Overland to Eastern Europe: Zurich to Budapest

Day 2: Zurich-Budapest via the Arlberg Pass, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna

Back in the UK, ‘Maggie’ May has called a snap election and it seems my best hope is for a coalition of chaos. The world is shifting direction, going forwards but travelling backwards.

I’m travelling backwards, as instructed by Seat61.com. I’m also in second class until Innsbruck when I can get a cheap upgrade to first class; dirty windows the length of the train know no such divisions. At Buchs, the train reverses and I’m looking forwards at last.

Soon after we start to climb, and climb, into the snowy treeline towards the Arlberg Pass. Sun on snow is blinding, firs sag, black rocks are frosted, snowmelt cascades here and there into the valley. Winter-spring is surprisingly vivacious here. I see the cold everywhere around but cannot feel it, only view it through the glass like a high-speed Lady of Shallot.

Skiers join the train at St Anton am Arlberg, letting in fresh cold Alpine air and piling up the overhead racks with oversized kit bags. Luggage – the most mundane icon of the journey, carriers of things, our precious little transporters.

Night falls. I’ve been on the OBB (“Erbaybay”) Railjet for nearly 10 hours. There is little to see once through the Tirol except for a few snow flurries as we pass through Vienna. I watch a vampire comedy on the iPad and fall asleep.

The train is late – again. Gabor, my Hungarian apartment manager, meets me from the train at Budapest Keleti station so I don’t have to find my way late at night on my own. He briefs me for nearly 45 minutes but lends me money for dinner. I venture out into Erzsébetváros in search of a midnight feast.

Day 3-4: Budapest