The Train Incident
They knocked on our cabin and identified themselves as Hungarian Passport Security and asked for our passports. We’re about to enter non-EU country Croatia. I only found out that this train route passes through Croatia from the 3 other passengers sharing my sleeper car. They’re going to Zagren, the capital city of Croatia. I was on my way to Venice, Italy.
The Hungarian border police stamped exit on my passport despite my telling them that my destination is Italy. Like half of the Hungarians I’ve encountered since I came to Budapest, he went on as if he heard nothing.
A woman came and said she’s the Croatian Passport Security and asked for our passports. I handed her mine and explained that I’m not getting off at Zagren but in Venice. Like the Hungarians, she wasn’t listening.
“Philippine. No visa.” Yeah, she called me by my country. And the other girl in my car, she calls her Malaysia.
“No, because I’m going to Venice.”
“You need a transit visa.”
“I didn’t know this train is going through Croatia. I’m not going to Croatia.”
I had an invitation to visit Croatia and had wanted to go, but gave up because of the visa that I needed to get. Just then a guy identifying himself as Croatian Custom butted in,
“the next stop is Croatia. If you not going to Croatia, you get out here.” He f’kin heard me. I wasn’t even talking to him.
“What?” We chorused.
Everyone in the cabin started talking on my behalf. We’ve gotten along quite well the past 4 hours. I was actually very touched they try to look after me. The boys helped me with my bags when I finally gave in and went down. The woman went missing with my passport and “Malaysia’s”.
Then I saw 2 Asian girls who must be in the same predicament walking towards me. I thought they’re Filipina, but are Thais on their Euro holiday. It was a big deal for me to have them there as ally and backup. We became really good friends after this. The police that threw them out of the train didn’t even explain why. Just said to get their bags and off the train. I had to explain to them what’s happening. They later thanked me that they would have been so scared if I weren’t there. I was not scared, I was more pissed with everyone’s mean and rude attitude in Hungary and Croatia border.
I was also thinking of the 65euro (19,320ft) I paid for the train ticket and the expensive B&B reservation I have in Venice that I don’t think I can cancel. Or that if I could claim these against my travel insurance or the Travel Inconvenience Benefit of my credit card.
The station was called Gyékényes. It must translates to Middle of Nowhere in Jibberish. Some uniformed police that looked human physically directed us to a wooden bench with a sign POLICIJE above and told us to wait for 10 minutes. We were freezing for more than 20 minutes when I walked to the group of laughing police who looked like they’re doing fellowship, to ask for our passports and what we should do.
One answered that we should take the taxi to Ljubiana in Slovenia, an EU member country, to catch the same train. It turned out that the train runs from Hungary to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy.
“Take a taxi? How far is it?” We looked around dubiously at the deserted surrounding.
“Or you can take the train tomorrow back to Budapest.”
“This is free?”
An old man magically appeared with a map who they introduced as the taxi guy. He explained where we were and that he could drive us to Ljubljana in time to take the same train, for 300 euros. For purpose of reference, 300 euros is their minimum wage monthly salary. This is a f*k’g mafia!
We were discussing back and forth for about 10 minutes, then we went to bargain with him. We’re Asian, we will always try to bargain.
He said, “Now it’s 400euro because you lost time, I have to drive faster.”
Is he fucking kidding? No, he’s not fucking kidding. So it made the decision easy for me. No fucking way! The girls also decided to just take the train to Budapest at 4am. This is obviously a business partnership between the unregistered “taxi” and the border police. We asked if someone gets kicked out every night. One woman nodded yes.
They directed us to a waiting room with few benches and no heating. We had to sleep in this place for the night. When we asked where the toilet was, they were even deliberately being mean by telling us there’s none. Right, there is no toilet in a train station. Fine, we do it in nature. Then he finally showed us one that is at the back of the ticket office, after a few laughed with each other. They’re just assholes like that.
The Tram Incident (Line 6, 6:45pm, Sept 21)
While in Bratislava I've been warned that the tram police in Budapest are strict. There was even an unusual big statement in the hostel page on where to buy the ticket and to NOT forget to validate it. If you're wondering how that make sense, it's because all the big cities on this part of Europe -- Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest -- their transportation system (Metro, trams, buses) is based on honesty system. You buy a ticket and validate it in a machines. It's possible to go into the public transport without a ticket and I'm sure a lot of people do so. There are random checks at random hours but I've never been checked until in Budapest. It shouldn't matter because I always have ticket, yeah?
The evening before the train incident, I was running late to meet someone for dinner so I took the tram instead of walking. The validating machines in these trams doesn’t always work but there are several machines. I even made the effort of going to a machine in the far end of the tram. One station before my stop, a young chubby woman with short blond hair came over flashing her badge and asked for my ticket. I confidently showed her.
“Sorry, this is the wrong ticket. This is a metro ticket.” She was soft spoken and not rude. Maybe she was nervous.
“It’s all the same system, no?”
“No, this here say metro use only.” I looked at it, it didn’t say only.
“Oh, I’m really sorry, because in some cities tickets are interchangeable, buses, trams, metro. I was checked last night and it was
fine. Look, it’s the same price and it’s validated.”
“Every country is different. You have the wrong ticket. You have to pay the fine. I’m sorry.” One of her colleague showed up. A young man with short, dark hair, thin, about 170cm tall. I wish I took picture of them.
“How much is the fine?” I was running late and wanted to leave.
“I don’t have 12,000ft”
“There’s an atm machine you can get money from your visa.” She suggested helpfully.
I tried to reason out that I’m a tourist, and I leave tomorrow. I didn’t know the system. I wasn’t deliberately cheating since I was actually holding a validated ticket. He said that it’s not their fault the I didn’t familiarize myself with the system. He then offered a “discount” which of course I understood. 6,000ft he said. Unfortunately I do have this money in my wallet. So I just shove it to them and walked away.
I was told that the actual fine is 6,000 and discounted is 3,000. And what’s more? There is only one ticket system for all transport therefore tickets are interchangeable. The 2 young people look between the age of 20-23. I wish I took their photo but I was so frustrated.
The Day after the Train Incident
We set our alarm at 4am but we’re all up before then, if we slept at all. We’re not in the Holiday Inn for sure.
We saw a train and I went to the ticket station to ask if it goes to Budapest. The old lady doesn’t speak English and was grouchy at 4am. She asked for 550ft from us for ticket. We explained we have no more forint and that the police told us the ride back is free. Of course we explained this in English which she didn’t understand exactly but probably guessed that we can’t pay, so she just dismissed us with a wave of her hand and some Hungarian growl.
One of the girls when to ask the driver and surprisingly he was really nice and explained we have to change somewhere to go to Budapest. To be fair, I’ve actually encountered some nice Hungarians during my 5 days and I can tell you exactly how many–6.
After a few stations, the train checker came knocking at our car. He wanted to see our ticket, we showed our ticket to Venice and explained our situation. Of course he didn’t accept it and want us to pay 75 Euros together. We said we have no more Forint and not enough Euros. He said we have to get our bags and off the train. Deja Vu!
Somebody forgot to inform these people we encountered that communism is over in Hungary a long time ago.
We asked to be taken to the next station so we can buy tickets with our credit card. Guess how much our tickets cost? 10 Euros each!
We arrived Budapest-Deli station at 10a.m. First thing we did was go to the MÁV-START Customer Service and relay our predicament the night before. She was helpful but defensive.
We wanted our tickets to be refunded. It’s a breach of contract. They’re supposed to transport us to Venice but they didn’t. She said there’s no way for them to tell if a person needs visa or not. Uh… I suppose they have to hire psychics to sell tickets!
She was shocked with the story of the police have partnership with private car owners. Nobody ever reported such incident before. But she said it’s police business, not theirs.
Their customer service training is very different from one I had. Apart from giving available information (like train schedules and available routes), it’s obviously also to come up with excuses and people or institution to blame instead of coming up with an action plan for problems.
She doesn’t even have to come up with the solution. She only had to make a report and let the upper management do the thinking. And the solution is really just one step: To inform the passenger if the ticket he/she’s buying passes through non-EU country. And that Croatia in particular requires transit visa.
We filed a refund form anyway. Then she told us that there is actually a direct train to Ljubiana and then from Ljubiana can change train to Venice. There would be waiting time in Ljubiana so the whole trip will be 19 hours instead of 14.
No brainer that we would have taken this option the day before. I would have wanted to see a bit of Ljubiana. She said we can buy ticket now and take the train at noon. But we all couldn’t bear the thought of staying a minute longer. So we asked for direction to the airport.
On July 14 2013, I went to the subway station of Parliament in Budapest, in a hurry to get to the Railway Station (Kelti Budapest) to catch my train.
When I asked to buy a ticket to Kelti, the ticket woman at the window (the only one) refused to accept euros. I said I only carried euros and there was no exchange office nearby and I had to buy a subway ticket to get to the railway station to get back to Vienna at about 8:00 p.m.
The woman insisted it’s a policy not to accept euros in Hungary. I said I couldn’t walk to Kelti or the train for Vienna would have departed. Then a subway inspector came and said I could exchange euros at nearby bars. I did and returned to the window with Forints. However, the woman was no longer there. I shouted, “Anybody there?” No reply. I asked the inspector why there was no one at the ticket office. He went with me there. It turned out the woman was busy talking on her mobile phone. Hearing the inspector’s voice, she came out, still talking.
“One ticket to Kelti Budapest, please,” I said.
She kept talking, while giving me a 3-station ticket and changes.
I was in a hurry to catch the train so I didn’t read the words on the ticket. After validating the ticket at a machine, I rushed to the platform and caught a subway train.
When I finally arrived at Kelti Budapest (the general railway station of Budapest), a subway inspector stopped me. He checked my ticket and took me aside.
“Your ticket is invalid, because you use a 3-station ticket for a 4 station trip. You have to pay a fine,” he said.
I told him that was the ticket the woman gave me and I had clearly told her I wanted to buy a ticket to the railway station. I asked him to call the lady to confirm that.
“I’m not interested in that,” said the inspector. “You have to pay the fine. Or I’ll call the police.”
Thinking of the horrible communist prison in pro-Soviet time in Hungary, I said, “OK, I’ll pay. But I don’t have Forints. Can I pay the fine euros?”
“That’s 30 euros,” said the inspector.
“What? 30? That almost can buy a high-speed train ticket from Vienna to Budapest!”
“You pay the fine or stay in jail. That’s up to you,” said the inspector coldly.
I gave him 50 euros and he took out 20 euros from his thick pocket, bulging with lots of euros, which must be the money from innocent Western tourists.
And he did NOT give me a receipt! That’s how corrupt communist officials to collect money for their own pocket!
When I left the subway station after paying the fine, I suddenly realized that euros are accepted in the subway for fines or for the inspectors’ personal pockets!
OMG, it was the worst experience ever, so sorry to hear that. I happened to have almost the same route with you last October, but I visited Ljubljana because I wanted to. I took the train Budapest-Ljubljana (8 hours, EUR 30) and Ljubljana-Venice (5 hours, EUR 25). I was a little bit worried since I read on the internet some people mentioned train Budapest-Ljubljana will across Croatia and I know it’s not EU country and I don’t have permission, but I thought it will be OK as my destination is not Croatia. I have no idea the impact is so excruciating like you experienced. But, it turned out the train didn’t stop in Croatia although there are some officers did the passport checking.
I also had bad experience regarding metro in Budapest, I think the ticket machine is not working, one time I tried to buy the metro ticket at the machine, I select the ticket, put my coins but nothing happened, no ticket. I asked the officer but of course she didn’t help, she didn’t even speak English. It’s small money but still.
Sorry to read your experience. the Croatia accident happend with one of my friends too.
Please allow me to share my experience on the Train to Venice through Croatia, in 2010. It might be helpfull for someone:
There was/are a visa free agreement between China and Croation during a certain period of time(mostly spring and summer).I have called before buying the ticket:
1. Croatia Embassy
to confirm the information of visa free. I even asked directly: I’m going to Venice by train through Croatia. Is it ok? need visa? They said: it’s fine, no need visa.
I wanted a paper confirmation from the embassy , because i knew thing is not going this easy. But they said no need. The border police knows about the visa agreement.
2. Tourist office,
which is specialized for Asian tours, to ask them if it will work. they said yes.
3. I have checked all the info on net and blog and everythin possible to make sure.
On the border.
The Croatia police checked my passport.Realised that I’m Chinese.
They asked my destination.
Big mistake: I said Venice. (I should have said Zabrab.)
Croatia police: Oh, Venice. So you dont have visa! You need visa.
I told them this visa free infobetween the 2 country. First they said it’s not true. Then I highlighted that their embassy confirmed. But they insisted that i need visa.
After 5 min argument, they changed the visa to transit visa. They said because my final destination is Venice, i should have transit visa, becasue I’m not going to Croatia.
They walk away with all my papers. so I finally ended up get off the train with all my luggages.
They had my passport. I was waiting with at least 20 Middle-East, Asian ppl. Croatia ppl were chatting and smoking with their pals. So they did nothing!
I fed up and started to yell with them. (it was kind of funny situation. I’m 160cm and yelling with a couple of armed 190cm guy)
My dispute based on:
This train is going to Zagrab. They have no right to let me get off the train, because i can go to Croatia without visa.
If they insist that i need transit visa to go to Venice, then i would go to Zagrab instead. (They did give me the option for the taxi for 250 Euro)
It took me 15 min yelling to finally make clear for them that i would make a big fuss of this if they dont let me go with the train.
So my advice if you travel by train: double check the route! Call the embassy for confirmation.
Dont be scared to fight for your right!
BTW, i live in Hungary. There are many nice ppl here. So sorry to hear that you had such a bad experience here.
Public transportation update info:
The official fine are posted on the bus/tram/metro with red posters. You can choose to pay right there, or ask for a cheque to pay later. From Jan 1st, the penalty fine increased to 16000 Ft.
thank u for the info. it’s like a whole blog entry. haha
I’ve been in Bp this July 2011. I was once cheated by a cab that I hailed from Blaja Luiza Ter to Oktogon. Imagine 3-4 stops only and the taxi driver cheated me for a 4000Forints for a 5 minute ride (juz bcoz im very late in meeting up a colleague). Then the awful taxi driver dialed a *fake police number and wouldn’t let me out. We waited and debated a bit but it seems he won’t give up so I just threw him the money and ask for a receipt.
They are soooo rude and likes the eat your money.
ohh what an extreme odd expercience.
don’t worry it’s all part of a great adventure sometimes shortcomings can arrive in a wonderful place unexpectedly.
be strong :)
next time its your turn!
finally Hungarians have their attitudes.