My plan had been to go to Budapest after my exams had finished. It started out as nothing more than a vague idea, but gradually I began to think I would actually go, and finally, the day the exams finished, I packed my bags and decided to have a crack at it.
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. There was a window at Dover station for ‘Selected European Tickets’, but when I asked him if I could buy a ticket from Calais to Paris, he replied ‘No, sir, you’d get that in Calais’.
I got on the ferry to France. The weather was great and the boat 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. He then stamped my ticket seven times, muttered something in French which I assume was something like “idiot foreigner”, 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.