As I was dragging my suitcases across the Hungarian-Serbian border in the summer heat, I had my doubts about taking the train. The year was 2004, the destination was Montenegro, and I was ready for a 20-hour night journey from Subotica, Serbia to Bar on the Adriatic coast. However, due to a huge queue of cars, we had to cross the border on foot to reach our departure point.
With these beginnings, the holiday was – naturally – the best time of our lives.
Since that August day, I have become a firm believer in rail travel, criss-crossing the continent from Narvik to Naples. It was a far cry from the 90s, when Hungarian students travelled around Europe on fake interrail tickets, but it was cheap, efficient – and a real coming-of-age-adventure.
The years went by, my love of travel remained, but with the advent of budget airlines, I became a frequent flyer. Although it is fast and inexpensive, I miss the train journeys where I could comfortably stretch my legs and watch the forests pass by.
The problem is: I could not travel by train even if I wanted to. Our night train from Budapest to Venice has been cancelled, there are no more trains from Budapest to Montenegro, and to travel to Brussels – a trip I make every month – I would have to drive to Vienna, where the train departs.
Passenger rail transport has sadly become unprofitable in Europe. While governments support national lines, international ones are so expensive that people choose to fly, even for smaller distances.
After more than a decade, I finally managed to take a night train again this May. Memories instantly came rushing back, as I lay in the compartment taking me from Chełm in Poland to Kyiv, where the train is a lifeline for the war-torn population. Ironically enough, sometimes it takes a war to make us appreciate what we have.