Dear fellow travellers
This is our last newsletter of 2008, a moment perhaps to reflect on the journeys we all make. In the editorial to the upcoming January 2009 issue of hidden europe magazine, we quote the Swiss travel writer Ella Maillart who noted that travel through foreign lands is easy in comparison to exploring the unmapped territories of our own minds.
When travel goes well, we ride on a wave of contentment, but when things go wrong, we are thrown back on our inner resources, and then we don't always cope as well as we might. Missing the last bus of the day through the Tatra Mountains and finding yourself stranded in darkness and driving rain at some haplessly remote road junction is no fun.
Yes, our journeys are just like yours and sometimes things go terribly wrong. We have left home without our passports, deposited our bags in a station left luggage locker and lost the key, and once inadvertently made a huge investment in a not very desirable currency having misunderstood the exchange rate by a factor of ten.
This week saw hidden europe hitchhiking through rural Hungary as we tried to mitigate the effects of a national train strike in Hungary (now into its seventh day as we write). Pity the poor passengers who left Bucharest last Saturday evening on the through train to Venice. Their sleeping cars rolled into Budapest Keleti station last Sunday afternoon. After a brief stop there in the Hungarian capital, everyone aboard expected to be continuing on their way to Venice. Almost a week later, they are still waiting in Budapest.
Our inconvenience was modest by comparison. We made our way up the Danube valley to Szob, wrongly believing that there was a road linking Szob with Chl'aba in nearby Slovakia. So much for our map, produced by cartographers who asserted a bridge over the Ipoly river where in fact there was none. Not being inclined to swim over an international frontier, we detoured north to Letkés, there crossing into Slovakia through a border post that is now entirely free of any formalities. It made us reflect on what a fine thing the Schengen Agreement is, allowing us to criss-cross Europe without so much as having to pause at what were once difficult borders. No requests for passports, no checks by officials, nothing!
We were much assisted in this international escapade by a friendly Hungarian, who took pity on us at the roadside near Letkés, and gave us a ride over to Slovakia, making a considerable detour to deposit us at the nearest railway station. The kindness of strangers often knows no bounds. We love Hungary, absolutely one of our favourite countries in Europe, but sinking into the antiquated comfort of an old Slovak train at Stúrovo station, we were on this occasion pleased to be out of strike-bound Hungary, a country which has these past weeks endured airport chaos with now a near-total cessation of rail services adding to the transport misery.
Our preview of hidden europe 24, due for publication on 6 January 2008, has been held over to the next issue of our e-news. We thought the Hungary story was just too good to miss. We wish all our readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas break. hidden europe will be back immediately after the holidays.