Early on Saturday morning last week I emerged from Budapest Airport’s Terminal 2B with a smile on my face. I had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of flights on Turkish Airlines, the sun was shining and – miracle – the ATM in the baggage hall had given me 5000 forints in 1000 notes, a first in human history.
Then… disaster struck, under the disguise of a text message saying “Sorry, can’t pick you up, don’t have a car. Can you take the bus please? X”. At that moment I considered turning back and taking a plane out of there; briefly, but I did.
I’m not a fussy traveller, don’t get me wrong. I seldom if ever fly in Business, I’ve never sent back a drink for it not being cold enough and I don’t frown at parents whose babies are screaming at the top of their lungs while the plane climbs up or descends. Heck, I’m also content with regional trains, and that says a lot.
Coach, instead, are just hateful. Intra-city buses are OK enough, especially those double deckers who grant an infinity of pleasure to the nosy passengers wishing to have a peek into people’s windows, but long distance travelling on buses is just the work of Satan.
What’s wrong with bus travelling, then?
Well, let me give you an illustrated example from last week. I arrived at Népliget station, bought a one way ticket and then climbed reluctanctly aboard. Once in the usual smell of bus hit me, the peculiar stink of the cheap synthetic fibre used to cover the seats cooked in the sun. We all know it, don’t we? It’s that kind of smell that, coupled with the stale air of a bus designed with no openable windows, will give you a jackhammer-style headache in seconds.
I chose a seat towards the back, hoping to find a slightly better legroom, but that was an illusion. All buses are designed in the same way, i.e. to fit only five years old kids, double amputees and masochists. I’m not particularly tall, about 1.83 cms (which, in the Netherlands, is short) and I simply cannot fit my lower limbs in any bus seat. Any.
A small solace was given by the chance of spreading on the other seat but, as it always happens when I travel on a coach, even that is taken away by an elderly lady who’ll spend the entire trip alternating between reading the Hungarian version of Hello!, noisily licking her lips and given me bad stares for, accidentally, giving her a footsie every time I tried to revive the circulation in my legs.
Then there’s the ride. Planes and boats are usually pleasant, unless something – turbulences, rough seas – happens and, even then, they can be exciting (until you feel the need to reach for that barf bag, that is); trains are even more comfy. Buses, instead, are specifically designed to induce dizzyness, and not a pleasant one. The damn thing rolls and sways at every junction, roundabout, bend and whiff of wind, all accompanied by a soundtrack made of moaning suspensions, shrieking diesel engine and hissing air brakes. A bus doesn’t advance at speed; it trudges along, bouncing on every road imperfection that not any other road vehicle would notice.
Then, finally, it’s the road.
The main advantage of public transport is that you don’t have to mix with those selfish, polar-caps melting, individualists called ‘motorists’. The train has its track; the boat and the plane can roam free where no car will ever cause a jam; the underground zooms past them; the streetcar usually has its own separate bit of road with dedicated traffic lights. The coach, no. It’ll stay where everyone else is, the road, being bogged down by road works like everyone else.
The road to Veszprém, where I was headed to, was being renovated and enlarged. Meanwhile everyone had to share the same carriage and this resulted on slowdowns capable of putting snails and turtles back in the race. That left me with nothing to do but to stare, nauseated and sweaty, to those in cars, sitting without having their knees pushed back into their abdomen, going exactly where I was going in twice the comfort and, once we got out of this bottleneck, also twicke the speed.
Finally I arrived, more exhausted than two flights were capable of making me feel. The writing on the bus’ door reads, in Italian, “Believe”. I think that “Abandon all hope, you who enter here” would be more apt.