I would like to tell a bad experience I had while travelling on the overnight train from the Serbian capital, Belgrade, to the capital of Hungary, Budapest.
The price of the ticket, € 15, and a good company in the compartment, an American girl who I had met in Sofia and a funny Argentinian boy, made me thinking positively about this long journey.
However few minutes after the train left the platform problems began.
I must start by saying that I consider myself a fairly experienced traveller, I had already traveled the same route last year and I have very good friends both in Serbia and in Hungary, it means no prejudices.
While we were chatting about our travel experiences two agents came for checking the passports and registration of my stay in Belgrade.
The hostel did not gave me anything either when I paid or at my departure, so I did not have the required certificate.
I was asked to follow the two policemen in an empty compartment where a scam play started.
Like in many movies, a young, short blonde hair was the good cop, while the older was the bad one, pretending that he did not even speak English, during a passport control on an international train …
Initially I was told that I risked ending up in court, that I should immediately get off from the train, follow them to the first police station and wait for process, the next morning, expecting to pay about 800 € fine.
After I stated that I had to get to Budapest, that the hostel did not provide me with anything and that I did not have that amount with me, the good cop told me that there was an alternative way to solve the problem.
His boss, the bad cop, could have declared that I had lost the certificate.
This procedure would have cost me only € 80 … It was clear what they wanted.
I had to convince the two officers that I had no money with me, that I was a budget traveller, that I hitchhiked most of my tour, that I spent the nights in hostels or hosted by friends and showing my almost empty wallet, they could not believe me, as for them an italian should carry more money in his wallet, probably they are not aware of historical and economic changes …
Eventually I had to give them € 15, plus 10 leva and 100 czech crowns.
Returning to my compartment I met other people, mostly young and honest travelers, who were waiting for the same treatment, a shameful behavior by the police.
Unfortunately the story is not over.
After the proper passport control, at the border – I was a bit scared that also these cops could have the same behavior – we organized ourselves to sleep, being three, we have combined the seats and we lay. The night was cold, with the air conditioning on all the time, so I slept badly, when we arrived in Budapest, at 6 am, I just wanted to get to the hostel and rest.
We were getting ready, taking our backpacks, when suddenly the Argentinian boy asked if we had seen his shoulder bag. We had a look in the narrow space in which we were, with no luck, there was only an explanation.
He had been robbed! Of everything! About 4000 USD, 300 €, credit cards, passport, cell phone and more.
What a disaster! Of course he was shocked, upset, sad and desperate. I could not believe it too, I spent the night almost awaked and I did not notice everything.
I knew that I could not let him down, without giving him a hand, he was not able to think clearly what to do and how to react at this situation. We went to the police office at the station, where none spoke english, so a translator was called and invited there to help. We spent almost 3 hours in the office, explaining what happened.
First thing he did was to call at home and ask to block the credit cards and, of course to explain the incident occurred.
Later on we went to the hostel I booked for me and a friend, we asked if we could leave also his backpack and go to the argentinian embassy, I also suggested to ask if they needed someone for a casual job, which could give him the opportunity to have a place where to spend the night and some small amount of money.
The story is long and it deserves to be written with all the details, for me it was a great lesson to be learnt, both for the part I was directly involved with police and for the one I was just a spectator.
So, follow me, I will soon tell you how it went…