Coach travel in Eastern Europe – cheap but challenging

Written by Isabella Simms

With InterRail an increasingly popular holiday choice and train fares on the rise, my sister and I recently opted for the cheaper means of coach travel on our journey from Budapest to Prague.

With InterRail an increasingly popular holiday choice and train fares on the rise, my sister and I recently opted for the cheaper means of coach travel on our journey from Budapest to Prague. It was a good idea in theory. It was an overnight bus (perfect – sleeping on the bus meant one less night of paying for a hostel) and the company we used offered the trip for just £10 one way. Compared to more well-known companies whose prices were double that, it seemed like a deal too good not to take.

We chose Orangeways, a Hungarian company specialising in trips to Eastern and central Europe. We’d never heard of Orangeways before but the few reviews we’d found said there were complimentary drinks made by the “hostess”, and that was good enough for us! Hesitant to buy tickets directly from their website, we headed to their main ticket office at Népliget, Budapest’s international bus terminal.

Orangeways wasn’t hard to find. It possibly had something to do with the fact that their section of building was, surprisingly, orange and inside wasn’t much better. The staff, consisting of four women, had their fingernails painted various shades of orange, just in case we forgot who we were booking with. They were taking the orange theme very seriously. Emerging ten minutes later, we had seats 47 and 48 booked for 11.30pm bus the following Monday.

We arrived a few days later to a busy terminal: families with children and older couples as well as the usual suspect backpackers. The first Orangeways coach turned up, heading for Romania, and things were looking good. This bus was new, shiny, and yes, orange. Then our coach turned up.

Significantly smaller, older, and definitely not orange, we were more concerned with whether it was road worthy than getting on. But we clambered aboard, only to realise that our pre booked seats no longer existed and it was now a free for all of where to sit. It was the coach version of Ryanair – including the infamous added luxury of having to pay to bring luggage. Not ones to be outdone, we quickly nabbed the best seats of the bus so we could lay the seat back without having to worry about squashing the unfortunate person sitting behind. Next came the issue of fitting our backpacks in the overhead luggage racks, which wasn’t going to happen. Shoving them under our seats instead, we sat down and went to buckle up. Except there were no seatbelts. Seriously, Orangeways, it’s fine. We didn’t want one anyway.

After a few hysterical minutes imaging worst case scenarios mixed with ideas of how to create a makeshift seatbelt, we decided to man up and shut up. No one else seemed to be complaining. Perhaps we were being too safety conscious and this was all part of the fun. But this wasn’t exactly what we’d signed up for. Where was my multilingual hostess? Where was my free tea or coffee? Was free wi-fi out of the question, then?

Arriving in Prague eight jolty hours later, alive if slightly disgruntled, we quickly forgot all bus troubles for the next three days.

As we headed home on Thursday night, again on the overnight bus, we were fairly optimistic that things would go our way this time. The torrential rain and thunderstorm should have warned us otherwise. Stood in the middle of a downpour wearing flip flops, our coach was non existant. 40 minutes after the supposed departure time, an Orangeways coach bound for Berlin trundled into the terminal. With no sign of our coach, my sister braved the rain and went to ask the driver if he knew where it was. He of course had no idea, and no, he wasn’t able to contact other drivers.

By now we’d made friends with a Turkish girl, a Finnish girl and a Hungarian girl. Whilst sharing snacks, said Hungarian decided that now would be a good time to tell us that not only was Orangeways known for being notoriously dodgy, but also that her Orangeways coach from Berlin to Prague had earlier in the day been prevented from leaving Berlin after German police deemed it “too unsafe for the road”. This meant there was a high chance our coach wouldn’t be arriving at all. So an hour later, when it eventually made an appearance, we weren’t sure whether to be ecstatic to get out of the rain and on our way home, or terrified at the prospect of getting onto a potential death trap.

The positively ancient driver either didn’t realise or didn’t care that he was over an hour late, merely glancing at tickets as we boarded. Setting off, our fears were quickly overcome by amusement and incredulity as water started to leak into the bus and pour steadily from the overhead panels. The next few hours were spent playing musical chairs to escape the “rain” and taking pictures of the couple who spent the entire journey with their umbrella up. As we expressed our disbelief over the night’s events, our newfound Hungarian friend laughed and said simply, “welcome to Eastern Europe.”

Perhaps we were just unfortunate enough to have a bad experience, but I don’t think we’ll be booking with Orangeways again in a hurry. There’s just something about those buses…