Posted by: Hackney Tours | January 25, 2009

Class coach

Hungary; somewhere between Vienna and Budapest
Plane scared of another Orange revolution

As overhead screens drop down to start playing the passenger information video that precedes a feature film, the pretty Hungarian stewardess leans over. In perfect English asks if we’d like complimentary coffee, tea or chocolate? After a safety briefing she’d passed down the aisle with free headphones and while we’re plugging these in she returns with a thick and creamy hot chocolate.

Giving our arrival time in Budapest, she had told us the name of the man tasked with getting us there in one piece, but hadn’t mentioned our altitude. At a rough guess, we reckon we’re cruising at somewhere in the region of 8 feet. Hungarian carrier Orangeways is another new central European bus company giving planes and trains a run for their money. Last week Czech competitor Student Agency* took us from Brno to Bratislava in style, and tonight Orangeways quietly and efficiently whiz us from one former bastion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to another. Doubtless Austria’s OBB would have provided a smooth and comfortable ride too, but their trains would have cost 3-4 times more and taken just as long.

Their German counterpart DB is supposed to be buying the British government’s stake in Eurostar. Does National Express have anything to fear from foreign competition? Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing if, in the free trade Euro-village, the likes of Student Agency and Orangeways became players in the UK market? Student Agency even give out free magazines and newspapers, and on both lines if you don’t like the film (broadcast in the local language and English) you can always listen to the in-cabin radio. They’ve even got Wifi on some routes.

One of the few things that gets Bookpacking really riled (enough to rip a bookmark in two; a card one obviously, not leather) is overpriced UK transport. Mega Bus have brought prices down on some routes with their no frills approach, and National Express (who also said goodbye to coach stewards a long time ago) offer Fun Fares which can work out at £1 per hour of long distance travel. French operator Veolia, which one driver told Bookpacking is owned by the French government, is already quietly expanding into the UK. But maybe a bit of this Hungaro-Czech style of coach travel wouldn’t go amiss. Orangeways and Student Agency have already named their crossborder operations using English words. Have pan-European brand name, will travel?

* open to all, though students are as welcome as anyone else

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