We caught our first night train last night, leaving Budapest behind just as the clouds began to gather. As a send-off the city even managed to muster 20 minutes of sprinkling rain, almost as if in apology for the record-breaking heat wave.
We settled into our couchette and awaited the bad news...who were we going to have for roommates? Afterall, there are 6 bunks in the 8x8x8 2nd class couchettes and they don't see anything inhumane about allowing snorers and stinkers and amorous couples onto these trains. Much to our relief, we instead got Miwa, come all the way from Japan on a solitary jaunt around eastern Europe. She was doing Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, as well as Hungary and Poland. As I mentioned in the last post, 3 weeks ago I really wouldn't have considered those to be tourist destinations; I've heard too much about them in the news and not enough in the travel guides. Well, now I know better. I don't speak Croatian any better than I speak Hungarian, but you can't get any worse than totally illiterate, and yet I managed fine in Hungary. It's all the same, really, once you know how to play the game. (This doesn't mean I'm planning a trip to, say, Iraq anytime soon. I prefer to see AK-47s on TV.)
The night train looks to be as good an idea as the 3 day mercy rule. Traveling at night turns a 3 night stay into 4 useful days instead of 2 and 2 halves. Only problem are the border crossings and the ensuing passport checks. Stamp out at the Hungarian border. Then for entering Slovenia. Then for leaving Slovenia. Then for entering Poland. I just don't think I'll ever get used to being rousted out of a sound sleep by stern looking officers armed with guns and scowls, speaking brusquely in a language I utterly don't comprehend. I've watched enough COPS to know that talking to police while barechested and bleary eyed requires deliberate dignity and slow, obvious movements. While I could do without the hourly passport parade at least I now know how to thank them for their troubles. In Hungary kursunum did the job, and for the Polish cop my mind was somehow able to dredge up dziekuje in a close enough approximation that he responded with what I can only assume to be the Polish equivalent of "you're welcome."
We arrived in Krakow at 5:30am, probably our earliest morning so far. We hooked through the old town on the way to our hostel and entered through the Florian Gate, the best preserved remains of the old city wall. We made our way to the main market square just as the sun rose over Saint Mary's cathedral, enjoying the empty plaza populated by many pigeons but few tourists. We even managed to arrive right on the hour to hear the bugler play his hourly call from the watchtower attached to Saint Mary's. The bugler is always a fireman, part of the city's best loved tradition that evokes the legend of a town watchman in the tower that spotted a Tartar army approaching and sounded the alarm. Before he could finish his tune an arrow pierced his throat, cutting him short. To this day the call stops short of the end of the song.
We're now at the Deco Hostel, having managed a much delayed and much needed shower after the sauna like heat of the city and the cramped train car. We're going to head back out on the town, probably catch a bike tour by way of orientation, then, hopefully, return to the hostel later tonight and upload some photos which we kinda owe you all for all the wordy posts. Na zdrowie and czesc,*!
(*Cheers and goodbye, naturally!)