My plan had been to go to Budapest after my exams had finished. It started out as nothing more than a nice idea, but gradually I began to think I would really do it, and finally, the night before I left, I packed my bags and told everyone I was going.
In the morning, I headed for town. For probably the first time in my life, I arrived there before anything was open. I really wanted to get on the way, and so not letting the lack of either currency or insurance deter me, I headed for Victoria.
Here, two major setbacks awaited me. First, Boots had no Sausage, Egg & Bacon sandwiches. Second, the international ticket office had been closed down. Apparently, there are other branches at Euston and King’s Cross, but given that the only place you can go from those stations which can remotely be called ‘abroad’ is Scotland, their use there is limited.
So I bought a ticket to Dover instead, ready to make plans from there. I was quite surprised to find a bloke selling ‘Selected European Tickets’ at the station in Dover, but when I asked him if I could get a ticket from Calais to Paris, he replied ‘No, sir, you’d get that in Calais’. I walked to the ferry terminal instead.
I bought my ticket, and got on the ferry to France. The weather was marvellous, and the crossing was pleasant, even though there appeared to be no way to get out onto the deck to appreciate it. The ferry was almost empty, so I spread my things out over several tables, and enjoyed the ride.
Calais was really not a pleasant introduction to France. Bits of heavy machinery lay scattered around the road from the port to the town, like a scene from Mad Max, and the buildings looked like they’d been transported here from a war zone. However, by the time I got to the town, things look a bit nicer. I was almost tempted to stay, but when I got to the station, I found that there was a train to Paris going in 10 minutes. I bought a ticket, said goodbye to the Canadian girl I’d been chatting to, and hopped on board.
Despite the train being almost empty, the conductor moved me on when he checked my ticket, as I was sitting in a reserved seat. He sent me off down the train, but there seemed to be no way of telling which seats were reserved and which weren’t. He had to move me on twice more before I got it right. To emphasise his absolute authority over the train, he then stamped my ticket seven times, swore a few times, and swaggered off.
At Boulogne, the train filled up with loud and obnoxious schoolkids. As they raced up and down the carriages, throwing things, picking their noses and burping, I found myself talking to a Pakistani bloke. He seemed to have been a refugee in most western European countries, and from what I could gather, he’d just been deported from Britain, and was going to try his luck in France. He’d already had experience of French bureaucracy – “Government write very much paper” – and didn’t hold out too much hope of getting very far.
We arrive in Paris at 9pm. I strolled through the seedy area between Gare du Nord & Gare de l’Est, and tried to buy a ticket to Budapest. I found it was going to be a bit more than I’d hoped, and realised that if I went, I would have absolutely no money at all when I got back. So I revised my plans, and, seeing as there was a train to Munich leaving in 20 minutes, I bought a ticket and got on the way.