I am stuck in Bucharest, alone and without money. I didn’t expect to stay here, but here I am, and for a second night. I want to go to Istanbul, but I need a ticket. I want to see my mom and brother, but here I am alone. I want to cry but I’m too frustrated.
It has been an incredibly smooth trip so far–so in a way it seems appropriate that a kind of unfortunate event should happen at some point. After a relaxing vacation on the west coast of Madagascar with James, first to Morondava and then to Mahajunga, I bid a tearful goodbye to my home for the past two years, and to my dear friends who have become like family to me.
I switched planes in Mauritius, where my connection to Paris was interrupted by a grumpy immigration agent who informed me that I needed a flight itinerary indicating my return back to the states in order to get to France. After half an hour or so of mild panic, she let me through with proof of my train tickets to Germany the following day. Whew.
Then the turbulent flight to the city of lights. Oh, there was lightning and thunder! I held tightly to my seat for most of the flight, watching cheesy movies on the tiny airplane screen, uncontrollably sobbing to the annoyance of the very French woman sitting next to me. They were cheesy movies, but mostly I was crying over what I was leaving and the uncertainties of what was to come. My future seemed like the flight: turbulent.
The plane landed in the world’s most romantic city, sunless and synchronous with my gloomy mood. After a lonely, restless night, the kind that follows a particularly dramatic goodbye, all I wanted to do was lie in bed and cry myself to sleep. But I had over twelve hours before my night train to Munich, and a dirty train station with no place to spread out comfortably (but with more than its share of unseemly characters) did not seem so appealing. So I did the reasonable thing—I dropped my bags off at a locker, and bought an overpriced ticket on one of those tourist buses, the double decker ones. I justified my purchase by telling myself how I had always wanted to ride one–and plus, the leisure nap I took on the deck was worth every euro. I got off at the Sacre Coeur, which I didn’t have time to see my first time in Paris, and enjoyed the view of the city from the church, snacking on some plane food I didn’t have the stomach to eat at the time. It turned out to be a beautiful day.
Later I boarded the train without any problems, and met my cabin mate, a Japanese doctorate student studying music in Petersburg. We had booked beds in the four-person sleeper, but we ended up having the cabin to ourselves, which made for a clean and comfortable traveling experience. Hearing American voices in the hall (a distinctive sound you learn to pick up on while traveling in Europe), I introduced myself to two college students from Colorado who had just finished a Semester at Sea and were traveling Europe. They were sharing a cabin with two boys from Hong Kong, and believe it or not, an older Malagasy man from Antsirabe. We spent the night speaking in Malagasy (on a train to Munich, crazy!), and after he went to bed, the guys and I drank some beers, Becks, in the hallway of the car. I slept better than I had in a long time.
Munich seemed nice, though I was only there for a couple hours. I warmed up with some Starbucks and surprise conversation (via free WiFi, what a lovely concept!) with the even lovelier boyfriend. Then boarded the next train, just as comfortable as the last, en route to Vienna. The island physically behind me, I began to feel relaxed and excited for travel, those fond Peace Corps memories now being held affectionately in my heart.
And Vienna was everything I thought it would be—beautiful, clean, and full of delectable smells…from the perfume and coffee shops, the kabob stands and outdoor cafes. I still felt lonely, but comforted by the fact that I had arrived without hitch to my first destination.
I had a bowl of steaming Thai soup for dinner, and went to bed early to be up in time for the free walking tour offered by the hostel, a wonderfully clean and accommodating place. On the tour we explored the markets, historical buildings, and churches of the city; I met three American girls studying in Ireland, and another girl who had just finished a semester in the south of France. She and I continued after the tour to Strater, where we ate our first Viennese wieners and pickles on the lawn of the fairground, listening to an interesting mix of Austrian folk music and Americana rock, watching the locals, mostly older folk, clad in cowboy costume line-dance in front of the stage. The place was packed with families enjoying the May 1st holiday, and we left the crowd to go back to the center of town, my new friend to enjoy iced coffee at a park and me to explore the shopping prospects, which turned out to be minimal due to the holiday. We met up later for wiener schnitzel and German beer, catching the tail end of the Barcelona soccer match, and taking advantage of the free drink coupon they gave us for the hostel bar. The next day was rainy, but I was productive—stocking up on basics from H&M, and enjoying a Viennese melange coffee and apple strudel at a cute cafe in the shopping district.
It was a short train ride to Budapest, just three hours or so, but the vibe of the city could not have been more different. That’s not to say it was a bad different. In fact, I would say that Budapest was the best unexpected city—and not only in Europe, but in all of my travels thus far. The hostel, of the same chain that I stayed at in Vienna, was absolutely stunning. It’s lobby was like that of hotel, but had much more of a hangout feel, with an open bar and couches; the room I stayed at was on the second floor, and it was large, clean, and breezy.
My roommates were cool too, easygoing and fun–two German guys and an Argentinian girl. We went together to our first ruins bar (which is by far one of the coolest places, let alone bars, I have been to) with these labyrinth-like corridors, secret rooms, and grungy décor, like hanging vintage televisions or chandeliers made of junk, that seem random but are intentionally, sophisticatedly designed. Oh, and of course the odd girl selling thick sticks of carrots instead of flowers throughout the bar.
The next day I went on another free walking tour provided by the hostel, this time hosted by a charismatic Hungarian girl, but had to rush back by bus through the early afternoon rain to make a Skype interview (my third while abroad). After the interview, I went on a spontaneous food tour with one of the Germans, trying my first bowl of authentic Hungarian goulash, touring the wet streets with our self-stuffed falafel pitas. On top of being able to talk to James for the first time since leaving Madagascar (a treat in itself), I also learned that evening that I had gotten the job I interviewed for! So my last night in Budapest was a night of small celebrations, eating a delicious dinner with the roommates (I had chicken paprika) and drinking my favorite, Jack & Ginger, at another ruins bar.
My last day in Budapest though, was the favorite of my European adventure thus far. After getting a late start, the Argentinian girl and I headed out to the central market to tour the exotic souvenirs and foods. We picked up lunch (slaw salad, and for me, meat and potatoes), as well as small gifts for people back home. After the market, we walked over to the luxurious thermal baths at the Gellert hotel, where we met up with a well-traveled Frenchman and three Canadian students, who we had all met at the hostel. The thermal baths were unlike any I had ever seen. They were, like the ruins bars, a labyrinth of ornately decorated pools, rooms and rooms of them of varying degrees of heat, with ice-cold buckets for after the hot baths, flowing fountains of fresh drinkable water, and dry heat saunas and steam rooms. It was the most relaxing and aesthetically pleasing experience. And perfect for what I would encounter next in the trip, onward to Bucharest.
After my train coming from Budapest was late by three hours, I arrived in Romania conveniently on their biggest national holiday, Easter. So no trains or buses to Istanbul. And just my luck, my bank blocks my card for fear of fraudulent spending (I have been to six countries in the past week), keeping me to wait until their offices reopen on Monday, Hawaii time.
The people here at the cheap hotel near the train station have been helpful and kind. The woman was nice enough to let me pay when the banks open tomorrow, and the man has mapped out where the local sights are–but talk about bad timing! Situations like this always bring me back to humility and graciousness; giving thanks for people like my mom and my cousin Hope, who are always willing without question to help me through another one of my travel adventures. And for my boyfriend James who understands me without judgment, and consoles me over Skype, when he could be doing other things besides spending his time in an expensive internet cafe halfway around the world.
But it really was a beautiful day today, and I enjoyed touring the clean streets and green parks of this city. Though I’ve eaten my dinner for tonight (a leftover apple and Twix bar), and have only the $1 (literally, the one US buck I had in my wallet) that I exchanged for 3 Romanian lei (which I’m saving for coffee tomorrow)…I realize that maybe I enjoy this kind of traveling, the kind that makes you uncomfortable and anxious and sometimes makes you cry. Maybe I needed this to better enjoy the next few days I have vacationing with the family. In any case, I know I will appreciate Istanbul very very much. Just praying that I get there soon. More updates to come!