Before the Beginning

The best place to start is often at the beginning, however I'd like to start before then, since it will hopefully be of some help to anyone else who is thinking of moving to Budapest.

The story then starts 13 hours before the beginning, with me getting dropped off at Berlin Hauptbanhoff by a friend in an old white Volkswagen Polo. I was a little early and so it didn't surprise me when I looked up at the departure board and couldn't see the direct train from Berlin to Budapest listed. So I waited patiently, as any polite Englishman would ... 15 minutes passed or approximately four songs (Rolling Stones: Beast of Burden, Lilly Allen: The Fear, Imogen Heap: Hide and Seek, Bill Withers: Use Me). Ok, there's a long queue at the information desk and I've got two ridiculously heavy bags, so I can't be bothered to drag them around and stand in line ... as you'll no doubt encounter throughout this diary forward-slash alternative travel guide, many of my actions are based upon my loathing of queues and doing anything to avoid them. Anyway, the helpful people at Deutsche Rail or whatever they're called have paper timetable which list the platform number that trains depart from. This could never happen in England since you never know in advance how late the train will be or whether it will turn into a bus.

After making my way to the platform and a short wait the train arrived on time, and I waited patiently for everyone to board, safe in the knowledge that I'd reserved a seat. I have quite a few German friends, who are all very nice, however the Germans I met on this train, well, they were a moody bunch. I made my way to my reserved seat - if I'm going to be sitting on a train for 12 hours, I don't want to have to keep moving seats. The two girls, one of whom was sitting in the seat I'd reserved wasn't particularly pleased when I said that I'd reserved the seat and, very politely I'll add, asked if I could sit down. "Uh, it only says it MIGHT be reserved" she barked, in the tone of an alcoholic Irish sailor with a German accent, "Yes, well I'm afraid I've reserved it - sorry", I replied in my most apologetic voice. "Uh, well thank you SO much", she growled as her and her friend dragged their rucksacks out of the way. I resisted the urge to slap her verbally and decided that it was probably best to just let this miserable thing leave without incident. Fortunately I had no contact with these girls again who found seats close by in the same compartment, however right opposite me a young Hungarian couple politely asked a classically German man, with black hair and a green sweater, probably in his early 30s, if they could have their seats. He made the sour thing I'd been dealing with look positively sweet. He complained for several minutes before relinquishing his seat, and for the next 6-7 hours he would pass and make snide remarks to them. He was also much odder than the sour thing ... he seemed to befriend a young German couple, and then when they were obviously bored of his conversation after an hour or so they waited until he was in the toilet, and then escaped to the buffet car. He then paraded up and down the compartment, quizzing people as to whether they'd seen the couple. I had only understood a little of what he was saying, but from the expressions on the German couple's faces, he was obviously unaware of how boring his thoughts really were.

The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful. Some beautiful countryside, with mist rising from mountain forests, and an impressive array of graffiti and street art in different places. I spent most of the time either reading, playing sudoku, listening to music or sleeping. I'd had the foresight to make sandwiches the previous night (ham and cheese baguettes with a good helping of mustard) as well as buy yoghurt, which I quickly realised that I would need a spoon to eat it. In one of those McGyver moments, I decided to fashion a spoon out of the silver foil that my sandwiches had been rapped in. The result was an unusual, yet very usable, spoon.

Finally, after 12 hours ... well, actually more like 12 1/2 hours due to a delay, I arrived at Keleti Station in Budapest, and even though I'd technically been in Hungary for just over an hour, you could say that this is the beginning.

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