I have visited Budapest three times – once in 2013 en route to Moldova by train, a weekend break with Mrs Wilbur in 2006 and as part of my third inter-rail trip in 1992 with my buddy Hamish.
It is the first occasion that is the subject of my piece today. ’92 was not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Hungarian capital was still in the early stages of transition. It definitely was not really set up to receive foreign visitors as the following will testify……..
We had arrived on the overnight train from Kraków and were met at the station by a scrum of accommodation touts. We accepted the advances of a chap named Bill and ended up staying in a room in his house for a few bucks.
Bill drove us to his place whilst delivering a wealth of tourist information, including the fact that tonight there would be a European Cup football match between Ferencvaros and Slovan Bratislava.
We therefore hatched a plan to go to the stadium and try to procure tickets…….
Having completed the bus leg of the journey, we walked towards the metro station. I totally ignored the fat gypsy lady offering lucky heather and marched purposely towards our destination.
Turning to say something to Hamish, I found that he was not actually with me. I looked back behind me to find him surrounded by three huge Romany women shrieking loudly whilst what can best be described as roughly jostling him.
Unfortunately he was on the other side of a busy junction and effectively trapped. He could not barge forwards as the light was red for pedestrians and traffic streamed past. I was also stuck with no chance of forming a solo rescue party. To be honest I didn’t fancy my chances with the fat hags anyway!
After what seemed an age, the lights changed and I ambled over towards the commotion. Luckily Hamish took the opportunity to push past as the gaggle pinched him several times whilst laughing hysterically.
He was understandably shaken up by this episode. I showed plenty of sympathy (not) by lambasting him for being too polite for his own good. “Just be an ignorant sod like me,” I advised.
Apparently they had started with the heather offer, then moved on to hash and finally sex.
Hamish had declined all, despite one of his hecklers pulling her dress part way down to reveal her humongous breasts! Some sales pitch that.
They had their hands everywhere; clearly trying to steal whatever they could lay their hands on or perhaps trying to stimulate him in some perverse way. Sensibly Hamish had invested in a money belt, which they failed to detect, so all that they had lifted was a used bus ticket and a biro.
After five minutes or so he had recovered sufficiently for us to continue on our way. Metro tickets secured, we put them in the barrier and we were in.
We had to change lines, which included having to go even deeper underground via a precipitously steep, vertigo-inducing escalator.
Waiting at the bottom was a female ticket inspector, who singled-out and honed in on us obvious backpack carrying tourists.
“Tickets,” she commanded curtly. We happily handed them over, safe in the knowledge that we were legit. She shook her head, “tickets for vis line,” she demanded.
On seeing our blank expressions that she had no doubt witnessed on countless occasions before, she explained in her austere manner that we had needed to punch another ticket upon changing lines.
Upon receiving this unwelcome information, we started to argue with her and several locals tried to come to our aid, remonstrating with the inspector for picking on two unsuspecting foreigners who had innocently broken the rules.
This cut no ice with our assailant who now had possession of our passports that we had reluctantly but meekly surrendered when demanded. To be fair she did have a menacingly large wooden baton and definitely seemed the type who would use it first and ask questions second. This was borne out as she was now becoming unnecessarily aggressive towards us, pushing her face right into ours and snarling in autocratic Hungarian. How pleasant!
Showing us her transport police badge, she offered us a free escorted trip to the police station with her if we would rather have that outcome as opposed to an on-the-spot fine. She had us by the balls, the second time already that day that Hamish had physically or metaphorically been in that position.
Our protests died away as we realised we were done. Begrudgingly the fines were paid as we wished the inspector ill.
It had not sunk in yet that the fine was about £5 each. We were livid at the injustice of it all. If we had purposely fare dodged then fair cop, but this was a genuine mistake.
Such was our flustered state that we promptly got on the wrong train and ended up at the end of the line at some metro train sidings! This was when we finally laughed at our misfortune and the ice was broken.
We eventually made it to the home of the Hungarian football champions to find the game was sold out!
We did however manage to purchase tickets for ten times face value (about £10) from an ecstatic tout. Naturally the game was a boring nil nil draw!
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