one story I forgot to share was the train ride from Budapest to Vienna.
I rocked up to the station the day before to buy a ticket. In the line I met a couple of girls from the States. They were a little flusted with the ticketing situation and through the confusion missed the train they wanted to catch. Bummer. When it came to my turn at the window, the guy spoke enough English and German for me to be able to get my request across, but when it came to getting a ticket for the bike, he said that the train I wanted to catch didn't offer bike tickets. Hmm.. He then added that I should try my luck, put the bike on the train and see what the conductors say. Last time I bought a train ticket from Budapest to Vienna (coming back from Sziget with Gubi in August), the ticket window operator at the station flat out refused to sell me a ticket, making it clear that buying a from the conductor whilst on board was the preferred method. This did lead to an interesting game of "you can pay 22 Euro for a ticket.. or you can pay 10 Euro for no ticket. wink wink. nudge nudge" with the Provodnik preferring to conduct the financial transaction in between the carriages. And here was me thinking Hungary was Central Europe. I think the window girl was getting a cut.
The next day I arrive at the station nice and early, just in case I need to navigate my way through nonsense to get my bike on the train. I made a deal with Andy and Laurie that if for some reason I couldn't take the bike and trailer I would lock it up somewhere near the station and they would give it a good home. I sussed out my options and headed for the front carriage just behind the loco, where I could stash the bike and trailer next to the door causing minimal fuss for the other passengers. I packed it all up, fit it in and received no friction from the guards or coppers. Nice. I find myself an empty compartment next to one occupied by the border patrol police (one of whom shared an uncanny resemblance with Mike Patton), the train departed and my bicycle entourage and I we're on our way to Vienna.
About 15 minutes into the trip, a guy pushing a snacks and drinks cart passes my cabin. I peered out of the door and make sure my stuff isn't in the way. I catch his eye and we exchange nods of reassurance that everything is alright. Another 10 minutes go by and he comes into my compartment and sits diagonally opposite me. I greet him in Hungarian and he greets me back and starts talking to me in Hungarian. I say "Nem Magyr. Igen Anglo." (No Hungarian. Yes English), and he reintroduces himself to me in English. Thomas is in his early thirties, married, lives near an island on the eastern banks of the Donu (Danube), about 20km north of Budapest. He works as a gardener in summer and a train attendant in winter. After the usual pleasantries and him laughing at my piss-poor Hungarian, he asks if I want to share a beer with him. I say yes and he goes back to his trolley and returns with a bottle of czech beer and two cups. He pours out the beers, we mash our plastic cups together (ageshagadre), and I take a sip while he skulls the entire thing. Thomas tells me he likes to drink while doing this job as it is pretty boring and helps to pass the time. The train goes through Kormarno and I see my fort from the Hungarian side of the river. 20 minutes later, we go through Gyor and I see the bridge I made a wrong turn on. It was like watching my bike trip in fast rewind.
After swapping a few travel stories with one another (and me getting a new title of World Patriot), and a couple more beers, Thomas says he has to return to work and leave the cabin. Nice bloke and I wish him well. About 20 minutes later, two burly female conductors stand at the door to my compartment, check my ticket and ask if the bike is mine. I nod and they both enter the compartment, close the door and sit down. For some reason I was reminded of being in (one of), my school principal's office after getting kicked out of class for doing something stupid. They exchanges some weird look and start explaining to me in simple terms "no bikes on this service.... but we can come to some arrangement" - It cost me 2000 Frt, the last of my Hungarian cash and all of my treasured 200 Frt bills I was saving for gifts. Arse. And it was only until the border, when the Austrian conductors took over. However, the Austrian guy checked my ticket, asked if the bike was mine, said it wasn't allowed on the train but because it was out of the way he didn't care and left it at that. No bribes needed.
Catching up with all the dudes at Hirschengasse has been fun. Last night, I was taken along to the birthday bash for a pub, where we talked our way into a room packed with B-list Vienna celebs and a shitload of free food (caviar, little schnitzels, salmon), spread over about 5 tables. Nice one. After that, Petra and I met up with Kathia and we headed to the Cuban club where some fairly atrocious yet entertaining dancing may or may not have been performed by me.
I've started drinking coffee again. This time things aren't bad. I'm sleeping ok and not feeling like shit anymore. I guess not dreaming about of getting shot in the face, having a car accident and over excited squirrels helps me to sleep better. Frankenbike is being donated to Hirschenasse as a house bike. I'm sad that this part of the journey is over and that I have to leave my new friends behind. But the post-travel comedown can wait. London is almost here.