Did you enjoy my post yesterday about Budapest? It really is a lovely city and I highly recommend it to any American interested in European travel.
Today's post is all about transportation in Eastern Europe.
There are several modes of transportation available.
Air, Rail, Taxi, Bus, Van Bus, Car, Bicycle, Horse and of course feet.
Let's start with the trains. All the trains we experienced were the 'Soviet Area' workhorse trains. No frills, very basic but quite functional. The train stations were interesting. They were beautiful in their own strange way. Below are the photos from the Budapest station. We went there and pre-purchased our tickets and got the schedule. It was not especially easy but the ticket counter people did speak English and we were successful.
We had our own little 'cabin.' The trains are set up with compartments, each compartment having seating for 8 people and racks above the seats for luggage. It wasn't crowded so we had an 8 seat compartment to ourselves for the trip from Budapest to Ukraine.
Have I mentioned yet that it was HOT? We arrived in Eastern Europe in time for a record breaking heat wave. Each day it was between 95 and 103 degrees out. And there was no air conditioning on the train. We were very thankful for the windows. When the train was moving and the air was moving it was bearable. When the train stopped at the stations and the air was still it was brutal. The only problem with having the windows open and the air moving was the dust. The train tracks were built on red/brown dirt. We were all covered head to toe with brown dust. I hope I can get the stuff out of my clothes. I had to scrub it off my skin in the shower.
The train trip was about 5-6 hours. As I said earlier, we just assumed there would be a snack car or vending machine or someplace to buy drinks. There was nothing. We were really unprepared and started rationing our water 2/3rds through the trip. I kept thinking that as we approached a station that some young gypsies would be offering up water or soda for sale through the windows but no such luck. With about 1 1/2 hours to go we came into a station and stopped. The train workers got off the train and were sitting at the station so we inquired and learned that we would be at that stop for 15 minutes. I stayed with the stuff and Bob and Sarah went in and got some water and cokes. That was the best coke I've had ever. It was cool and wet.
The Hungarian countryside was very beautiful and full of farm land. I guess Sunflower Oil is a big crop for them. We passed field after field of sunflowers and corn fields.
There was 15 minutes to connect in Zahony to the train to Budapest on that trip and we had to wait for the passport control people to board our train and go through all the passports. I think if we had pre-purchased tickets and knew which train to connect to, we could have made it, but we left the train, went into the station and as we were buying the tickets saw the connecting train depart. Sigh. The next train leaving Zahony was an hour later so we chilled out at the station. Chill isn't really the right word since it was about 100 degrees even at 9:00am.
I guess this is quite typical for foreigners who are clueless and don't speak the language. We boarded the next train and walked into a beautiful train cabin with nice seats and A/C. However we asked the agent where we were to sit based on our tickets and he ushered us back to the 3rd class carraiges in the soviet era train cabins. We were so bummed. We couldn't understand why the ticket agent didn't try to upsell us to 2nd or 1st class cabins. We would have gladly paid extra for that, but she sold us the basic 3rd class tickets so we begrudgingly walked to the back compartments and hunkered down for a long 5 hour dusty train trip. Sigh. Don't these train carriages look much nicer? And Air conditioning!!! Sigh again.
So enough about trains, let's talk about Taxi's. Taxi's in Eastern Europe are very interesting. There are no official taxi's here, just people with a car willing to drive someone somewhere for a fee. It was always challenging trying to find a taxi. In Ukraine most people don't have cars and use buses and taxi's to get from place to place. Most people have on their cell phones several 'taxi services' they can call. And these taxi's were very affordable by US standards. We decided to hire a taxi to take us the 2 1/2 hour drive from Uzhorod to Shayan. It only cost the equivalent of $55.00 US. Amazing. The bus would have been $25.00 for all of us so we didn't hesitate to order the taxi and enjoy the ride in A/C comfort. We also had all our luggage and thought the bus would be a hassle.
So we get in the taxi and I get 'shotgun.' I notice right away the 'need gas light' is on. Sarah inquires to the cab driver and he says he has to stop and fill up. So in Hungary if you stop at a gas station all the passengers have to get out while just the driver goes to the pumps. So the cabbie pulls up to the bench and we all get out. It was a little unnerving. all our luggage is in the car and we are sitting on the bench - see me wringing my hands?)
Yes, it was an adventure. Our other main transportation system was the van/bus. These are very popular. We got one of these in Khust. They line up near the bus station and they have a sign that says where they are going. As soon as they have enough people, they leave. No bus schedule, no set time, just once we have 10 people (the minimum) we go.
We filled this van pretty full for our 2 hour ride to Uzhorod. It wasn't bad, but it was a bumpy ride. Ukraine roads were pretty poorly maintained. The guy had a sign in his window and on several occasions we stopped by the side of the road along the way and picked up passengers. People just went to the street and hailed the van down as needed. A very different life than America, but it seemed very efficient.
As for other modes of transport -we walked a lot. There were also quite a few horse carts on the roads that the farmers and construction workers used. One time we went to the nearby river to cool off. We hired a taxi to get there but then when we wanted to leave none of the taxi's were available to pick us up. Ivan (Sarah's boyfriend) called someone and discovered that someone was nearby the river and we met them and hopped in a very beat up, old car. We squeezed 4 in the back seat and got a free ride back to town.
So that is how transportation is in Eastern Europe. Thanks for visiting my blog today. Stop back tomorrow for my post on everyday life in Ukraine.