards with international postage and went to get on the Internet again. Our landlord got our message and agreed to meet us at 10:30pm. Our train was going to get in at 8:10 but I figured I’d rather wait for an hour than to have him gone if our train was late. After missing our landlord in Ljubljana twice I thought it was better to be safe than sorry. Considering we were going to be on the train for 8 hrs we loaded up on snacks and fruit at a local supermarket. Now armed with snacks, lunch and food stuff we head back to the train station to wait for the train. And we waited. Then we waited some more…. The announcer announces some really long messages in Slovenian which I don’t understand and we wait some more. The sign over the platform still says it’s showing up at 13:20, it’s now 14:00. I check the monitor under the tracks and it also says it’s showing up at 13:20. I check it every 5 minutes for change and nothing happens. At 14:10 a thought comes to my mind, this train is coming from somewhere else otherwise it would be here already so I’ll check to see when it’s supposed to arrive. The t.v. Monitor says 1 hour late. It was supposed to arrive at 13:15 so that means it should be here in 5 minutes. It was an Italian train coming from Venice which was only 3 hrs away. How can a train lose an hour on a 3 hr journey? My theory is it was the Italian conductors birthday and someone got him a mirror which he spent an hour falling in love with himself all over again while the train was sitting in the station. We wait another 10 minutes and no train. I become the one all the other Budapest passengers go to for updates even though I couldn’t speak the language. We decide to use Italian to communicate since I knew a few words and could count in it and they knew a few words. The blind was leading the blind but couldn’t communicate with each other. Another incoherent Slovenian message is broadcast over the speaker. A Slovenian lady approaches me and says Budapest and a bunch of garbly gook that I didn’t understand. I update the other passengers, the train was coming. You might be wondering why I didn’t just go back into the station and ask. The Ljubljana station is about a 5 minute walk from the platforms. That means it would take 10 minutes for someone to go to the station, ask and return with the answer. Ten minutes is plenty for a train to come and go. I couldn’t risk missing another one.
The train arrives and we board it. The conductor checks our ticket and moves on so we settle in for a 8 hour smooth ride to Budapest. Our ride was interrupted by customs police wanting our passports. Croatia isn’t part of the EU so they stamp your passport every time you cross the border. Our passports look like a croatian graffiti wall. Following on the heals of the customs police is the Croatian conductor. He looks at our tickets and tells us their no good. It appears that on trains passing through multiple countries each country gets a portion of the money you pay for your ticket. I assumed (Definition: assume verb; make ass of you and me) that all trains from Ljubljana to Budapest pass through Zagreb since my maps didn’t show any other routes. Apparently Slovenia and Hungary share a border for about 20 miles and there is a train that crosses right there. That is the ticket we paid for and Croatia wanted their money since I didn’t pay them. The conductor could have overlooked it because the train was going anyway whether we pay or not but he said we needed to pay. I have a few Kunas left, a few Tolar and no Euros. He said he’d take my 40 Kunas (about $6) and 10 euros. I said I didn’t have any euros but I did have U.S. Dollars and he said that was fine. Croatian train conductors taking U.S. Dollars for payment? Sounds fishy. He took 40 kunas and 15 U.S. Dollars to “make it right”. He said it wasn’t the right price but it was ok. I’d bet everything I have that that pile of money never makes it to the Croatian rail. We just paid off the conductor, we know it, he knows it and everyone it ok with it. This is something you think happens in Mexico not Europe. He said as soon as we get into Hungary our ticket was good again. That’s good news because I only had enough U.S. Dollars left to bribe 4 more small countries.
We arrive in Budapest 2 hrs late. My hour and a half buffer between our arrival and our meeting with our landlord had been eaten up and then some. We decide to take a taxi even though we’d heard they were thieves just because the metro would take too long to figure out. I ask the taxi driver how much to Kiraly street. He shrugs and says taxi meter. I ask again and get the same response. I’ve heard too many stories about rigged taxi meters or drives taking the scenic route. I insist and refuse to get into the car until he gives me an estimate, he says 5,000 forints (about $25), I do the math in my head and give him my bags. As soon as I get in the car I open up my map and keep an eye out the window for street signs. I couldn’t see well enough to follow where we were nor did I have to as long as he thought I was. We arrive and the total is 6,400 which is fine. I’m 100% sure it would have been double if I hadn’t given him my poker face. Surprisingly our landlord was still outside the apartment waiting! I’ll be giving them a good review just for that. He explains that there is a water line break but he’ll give us another apartment just for tonight and drive us there. The next day at noon he’d come to get us and bring us back. With that we ride to our backup apartment. It was very large and modern. It was a long day so we hit the hay. We’re in a large strange city with people who speak a language that sounds like nothing else we’ve ever heard but we have shelter so we sleep fine. Tomorrow we get money to pay our landlord and move to our new apartment.