A piercing sound broke the silence in the dimly lit room. I extended my hand out and struggled to find where the noise was coming from. Was it morning already? Half asleep, I turned the alarm off and tried to orient myself with my surroundings. I was on the top bunk of one of the three-tiered beds. I was still on the night train headed for Budapest.
The arrival of the train at Brasov station brought chills up my spine. Apart from the chilly Romanian weather, I was filled with excitement for my first night train experience. I wasn’t sure if I’d even get the chance to sleep with the motion of the train but it was one mode of transport that I’d always wanted to try.
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Jon and I shared a 6-bed cabin with 2 other people. We got the top beds across from each other and had some space to store our backpacks. This could just be the way to travel! We had enough room and the beds were pretty comfortable. After we watched a few TV shows on his laptop, Jon and I called it a night and went to sleep.
I turned my torch light on and woke Jon. Time check: 6 o’clock in the morning. The train had stopped. We had reached the border of Romania. We had no idea how the border checks would proceed until the immigration officers got on the train and checked our passports. Very convenient. I was so glad we didn’t have to go out in the cold. We got our passports stamped while we remained on our coaches.
The train had started to move again, the checks didn’t seem to take that long. The train conductor passed each of us a plastic bag which contained a bottle of water and a pack of salted pretzels. At least there was breakfast. He also mentioned the next border check will be in another few minutes so we can relax for a while.
Knock! Knock! Knock! The train conductor alerted everyone in our coach that we have reached the Hungarian border, Lokoshaza, our entry point for the Schengen area. Two Hungarian officers stood by our coach’s door and asked us for our passports. The other two passengers in our coach handed over IDs instead of passports, I think they were Romanians. It didn’t take long for their IDs to be cleared. Jon’s passport was next. After a bit of trouble with the scanner, it was cleared. My passport was the last one to be checked. It felt like ages. Was something wrong? I began worry.
The officers did not speak in English but it seemed like my passport did not work on either of the two scanners. This was not good. The female officer gestured something to me. I have to get off the train. Oh my God, I’m getting kicked off the train.
Where will they take me? How long will it be? Do I just have to stay for a while and then get back on the train? Do I have to bring my stuff? What about Jon? All these questions ran through my head as I tried to grasp the situation. I think I may have blurted out a few questions to the officers but the language barrier just made it difficult and intimidating for my part. I got no answers. I was in trouble.
The woman officer again gestured that I had to get off the train quickly to get the visa checked at their office. Jon and I badly packed our sleeping bags and the rest of our stuff in our backpacks. The two officers then escorted us across the narrow train corridor and finally off the train, exposed and free to be judged by other passengers. We had to walk down the long platform like criminals, flanked by policemen! It was a really embarrassing situation. I felt pretty bad I had to drag Jon because of my visa check.
Although Jon had wanted to go with me to the police station, which also served as their border control office, the officer had told him to wait at the train station. I was on my own.
They have no reason to stop me from getting to Hungary. I have a valid Schengen visa. I tried to get myself mentally prepared for what was about to happen. I had to think positive and hope for the best.
I was told to wait in one of the rooms of the police station. An officer came in a few minutes later and handed me a form to fill out my personal details. He was joined by another officer, who asked how much money I had with me. I answered with roughly the amount I had with me. No good. They asked me to take my wallet out and count the bills one by one. It was quite interesting to see their curious looks at the different currencies I had (USD, Euro, SGD, MYR, NPR, LEI). They examined some of the notes and I guess they talked about how different the materials were to their own money. (They did not speak English!) I signed a waiver form after. The form noted how they had to undergo another round of checks at their office for the visa check.
After another few minutes of waiting, I was asked to go to the next room where they asked me to check my details in their computer system. One officer still managed to teach another on how the system worked, as if there was no rush to get me out of there. Patience. After waiting a few more minutes, I got my stamp.
Was I the first one to cross that border with a Philippine passport? It surely felt like it! Did their scanners really have difficulty reading my passport or was it just an excuse? I have no answers to these questions and I couldn’t make my situation any better if I had complained. I could only follow their visa procedures.
I reunited with Jon at the train station with a smile back on my face. We took another train to Budapest half an hour later, it was good that the tickets we had were still valid for the trip. It would have been troublesome if we had to buy another pair of tickets.
Still, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I cannot deny that it was a big hassle to undergo the immigration checks for the train at the border of Hungary. Nevertheless, I am not put off by night trains as a means of transport. I really do think it’s the best way to cross countries around Europe, just as long as it’s within the Schengen states.
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Have you been on a night train in Europe? Or have you ever had difficulty with immigration? Let us know!