It's late April again, and this time of year is finding me, or perhaps I should say making me, feel nostalgic. It's a time filled with sweet memories and deep yearning. My body may be here in the suburbs of Denver, but my mind strays to travels from my past and wishes for my future. On an early evening in April some years ago, I boarded a plane bound for Europe. My friends Marie and Julie were on the same flight and Liz would be following us in a day.
To say that I was nervous is an understatement. I've flown plenty of times, and it doesn't scare me. Before this trip I had never been outside of the United States. I mean never even to Mexico or Canada. The trip had been in planning since the previous October. Let me tell you that I am not exaggerating when I say that I had barely slept between October and our departure day in April. Ask Trent, he'll tell you it's true. No, really, I'll wait...
There were many reasons for my sleeplessness and nervousness. One was the excitement of actually traveling internationally. I had wanted desperately to go on the school-sponsored and supervised quick tour of Europe when I graduated. I certainly couldn't have afforded to go with my own money, although my guardians could have afforded to send me. Even if I had had the funds, however, Alice would have refused to allow me to go, and I needed her permission since I was not yet eighteen years old. I asked. Heck, I all but begged. But only tramps travel far enough to not be able to get home and sleep in their own bed at night. Ah, well. What's done is done.
I was also nervous because Liz and I didn't know any of our Hungarian relatives. She had been all of three years old when our family fled occupied Hungary and certain death after the failed Hungarian Revolution. She was too young to remember any of the family. I was born in the States and had never known any of my extended family. I think that both Liz and I were worried about showing up in the village where our mother and all of my siblings were born. How would they react to us? Would they want anything to do with the children of the man who brutally killed their sister or cousin or aunt? And we had no pre-arrangements for meetings - we were simply going to show up in the village and ask for our relatives.
I fell in love with Budapest very quickly. The city is full of beauty and scars from the occupied era. Over and over again, we found the kindest and friendliest of people. I still think fondly of the man who introduced himself as Steve when we walked into his shop on our first full day in Budapest. I greeted him by calling him Istvan, and I had a friend forever. This delightful man treated us wonderfully every time we saw him. He even gave us umbrellas when the spring rains were falling. On the last night we were in Budapest and were picking up last-minute souvenirs, one of the sweet ladies who worked there asked where we were going next. Marie mentioned that we had to go to a store to pick up some toilet tissue because we were almost out. The lady politely excused herself and went to the back room, returning with a roll of toilet tissue which she was kind enough to give us.
While we were in Hungary we spent a day in Vienna, and a couple of days with family. After all of the years of being made to feel like outsiders, it was wonderful to hear our Aunt Lizi tell us that they had tried very hard to get us when my mother died. It was good to know that over all of those years and miles, we were remembered and loved. After we had been to the village, Lizi told everyone she spoke to that her lost relatives had found her. This small village of about four hundred residents was full of people who knew of us and considered us family. I wish that I could go back, and take Trent this time. The first photo is Aunt Lizi, who is gone now, the second is The Lunatic, Lizi, cousin Suzi, Liz, and Uncle Jancsi, who is also gone.
What a wonderful gift it was to find out that they had been wanting to see us and know us all of those years. To finally have a family and a sense of belonging was beyond description. And although we are family, we were treated as honored guests. Lizi and Jancsi slept on their couches, insisting that we spend the night in their bed. I am sure that no Queen has ever been treated with more consideration and courtesy than that provided by the typical Hungarian host or hostess. They truly do insist on sharing their very best. Of course the best thing that they offered us, and the most priceless, was their love.
It was hard to leave the family and head for Paris. I still long to go back, and I am sure that Liz does too. If Trent and I ever had a sudden large windfall, we would definitely go there. We might even build a home there, or buy a flat in Budapest if we had the means. We can always dream, as I do even more now that it's spring. And we can always have hope.
Notes from The Lunatic: I'll likely write some more about Paris in another post, but I'd like to mention a few tidbits about some differences between Hungary/Europe and the United States.
Cold drinks: We in the States really do love our cold drinks. Not so in Europe, at least the parts I have visited. Most beverages are not kept chilled and if one asks for ice, a cube or two might be given. The only icy cold drinks we had were in Paris at the Hard Rock Cafe, which doesn't really count. Even drinks that were bought from a refrigerated case were never as cold as we were accustomed to having. This isn't a bad thing, just a different thing.
Refrigerators: The fridge in the flat we rented in Budapest was smaller than the ones we see regularly here. That is because by European standards we eat old food. They don't shop once a week or so and stock up on tons of food. They are more likely to stop at a market on the way home from work, or go to the market every day for that day's foods unless it is something they have grown or stored themselves. Again, the refrigerators aren't as cold as ours. We routinely kept our soft drinks in the freezer in our flat in Budapest.
Toilets: Yes, I said toilets. Rather than simply describe it, I will share a picture of the commode in our Budapest flat. The parts are in different places than we have them here in the States.
Water heaters: The water heater in our flat must have been nuclear-powered. On the first night in Budapest, I wanted to have a shower to wash off the hours of travel before I went to bed. Our little shower had body jets and I was the intrepid explorer who discovered that they could easily boil one's breast meat and turn it into cooked chicken tenders. In fact, we had no microwave oven and managed to cook ramen cups with the blazing hot tap water!
Coats: It seems that everyone always wears a sweater or jacket in Europe. When we felt warm because it was over seventy degrees, my aunt was forcing me to wear socks with my sandals so that I didn't catch a cold. And it seemed that everyone was wearing jackets in Budapest, Vienna, and even Paris. Perhaps they just like to be prepared, but just thinking about it makes me feel overheated!
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