I’m sitting here in a my hotel room in Belgrade, looking at myself in the mirror as I type (yes, I touch type). I have a cotton bud soaked in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Madame stuck up each nostril and I’m wondering when I will get rid of the stench of B.O. that seems to have seeped into every core of my body.
I’m experimenting with ways to get from Budapest to Belgrade. First time I flew. Seemed a little extravagant for such a short distance and with the two-hour-before-check-in deal, it still took about 4.5 hours door to door. And it’s a scutty little plane to boot (not that I have any fear of flying, but after one particular flight over the North Pole to Deadhorse, Alaska, I prefer to have something more substantial under my arse when I’m that high up in the air). [An aside: You know what happened to ‘thought’? He had a glass arse and ‘thought’ if he sat down on it, he’d break it. – Prof Bartlett Ryle in Frank Delaney’s Ireland.]
Next trip, I took the train. Way cheaper, even going first class. Mind you, the first class thing didn’t seem to bother anyone else as I was the only ‘legal’ resident of my carriage for most of the trip. Actually, for all but one section, I was on my own. I’ve figured it out. Just before you pull into a station, open the window wide open and take off your coat. It helps if you can time the station stop with a series of hot flushes (one of the blessings of age). But as long as you look like it’s just another balmy day in paradise (and this in the middle of winter), you’ll be left pretty much to yourself. The train journey takes about 8.5 hours all told, including three border stops (two immigration and one customs). But first class has a socket so if you can balance your laptop on your knee, you can work your way to Belgrade.
This time, I took a minibus. More expensive than the train, way cheaper than the airplane and supposed to take only 5 hours. It picked me up at my door (a major plus) just ten minutes after the text came through (in Serbian) alerting me to be ready! An hour and a half later, we were still sitting at Budapest airport waiting for more passengers. I was trapped in the back seat with a man of indeterminate age who fancied himself as a bit of a cowboy – beaten leather jacket that was jealously hording a lifetime of smells; plenty of aftershave; and the natural scent of a man who’d been rode hard and hung up wet. We finally left at 3.40 and two hours later had crossed the border into Serbia. I counted 33 trucks lining up to get into Serbia and 27 waiting to get out. What cause then did I have to be bitchin’?
Once across, we stopped for a rest break and a breather! Never did a petrol station smell so sweet. But the respite was brief. Wide awake after his catnap, John Wayne embarked started up a monologue, in Serbian. His animated gesticulations only served to fan the fumes. Belgrade didn’t come soon enough.
Door to door 6.5 hours. Time driving 4.5 hours. The residual smells, priceless.