I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Oh boy

Bit worried about writing this post. I don't know enough superlatives to describe Friday. I just had one of the best days of my life.

So, we got on the sleeper from Prague.  A Hungarian carriage on one of those typical European long distance trains, comprised of coaches from 5 or so countries' railways. We were indeed heading to Hungary...just not non-stop. Where's the fun in that?

It was a pretty brutal service. Not that it was uncomfortable - at least for me. I heard rumblings of discontent from the others in the morning, but after a night cap with Mark bought from the guy in the Czech coach who had a beer fridge (this was an employee, not passenger) I went to bed and had some very decent sleep. But the main reason for its brutality is that it was so short: 0001 boarding, 0630 alighting.

Because we were now 11, couchettes are becoming a little more of an issue. People are finding themselves sharing with us. On this train we had a full 6 and a 5+1, the one being a girl who was already asleep on the bottom bunk of the compartment I was in. It was so hot, especially up on the top bunk, John managed to convince the conductor to open the window for us: "look, there's a girl in there, and us 5 blokes. be reasonable".

We got off the train in Vienna. As per the route page on the GCERC blog, here we had just 90 minutes or so to get in a quick bit of tourism - Stephansplatz and breakfast - then get our train from the new hauptbahnhof, just around from where sudbahnhof used to be,

Stephansplatz was pretty, but it absolutely stank. We failed to find the breakfast place and didn't have enough time for a backup plan, so piled straight back on the rush hour tube to the Hbf.

The Hbf is a massive building site. We spotted the golden arches but, come on, not another McDs. S instead we asked a pair of helpers where we could grab breakfast. They said McDs. Sigh.

They also said to go to bahnorama, a viewing tower with a restaurant at the bottom of it. We trekked through the building site to get there, and it wasn't open. Sigh. So pastries and coffees were bought from a little cafe, and we went to the platform. That was quite enough of Austria, thanks.

Next up, a 65 minute train to Bratislava. Some quite nice views of the Danube and the gasometer complex. Not much more to say.

20 minute connection at Bratislava, easily made. A few of us briefly went landside, so now we can claim we've been to Slovakia. Especially because of the photo of us under the huge WELCOME TO SLOVAKIA sign. Tick.

So, now, after starting the morning on a Hungarian train, we were on our way to Budapest.  Due in at 1235, it would mean our 4th country in 7 hours (we crossed the Czech/Austria border at around 5am, and were in Hungary for midday). A 3 hour service, lots of nice views of the Danube and a fair bit of lovely electricity. I'm charging my phone 4 times a day on this trip. And I'm loving the absurdity of it all. 4 countries in 7 hours? Love it.

We had a long stop in Budapest, almost 7 hours. It was also where we were scheduled to lose Mike at the end of the day, our dozen being cut back down to the 10 who started in London last Saturday. Cracking cameo appearances from Mike and Albert.

A split occurred straight away. 7 people went to the largest and most famous spa complex, your correspondent not among them. The quarter of splitters - me, Mick, Mike, and Stoy - went on a bit of a guided tour of the city, Stoy being the guide having been here before. We jumped off the tube and rode up one of the longest escalators I've ever been on (I'm not counting Hong Kong) to reach... a building site. Next to the parliament building. Shame.

We wandered down to the tram line and the around the streets for a bit, past churches and embassies and etc. It was sunny, warm, and very pretty. The tram line is next to the Danube, the wide blue thoroughfare splitting Buda and Pest. We were on the Pest side and headed away from the river a little, towards a picturesque building which I took a photo of but didn't commit to memory because then it happened.

We'd found a holy grail. A business so absurd, so preposterous, so unrealistic, so amazing that I couldn't have scripted it if I'd tried - and it's my sort of script.

It was a cafe/bar. Pizzas on menus. Beer on tap. Bottled Guinness. A Manowar poster next to the door. Maybe they'd played recently or will do soon? An album advert maybe?

Another Manowar poster above the door.

Hang on.

Peeked inside. A Manowar poster. No, 2. No, 200 or so.

It was a fucking Manowar theme pub, or something. Inside we're hundreds of posters and photos and album covers.  A lit up thing of of a guitar conducting lightning. Just Manowar stuff everywhere.

There was wifi. The network name was MANOWAR.

I almost cried with happiness. Couldn't stop talking about it. Texted Ian, Wooj, Nige. Posted a Facebook update as myself, not GCERC. Far more likes and comments on that than anything else (I got people's attention by shouting and posting a photo, after all). This is precisely the kind of experience I thrive on - a random happening, unpredictable, in a strange place miles from home, that appeals to something I love. Like overblown heavy metal.

We had to move on. I wasn't allowed to stay all day. Time was ticking and we were meeting the others in the large indoor food market at 3:30pm. To get there we walked through another pedestrianised area, lots of shops, nothing too distinctive apart from the pub which appeared to be called PUB PUB PUB.

Reached the market half hour before the others so grabbed seats, drinks, and sausage. Nom. Stayed there when we were quorate once more, tucking into goose leg and sausage and chicken and cabbage with honey and bacon and Nom Nom Nom. Mark and Steve spent a crazily small amount of money on a large amount of booze and food for the train - this was a 13 hour ride ahead of us.

Before that, though, one last bit of group tourism. We walked across the nearest bridge to Buda, took photos, had a minor internal fracas, and jumped on a tram back to the tube back to the station. Retrieved bags from lockers, took photos, bought oh so much water, had a couple of drinks, and said goodbye to Mike. Our train went from a distant platform, no.1, and we found our berths - a six and a four, now we were 10.

We left at just after 7pm, scheduled to arrive in Brašov at 9:30am. Food was had, drinks were had, showers were had - wait, what? This train had showers? Yes, yes it did.  A proper shower with hot water and adjustable pressure and all the gubbins a normal shower has. It was better than the ones in Berlin. Especially because it was on a train.

I was enjoying myself - or so I thought - but then, but then...

Remember the buffet car on the way from Berlin to Prague? This was better. This was a bar. Not a restaurant or buffet car, not a man with a fridge full of beer. It was a bar. With proper purple upholstery and dim lighting and a barman and an American lass with a Mexican boyfriend who played mandolin. Oh, and a staff party from Romanian railways.

It was a rowdy raucous amazing bar full of us and fun people. It was smoky, because you're allowed to smoke. It was cheap, because Romania is cheap (€8 for a bottle of red wine and a lager). I bought the barman a beer but he refused to be photographed with it. Diligence!

There was a power cut. Lights went out. We all cheered. The mandolin came out and a song based around the Romanian for "thanks" was made. Lester danced. Steve was Steve. A guy from the railways gave me his seat. There was much laughter and much lager (and, so I was told afterwards, dreadful wine). The girl from the next couchette came along. The train stopped and we were told there'd be a 2 hour delay because we got rerouted due to fallen wires. We didn't care. No, we were glad, because this was a train on which we all wanted to spend more time, perhaps forever. It was one of the most fun nights of my life.

To recap: I was a week in to an 18 day train trip through 23 countries, and after having a drink in a Manowar theme cafe, I had a a shower and then got shitfaced in a smoky pub onboard a train between two cities and countries I'd never visited before, with mandolin music and power cuts and delays and Romanian train crew partying and just absurdity EVERYWHERE. Just writing this is making me grin. Magnificent.

I got so very drunk. Fell asleep clutching a beer and had to be escorted back to my bed by Steve. Apparently. I don't remember. But I do remember having no right to feel as good as I did this morning after a day like that. Grabbed a shower. We all decided to skip Brašov, and stay on to Bucharest.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Can't imagine those showers being better than the ones you had in Germany.