I've written in past blogs about little snippets of my only trip to Europe. In the course of two and a half weeks, my sister, Liz, my friends Marie and Julie, and I experienced Budapest, Pornóapáti (the birthplace of my mother and all of my siblings), a day trip to Vienna, and several days in Paris. If I had the means and opportunity, I'd hop on a plane and go for another visit tomorrow. You may be thinking that the reason I love Budapest is because I am Hungarian, or perhaps because it was my first foreign city. (I'm serious, I had never even been to Mexico or Canada!) I really don't think that is why.
The plan for our trip to Europe began in October, and we flew there in April. There were so many things that had me both excited and afraid in the months before the trip. I had never met any of my Hungarian relatives. I didn't even know their names and addresses. We had a copy of Liz's birth registration with the names of our parents and her godparents, and the street number of their home. But we were going in blind, armed mostly with fear, and faith in our fellow man. Would my mother's relatives accept me? Would the sins of my father, the man who killed my mother, be visited upon his children? Due to the seeds of doubt planted in my early childhood by one of the people who raised me, I feared the worst.
Trent will tell you, if asked, that in the six months leading up to our trip I barely slept at all. I was eager to find my family and to have a sense of belonging, but was also afraid that I might be rejected. Also, at first Liz wasn't sure she would be able to afford the flight ticket. I was fortunate to have my tickets taken care of by Marie's husband's frequent flier miles, or I wouldn't have been able to go either. Liz had a neighbor who worked for one of the major airlines and gave her some buddy passes, so everything seemed good to go. As is my usual fashion, I began to read books and do online research about our planned destinations of Hungary and Paris. I am not one of those "if it's Tuesday, it's bus cruise day" types of travelers. I just like to know about some of the things that are part of the places I will be seeing. It has served me well, and I have enjoyed many things I wouldn't know about if I hadn't done a bit of homework. I guess that's why every time Liz and I travel together, she calls me "Navigator."
After much stress and a horrible, sleepless night, which is another story entirely, I got on my first international flight. I was so worn down that I was pretty violently ill the entire time we were in the air, but felt much better after we arrived. I am not someone who is a sickly flier, but enough stress will wear anyone down. After a brief taxi ride, we were finally in Budapest. We were renting a flat on the Váci utca, a pedestrian-only street full of shops of all descriptions. Our end of the street had more of a "just real people" feel. The other end, many, many blocks away, had the more expensive shops and restaurants. Both have their points, but I was thrilled to be in our little neighborhood. Liz wasn't due to arrive until the following afternoon, so we spent the next morning exploring on foot.
This is the Liberty Bridge, one of several bridges that span the Danube in Budapest. On one side of the river is Buda, and on the other side is Pest, where we stayed, which were combined to form one city many, many years ago. On our outing we saw many beautiful parks and statuary, and I quickly fell in love with the city. Even though there is a fairly high volume of fast-paced traffic, I felt so relaxed. The air was fresh, the trees and flowers were gorgeous...how could I not love this city? As we crossed another bridge, we saw people fishing in the Danube for their dinner. Yes, in this day and age, it is a safe source for food. There were also people washing their clothes, and themselves in the river! And I'd like to add that it is a good-sized river, too. We saw an entire, very large tree being carried downstream and there would still have been room for a few boats on each side.
A man fishing for that evening's dinner, on the west bank of the Danube.
A detail of the Hungarian Parliament building, from a tour boat on the Danube.
Eventually we came to a gift show within a block of our apartment. As we walked in, we were given a taste of Hungarian friendliness and hospitality. A man greeted us and welcomed us into the shop. "Hello! My name is Steve!" When I replied with, "Hello, István!" I really caught his attention. I introduced myself and my friends by the Hungarian nicknames I had been using for all of us, mine being Kata. One day I walked in the shop and he greeted me in Hungarian and called me Kataka. Adding the 'ka' suffix is a sign of friendship and affection, and it made me feel wonderful! Over the course of our days in Budapest, we all grew to adore him. He was so kind that when he saw us walking in the rain one day, he insisted on giving us umbrellas. Not selling, giving. But the ladies all said I was his favorite, because he called me Kataka, and because he kept giving me "friend price." We found people of this sort all over the city, and the country as well. In fact, our final evening in Budapest, we were buying last-moment souvenirs at Steve's shop, and Marie mentioned that after we finished, we had to go to an all-night market to buy toilet tissue to get us through our last night. Without a word, the lady she had spoken with went into the back room, and brought out a roll of toilet tissue. That's just a small example of how giving these people were.
I will write again about my beloved Budapest, but this is just a tidbit for now. May all your dreams of visiting lovely places come true for you!