Up: 4.1 No WHAT?!!?^&%$##!!
Left Left: 4.1.2 so far so good Up Right Right: 4.1.4 summary

4.1.3 the descent

To catch the bus back to Budapest in Thessaloniki, we had to be there by 2:00 hopefully with some food to last us 16 hours (Athens-Budapest was 24 hours). In general, I'm the type of person to be there way before and if I have to kill some time but at least it's stress-free time. I hate looking at my watch on my way to where ever I'm going and thinking, "I wonder if I'm going to make it". Of course the more critical the timing the more I worry. Well Niki is more the type to think, "Why waste the time waiting when you could use it somewhere else for something you enjoy--sleeping, drinking coffee, getting one of those funny threaded things put in your hair that only takes a half-an-hour to put in, etc." Well there was only one train out of Leptokoria on Saturday morning at 8:00 or something equally early. That would leave us a heck of a lot of time to kick at what we called "The slum niki"--Thessaloniki. Even I was not completely liking that plan but at least it had simplicity on it's side. Well the other way was by bus. When we were in Katerini last, returning a scouter we had rented, we asked if the buses would be going to Thessaloniki on the Greek Easter Saturday and we were told every half hour. Then at our hotel we asked if and when the buses go to Katerini and got back yes hourly. So if we get on the 10:00 bus that would take us to Katerini and then take another bus to "The slum niki" even with bad connections we would still be there with an hour to blow at our bus stop. So, we took this bus plan.

Well there must be a limited amount of good luck or something because it was pretty evident that we ran out. Maybe all that week we were using our luck credit card like there was no tomorrow and now reality wanted us to pay up with interest. Or maybe we angered Zeus when we tried to take that scouter up Mount Olympus. You never know, if I were Zeus and someone came in to my domain with one of these loud 2-stroke scouters red lining it all the way (hey even though we don't weigh much I'm sure the manufacturer was not planning for the both of us to be going up a mountain with that thing) I'd be pretty pissed. He probably turned to Bacchus and said, "Better give those two some sour pomegranate wine--see if they make so much noise in Hades."

Whatever happened it seemed that we were dogged by bad luck the whole way back to Debrecen. Well we were out at the bus stop in Leptokoria right on time. It was a bad sign that no one else was there. If we just missed the 10:00 bus that would put us an hour back. No problem we still have plenty of time. This thought must have gone through my head over and over for about an hour. Some people had joined us in waiting but then got a lift from someone leaving town. At about the hour and a quarter of waiting we decided that there was NO BUS to Katerini. So we started to hitch. Someone must have forgotten to check the limit on the luck card or knew what awaited us because we had a lift right to Katerini in less then a minute or at least that's what it seemed. It was an old VW-bug that had picked us up with a nice old Greek man. We had a minimal conversation because of the language but in the end he took us right to the bus station. We waited for twenty minutes for the next Bus going to Thessaloniki. Luckily we were still OK for time.

When we arrived in Thessaloniki we figure it was best to get to the bus stop first and then buy the food. In Greece there seems to be a mini bus station for each destination or at least each bus line. We had no trouble finding the right spot but we were a little nervous and wanted a bit of confirmation so we went into the travel agent's office who was affiliated with our company. It was right there so it was easy just to ask if this was the right spot. Who knows we might even be able to leave our stuff here while we shopped for food. We still had about an hour to blow so there was no problem. We got up to the office and at first it was deserted. Soon after though a Greek man came in and we showed him are ticket and asked where we get the bus. He simply said, "NO BUS" (in Greek). He then pointed to a calendar specifically Tuesday of the following week. We were floored. After a pause I asked, "Why?" (in Greek) and he replied "Easter." He said our ticket was still good and then left. We couldn't believe this guy. If the reason there was NO BUS was because of Easter for sure the people who sold us the ticket would have known that. Also all the Hungarians that came on Friday wouldn't they want to get back after their Easter Break? So we decided to call up the Hungarian travel agent and have a coffee and make sure the bus doesn't come. Well we had a long coffee followed by a bowl of ice cream. NO ANSWER and NO BUS. We were not at all happy with this. The customer service blows chucks. The guy should have at least given us some suggestions cheap places to stay, other means back, hell I would have been happy with a stray thought. Well we had spent our budget and psychologically ended our trip. Did we really want to stay here x more days and then try our luck and with the bus company that has been so reliable so far? Also there were the details that Niki had to work on Monday and I had a plane to catch the following Sunday.

After some discussion we decided to head for the train station. We found out that there was a train at 9:00. Also it was going to cost us 22000 dracma. The weird thing was that a ticket to Belgrade was 7500 or something but that was about two thirds or at least three fifths of the way there. Also I had priced the tickets by train at Budapest which were about eight thousand forint which is about 16000 plus dracma. Anyway there seemed to be something shifty going down. So we looked at the possibility of buying a ticket in Belgrade but the people at the information desk said that not only would nothing be opened but we would have to pay in Deutsch marks. We went back to the ticket clerk and voiced our confusion over the 22000 he came back after some fiddling and said, "look for you and you alone you get the special deal of 17000 dracma".

Since we didn't want to go though anymore mess with getting home and we now had a reasonable price we might as well get it and relax on the train. There might have been problems in Belgrade so even if we could have saved at most $20 between us this was the easiest. After we pulled out some more money from my visa (Niki's car was mysteriously not working...if she wasn't my girlfriend I'd have my suspicions) we bought the tickets to Budapest and some food to last us for breakfast and lunch: we would have a late diner in Budapest. It was calming to have a sure means of transport home--trains maybe a bit slower but at least they get there with none of this crap of dealing with stupid little companies that are completely irresponsible.

We got on the train and got a bit of sleep between border checks for tickets and passports. Our train was late coming into to Belgrade but it didn't much matter since there was a 2 hour stop over. We got off and tried to find our train on the board but since everything was in Serb we had no idea which train was ours. We looked at all the numbers we had on the ticket but none of them seemed to be up there. Well we had lots of time to sort things out. So we went to information and asked for the train to Budapest. Well the answer that came back was NO BUDAPEST. What Budapest was destroyed by a nuclear bomb? Or did aliens come down and steal Budapest and leave nothing but a crater. Maybe with all the shuffling around in Eastern Europe someone misplaced it. Well, after several attempts to get the information person to say anything slightly more informative we were waved on without another word. So we decided that we should try another desk. Well this time we got STRIKE; to our question of what we should do now, we got BUS.

We seemed to be collecting a lot of half used tickets. We didn't see any bank machines around and if the people in the Greek train station were right no real banks should be open. I did have some liquid currency but it was not Deutsch marks but Austrian shillings although I only had about $50 Cdn worth of them. We still had 8000 dracma so that was about worth about $50 dollars too. Well we walked out of the train station and looked right since that's the direction we were told the buses were. Well after seeing nothing we looked left and saw a lot more buses so we went that way and found the bus station. We asked the information person for Budapest and she pointed and when we looked back at her for conformation that we were looking at the right place she wouldn't make eye contact with us even though her stare was maybe 10 degrees away from us. She was serving no one else and...ah, who cares. We went to where we thought we should go and that person said buy it on the bus. So we went to the bus and they said, "buy it at the office". We went to the office and they asked if we had any Deutsch marks. In response, I told them we have a credit card, dracma, shillings, and Canadian travelers cheques. Well they said you have shillings--good. So they started to write up our tickets. They put them on the table with about hundred and some odd shillings and said just give us 1000. Well of course we didn't have that many. So when the impatient bus driver came in asking if we were coming or not they said no. So NO BUS. They told us we could trade money inside and take their the next bus tommorow at noon. The only other advise was that they knew a good hotel that we could stay. Well it was beginning to look like we were going to be stuck in Belgrade.

We didn't want to be stuck there so we down shifted our plans to just getting out of Yugoslavia. We didn't feel too comfortable there since we speak any Serb, plus we didn't have a phrase book like we had in Greece. So all of our problems could be solved by getting to Hungary--at least that was we thought. We went back to the counter to try to take a local train to the border and then walk across the border and then take Hungarian transport the rest of the way.

After making our idea of getting back to Hungary crystal clear to this ticket counter they said that we could no problem to use the ticket we bought in Greece to take us to the border and easily walk across the border. Well it looked like we were sailing. The train left in a couple of hours which would leave us plenty of time to just pop across the border and then if we had to we could hitch-hike to Debrecen.

Well after lot of German wist and Chinese poker the train was ready to board. We got on and found seats--after 30 minutes in we realized we chose the seats with a broken curtain on the sunny side--there was no empty seats. Also when the conductors came around he wanted some more money--I guess since this was supposedly a fast train. We showed them what currency we had and after a discussion they simply left. Whew! One of the few pieces of good luck we had. We got to the end of the line and got off. We wanted to find out how far it was to the border and which directions. With the help of another traveler we found out that it wasn't very far and also this mysterious piece of information about another train that could take us shortly after midnight. With all of the bad information we had had all the way along and since we were so close to getting to the border there was no point in waiting for 7 plus hours on something that didn't make any sense. We now knew there was a strike so how could their be a train? So we headed out. After some more directions from a local who spoke Hungarian we were on our way.

Getting out of town took some time. The place was actually quite nice and if we had less of a mission on our mind we probably would have stayed a while. So the distance we had heard from everyone was 5 km which is really not so bad even with all the luggage. Well we figured it took about 3 km just getting out of the town. At the outskirts of town, we saw a sign that said 9 km to the duty free. This seemed ridiculous. We took a break from walking and tried to hitch-hike. After about an hour, we had to give up. We decided that no one wanted to pick up anyone before the border; crossing was probably hassle enough. So we walked and walked and walked. Finally, we got to the next town we were told was in Hungary, Kelebia. Well no such luck; we were still in Yugoslavia. While walking through the town we saw a sign for the duty free. It couldn't be long now. Sure enough on the other side of Kelebia we saw a sign that said 2 more kill-ometers to the border. The walk was awful. A lot of weight, sun and distance.

There was a huge line of cars. We still had about an hour or more of light. Perfect. When we would get to the other side. It shouldn't be too hard to pick up a lift to Budapest. Things were looking up. When we walked up to the guards who didn't seem to be doing much, they told us that the border was closed for an hour so that they could change the guards. Well there went most of our chances of getting a lift on the other side. So we waited. We breezed through both borders, although we were stopped a whole bunch of times since I'm sure that we were a complete oddity, walking and all. The guards in Hungary were patrolling the for people who were using "the green borders". Once on the other side we stood under a gas station sign, hoping that all the light would not only let the perspective lifts get a good look at us but that we wouldn't get run down. Well we waited and waited. After a couple of close calls, people who seemed to give us mixed signals, and a couple more hours, we gave up. On this big gas station sign was a food picture, a pump picture, wash room pictures and a phone picture so we figured that we might as well phone home to say there was not a hope of getting home that night so Niki was going to miss work on Monday. Well there was NO PHONE. After a bit of prompting we got a "that way" response we figured that it must be in a neighbouring building but after we got outside we realized that "that way" was further than that.

Luckily 2 guys that were in the gas station and over heard our dialog picked us up after a couple of minutes and drove us the rest of the way to the phone. By car, it was about 5 minutes. Wow, that would have taken quite some time walking. Well calling home was nice since we finally seemed somewhat connected to the place we started out from but we were still way out in the boonies. After a while longer of hitching and talking with buses that stopped at this 24 hour restaurant with no luck, our minds dulled by 2 days of traveling figured out that we should just phone up the closest train station find out when the next train is leaving to Budapest and then get a cab to take us there. We had no forint on us but the shillings and the dracma would easily sell here. When we asked for the train station number we ended up getting one of the restaurant customers to give us a lift for 50 shillings to the train station.

Well we found our selves in Kelebia but this time this was the Hungarian Kelebia and the next train was at 2 in the morning which gave us 2 more hours of waiting. We got some sleep that was periodically disturbed by the local drunk. But when our departure time was near we were very awake because we weren't going to miss this one. We figured that our old ticket that should have originally taken us to Budapest was still good so we rushed on and found a nice car in a non-smoking car. Oddly enough we got our passports stamped again by the Hungarian border guards. We were beyond caring at this point. This train had ironically enough just come from Belgrade!!! !?!! About a half an hour later the conductor came in and checked our tickets and asked a few questions in Serb. Niki tried some Hungarian but he didn't seem to listen. After a while he got out a calculator and said that we needed 4100 forint. Well it was the same old story. We have NO FORINT and NO DEUTSCH MARKS. I barely blinked an eye. He left with our passports and returned 20 minutes later. This time he was able to speak Hungarian!?! He must have thought we had taken this train from Belgrade--I wish we had. Niki told the guy that the ticket were to Budapest but he said they were only good to Sub____ then this was repeated twice more and then finally Niki broke the cycle by saying, "here look--BUDAPEST." After a short pause he dumped back the tickets and our passports and said, "Well, why did you tell me in the first place!". Other than the almost chain-smoking of our friendly laughing Serb fellow passengers, we had an uneventful trip after that.

On our arrival to Budapest, we still had the NO FORINT thing hovering over us. It was five something in the morning and none of the banks were open. There was a train at 6:15 and one at 7:20. It would be tight to make the 6:15 train but we for sure didn't want to wait until 9:00 for the banks to open. There are a couple of bank machines in Budapest that will give visa advances and eventually I found one of them and returned to the train station with 5000 forint to have a bit of food and return back to Debrecen. After four more hours, we ended the two and a half day trek back home.

Who said getting there is half the fun? That might be true but notice how there is nothing said about getting back!

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