Night Train to Germany

It felt like a romantic idea, taking a night train between Budapest and Dresden. I’d seen these sleeper cars in the movies, Murder on the Orient Express and such. What it really became was an eye opener to the story of migrants moving into and travelling across Europe.

For weeks before we left Hungary via the Budapest Central Train Station (Keleti), we had been listening to conversations in Hungary about the migrants. Some call them economic immigrants: people moving to another country to gain a better quality of life; others call them refugees: people seeking asylum from the atrocities within their home countries; and many, many, many in Hungary ultimately called them a problem.

emigration migrants

Well over a thousand migrants a day are appearing in the country. Around dinner tables and along street cafes, everyone is discussing what they read in the papers or have seen on TV. Many of the comments are the same:

How are these migrants to be processed, supported, housed and moved? Hungary is not a rich country, and even if it was – in this a country by country crisis, or does it need EU wide policy and support?

Some migrants arrive looking, according to the newspaper which in turn becomes people’s opinions, too clean and polished for trust (though this documentary from Vice has a few words shared on that, plus having a nice shirt doesn’t mean you still don’t stink from weeks upon months of sleeping rough).

There are fear mongering campaigns from the government about how these migrants will take all jobs, steal all chickens, and bring disease; (unfortunately most of this is typical political crap to buy votes at the cost of a group’s core humanity).

And of course the words ‘religion’ and ‘culture’ are upon many, many lips. More fear, more uncertainty.

But still, I didn’t actually see any migrants as I swam in Lake Balaton. I didn’t pass any groups of displaced individuals as we walked through Pecs’s downtown square. So, it really wasn’t until the night train to Dresden that I finally caught my first glimpse of those searching for something better…

After an emotional goodbye to Anna and Laszlo, which is always so heartbreaking, Zsolt’s sister and brother in law took us to the train station, Keleti. They helped us carry our luggage to the sleeper train. In doing so, we entered this massive hall within the station – it looked like a huge old church, except without any seating. I looked around, checking for the migrants. But at first, I couldn’t see them. There were people of all colours, all traveling, all looking plain knackered as they waited for their trains to arrive.

I asked Zsolt, Nitti and Berci – do you see any migrants? They shook their heads, uncertain too. But then, while waiting for the train to arrive, we began to see them. Or rather, we began to notice them. Many of the women wear headscarves. Many of the younger men seem single, and rest together in groups. Many of the children cling to their parents. And the teenagers seem to do exactly what teenagers will do – float to the side, a bit away from their families . . . but not so far that you think they’re all alone. Like us, they were waiting. No one was begging, which actually surprised me.

Finally our train arrived, and Berci and Nitti help us take the luggage into our cabin. Yes we splurged on a two bed cabin. I figure, if you’re doing a sleeper train – do it right. The cabin was this incredibly narrow bit of a room, with bunk beds. After much puzzle-like arrangement of bodies and suitcases, we settled into the room. Zsolt’s sister and brother-in-law waited on the platform for us to leave. We waited in the doorway of the car. Everything was delayed.

Walking up and down the platform were the migrants. This train that we were on was going to Germany. They wanted to go to Germany. According to a friend of ours who works for immigration, Germany is their Shangri-La – the migrants hear the benefits are great. This actually reminds me of how many Hungarian Romas were arriving to Canada after hearing Canada had some excellent benefits. The Canadian government literally took out billboard ads and placed them in Roma populated cities in Hungary that basically said: We have changed our immigration laws. You will be immediately sent back if you come. Don’t bother trying.

Anyhow, these folks wanted to get to Germany, that’s where their hopes lay. The means, our train, was right in front of them, and yet it wasn’t possible to reach. What struck me most were the groups of families. Big groups, milling about on the platform together . . . walking here and then there, scanning the train together with children held in their arms, children held by the hands, and those teenagers finally paying attention and hovering closer to the herd. But how can an entire family stow away upon a train? They can’t.

Finally we began to move. We waved goodbye to Nitti and Berci, and returned to our cabin. Even as the train left the station, one off the conductors came walking through the corridor with a migrant in front of him. “This way” the fellow was asking the conductor, “that way,” the conductor – more or less- instructed. And so they walked together through our train car, towards the back of the train.

Half an hour later, we are in our cabin. I’m sitting on the only available floor space, eating from a bag of chips. There’s a very hard knock on the cabin door. “Immigration!”

I’m like, “one second,” and try to push myself up to open the door – it’s tiny and crowded, so this takes a couple tries.

“Immigration!” Rap, rap, rap!

“Coming!”

I try to open the door, but one of the bottom locks confuses me – so it opens, but then jams. The men on the other side try to open the door too. Obviously it’s still locked, it opens and jams again.

“Hold on,” I call again. They try the door again.

Finally Zsolt manages to lean around me and untwist the bottom lock.

The door is swung open.

“Immigration! Passports!” There is a security guy and a police guy. I lean against the doorway eating my chips as Zsolt fishes out the passports. For some reason, I laugh to myself. Probably become immigration guy number two looks a bit like a cartoon character, and I can’t help finding this situation both disturbing and ridiculous. The guy who kept calling ‘immigration’ passes back our documents one after the other, take a quick peek into our cabin, and then, they move on – pounding on the next cabin door.

Eventually the train arrives to its next stop in Hungary, and we see through the window a group of migrant men being herded down the platform. They got onto the train, but they didn’t get much further.

One, then two security officers pass by – large muscular men with tiny flashlights, shining here and there.

“You know, in many ways we are very lucky,” I say to Zsolt.

“I know,” he replies.

I can’t even begin to imagine what will happen to these thousand plus people a day who are crossing into Hungary and beyond. Where will they go, who will take them, what will happen next? It’s all beyond me. The only thing I know is what I saw on that train platform in Budapest. I saw a mother feeding her child baby formula from a big can with a kitten on it. I saw awkward teenagers with faded jeans. I saw groups rushing down the platforms. I saw young men sitting together and waiting for who knows what. I saw weathered old men holding the hands of toddlers.

I saw them watching us, and certainly they saw us watching them.

Eventually Zsolt and I give up looking from the sleeping cabin window and lower the blind. As the train rocks, creeks and charges forward, we tuck into bed. I can’t help but wonder whether anyone has managed to make it out of the country, and whether they’ll actually reach Germany. It feels unlikely.

This is the night train to Dresden. It is not so romantic.

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Yummy Europe

We are here, we have arrived. As I type this, I’m looking out the bedroom/office window and can see the peaks of neighbouring homes (red tiles) and green gardens. There are electrical cords too, but let’s skip over that feature. Hungary:Home. We are here.

The past two weeks has been such a lovely disconnect. Big Z couldn’t say the same, I am guessing, considering he worked for quite a bit of the trip. However, we still crossed Europe quite happily and still managed to see the sights.

[warning, I’m feeling lazier than usual and will not be checking for typos. Read on at your own risk. Editing may come later as a result of post-posting shame]

Nice was *happy sigh* so nice. Between the thunder storms and work deadlines, we managed to stroll along the promonade and soak up quite a bit of ambiance. Essentially, we were able to – ten years later – revisit the site of our first meeting. There was Villefrance-sur-mer that I tend to never stop talking about.  Stepping off the train, I immediately recognized the roads and turns taken on our original visit. Ten years later, and it’s still deeply impressed in my mind.

Ten Year Anniversary Catherine and Zsolt

This is a small, old fishing village where the buildings are ancient and painted in the Mediterranean colours of pinks oranges, greens and browns, and they are lined up very closely together to help block that beating sunshine.

Beach

Hot damn, look at us! Why can’t my hair do this more often?

We wound through the streets and made our way towards the beach. Ten years ago, Zsolt had not brought a towel along with him for the day – so, even though I didn’t actually know him – I let him share mine. Hormones and adventure mixed together created quite a different Catherine than the world had ever seen before, back then. So, during our recent trip we shared a towel again.

Then later in the day, we visited an old Nice ice cream parlour where the waiters have been, both times, not so lovely. Hot milk for me, ice cream for Zsolt. It was pretty special, actually. Pinocchio is really the spot that was our first ‘date’ in that it is very date-like. A guy and a gal can’t share a strawberry ice cream dessert (eaten ten years ago, before I broke it off with sugar) and still decree it wasn’t a date.

Later that evening, while walking down the beach promonade and listening to the various buskers serenade us – saxophones and cellos – with their karaoke backups, we debated the spot of our first kiss. Thank goodness for facebook – we were able to look it up and then revisit the exact location the following evening.

FirstKissTenYearsLAter

So talk about your nostalgia!

Following this was another flight to Milan. (We had flown from England to Nice and had mucho, mucho turbulence. On the flight to Milan, our seat was at the very front of the plane. Turbulence happened again and my hands started tingling then going numb – I was going into shock, I think. Or just having a panic attack. However, I didn’t not tell anyone this…at least, I didn’t tell anyone official. The airline steward was kind enough to let me know it was perfectly normal and would be over in 5 minutes. See, they should always do this. I’m far better when someone official explains what is happening, rather than 20 minutes later come over the speaker and say ‘oh, we had some turbulence but it is done now.’)

Anyhow, Milan. Mostly, we saw the train station. And in the train station, we met some very rude people. Ugh. This made me grumpy. But again, deadlines had to be met! On the day of our flight, we woke early to walk around the city, and I think the visit was salvaged. Zsotl had some soft, flurry lemon flavoured pastry that the clerk said was the best in Milan and had a wonderful reputation. My sugar-free self was just a bit envious, but I admit: I licked it, and it was good.

(Props to Z for allowing me to lick your food before you eat it)

And now we are here. Back in the real world, but not the real world. Anna, my mother-in-law is struggling with my eating habits: no flour & no sugar flying the face of all common Hungarian sense. She doesn’t use the internet, so I’ll have to give her some ideas. It’s a very strange dynamic, her kitchen, and I try not to get involved as much as possible. however, the other night she asked if I want to eat pizza for dinner, so I think we’ll need to work on the challenge together.

And speaking of food! I just learned that Zsotl’s sister Anita has a lovely blog sharing her spin on recipes – creating food for those living with diabetes. The food is all diabetic friendly, often gluten free and certainly low sugar. Go and see for yourself. She’s the Dessert Room (Desszert Szoba).

You’ll need to select the English translation via the google widgit. It’s in the right hand column. AND she takes all the photos by herself. She’s a damn food artist, and I never knew it!

From Anita of the Dessert Room

Okay, that’s all from me. I know I promised sentimental posts – and I reckon this didn’t deliver. Remarkably, I was quite composed during the entire visit – except for this part:

We’re walking hand-in-hand down the beach side promenade, having just left Pinocchio‘s ice shop. Just as we’re nearing the Negresco, Zsotl stops and begins telling me that he’s so incredibly happy, and that I’m the love of his life, and everything is so much better when we are together. And he just says all this stuff, and it’s almost better than a wedding proposal how it tumbles out and his stopping makes it such a moment. So of course, I want to cry, but rather just throw my arms around him and bury my face in his shoulder and hug, and hug, and hug.

It’s funny, in the movies I guess they’d have us making out like crazy as the camera spins around us, but in realty all I really, really wanted was to be as snuggled into him as possible. And then of course, share a kiss. But it was his stopping and our hug that I’ll remember. What a romantic man.

P.S. Oh my god, Anna is frying bacon and I can smell it from up here. Whatever she’s making, I want to eat it.