We buy tickets at Budapest’s Keleti Paliudvar, following signs past the plywood fences and semi-transparent tarps of renovation to the international ticket office. The high ceilings are framed in dark wood with peaked windows open to the outdoors. Twelve ticket windows sit beneath. Two are open. It is freezing. Between the dark wood tables with thick marble tops the lines are long, filled with Americans, and moving slower than the line at the Greenpoint post office. A third window opens and a line forms quickly behind it. The window at the front of our line closes. The defeated crowd shuffles to the rear of the other two lines.
At the window we ask for tickets to Split. The man behind the counter speaks English and looks several things up in very large books. He sells us tickets from Budapest to Zagreb, with a transfer at Zagreb to Split. Good any day within the next thirty days, the guy behind the counter says.
The only international train at Keleti Paliudvar at 8:25am is on track nine. Its second class cars are interrupted only by one dining car and one first class car. A corridor runs through the left side of the second class cars, and on its right repeating units of one three seat bench facing another with a window on the side are enclosed by glass. The seats have numbers above them and some people come aboard scrutinizing these numbers, looking for specific seats. We do not have reserved seats. We keep our bags close by.
The train pulls out of the station right on time. An official comes by. He comes by to tell us that the dining car is open and serving breakfast. Three hours later the conductor comes by for our tickets. The train is not full. We have our own glass compartment. We close the door and play with the radio and light buttons above the door. None of them work.
The train to Split is a sad train when it comes, two whole cars gliding into the Zagreb station like lost sausage links. And the conductor will not let us on. We have tickets, the conductor agrees, but we need a reservation. He tells us to go to the information desk. We run to the information desk. The lady at the information desk tells us we ought to be at the ticket window.
Luckily it’s not a large station.
The line is short and the reservation process is quick and we are on the sausage train with time to spare. You can smell the plastic newness of the train car. The seats are covered in blue cloth and the tray tables fold down like large blonde wood lozenges. At the front of the car a red LED display spells out our destination. Split. The train starts to move, and it feels like the Long Island Rail Road. Then the digital display stops working.
Just like the Long Island Rail Road.
The train swoops and turns up into the mountains so that it feels like we are flying close to the ground, but the light fades too early and for most of the journey only the distant city lights bob toward and away from us. The Split train station is across from the ferry terminal.
ONE WAY TICKET SECOND CLASS 16362 Ft (ABOUT $79.48USD)
DEPARTS BUDAPEST’S KELETI STATION DAILY 8:25AM
ARRIVES ZAGREB 2:18PM (SCHEDULED) 2:40PM (ACTUAL)
RESERVED SEAT, ZAGREB TO SPLIT
ONE WAY SECOND CLASS 36HRK (ABOUT $6.23USD)
DEPARTS ZAGREB DAILY 3:22PM
ARRIVES SPLIT 8:47PM