Go By Train To Komarom

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Dec 19, 2005

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Flag of Hungary  ,
Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Fergus drove us up to the Keleti Train Station. This century-old building is filled with the most run-down people and trains imaginable. Almost no lighting, groups of young men hanging around, even Fergus had a hard time figuring out where to buy tickets. "I never take the train because I'd have to leave the car in the parking lot and, you know..." I didn't know, but I could guess. This train station was not designed by Eiffel, that one's across town, but the Keleti comes close with its soaring ironwork, enormous stone columns and copper statuary. Clean it up put up decent signage and the place could be a showcase.

Fergus hurries me along, tells me to stop acting like a tourist. I can't help it; this place is like a set from a post-apocalyptic Arnold Swarzenegger movie. The only thing missing are people huddled around fires in oil drums. The frosty December air hangs over the trains in a cloud. Every bench is covered in wino; friendly young women not wearing nearly enough layers for the weather approach, asking the time. Or asking if I have time. Something about time. Fergus shoos the girls away with a burst of Hungarian. "They think you're American, for some odd reason."

A ticket to Komarom was about 10 bucks. Fergus hands me my ticket, wishes me luck and dashes off.

The interior of this train car reminds me of the first Seattle Metro bus I ever rode, back in the 1970's. Industrial puke green paint, flickering lights, tiny windows permanently fogged over, passengers uniformly terrified. Nobody in this darkened train car, not even the conductor, can speak one word of English. I've been checking for signs at the stations as they roll by, but they're hard to see - and they're in Hungarian. My map is in English. If I miss my stop I could end up in Siberia.

There is a large woman sitting alone, clutching her purse, eyeing me suspiciously. I get out my Michelin map, put on my most disarming smile and gesture to the map. Once it clears the city, the rail line runs from Tatabanya to Komarom. She indicates that she will be getting off at Tata, just outside Tatabanya. It looks like the next major stop is Komarom. "Tesco," she emphasizes, pointing to Komarom, "Tesco." I think Tesco is a store. I remember seeing an ad for it in a British newspaper on the plane.

The train stops, she leaves. The remaining passengers stare. The train starts and a few minutes later an enormous red neon sign comes into view. TESCO. The train stops and I get off. Walking up and down the platform I finally locate a small brass plaque on an office door. Komarom.

Here the language gap gets critical. The lobby here isn't nearly as seedy as Keleti station, but there's nobody in it. The action appears to be on the street side. Three guys sitting on the steps bundled up against the cold, wisely consuming antifreeze. I'm always a little suspicious of people sitting around drinking out of paper bags, but these guys seem happy enough. They gesture to me to have a drink. It's tempting, but I decline.
I can't find a taxi, can't find a working phone and the only thing in site is this enormous levee about 30 feet away from the street side door of the station. One of the paper bag guys gestures to the levee and says "Duna." The other two nod in agreement - "Duna."

Duna is the Danube River - it marks the Northern boundary of Komaron so I'm still in Hungary. The hotel is somewhere behind me. I say goodbye to my drinking buddies, gather up my stuff and drag it over the high pedestrian bridge toward the unknown.
Not much better over here, only one car in sight, very few street lights. Several blocks away I see faster moving traffic, three or more cars, could be a main street. So I shoulder my load and drag my bags up the dark street.

The buildings look abandoned but there are people in them, I can hear them fighting. The sidewalks are ruined, but there's not much traffic so I move my act over to the street. I see a thin strip of red neon off in the distance. A bar? Turns out it's my hotel, the Hotel Corner. I made it. The door is locked, but after a few minutes pounding a young woman in an apron appears. She greets me in German. A few minutes later I'm rummaging through the mini bar and watching 'The Flintstones.'

Fred and Barney are sitting at a table. Fred is still wearing his magician's hat, Barney looks nervous. Betty and Wilma are nowhere in site.

Fred and Barney are on their own.
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