A majestic city split into two by the Danube River, Budapest’s House of Parliament is one of the most breathtaking sites in the city. The neo-Gothic structure with Byzantine features is located on the shore of the Danube, on the Pest portion of the city. Its giant dome can be seen from numerous spots in town, including from the hills of Buda.
During the few days I was in Budapest, I made sure to head to the baths (even though I fought myself in terms of taking it off while there).
On my way out of town, via train to Romania, I came across these men playing Chess at the train station.
Sometimes, being solo and traveling is hard. You see something so breathtaking, so amazing, such an example of the beauty of the world before you … you turn to convey your joy of the moment … and … nothing. The space beside you is void of anyone.
There are times when solo travel is exhausting. It’s cold. It’s rainy. You hurt from falling on your ass. Hard.
And, then there are times when solo travel is exactly what it is meant to be:
This photo was not one of those awesome solo travel moments. It was the other one. But, shortly after this photo was taken, I snapped out of my funk, met some great travelers, and was on to my next spot, Romania.
I love this picture because it echoes how I was feeling at that moment: dreary, muted, and yet, peaceful.
I sat in the back of Brock’s SUV, looking out into the nighttime desert landscape … flat and black, giving way to the Strip a few miles ahead of us.
It had been an emotional six days in Las Vegas. I had arrived days earlier and spent my first night with Kyla, showing her photos of my trip and drinking copious amounts of wine before we finally decided to call it a night.
In between then and that moment in the desert, I had gone through a multitude of emotions.
Why am I loving this town so much?
There’s a funny thing that happens to you when you decide to take your life, turn it upside down and then attempt to turn it rightside up.
You grow. You change. You are no longer the same person you were.
I found myself back in the town I had come to adore. And hate. And then love to hate. And then … love?
I had become mesmerized by the city.
It looks different after finding yourself.
My third night in town was my birthday. I had assembled my normal crew of amazing people for my birthday celebration at the old haunt, The Tuscany Casino.
Through my years in Las Vegas, the center bar at Tuscany had been my lifeline. Friends, lovers … they all had been initiated at Tuscany. It was our spot for “emergency drinks” which happened to be three nights a week back in the day. I was on a first name basis with the bartenders. When my favorite bartender had his baby, I dropped off a present for the baby. When a bartender we knew had passed away, I cried. It was my spot.
And, on my birthday, so many of the people I loved were there. My old family.
The next night, Kyla I went out to see my Bulgarian Travel Buddy, Abby, at a party at Gold Lounge inside of Aria at City Center. Abby had just returned from living the ex-pat life in Costa Rica to the pulsing Las Vegas as an editor of a magazine.
Seeing her was amazing. Refreshing. And then, beyond the ropes was my old co-worker and friend, Aimee, and her husband (also my friend), Ben. And then, another old friend from my previous days in Las Vegas, Jason.
I miss this life.
And then, after that, the five of us journeyed to Town Square to grab drinks and catch-up.
“Aimee,” I said to my friend as we sipped our IPA, “I think I may want to move back.”
Admitting it is half the battle.
“D,” she began, frowning, “You were miserable when you were here. I am so afraid if you come back you will be the same way.”
I knew where she was coming from. I LIVED my misery. But, I also lived my misery in Atlanta, and coming into my own in Europe.
“This is what I want … I think.”
It wasn’t until two nights later, in the middle of the desert, with Brock, that it really hit home.
I love my friends, never misunderstand that. But, when you are traveling you lose touch. You know when you get home, the friendship will pick-up where it left off. However, there are a few people who I actually grew closer with when I was traveling.
Brock was one of them. He became an important person in the last month of my travels.
When I felt like my world was falling apart, when all I wanted to do was come home, when I needed anything, he was there. We would talk on IM and he would help chase my sad away.
Seeing him was important to me. I wanted to tell him how much he helped me smile when all I wanted to do was cry in Bosnia, in Croatia. When I was dealing with my grandmother’s sickness, and ultimately her death, he was there … a simple click away, saying what I needed to hear.
And, there we were, six weeks later … and I didn’t so much as whisper it to him.
Everything changes when you come home.
The two of us sat, side by side, in the back of his car, looking out into the desert while he strummed his guitar.
We sat there for hours while he played some of his original tunes. Note: Brock is a super talented singer, lyricist and guitar player.
Then, he played a song that hit home. About changing your life. About taking a chance. About going “some place with a view.”
He sat on the bumper, singing that song, and I looked out as the haunting chorus began. Above, at the twinkling stars. In front of me at South Point’s flashing marquee, at the lightning blinking in the distance, at the spotlight of Luxor extending towards the sky.
Thoughts of my trip came flooding back to me … learning Irish locks were tricky on St. Patrick’s Day Eve, teaching English in Spain, not taking it off in Budapest, stumbling onto the massive funeral in Krakow, experiencing Auschwitz, trekking for gorillas in Rwanda, falling in lust in Granada, wandering through Marrakesh, being a spectator at the F1 race in Valencia, Spain, taking it off in Barcelona, falling off a cliff in Turkey, Abby and I joining forces in Eastern Europe, Katie and David in Bosnia, touching my fingers into the water in the Adriatic, sitting by boats in Trogir and crying when I lost my grandmother, coming home.
I sat there, listening to his lyrics and matching them to the vast memories I had tucked away.
My eyes began to well up as I went back and forth between my past and my present. Between knowing what I wanted and having no clue. I sat there, bundled in a jacket, avoiding looking at him because I thought one look would give too much access to my soul.
And then, as he picked the last chords on the guitar, I realized something.
Las Vegas is my home.
“What do you think?” Brock asked, turning to me.
I wanted to turn to face him. To bury my head in his shoulder and cry. I was suddenly overcome with emotions, with feelings I hadn’t expect to have on that chilly October night in the middle of the Las Vegas desert.
You just made my mind open up. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t want it. Oh, you lovely little mind f#$%.
“It … I … I listened to that song and I really related to it,” I said, trying to sound like I at least kind of had my shit together.
I kicked my foot around as it dangled off of the bumper. Uneasy. Unsure of what else I could say without completely losing it and having mascara drip down my cheeks.
I didn’t want to look at him. There was too much of everything pulsing through me at that moment to make sense.
We sat awhile longer as he played me some more music, but by then I had already come to my conclusion:
I am HOME.
I stood outside at 22h 40 (I know, very European of me), backpack strapped tight to me, messenger bag slung across my front and purse on my arm.
It was time to depart Cluj and head to Krakow. Via bus. Back to Budapest.
When Arpad first told me I had to take a bus to Budapest in order to get to Krakow, I immediately tried for other options.
“Why don’t you want to stop in Budapest?” he had asked.
Aside from backtracking, Budapest and I were still at odds. Only a little, but still. I would have rather trekked from Ukraine like I had originally planned.
But, bus to Budapest it was.
So, there I stood, in the dark outside of a hotel, looking for the bus that would whisk me back to Hungary and then on to Krakow via an Orange Ways bus at 6 a.m.
I was actually a bit bewildered.
I didn’t see a bus. Anywhere.
“Miss, miss,” called the cab driver who had dropped me at the lot. “Here, follow me.”
I picked up step behind him as he walked me away from where I was standing and towards a tiny cluster of people smoking outside of an overgrown white minivan.
“Here,” he said, gesturing for me to stop at the van.
Right. This isn’t a bus.
“Hi,” I said to a man standing at the van door, who seemed to be the driver. “Budapest?”
“Yes, yes,” he said, motioning me to follow him to the back of the van. “Luggage?”
I took off my backpack and placed it on the ground.
Where was it going to go? The van wasn’t like a bus that has the storage underneath.
Then, I saw it. The U-Haul-esque attachment to the van, hooked at the back. My luggage was going to go in there.
“Thanks,” I said, handing him my backpack and keeping my other two bags as pillows. I got in the van and grabbed a seat, trying to fathom the next five hours of driving to get back to Hungary.
Once we departed, I noticed there were only six or so people riding, so I took over two seats, trying to balance myself on the cushions that seemed a few inches too short, and trying to keep the arm of the seat out of my back.
I slept on and off as we drove through the still of the Romanian night, waking up when I got too hot, when we stopped and at the border.
When we arrived in Hungary at 4:30 a.m., I was glad. Only seven or so more hours of driving until I could get to a bed and catch some real sleep.
The bus to Krakow from Budapest was nothing like the van ride.
Orange Ways is a machine. They pipe in movies. They have wifi (although it wasn’t working on my trip). They even have coffee and hot chocolate. And, they have packed busses. Packed.
I sat in the second to last row of the bus on the aisle, ready to pass out. I could feel the exhaustion seeping into my body, my head growing heavy, my eyes fighting to stay open.
And, that’s when three drunk-from-the-night-before Brits walked onto the bus, past my seat and sat behind me. Smelling like a bar and lots of liquor. Ready to party.
I heard beer cans crack open and ignored it.
I listened as they talked on and on about partying and then put my headphones on to drown them out.
Then, they decided they want to have a party on the bus. So, they opeedn up their laptop and put on some techno for everyone to listen to. At 6 in the morning.
Now, I’m a pretty chill person. There are very few times I will ever ask anyone to stop doing something. Those times are:
– Having sex in a dorm room. C’mon on. I don’t need to hear/see it.
– Talking loudly in a dorm room in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping. It takes two moments to go outside.
– Playing loud and crappy techno at 6 a.m. on a bus with a captive audience.
When I could hear the thwackthwackthwack above my music, it was time to turn around. Luckily, they were cool about it and turned it off.
About 30 minutes later, they were all passed out.
And, six hours later, I was walking through the streets of Krakow.
Today, May 7, is my two month anniversary of traveling. It is the longest time I have been away from home. The longest time I have been away from family. The longest …
For two months now, I have chased spring. It started in Spain, with the first buds on the trees, the first field of little yellow flowers, and has followed me since then.
Spring is an amazing time of year. It is about birth. About starting new. And, it signifies a lot to me, since this trip is a birth of sorts for me. I have literally taken my entire life’s work, my dreams, my desires, and washed them from my mind and here, have begun to reconstruct the wheel, to re-identify what my dreams and desires could be/are.
A year ago, when I lived in Atlanta, I remember marveling at the city’s sheer gorgeousness with the changing of the season. The pink flowers that would sprout from the winding trees. The bright green grass that would pop up overnight. The light wind that would gently blow during days spent at Piedmont Park, taking in the South’s spring.
I would never in a million years have imagined spending my spring 365 days later in Europe, living in a prolonged (and amazing) spring for nearly two months.
I departed Madrid with such apprehension. I wanted to stay, but knew it was time to head out and keep traveling.
Budapest was the destination, but I wasn’t too excited, despite the marvelous things I have heard about it. I loved being with my new friends, and heading to Budapest meant a departure from my comfort zone.
Perhaps my frame of mind upon leaving set me up for the numerous bouts I had with the city, or maybe it was just time for me to practice keeping my wits about me.
Either way, Budapest and I went mano y mano and in the end, well, I think it is safe to say I didn’t go down without a fight.
I got off the bus and headed to the train to get to the city. Of course, I speak the equivalent of nothing in Hungarian, so when I handed the woman at the ticket counter 1,000 FTs, she told me it wasn’t enough for the train.
I handed her more. Then, I looked at the sign. Clearly, the ticket I wanted was marked as 320, not 1,000.
“Wait,” I stammered. “I gave you 1,000.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Don’t I get change?”
I didn’t know how to argue in Hungarian, so I gave in.
Budapest: 1 D: 0
After successfully navigating my way to Unity Hostel in Pest, I rang the door bell, thankful to be putting down my pack and looking forward to getting some food.
I buzzed. And buzzed. And buzzed.
So, I buzzed a different number.
“Hello,” said the voice … in Hungarian.
“Hi, hostel?” I asked.
“Let me in?”
I pulled out my cell and called. A Spanish recording came on, explaining something to me (guessing I couldn’t make calls).
I spun around, looking at the buildings around me, seeing if I could just yell up to someone in the hostel to let me in.
Fight or flight, right?
I decided to fight. I walked up to a girl checking her messages on her phone and explained to her my situation and asked if I could use her phone.
I dialed the hostel.
Panic began to creep into my mind. My heart began to race.
Shit. I have no place to sleep, no map of the city.
Budapest: 2 D: 0
“Do you know where I might be able to find a hostel?” I asked the girl.
“Yes,” she said, beckoning me to follow her down another street. “Go down there to the second main street and there is one across from the post office. You will see a sign.”
After about 25 minutes of wandering through one of Buda’s main streets, I saw the sign for the hostel.
They let me in.
“Hi,” I said, saying a silent prayer for a room. “I don’t have a reservation.”
“That’s OK,” said the receptionist, sitting down in her chair. “How many nights would you like?”
Budapest: 2 D: 1
At Interflat Youth Hostel I met two girls from America and we headed for food. The three of us craved pizza so we did what any Americans craving pizza would do, headed to the nearest Pizza Hut (shhhh, no judging).
Pizza was mouthwateringly perfect.
We got the bill.
The server had added a 25 percent gratuity.
Budapest: 3 D: 1
I hadn’t gone out for a few days and my inner conversations were growing stale. I tried to convince a girl in my dorm to come out with me, but she wanted to stay in.
A bar, Instant, was recommended to me by the hostel, so I decided to take a walk on over there for a drink.
I walked in and it was such a cool bar. A packed, cool bar.
There were no seats, so I did a lap through and decided I wasn’t in the mood to stand in a corner, eyeing people and conversations jealously.
So, I proceeded to another bar, one less crowded and a lot less cool, and grabbed a beer. Then, I headed back to my room to catch up on some writing.
I had been in Budapest two nights and had met no one and decided a change of scenery was necessary.
I made a reservation and headed over to Back Pack, a hostel in Buda packed with hippie flavor and general awesomeness (and recommended by Lonely Planet).
It was a rainy and cold day in Budapest and by the time I arrived to Back Pack, my jeans were soaked through and I was chilled to the bone.
But, I had made it. I was immediately let in to the hostel and given a room with a comfortable bed, unlike the last hostel where I was oh-so Princess and the Pea and could feel every spring in the mattress.
To add to the glee, I hadn’t had to validate either of my travel tickets, so I rode for free on the tram and bus.
Budapest: 3 D:2
The rain continued on Monday, but I was determined not to let the water drown out my day.
I stood outside of the hostel, OAR (Of a Revolution) playing on my iPod, and began walking down the stairs.
Then, my foot was slipping and my ass was connecting with the slick stairs and I was sliding down to the bottom.
Pain shot through my entire back and my arm. Tears filled my eyes.
For the first time during my trip, I wanted to go home. To my parents. To sit with my mom and have a good cry.
Budapest: 4 D: 2
I stood up, fighting back the urge to burst into hysterics. Then, I looked behind me. Was anyone rushing to make sure I was OK?
I looked at my back. Soaked. I looked at my arm. Scratched. I looked inside of myself. Bruised, but manageable.
I brushed the dirt off of me, sucked in some fresh Budapest air and headed out the front gate and into the city to explore.
Budapest: 4 D: 3
At that point, I decided there was a chance Budapest was going to kick my ass. It was time to get traveling, so I headed to a ticket office to purchase a bus ticket to Brasov, Romania.
“I’m sorry,” the woman said, cautiously looking at me and the frustration that was spreading over my face. “There are no buses to Brasov this week.”
“What about a train?”
“I can call and see how much it is,” she offered, and I graciously accepted.
After some back and forth, she gave me directions to another office to go and purchase a train ticket.
An hour later, and a little wetter (it was still raining in Budapest), I held in my hand a second class reserved seat to Brasov, leaving the following evening.
That night, I finally met some people in my hostel, Scott and Heidi, a fabulous Aussie/Kiwi couple and we enjoyed some drinks together.
Finally. My first good night in Budapest was also my last night.
The next night, I boarded my overnight train for Romania for some time out of Schengen Europe. Just in time to start crazy new adventures in Brasov …
Budapest: 4 D: 4
I stood, lost in thought at the taco counter in Pest.
“Are you OK?” asked the young man at the counter, in English seeping with a beautiful Hungarian accent.
I jogged back into the moment.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, grabbing my metal tray containing a junior burrito and large beer. “Just thinking.”
And I left it at that.
The truth was, I was OK. But, only kindasortanotreallymaybe.
The thick blanket of clouds hovering overhead in Budapest stood in stark contrast to the sunny blue skies of Madrid.
Was I really only in Spain one day ago?
I stood, alone, at the ticket counter at the Szechenyi baths.
“Just one please,” I told the attendant.
I wish I had company.
She handed me the watch with the microchip, which would serve as my entrance into the baths and the key to my lock, and I walked into the gorgeous bath house.
Outside, three pools of varying temperature were filled with people of all ages, enjoying the sunless day in Budapest.
I headed to the locker room.
Women were disrobing everywhere.
I clung to my bag, which contained my bathing suit.
Nope. There was no way I was going to take it all off right there, in front of strangers. Hell, even if it was people I knew, my outgoing personality was no match for my modest, keep-my-clothes-on-in-public attitude.