From my journal written this summer as I traveled Europe, continued….
July 23, 2016
I’m ready to board the train to to Baia Mare, Romania. It is parked on the tracks in front of me, being cleaned as I wait and write this.
Yesterday, I went to the thermal baths at Szechenyi here in Budapest. It was a totally mind-blowing experience: pools upon pools! I was issued a wrist band upon entry with a green circle on it. With this, I gained electronic entry and was able to access a locker by touching wrist to lock.
Thank goodness for the Rick Steves guide I brought with me, I reviewed it prior to my visit, and didn’t feel quite as lost in the process as I otherwise might have been. I wandered about to case the place, changed and showered and soaked in the tubs for hours. The outdoor tubs or baths were enormous, containing tourists from all over the world: tourist soup!
I got blissfully and willingly caught in a current that circled a still-bubbly pond. After being tossed briefly, I rested in the center pond and meditatively observed. Other parts of this pool had cascading water, and bubbling fountains from the pool floor. I switched pools, skipping the lap pool and going to a large, warmer pool near the men’s lockers. There was a bar serving all types of drinks, gentlemen playing chess in their swimsuits and a Welsh gentleman who was friendly and chatty! He and his pals laughed and laughed. They had Baywatch-style floaties, which the kids were always trying to steal, and a David Hasselhoff face on a stick. So odd and so funny.
I soaked there for a while, then went indoors to test the many smaller, smellier pools of various temperatures. Oh, yes, there is a strong sulphur smell in here. Rotten eggs, feet, call it what you will, but the thing is to soak in them.
I soaked in many tourist soups, then checked out the solarium where elderly ladies sunned themselves topless, or totally nekkid. A couple tried to enter the women’s side and were admonished by one of the elderly ladies; no men allowed.
After maybe 4-5 hours at Szechenyi, I showered and took my leave; pruny and sunned and relaxed, but rather lonely. I walked to the M2 Metro line, took it to the Deak Ferenc ter. (Metro stop), and walked along the Danube River to the Great Market Hall. Vegetable and fruit stalls lined the first floor as well as meat shops with sausages galore. Hungry, but not wanting to splash out for one of the fancy, overpriced bistros along Vaci Utca, a very touristy street, I took the escalator at the Market down to Aldi, where I bought bread and sliced paprika sausage. I proceeded to make myself a sandwich and ate it in the park with the same view as everyone paying premium price! And for less than $2 US. Savvy, indeed.
I went to the Market to peruse goods and maybe buy another snack. I window shopped, and enjoyed the smells of Hungarian food served up from large, steaming bins and langos, or fried bread. Vendors sold beautiful lacework and crocheted sweaters. I will consider them as possible souvenirs for RollerbagMom, later.
I walked the street Vaci Utica, with its hawkers and high-end shops. Then, took the train home to the AirBnB and discovered a larger Spar store in the Arkad Mall near the Metro. Subterranean shopping mall – how wild! It was far larger than the grocery store I’d been using. I bought basic groceries and a plastic bag for 76 forint (!) the equivalent of 25 cents.
The cashier who worked from a mean little perch (cashiers sit here) rang up my purchases and held up the humble single apple I wanted to buy, and shouted something in Hungarian. I said, “English?” hopefully. She responded by angrily picking up the apple, yelling, “KILO!” and tossing it under the counter, presumably into the trash.
I don’t know if it was the jet lag, or what, but the exchange rattled me. I went to the apartment and FaceTimed with BackpackMr. And upon telling him, I cried. He asked about my upcoming trip to Romania and I expressed how confusing the tickets were – no notes on arrival times or anything! So frustrating – two separate tickets for the same trip, some with reserved seats – not knowing whether to validate, or what. I was just overwhelmed.
He turned the FaceTime camera to Brooklyn, our 80 lb. labrador hound mix, happily on her back, belly up, legs extended in her most contented pose as she awaited belly scratches. It was a small consolation.
The thing most long-term travelers don’t tell you, or the truth that is difficult for people to appreciate, is how utterly exhausting it can be. At times, long-term travel is just plain hard. And at times, solo travel can be particularly trying, because it requires the solo traveler to be “on” in perpetuity; there’s no one else to save your butt. And even the simplest of customs can vary widely from country to country, even city to city. So, sometimes it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. When you have to watch to see what everyone taking the train does: whether they validate (because this can lead to an expensive ticket if you screw up!) how they swipe their card, whether they have to press a button for the doors to open, how they file in or out, whether there is a map or marquis or overhead announcement you can understand to find your stop (and if there isn’t, whether you can spot the name of the stop as it flies by outside the train window), how to exit the train when it is time, whether you have successfully grabbed everything you came with, where to exit and how to find your way from there….even the smallest, seemingly simplest trip on the train can require an incredible amount of focus and attention to detail. When you are a solo traveler, every moment is like that. Its exacerbated when you can’t speak the local language. I’m not complaining, I chose this. But I do think it’s helpful for people to know. The fallout is, sometimes you miss things. So, it’s totally understandable that I would drop one small custom, and fail to observe that it was necessary for me to weigh and tag my fruit at that particular grocery store (it is not so at all grocery stores in Budapest). But what that cashier didn’t know is that I’d been navigating local customs all day, and my hard drive was full, and I just wanted to buy an apple to eat with my dinner.
I tried to Skype RollerbagMom, but there was no answer. I made myself a sandwich of sliced sausage, baguette, (these are among the cheapest options for meals in the region, and in traveling long-term, budgeting can be vital) veggie pate and what were called “strong” Lays Curry Chips. No apple. I had a dribble of wine and drank half a can of beer, then went to bed.
Mom tried to FaceTime me at 1 a.m., which woke me up though I didn’t catch it in time. I slept only fitfully the rest of the night.
In the morning, I checked out with my AirBnB host Robi, who had helped me decipher my complex tickets, which even he, who spoke the local language, needed the internet to understand. He kindly drew out in detail the info I needed to know: where I was changing trains, the trains I’d need to transfer to, the times they were due to depart. I should have hugged him for all he’d done, but the difference between AirBnB and CouchSurfing is that CouchSurfing of old ended with a hug. AirBnb ends with a handshake. One is goodwill; the other a business transaction.
I will get another taste of CouchSurfing when I got to Slovenia. My good friend ChicoDonna has friends in Ljubljana, Slovenia, who have agreed to host me and I am so excited! Very excited to see Lake Bled as well.
So, in spite of the fact I had few details pulled together before leaving the US, my itinerary has come together; here it is to date.
July 23 – July 26: Baia Mare, Romania
July 26 – July 31: Vienna, Austria
August 6 – August 12: Slovenia
August 12 – August 16: Budapest
August 16: Depart for US
It’s hard to believe. When I write it all down, it seems to come and go so quickly. So I will try to be in the moment, rather than gaze at the finish line. There are a million steps and a million lessons before that happens.
Along those lines, I get swept away with emotion every once in a while when I realize how truly lucky I am. Though I am disinclined to take things for granted, I must be mindful. Always.
I’d rather watch the world pass by me from a train window than watch my life pass me by while sitting in front of a TV set.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.