Off the rails…..

20171009_090232.jpgSeeing as we finally got some rain back in Norway, I hunted out my rainproof bag. You have to be a resident of Bergen to fully appreciate the irony of the first part of that sentence. But I digress…

Red Bag and I took an inaugural trip together last October. Predominantly intended as an indirect  journey by rail from Copenhagen to Budapest. Trains tend to be writer friendly and, for someone like me, less stressful than flying. Besides, you get to see more than just clouds.

As I boarded the first of the three trains, I heard a distinct sigh. It could have been me. But Red Bag looked deflated. Easy enough to look like that when only half full. Into my head appeared the name Brian. Brian then took on a personality all of his own. (I had been working pretty full on up until then. Bear with me.) He seemed less than impressed by First Class.

“You can’t put me down here under the seat. I’ll suffo-CATE! And it’s thirty.”

It’s what?


Oh. Dirty. For some reason, Brian had acquired an Irish accent. In the end, he slumped on the table, looking as smug as a bag could manage.

The highlight of the Danish leg of my journey was the Vogelfluglinie or “bird flight line”, the crossing from Rødby to Puttgarden on the German mainland. As the name implies, this is also an important bird migration route between Central Europe and the far North. Yes, I remained on the train. And the train, amazingly, drove straight onto the ferry. With not much more than an inch to spare. That was certainly a first….crossing water in a train which is also on a boat. Even Brian had stopped muttering.

The ICE connection between Hamburg and Munich appeared overbooked, which provided entertainment in the form of increasingly hysterical announcements from the train conductor. It was an impressive display of verbal hand-wringing. My ear was clearly getting used to German again. Brian was reduced to sulking in a corner of the luggage rack. A certain territorial air hung over the limited table space, so I balanced my notebook on one knee.

The next morning, I was ready for one of the highlights of my trip. The Austrian Railjet service from Munich to Budapest. I had been assured that this was one of the finest rail experiences in Europe. It did not disappoint. I upgraded to Business and was instantly coccooned in a hushed, plush interior. A reclining leather seat with legrests, one of only three such seats in this compartment. No complaints from Brian either.  And waitress service straight to my seat! This was Something Else.

Predictably, the train oozed out of the station precisely on time, smooth and practically silent. As we passed into Austria, I celebrated the fact with a piece of Linzertorte. When in Rome…. Austrian countryside charmed me with its onion-domed churches and rich farmland. The cows looked faintly smug. As we shifted tracks, the train gasped out a hoarse sigh, sounding exactly like “whyyyYYYYYY???” This occupied the amusement centre of my brain for longer than it should.

Hungarian is a language that eludes me, but I didn’t need to read the signs to realise we were crossing the border. The landscape changed …. a curious mix of monotonous wasteland and a vast forest of wind turbines, more than I have seen even in Denmark or the Netherlands. The tracks became less smooth. More sighing from the train and a grunt from Brian. A glass of Hungarian wine went down well at this point. Research purposes.

From arrival at the impressive Keleti station, Budapest is definitely somewhere worth several visits. I found the atmosphere intriguing, a heady contrast of pitiless soviet-type structures and a glorious abundance of grand old buildings, decorated with unusual patterns and rich hues. The mild temperatures and vivid autumn leaves made a perfect frame for the cityscape.

Of course my visit had to include some serious coffeeing,  as I call it – visits to soak up the atmosphere, savour the beans and observe the locals. I picked out the Centrál Kávéház, a traditional café much frequented through the years by most of the Hungarian writers of note. Quite a history. My favourite kind of place. I hoped to absorb inspiration by osmosis. Well…..I absorbed plenty of caffeine. But there definitely was a special something about the place. Needless to say, I made several café explorations during my few days in Budapest. It was, literally, a taster. I will be back.

Having made such a leisurely journey by train, I had to opt to fly home. Brian, whose Budapest experience had been largely limited to a hotel room, perked up. He was clearly raring to face the rain we had been promised was awaiting us back home. To be labelled “rainproof” is probably the pinnacle of success for a bag in Bergen, where the rain makes it a mission to get through all defences. I was still thinking about the smooth Railjet as we lurched down through the rainclouds. From down beside my feet came another sigh and a plaintive voice.

“Are we there yet??”

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