Well, I made it to Slovenia, but not without a hell of a lot of drama. I left Balatonfüred at noon with a mistaken idea of where the train station was (fortunately, I went the wrong way, which happened to be the right way). I then faced a complicated journey across rural Hungary in the direction of Ljubljana. As the only possible route would get me there at 9pm I decided to cut the journey a bit short and find accommodation for the night in Ptuj (pronounced ptooie) – a town recommended, albeit briefly, by my guidebook.
Of course, saying ‘ptooie’ at the ticket office granted me a look of mild confusion, which wasn’t helped when I wrote it down. I guess it was silly to think I could book an international ticket from a small out of the way station. Instead I bought a ticket to Ukk, the last connecting stop, after which point I could easily join the express from Budapest to Ljubjlana. Or so I thought.
The first layover was a tiny isolated town, where passengers alighted the train by walking across the actual railway. Although, there wasn’t another train for over an hour. I had to wait an hour and a half for my connection to Ukk. With no information on which train I needed, I had to resort to pointing and saying ‘ook?’ like some kind of eccentric orang-utan.
I wasn’t sure whether Ukk would be a small town or a city, but my expectations leant more to the latter, since it is a stop on a major international line. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact it was a pokey platform in the backwoods with no sign of civilisation and no ticket office. There was also no indication whatsoever that trains from here left for Ptuj, or indeed Ljubljana. Since I only had 10 minutes before my supposed connection I was frantically checking the timetables and my rail map. Perhaps I’d got the wrong Ukk?
I found someone ensconced in what looked like a staffroom. ‘Ticket?’ I inquired. ‘On train’, was the reply. Trustingly, I boarded the next train and looked for a guard, concerned by the prospect of a penalty fare. When I found one, he couldn’t sell me a ticket, but seemed to promise that his ‘friend’ could. So, I sat down in a vacant cabin and waited for this friend to materialise, as rustic scenery hurtled past the windows. When he arrived, I was only able to buy a ticket as far as the border.
After the train crossed into Slovenia, this guard was replaced by a rather gruff Slovene. Of course, I didn’t have any euros on me, because they had all been consumed by voracious Austria; and of course, I couldn’t pay by card because that’s advanced technology.
All this led to me being ejected onto a platform by the indignant guard, who I assumed was instructing me to get cash for a ticket. Since there was no ATM in sight, I eventually twigged that he wanted me to buy my ticket from the practically imperceptible office in the station. By the time I had done so, the train had pulled away and I was faced with yet another ninety minute wait.
The sun was setting as I boarded the last train of the day, ticket clenched firmly in hand, and it was after dark before I finally arrived at Ptuj. I now needed to find three things: accommodation, money, and food, in that order. The town seemed uninviting in the gloom until reaching the old centre, where I was welcomed by cobblestones, old houses, and, best of all, signs advertising rooms available. I checked into a little hotel and the owner was kind enough to offer me the last room – an entire apartment! – for the price of a single. Still way over my budget, but this place is bigger than my old flat. It’s a surprising end to what has proven to be a very odd day. I’m sitting in my 3-bed room writing this, having been happily beered and pizza’d, and now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.