Yesterday was one of the highlights of my travel so far.
I have met with Jess in Budapest (watched her opera recital which was incredible) and a couple of days ago we set off in the evening for the first of two trains on a 24 hour journey between Hungary and Montenegro.
The first train left Budapest at 10pm and arrived in Belgrade at about 6am. It was a bad journey mainly because I barely slept. Every time I started to doze off I would snore or something would happen and if wake myself up. I must have got max two hours sleep across 30 minute naps.
We started to get closer to Belgrade and the sun was coming up. I was shocked and amazed by the depravity of this place. Admittedly I know nothing of their history so seeing the slums and shanty towns just outside the main city, with people’s clothes hanging on lines between sheet metal and scrap wood constructed huts was unexpected.
We had a 3 hour wait at Belgrade so we got some breakfast and Jess waited whilst I walked round the nearby train tracks getting photos (everyone seemed to walk down the tracks to get to the station for work)
The next leg was Belgrade to Podgorica. We got on the train and saw a couple occupying our box (one of those trains with 6 seats in a little room with a door) so we took the next one as it was empty, wanting to stretch out and sleep for the journey. Bad idea. Two minutes later a guy comes in, either a bit drunk or a with slight learning difficulties and starts causing problems. He pokes me a few times trying to get me to look at stuff out the window (later find out this was his distraction technique so he can steal stuff). Then he asks for some of my drink, which I refuse on behalf of him already having annoyed me, his cigarette stained teeth, and the fact I don’t want to share my pineapple juice.
He started singing football chants, I turn to Jess, unamused and slightly pissed off. We can’t sit here ten hours with this guy. After a few minutes he prods me again. And laughs and seems to be holding his middle finger slightly out from the rest. I think he’s being rude.
Me and Jess agree we should move carriage and do so immediately. When he realises we are leaving because of him he looks embarrassed and a bit angry. I know this isn’t gonna end here.
We go to the next carriage and take our designated seats with the couple (woman, Australian, 50s maybe, man, English, 70s. Both very friendly). We immediately start chatting and if things carry on like this we have the perfect train buddies.
Minutes later the man from next door (tracksuit, very broad hands, tall…I had in mind ‘Serbian football thug’ and as such did not want to annoy him at all) comes to the window of our booth and stands staring at us. The couple inform us that he had earlier come to their cabin, tried to take their food, checked their tickets and left. He was clearly looking for trouble now he saw me and Jess sitting happily with the couple. I felt a bit bad for bringing the subsequent grief to these people but a. they were both well travelled and tough and b. he ended up walking up and down the train hassling many other people too so although I think we got the bulk of his attention we were not the only ones.
Long story short he kept coming back to our booth, sometimes pushing his way in when the couple tried to hold the door shut, constantly openly eyeing up our bags, at one point he grabbed the ladies sandwich and tried to run with it but she jumped and grabbed it, ending up on hands and knees on the floor, as the husband shouted and pushed him to the door (as I said they were tough).
It ended when we told the guards and they walked him to the back of the train and kept him there the rest of his journey. Apart from one point were he walked past and lingered again. The lady offered him an orange, he rejected the offer but then returned a few minutes later to claim his food. He got off the train maybe three hours in to the journey and when we saw him walking away we all let off a sign of relief, relaxed, opened the door and settled in for the trip.
During this episode I learned a few things. First of all not to let these things stress you out. At first I was thinking ‘what if he has a knife, what if he gets violent’ and I couldn’t relax even when he wasn’t there. But when I saw the couple joking about it during his absences, I decided to just let it be, relax, and if he came back to deal with it. I couldn’t let him ruin such and incredible train journey.
I also saw that the ladies resistance/compassion technique was the best. We could have tried to force him out of the room each time but he would keep coming back. Instead in the end the lady offered him a boiled egg, which he turned down (looking slightly embarrassed and angry/confused at being offered food by someone he had been trying to steal from) and then an orange. Immediately after being offered this food he left, but then came back a few minutes later to take the orange, and he didn’t bother us again.
On to the reason why this was the highlight of my trip: the train journey post hungry man. This was by far the most beautiful route I have ever taken. I knew I preferred train travel over everything, and this journey confirmed that 100 times.
The route was through the mountains, passing tiny villages, sometimes just one woods mans lodge in the middle of nowhere, a beautiful lake, numerous rusting trains and yards, rivers, canyons, forests and the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen.
People have recorded it as its so amazing.
I can spend hours looking out the window on this sort of journey and just think good thoughts non stop. My phone had run out of credit then battery so I had no distractions too.
Not to mention that our booth time was great. The couple we were sat with were very interesting/interested and we shared many common things to talk about. If I can be like them when I’m older I’ll be very happy.
We arrived in Podgorica an hour or two later than planned, both shattered from the 36 hours of bein awake with only naps to sustain us. We got some dinner and fell asleep immediately.
On to the next leg. It shall be called:
A Week in Montenegro with ma Best Mate Jess