I’m going to start doing a writing series of the most vivid and memorable moments of my travels these last couple of years. I’m realizing that it’s getting harder and harder to remember all the experiences I had and that writing has always been the only way I was ever able to recall all those moments that changed me.
It took 26 minutes to get from the Keleti Railway Terminal to the Maverick City Lodge hostel on Kazinczy ut. I had memorized the directions to the hostel when I was bored on the overnight train from Prague. I also printed a hard copy of the directions and saved a screenshot of the map on my phone. You know, to cover all the bases, even though the directions were essentially a straight line:
I was on the train to Budapest the day after Christmas. I previously spent Christmas Eve alone and stayed at my friend Helena’s apartment, which was so far off from the main city center and I had to climb hundreds of steps to get to. I spent that evening visiting the Prague Castle at night and then going to a bar by myself to have dinner and a drink. It wasn’t entirely sad – the bartender was extremely kind and we had what I remember was a lovely conversation. Christmas Day was spent with Helena’s family where I was given a gorgeous book on the history of Prague and a bottle of one of the best wines I ever had in my life. It was Czech. I remember I couldn’t stop drinking it that day and her parents – who often felt embarrassed when they spoke English to me – kindly noticed. I somehow had to put those heavy items in the small duffel bag I used for my Eurotrip.
I settled into my 6-person hostel dorm in Budapest and fell straight to sleep after doing a quick free walking tour of the city. I wasn’t feeling too well at that point and thought I could just sleep off the sickness until my appointment at the Szechenyi baths the next day.
It’s never comfortable sleeping in hostels – especially in those with 5 other people in a narrow room, with beds stacked on top of one another. It was around 7 o’clock in the evening when I heard rustling below me. I hadn’t eaten lunch in an attempt to save some money and was starving, so I made my way down the steps of my bunk bed and opened my locker next to him.
I said a hushed “Hello” and quickly grabbed my jacket, scarf and shoes. He said “Hi” back and asked if I had any aspirin. Of course I was an idiot and didn’t pack any first aid kit of any kind.
We then proceeded to introduce ourselves quietly, as there were several travelers also napping at that time, and I quickly found out he was from California. Immediately at ease, I asked if he wanted to join me for dinner and he agreed.
It was snowing at this point and a lot of restaurants were closed. All I knew was that I was on a mission to eat goulash. We talked the whole way about everything – our lives, why we were in Budapest, etc. In any other case, this would have all been extremely romantic.
I remember us walking through the snow, just wandering aimlessly and talking. He was constantly trying to catch snowflakes in his mouth while I just chuckled behind him.
We eventually came to what seemed like a decent restaurant. It was the only restaurant we found open that wasn’t terribly priced. A pianist was playing Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are as we ordered our food. I ordered my goulash with glee, which quickly turned into disappointment once I received it. We continued talking about everything until naturally we talked about relationships. Everyone who knows me, knows my story and my problems with moving on. This boy, his girlfriend just decided to leave him – which is the reason why we he was traveling. He was going to make his way to Serbia the next day to work on a documentary. The breakup was a catalyst for him to do something he always dreamt of doing.
The night continued easily. We shared dessert, listened to the pianist a little longer and then made our way back to the hostel. When he suggested checking out a ruined bar, I didn’t hesitate even though it was so late. Part of me was attracted to him, but still completely unresolved.
I heard about ruined bars on my walking tour and our hostel was apparently close to a very famous one called Szimpla Kert. The outside was very unassuming. I thought ruined bars were essentially the equivalent of an American dive bar, but I was so very wrong. Once we stepped inside, we were both giddy. Every single room was like a lucid dream. We got so lost until we finally chose a corner to tuck ourselves into with drinks.
We happened to be in a room with other Americans. It’s funny, when you travel to foreign countries, the moment you feel and hear familiarity, you latch yourselves onto it. We all quickly became friends and became more inebriated as one does when attractive, young and in the hippest ruined bar in Budapest. What was ridiculous, all seemed marvelous.
I remember we talked about going on trip together to Alaska, by boat naturally. I remember giving my business card to one of the guys so we could keep in touch. I also gave one to the boy and he gave me his. I remember after one too many gin & tonics, all I wanted was for the boy to kiss me and it always seemed like it was going to happen, until it didn’t happen for one reason or another.
We all continued until I finally decided I had to go to sleep to make my appointment at the baths the next day. As with all good things, you sometimes just know when it’s time to go and move on. The Americans and the boy were trying to convince me to keep going out with them, but it was time. I remember waving goodbye to them all, keeping with me an ephemeral memory from Budapest.