The train trip from Ljubljana to Zagreb (capital of Croatia) was smooth and uneventful. Tickets were checked, passports were checked at the border, and we were sitting in the correct carriage, because only two of the carriages were going on from Croatia to Hungary.
Then, at Zagreb, we were told we had to clear the carriage. There was a stop of almost an hour, and the train would then depart from a different platform.
Once we were quite, quite sure that this was the correct thing to do, we saddled up with all our worldly possessions, hit the ATM (have we ever said how much we love Citibank’s get-local-currency-from-any-ATM system?) and headed out of the station to find sunshine, WiFi, and hot chocolate.
We even got to enjoy a little taste of Zagreb’s parks, mountain views, and architecture (and admire its funky street art trams) before our train departed. You can see all the photos in the Zagreb album.
The train looked different. It wasn’t the carriage we were in before, which explained why we had to get out. After confirming with the railway staff that this was, indeed, the train to Budapest, we climbed in.
A Croatian local heading to Budapest for work told us that we would have to get out and take a bus at one point, because they have been doing track work for over a year between Zagreb and the Hungarian border. These days, the bus ride is only 15 minutes – a year ago, it was much longer.
At a much smaller station, we were all shooed off the train to wait for a bus. Not everyone fitted in the bus, so the whole procedure took an hour, with one bus shuttling back and forth. Finally, we were all on board, and we headed to Hungary.
Almost immediately, we crossed the river, and we were in Hungary again. We needed to change trains at the first station (Gyékényes), so after the Croatian border police stamped our passports, we had to pick up our stuff and find the Hungarian border police farther back in the train to get stamped before the first stop.
As it turns out, we needn’t have stressed, because after checking all the passports, they made everyone else get off the train, too, and get on a a bus to continue their trip to Budapest. We were grateful to have a bit of Hungarian, so we could explain to the people trying to herd us onto the bus that we weren’t going to Budapest – we were going to Dombóvár, where we would change trains yet again.
Fortunately, our layover in Gyékényes had been two hours long, so the hour’s delay in Croatia didn’t upset our travel plans. We wandered out into the sleepy farming hamlet to find food (nothing hot available, unfortunately, just a co-op supermarket), and Tom unrolled his yoga mat for a power nap in the sun.
A helpful railway staff member woke Tom seven minutes before our train departed, and we had a leisurely stroll across to the platform to board.
It seems that more logs catch trains in this part of Hungary than people!
We were enchanted by all the tiny train stations that looked like bus shelters.
Then we reached the station just before Dombóvár, where we were changing trains. It was called “Dombóvár-Alsó”. Priceless.
Finding out that “alsó” means “bottom” in Hungarian did nothing to reduce the price.
When you are spending twelve hours on trains and station platforms, you have to take your levity where you find it …
Dombóvár is a big interchange, for freight as well as passenger trains, with many train tracks and a huge stockpile of locomotives.
We got off our slick intercity train (note the man in The Official Red Hat by the train) and looked around for the train to Baja.
There was no indicator board, and nothing in English anywhere, so we eventually asked the man wearing The Official Red Hat, and he pointed us at …
… the cutest little train EVER!!
Not many people go from Dombóvár to Baja, obviously.
We had time to make a quick visit to the Pek-Snack (mini bakery) in the station building to grab a second lunch, and then it was time to climb on board for the final leg to Baja.
Our tickets were inspected one last time (they ended up with more autographs than a plaster cast!), and we were off!
The train was reasonably full at Dombóvár (all one carriage of it), but the school kids all got off at the first couple of stops, and then others got off here and there, and by the time we were halfway to Baja we were the only people on the train.
It arrived only 15 minutes late, and our cousin Rita was waiting in the chilly autumn twilight to meet us.
We went straight to her apartment, because it was dark and cold, and she needed to duck back to work for a while. Sightseeing tomorrow …
For more photos of the Hungarian countryside and its tiny, tiny stations, see the album.