Hungry in Hungary.
If nothing else, I'd like to lead an interesting life.
Sounds like a quote from a Jane Austen novel or a Dorothy Parker quip.
Or, it sounds like a woman trying to make sense of a life she finds herself in, full of rocky roads and nuts.
This weekend, four years ago, was a weekend that shaped what ended up being the rest of my life, up until this point of course. I met a man to whom I would devote myself so entirely that I lost myself in the process and I lost a man who was so devoted to me that I became the woman I am.
Talk about your irony.
Almost four years ago to the day, on June 18th 2014, I received a call from the Sacramento Coroners office shortly after placing a call of my own. That morning I phoned Sac PD to request a wellness check on my 60 something year old father who never didn't answer my calls or return my texts. One would think the fact that the coroner and not the police department was placing the call would be a sign of news to come - but in moments of great shock and tragedy it has been my experience logic takes a back seat, and that is if it is invited on the journey at all.
That day I was wearing a white lace dress with lace up espadrilles and a thick swipe of black liner across the tops of my eyes. I'd gone into a permalance gig I had been working every few months and had the pleasure of running into a photographer I had worked with early in my career who had a reputation for being difficult but who I found to be charming in an ornery sort of way.
It's funny that I forget names of people I've met. Plots of books I've read. Hell, I forget people I've banged, yet I remember that white lace dress with absolute clarity.
You never think that call will come to you.
I'd been worried. My gut had been twisting into knots, telling me something was off and the night before I had sent one final email with a simple subject line, "Are You Ok?" to my dad.
Despite my knowing something was wrong nothing could ever have prepared me for that call, cold and robotic, from a corner who determined my dad was dead yesterday morning and was just now getting around to letting me know.
I can't blame them for that - there were circumstances around my father's untimely demise that were curious and suspect and they were having difficulty reaching next of kin. In fact, it seemed that my call to the police was just the bread crumb they needed to find me. It is a call I was hesitant to make but ultimately grateful I did.
I will always hate that it was more than 24 hours later that my father's death was discovered and his loved ones notified, and I hope if there is an afterlife that he knows his absence was felt. Immediately.
That I had called his sister and my sister and his best friend the day before to get a read on his whereabouts. When his sister remembered speaking to him that morning - only to later realize her dates were off - I felt a slight alleviation.
But enough about that, at least for the moment.
Now I am here, 4 years later.
Four years older.
Four years wiser?
A different woman.
Yet one who, ultimately, wants to live an interesting life.
If not for myself. Then for Christopher.
Why Budapest you may ask.
Why not I would reply.
I had booked a flight to Shanghai a year before, thinking it would be the ultimate second trimester adventure to have as my last hurrah, at least for a while, but when that didn't go as planned either I cancelled the ticket and had the credit sitting in my account with United Airlines until some hopeless soul on the other end of the line, likely in Bengal, helped me find a comparably priced ticket to maybe the 7th destination I suggested.
So here I could Eastern Europe.
Here we come.
Natalie Maines' pure harmonies ushered me downtown on a strangely cold yet balmy day in New York City, as I embarked upon my journey to be hungry in Hungary (spoiler alert, I am hungry most of the time).
Yes, I’m sure that joke has been made many times before and will be for years to come but this particular portion of the globe is new for me, so cut me some slack.
After spending my future children’s college fund on snacks at the airport the plane is boarded with bilingual ease and the smell of jet fuel fills my nostrils.
While waiting for my regularly scheduled data plan to tap out I peruse my news feed and Bustle has an in depth article about those who don’t have, for lack of a better term, a reason to celebrate this Father’s Day.
The day the music died.
Pain is such an interesting concept.
We all experience it, though we feel it and manage it in vastly different ways.
After two pretty bummer movies and the epilogue to an Eat Pray Love, but better, tome we begin our decent into Brussels and the dual language explanations of the goings on leaves me aching, as it often does, to truly speak another language or, when it comes to Francais, to at least be able to discern between vowels and consonants.
Many are led to believe that the greatest thing about America is the inalienable freedoms with which we are born - or are stripped of us if we possess too much melanin. But I am here to say, after many years of travel and about an hour at the Brussels airport - that it is our deep and unbinding respect for personal space.
If I, of all people, am prepared to take an octogenarian gentleman with a charming accent out after parking his roller on my foot without abandon not once, but twice, you know there is a problem.
Little Big Town serenades me into our final decent and I too wish you were a better man. But alas, I have no control, or responsibility over someone else’s feelings and/or actions. A lesson hard learned and still slowly etching its way into my oversized cerebellum.
The skies are grey and drizzly as we touch down at BUD and I fight to make sure my mood doesn’t shift to match, as it is want to do. Honestly with or without the precipitation.
I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours straight at this point and though my body can push on it is also shutting down, making me excessively cold.
Once I rouse from a near dead to the world nap - jet lag is real y’all - the rain has stopped and I hit the cool, clean, tranquil streets of Budapest that both smell like and offer the comfort of a grandparents home.
It is clear I’m a foreigner though I’m not entirely sure why as I too am Caucasian and I too have take athleisure wear to the next level and made it every day apparel.
The one distinction I can ascertain is that though sweatpants and cargo shorts abound, I’ve yet to see a pair of straight up leggings. Maybe labia isn’t as fashionable here as I had hoped.
Once I turn toward Rakoezi Ut all tranquility is gone and the chaos of a city envelopes me. It’s now 5:30 pm Hungarian time and I haven’t eaten in nearly a day so the friendly fire seemingly knows as Eastern European road rage barely gives me a moment’s pause as a make a B line for my boo.
My one and only.
My never let me down.
My round the way girl.
Say what you will, my international rendezvous with Burger King bring me joy and trans fats and I intend to keep her as a side piece, and in this case my first meal in Budapest, for many moons to come.
A quick bite and I moved on to a tiny little antique shop fraught with nudie cards., rotary phones and a Rick Astley pin. Essentially, I could decorate my entire home.
Budapest is divided into two parts, Buda and Pest, so I make my way through more urban Pest to Chain Bridge, picking up some obligatory postcards along the way and basking in the familiar otherness.
As I traverse, just wander I encounter a bevy of English buddies unsteadily arguing over who’s got to look after who after far far to many pints whilst watching the match and a rampant homeless problem and some homies at Budapest Eye I suspect were talking mad shit, but seeing as I don’t speak Hungarian I have no proof.
As I make my way back home, back to my private garden and rosebuds sheets I can’t help but notice, Budapest has no black people and an excessive amount of cologne.
A feast of salami and fresh bread was had in bed. Proving not much has changed since i caught this travel bug - remember, Henriette?
Though I had sought out the Central Market Hall the night before to no avail, the red meat had led me to it's front door and I perused the ‘hand painted’ goods, lusted after nesting dolls and embroidered garb with bright colors and ornate patterns.
When I first started to explore the world I truly had no money, and acted accordingly.
Now that I’ve been employed for a number of years I can, at times, feel my purse strings loosen. This results in immediate feelings of good, healthy Catholic guilt and, when I contemplate that I am currently attempting to rival the Trump dynasty with my real estate moguldum I gently remind myself, two homes means no need for additional purchased of material goods - no matter how beautiful.
This did not stop me from purchasing some unique local artisan's earrings for my mother in violet and red, just one of the ways I honor and include my parents on my trips. Libety Bridge butts up against the market and not only adds a pop of color to the otherwise very earth toned skyline, but allows a selfie station for the tourists that abound. As I cross the green structure I see a young couple entangled, lost in there own from here to eternity moment wedged between the water and the highway. They look deeply ensconced in young love and a pang of jealousy strikes my tender heart.
I’ve accepted that young love was not in the cards for me. That no one will ever carry my books and I will not be forced to give a hand job in a public restroom or parked car (note forced) because by the time men entered my world in any real way I had my own place.
But I have been in love and I have the slightest etching of a memory of that feeling where being lost in your lover's embrace really silences the world.
Freedom Bridge deposits you at The Church in the Cave. I assure you, its not a clever name. Unadorned and underwhelming this 3 forint entrance fee was only worth it because a man working here went out of his way to ask if I was a student and when I said no insist I was - of life.
He also made sure to tell me I was very beautiful!
These days when I look in the mirror, all I see is grey hair and defeat. Life on this planet will wear you out, even faster when you commit to
someone who expects you to make a spreadsheet detailing your value. It may seem little. But a strange man telling me I was beautiful was nice. And needed.
The Church bumped a slightly prophetic version of the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack as I took the guided tour and likely contracted lice from the shared listening devices. After reentering civilization I took a quick walk over to cultural center, which is the equivalent to Old Sac for those 916'ers. Lots of trinkets emblazoned with Budapest for sale and ancient stone buildings that at one time or another housed something very important. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt more lost when exploring a place, not directionally, but I have had virtually no clue what I’m sitting on, standing next to or looking at since I arrived.
Budapest must be stag party central for Euro trash. I’ve seen a myriad, replete with a throng in matching shirts painting the proverbial town red.
Enthusiasm is not my strong suit. Save for one or two *NSYNC concerts in the late 90's and early aughts I am not know for demonstrative displays of joy or wonder - but turning the corner to see St Matthias in the setting sun I literally said stopped and said, "Wow." The ornate stone carvings and colorful tiled roof were captivating and despite the fact that I’d meandered too long and the church was closed, I just sat and stared for some time. Lost in a sea of gilt and, well guilt.
While descending from the mountain (insert biblical allusion here) I stopped to look out over Chain Bridge and was overcome with emotion. Sure, it could be my impending menstral cycle or the general malaise that lives not so deep inside of me.
But I wanted him here.
I wanted him here so badly it hurt.
And not in a travel urn safely tucked in my camera bag to be dispersed across the world way.
I wanted his rough calloused hands to reach out around me. I wanted the way he always smelled like warm shower to permeate my nostrils. I wanted his lion-like laugh to accompany the many statues of them strewn throughout the city and I was deeply sad he was not.
He would have liked this part of the world.
It would have been a perfect daddy-daughter adventure with it's temperate weather and sexless history.
Right after my dad died I’d get angry. Jealous of young girls on the train sitting next to their dads. I’d irrationally compared the 32 years I was lucky to have with him to the 9 this little girl was in the midst of experiencing.
It wasn’t logical or a proud moment. But it was an honest one.
In a battle with technology I attempted to utilize outdoor, free public WiFi and had a Face Time fiasco while the skies were just turning dark purple at 9pm.
Oh well, off to find goulash
After sundown the golden lights illuminate Budapest and lovers come out in droves to walk hand in hand and canoodle on any number of benches lining the waterway.
It would seem as though the elaborate lighting design is set up to draw one's attention to any number of historic landmarks but really, its a place to get sauced and bone or have an impromptu Instagram photo sesh where you look longingly into the distance as though your bestie isn’t two feet away, dislocating a hip trying to get the perfect silhouette with the city in the back.
Dinner at Cucina (goulash will have to wait) in the shopping district merely because it was still open at 10 pm. Mom's spaghetti still reigns supreme.
The more you wander the more you understand and I was finally gathering my bearings on the trek home - with some minor help from Google Maps, of course.
My body has no idea what time it is, where it is or who it wants to be - evidently middle age is the current desire.
To bed, too late.
I woke this morning knowing perhaps just why traveling alone in a strange place is a bad idea. Emotional memory is real and with tomorrow being the 4 year mark my emotions are all over the place.
No tears or fits of rage, but a nagging sadness sits deep in my chest and makes rousing from this comfy loaner bed a real challenge that and, despite the fact that I didn’t check my fit bit yesterday and lunch like my next door table neighbor, I traversed this city, and in converse no less, so my dogs were barking.
A 20 minute conversation with the front desk dude changed my whole day and offered more information and inspiration than the past few days combined.
Though he suggested the metro I chose to walk back past the apparently very in-demand Hollywood cemetery to the Budapest Keliti station to get my Bratislava tickets before the day escaped me.
A few things came to mind when approaching this transportation hub. Hungarians are tough, not only does their history reflect this but so do their persons. Hungarian girls are thick AF with muscular thighs and backs for days and the elderly have the best stories carved into their weathered faces.
You can go to any square in any town in any country and find The Godfather theme being played outdoors on some instrument or another. Here is was a violin.
Though I have not yet fallen madly in love with this city, I have thought I could easily live here and nothing proved that more than the enormous Burger King emblazoned atop an ancient artifice facing the square for all to see.
Thick thighs and the burgers that feed them. I’m home!
After purchasing tickets for the 17:40 train to Bratislava I headed toward Hero’s Square, recommended by my new bestie back at the hotel. Though BK was calling I instead chose to stop into a little wood paneled checkered table clothed establishment to try and eat something remotely authentically native while here.
Service without a smile provided me a small goulash and coke. Stale white bread was served to accompany this native oily vegetable stew, this one seemingly containing chicken as well. It wasn’t bad, but the white trash in me will always prefer a good, old fashioned can of Campbell’s. That shit is mmmm mmmm good!
As I approach the Museum of Agriculture from the back (dirty), I am met with the memory of feeding the ducks in downtown Sacramento with my dad as a little girl. I am also met with a bevy of visitors all, and I repeat ALL, looking at their phones.
This place is spectacular - Hero’s Square is like a real life Disneyland with castles and flowers and party bikes of drunken euro trash literally singing “It’s a Small World After All,” along with maybe the 8th black person I’ve seen here who just happens to be hot and wearing Timbs - just saying ... a
I duck into Jaki Chapel just moments before they close and pay my 300 forint to honor my father, my son and my best friend Brie, all of whom were lost far too soon.
I’ve limited this to three. My favorite uncle Brian died when I was 9. The 3 grandparents I knew passed away in recent years and a dear friend Josh was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident just over a decade ago, but there comes a point when if you make note of every life you’ve lost with a single flame, you’ll cause a forest fire.
I post up just outside the castle walls, no hyperbole here, and find my Rory Gilmore tree to jot down these notes and enjoy the sun that has finally come out to play and the gentle breeze that cuts the otherwise staggering humidity.
After departing from The Garden House I was offered some more than generous help finding my way from an old man in coveralls with bushy eyebrows and aggressive Hungarian. He managed to get me to Nyagati train station, designed by the same architect as the Eiffel Tower, just in time to pick up some paprika chips from this paprika obsessed nation and board car 365.
My assigned seat number put me in the exact same orientation of my train ride with my father in Morocco and I had a flashback instant to our intense conversation with the North African landscapes whizzing by.
As tickets were checked, I apologized profusely for not speaking Hungarian but they all seem to acknowledge how specifically challenging their language is.
Soon I have the car to myself.
The Hungarian countryside looks like a Van Gough painting.
I have a friend who once paid me a compliment that was something to the effect of ‘this girl makes me want to visit places I didn’t know existed.’ Slovakia is that for me.
My ignorance is so great that I’d not even really thought of this as being a country and has most certainly never heard of Bratislava before a few clicks of the google mouse when planning to Budapest.
When I finally managed to find a cab driver and figure I was met with a bold and brazen - “YOU’RE ALONE!’
I figured a couple hour train ride to see a new country was worth it and as we rolled in at magic hour I was so glad I had!
Some BSB serenaded me on the 20 euro/ 10 minute cab ride to the Botel Marina where I’d be staying the next couple of nights.
The Danube is strangely beautiful and once boarding the ship I was so thankful I’d taken a leap and booked this room just this morning.
So it would seem in Central Europe instead of a gentle nudge the direct approach is more readily utilized.
Though the proprietor in Budapest welcomed me with a drawn on map noting every possible thing is want to see do or eat the owner of the Botel, when asked where I could eat, said anywhere and gestured with both hands wildily.
Left to my own devices I walked along the river, at night, alone, toward noise. The Slovak restaurant was closing but an expensive Brazilian spot was open and when I stepped into the open air dining area the waiter asked - you’re alone? Part statement part question. All poignant.
Sleep didn’t come easy as there was a group of Indian ‘businessmen’ who were having a raucous session of adult abandon on the back of the boat until late night - and I came home from dinner after midnight!
My sleep here has proven to only be more exhausting and I wake up puffy faced and horny for my pillow.
Today I knew would be particularly challenging as today is THE day. I knew it was unlikely for me to communicate with anyone - that tonight wasn’t about memes or friendly quips but about my dad. And me.
Unfortunately I’ve had another AirbNb first from hell, this guest also not being able I ot figure out how to turn a doorknob without calling in the national guard, or in this case AirbNb management.
At about 4 am my time I got a message saying they’d spent 10 minutes (which we all know means 3) before contacting the proper authorities. This only leads me to further confirm my own badassness as well as many of my associates. Are we are a people so soft and in expectation of immediacy these days that we can’t employ patience when trying to open a fucking door?
Needless to say this caused me huge amounts of stress and necessitated lots of communication with the now unresponsive party. Who could have fucked with me any other day or the year. But not today..
But time moves on. Stress and sadness linger and I had to face June 17th whether I liked it or not.
A morning run.
My legs have been in the most exquisite agony I knew I needed to push myself again. And that’s just what I did, along the Danube in Slovakia on a sunny June day a million miles away.
During my run I take a quick Pink Floyd break by the banks and pangs of guilt enter my psyche. This isn’t unique to me - an Irish and Italian/pretend Hispanic girl is bound to have some catholic guilt in her DNA, but my grief over my father wasn’t isolated.
I didn’t properly grieve him and I find the remnants of that leaking out at the most inopportune times.
I was in an abusive relationship and I lost my child and as awful as both of those things are, as much as they’ve hurt and are important in their own right, the succession of events had me focusing more on those and less on Dr. Christopher Heard and what losing him really meant.
I’m not sure we can ever really understand why losing a parent means, especially prematurely.
Ever played Jenga?
Well then you know if you take a block or two out of the foundation the integrity of the structure is compromised and it’s never quite as sturdy as it once was. That’s what losing a parent is like.
That’s why the shake of a boyfriend who I fell in love with so deeply and so quickly not being able to love me as I am almost wrecked me.
That’s why losing my son while still inside of me didn’t just shake me.
It destroyed me.
I could tell you about how the sky was clear and blue and the sun shone down upon me. I could tell you the streets were charming and fraught with fragrant lavender. I could tell you about how this part of the world seems to subsist on diets made entirely of meats and cheeses and how I was not enjoying that or, conversely how I love the arts and crafts and have been spending my retirement on art for my walls. But I’ll do this instead:
Happy Father’s Day. I’m celebrating this year with you from Central Europe and I have no doubt you’d love it here. Part of you will now always flow through the Danube river. You’re truly taking over the world.
I hope you’re proud of me. I hope when you were alive I made your life better and I hope you know that you are still a part of me and everything I do.
I hope you know I named my son after you.
I hope you two are together now.
Thank you for giving me life in every sense of the word. You encouraged my penchant for the arts and allowed my biting humor to live in your home. You gave me your hands and your feet. You oversized head and your oversized ass. You gave me the curiosity that has brought me to live in 3 major US cities, to fall in love with inappropriate men and to wanderlust till my hearts content.
This is my 41st country today. And your 9th posthumously, I believe. I hope you see my traditions with you now as an indication of your successes in life.
Thank you for letting me be who I am, and more importantly know who I am.
My love and devotion to you cannot be articulated, so I’m doing my best to show you. I love you.
Your daughter and best friend,
Midnight. Leonard Cohen. The Danube.
Morning comes early and my head is throbbing with pangs of dehydration. The humidity in this part of the world wasn’t anticipated and everything is so expensive I’ve likely allocated less for water than needed.
Flying by the seat of my spandex pants I decide, last minute, to book room 37 on my river Titanic another night and spend today in a small town a couple hours outside of the ‘big city’ with a fellow American I stumbled upon last night.
After a frantic race to the train station I made it just in time to meet my new friend and head to track 2 to board the 10 am train to TK station, where we would then have to hire a car for the final left of the journey to reach UNESCO Heritage site Banska Stiavnica.
The train ride and conversation were pleasant and the fields of sunflowers as far as the eye could see actually filled me with joy. I wanted badly to frolic through them wearing chambray and lace and crooning to an Amy Grant tune.
When the train portion ended we loaded into the back of a small car with a large Slavic man who attempted many times to help us with the pronunciation of his town’s name in addition to auditioning for Mario Andretti’s stunt double in a Honda through the countryside of Slovakia. Trying my best not to get motion sick I held on tight and breathed a sigh of relief when we finally reached the tiny hamlet of Banska Stiavnica.
BS is quaint and colorful and lovely.
They are also, right on the edge of modernity and style, illustrated by their tiny walk in shop whose name did not disappoint. Top Fashion was everything you wanted it to be. Bold patterns, cheap fabrics, poorly translated English phrases emblazoned on flannel shirts, all overseen by a judgy Eastern European frauline who had NO time for me and the homie.
The day was spent meandering up and down the main strip of BS, popping into the stationary shop to purchase what seems to be a mildly racist greeting card in Slovakian ( I didn’t realize it at the time) and visiting the Old Castle, where a torture chamber of a staircase leads twisting and turning all the way up until… nothing. It literally goes nowhere.
The sky was clear and blue; air cool and clean. The beautiful atmosphere made it easier to pallette the fact that we missed the train and had to wait for the literal last train to Clarksville, spending our final hours drinking prosecco and beer served by a miserable waitress in the late afternoon sun.
There is something romantic about train rides, especially when they meander through the countryside of Eastern Europe at sunset. Conversation with my new friend was easy and comfortable, like a well loved blanket and I was thankful for this moment in time, where I was present and contended.
Once we arrived back in Bratislava, it was late and it was the hunt for the red … dinnertime. AFter several fruitless attempts to receive nourishment we went back to Rio, the Brazilian spot I had patronized the evening prior, where I gorged myself on shrimp and potatoes while Marie Kondo herself (not really) was so precisely eating her toast we had to stop and stare.
My new friend, who shall be from this point forward be referenced as the Marine, walked me home to the Botel, playing the perfect gentleman until we saw a snake slither along the walkway - at which point he became more of a little girl. It was equal parts amusing and endearing.
Not quite ready to say goodbye we made plans to visit one more sight in this one horse town (actually I’ve seen none) before heading East and West respectively the following morning.
Another adventure. Another beautiful experience with another beautiful stranger. Another late night.
For some reason now when I rise the creases stay in my face, basically until the following day and the dark circles persist to remind me I’m not as young as I used to be.
Doing my best to ignore these tell tale signs of personal dilapidation I press on and dress once again like a soccer mom to repack my bag and get the hell out of dodge.
The day is bright and clear and beautiful and the speedily currented Danube teases me with it’s tranquility to stay another day.
But Vienna awaits. What would Freud say?
As I made my way back to old town to re-up on carbs and bid adieu to my new bestie (the Marine) not even the construction workers along the path reciprocated a friendly smile or acknowledgement of human existence.
I don’t know what Slovakia has been up to but it’s beautiful and peaceful and all of it’s inhabitants are devoid of human emotion and/or common courtesy. What gives?
After traversing the new city alongside my American amigo I purchased a ticket for the 12:30 bus to Vienna, boarded at gate 33 and kissed both Slovakia and my new friend goodbye.
How is it I find men I can connect with all over the world. Why is it I can meet a cute, smart man who deemed me the most interesting person in the world, repeatedly telling me he was just waiting for me to write my book, but never at home...
The warm rumble of the bus must have encouraged me to pass out tough, because as I awoke I was in an entirely different country and I swore I just closed my eyes for a moment - but here I was in Austria.
I’m not sure if public transportation is free here - but it is for me because I deftly hopped on the U2 muni (for all of my San Franciscans) and transferred to the 41A bus where even more central/eastern Europeans were basically finger banging in public. I finally made it to my studio apartment for the next couple of days after some running around and relying on the help of some exceedingly kind Austrians.
After a little down/FaceTime and I exited my humble abode that had no right being on Hotels.com and walked along the late afternoon summer loving streets. And no, Sandy and Danny were nowhere to be found - but dry humping couples aboundt. Literally. After the finger sucking couple seated next to me at breakfast this was almost more than I could handle and I thought, does Euro trash friskier in the warm weather? Does everyone and I’m just too dead inside to notice? Had to say.
The Freud museum was basically the only point of interest I made a point of interesting while I’m Austria, namely for my pops. After taking the scenic route there I made it just in the nick of time, with 40 minutes to spare. The cashier seemed skeptical that I would have enough time to visit this itty bitty tourist destination - but I did.
The Freud museum has, by far, the best audio tour I’ve ever taken, replete with an app to use on your phone to guide you through the rooms, though overpriced at about 16 bucks to go on a 20 min trek - if that!
Note - somehow You’re Welcome, miss translates to ady please in Slovakia - and now in Austria - and I feel like I am trapped in Jerry Lewis movie.
I sat in front of Freud for some time and let the breeze cool me down before deciding to head toward the water. The outdoor eateries and patterned light were gorgeous and enjoying this European beauty I knelt down to help a newsboy capped elderly man lift his walker up into a local church. What I did not expect was for him to yell at me. Illusion shattered. Reality returned.
After a pep talk from my bestie earlier about how my pilgrimages keep my father alive and will yet another set of unused eggs about to be disposed of through my vagina I’m a little emotional.
Sitting inside this tiny church with all of its gothic glory I, for a moment, almost felt my dad here and was overcome with emotion.
Those who know me know I love church and religious art but am not a religious person and don’t believe in god.
I think when we die it’s lights out.
But every so often I can actually feel my dad with me. And for him to be with me in a Catholic church in a June afternoon - I’m not sure what else I’d need today...
A quick cruise by Morton’s weinerhaus down by the river, an ode to my first very ginger crush, and the attempt to be as healthy as possible at Pastis, I take a leap with a salade nicoise and watch the Poland v. Senegal match in the World Cup where the African team has me feeling ALL the feelings!
A dish with no dead mammal and the cool breeze made me feel like a real human again and allowed me ample energy to argue with some dummy on WhatsApp.
He is new to photography and new to a South American country. He felt that the state from which he comes has nothing to photograph that hasn’t been seen already. I replied that that was absolutely untrue and absolutely not an artist’s view on things and I got a ‘to each his own in response.’ Sure, I’ve matured but not that much... I was right damnit. If you look around, at life, at your town, at your countrymen and think it’s been tapped out - that speaks far more to your creative limitations than the cultural or visual, in this case, well of your environment.
Ok, soap box away.
I chilled at Pastis for a bit but when some Eastern blockers sidled up to my table and began to smoke kremlin reds right in my face I knew it was time to move on.
Speaking of maturity - Am I the only one that sees weiners plastered all over this city and giggles?
I’m in Vienna for you daddy. Let’s be real. You’d love the history and the youth culture. The music and the women with Eastern European eyes and Latin American asses. You’d love the mellow breezes and the sticky sunshine. You’d love it here. You belonged here. You belong here...
So I’ll wander along the river at dusk, lined with groups of kids getting high and enough powerful street art to cause a flashback from your LSD days. I’ll listen to Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” and believe yours is here.
As I walk my pulse slows and I breathe. And I think isn’t it amazing how beautiful music can make a beautiful life.
And then I take a long walk home.
Weiners in Vienna
It’s the AM. I’m showered and fully dressed, and horizontal.
It seems my moods fluctuate more than the Central European climate and I’m doing all I can to muster up the strength to walk out that door.
A door I had a particularly challenging time opening last and had almost a pang of empathy for the idiots who stayed at my place in New York and swore the knob was broken. The only difference being I figured it the fuck out.
I don’t think I’m lonely. I don’t think I’m desperate or pathetic or any of those lovely terms associated with single, family less woman my age - but I do feel exhausted.
I do feel like life is handed out so unfairly. I would imagine that the small children sleeping in tender age facilities on the border tonight might agree. Thanks to our current administration.
Love is what makes the world go round and when you feel a deficit; when your love bank is overdrawn and no checks are coming in, it’s absolutely tiring.
I can’t run back to the man I was with. He’s chosen another. He never really loved me anyway.
And I can’t make myself love another and expect theirs in return. Love is this elusive, ineffable thing - it’s magic. And aside from Neil Patrick Harris, no one controls that.
So I strap on my chucks, throw on my complimentary Lyft branded shades and face yet another day. Trudge on in this thing called life and face another day seeing the world and sharing it with the ghosts of Christmas past.
Cautious with my heart didn’t work and reckless left me for dead.
Making my way to the Leopold Museum I pass real life. People smoking cigarettes, cafes with silver haired patrons, road construction and lots and lots of bookstores - one of my many weaknesses along with carbohydrates and now the entire Senegalese soccer team, bookstores always make me brake and always make me want to spend money in unnecessary ways.
I have memories from girlhood to being an adult with my dad, first bored to tears then engaged but limited by finances perusing the racks of City Lights bookstore on Jack Kerouac Way and casually sauntering up to the counter with my rent checks worth of books.
Each and every time.
At some point you would have thought his curiosity would be sated. This eternal quest is exactly why he was fairly well versed in everything.
In the shade the weather is lovely but direct sun feels like you’re on it. I reach Museum Quartier before long and my mind is such a mess that Egon Schiele starts to actually make sense.
Dehydrated and despondent I begin my search for a regalo for Griffin, the only nephew who put in an actual request, and a beverage.
I sit down with my 5000th Coca-Cola Light and W. Kamau Bell and hope for distraction from my own inner dialogue, an absolute occupational hazard when traveling alone.
Sadly the glittery glam of Klimt was closed for updates to the collection but Schiele’s deep-rooted mommy issues and exploration of female sexuality played well with the mood and a new found respect was created for him and inspiration drawn from him while inside the Leo Museo. Upstairs housed Zoran Music’s work, a Croatian artist, I who’s work didn’t really float my boat, but who’s vast expertise in styles was jaw droppingly impressive nonetheless.
If you walk East from MuseumQuartier, you’ll cross through Park Volksgarten, as well as throngs of families in khakis and protective headwear. Keep going and you’ll end up at Hofburg Palace, designated by Lonely Planet’s website as a must see. The parking lot is filled with the black Mercedes of diplomats, on of whom’s security detail most certainly gave me some special places feelings. Keep on keeping on in the general direction of school children and Asian people being led by a red flag hoisted above the crowd and...
In the thick of tourist central is where you find the modern Austrian men wearing nylon facsimiles of powdered wigs and chariots with restless horses waiting to take your Dorito-dimpled ass over the cobbled roads for an ‘authentic’ experience.
I ducked into St. Michaels not only because churches are my bag but to give a shout out to my marine who feels passionately enough about this particular saint that he has permanently carved him into his right arm.
St Michael’s has the chill in the air that only old stone structures can and live refurbishers at work - which I may have only seen previously on PBS.
To the right is a small chapel devoted to the Virgin Mary and the yellow light that is cast in late afternoon is so exquisitely beautiful that I was actually brought to tears.
See a theme here?
With culture globalizing into crap currently I am left to wonder as I gaze up at the mother and child, in 500 years will we be lighting a candle below a replica of a Kardashian ass or paying homage to the trans fats of Mcy D’s.
The pride, love and craftsmanship that went into eons of culture around the world has now been shifted into one of convenience and coveting thy neighbor's everything - including her new boobs.
Call me a curmudgeon, call me a broken record, call me whatever you like. Perhaps I have no room to complain because I’m not doing anything about it - but isn’t that just what this current climate is about - hiding behind a digital screen and pretending you’re making a difference?
The maybe recorded maybe hidden monks chanted me out as I hit the blistering Viennese pavement once more.
From St Michaels to St. Peter’s, on my seeming pilgrimage, which was so golden and glorious that I stayed and I prayed and I attended a full mass. In German.
While passing through the souvenir and ice cream shop laden alleyways, I stumble upon St. Stephens and then, the lift up to the top. For 6 euro I got to watch a tough as nails German bitch go in on an Asian youth not listening to her but his Beats by Dre instead. I delighted it not being me who was being reprimanded.
From the caged top, 50 meters above the street, you can see the entire city - both modern and industrial and vintage and quaint. For no additional charge you can watch a menopausal woman be pawed at by her paramour - or maybe that’s just me.
Seriously - I’m an affectionate girl but these euros need to cool it. It’s church for CHRIStsake!
Sometimes being a New Yafornian is great. And sometimes it gets you yelled at in German by the police. I generally take red lights as a suggestion when on foot. This officer was clearly not having it. I tried my best to be respectful but he could smell Wash Heights on me and knew I didn’t give AF.
Eating ice cream seems to be an Austrian law with which I am not familiar, but one I must obey (unlike street lights) so I take a brief sugar break.
Surprisingly spicy Thai and a large Austrian beer that resulted in my texting friends insisting they fix the pieces of me that are broken - so that seems right on track are had before I call it a night and begin my long sojourn home.
Hopefully early to bed means early to rise.
A morning plagued by existential crises and catching up on the latest Pete Davidson/Ariana Grande news storm that for some reason I have an opinion about and I was out the door.
The Merry Maids showed up at 10 sharp so it’s a good thing I’m a generally punctual girl as I was ready to go.
I took a little walk through Betriebshof Gurten, shady with trees and noisy with children’s laughter with my now very awkward bag to catch the U6, transfer to the U3 and end up at Vienna’s international bus station many many hours early to purchase my ticket into Slovenia.
I’d not planned on making this such a whirlwind trip. Somehow it went from Hungary to Hungary and Austria, then I added in Slovakia and with a little inspiration from my marine a 4th country was thrown in the mix. Yesterday I thought that would be Serbia and the morning before I was set on Romania but being hard to read and spontaneous are only two of my many wonderful attributes and after approximately 6 minutes of research last night I decided on Slovenia.
Maybe Melania’s family can help help a sister out!
Having finished Kamau’s book I’m tapped out on satire and the memoir was done countries ago - left with no ally I was now truly on my own.
The train is much like the muni - above ground and spacious on tracks - only this is a much smellier version. Showering seems to have been outlawed in this part of the world and the heat is oppressive - like August in the Bronx. Luckily two grandmas started bickering when one fell onto another’s lap accidentally so there is also free entertainment. Show-time!
Changing trains at Westbahnhof to catch the orange line seemed fortuitous. Some of you have grandmas who hug you or husbands who buy you flowers. Parents who offer words of encouragement. I have BK. Like an apparition, I had not seen a Burger King since Hungary and after the emotional roller coaster ride that is being Briana I stopped in for some comfort and guaranteed obesity.
The bus station is more depressing than most I’ve encountered and the ticket has a two euro surcharge, which is worth it to watch this woman’s breasts and belly battle with her blouse’s buttons. 4:45 to Maribol.
I find a Billa where I can procure toothpaste, which I need, and lotion, which I’ve been told I need. The lunch rush of inconsiderate officers is intense and once I look at the map it looks like there may be some place suitable to chill and spend my last few hours in Vienna.
My bag is heavy. It’s uncomfortable and after circling the perimeter of the garage I realize I’m in a wasteland and I may as well admit defeat now and just live on this corner until I run out of haribo and let the crowd feast upon my carcas.
An hour has passed and I find Max’s Beir and Mehr. The mehr is second hand smoke because people in this neck of the woods not only still watch ‘Smash’ on network television, but they smoke. And indoors to boot.
I don’t care any longer. I’ll happily get a tracheotomy as long as I don’t have to pick up and carry that damn bag in this summer heat ever again.
I am missing my Officer and a Gentleman moment what was once many countries ago, save for the fact that he wa a captain and I am a lady.
The wait for the bus was interminable. Pun intended.
I order a pretzel and Pepsi kept me company in the smoke filled eatery. Then I spent some time charging up and getting my cardio fly swatting in the sewer scented bus station. With only 30 minutes to go I stepped outside where two cold war-ers were seated and smoking and some visual inspiration at least lifted my spirits a bit.
Never wanting to be too big of an American pain I order a hotdog assuming that is in fact what I will receive. Apparently here hot dogs are filled with some sort of cheese product and when my taste buds discovered this neither they, nor I, were so happy. I enthusiastically spit out a cheesy sausage in the terminal trash under the highway overpass. European Travel is glamorous!!
The FlixBus does have WiFi but no outlets so my minutes are limited for unencumbered communication as we weave with through the fields and forestry of Central Europe.
Two men in front of me chatter in maybe Slovenian as I ache for a meal. Haribo and sparkling water only get you so far.
In what seems like an endless ride through the picturesque Austrian countryside, namely because Slovenian Oscar and Felix are going in one row up we stop at Rasthaus, I’m guessing because we’re about to cross a border and I help a fellow traveler pay for the toilet.
Mostly because I feel that’s a commie move to charge someone to pee and she repays me in the gas station with a coupon. Pay it forward people.
Mexicano chips are served for dinner tonight so I’m making sure to separate them all and crush their hopes and dreams.
The skies have completely opened up and the only thing that smells better than a warm European bus - is a wet one!
At no point does our bus announce where it’s going so when we park unceremoniously at my destination I’m grateful I got my ass up and grabbed my bag from the underbelly of the beast just in time.
It’s raining in Maribor and I don’t mean a little pretty summer rain. I mean thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening me. Without Galileo or any open WiFi connections that seem to be working I have a brief chat with a store owner to tells me to wait it out and an American girl sitting at the bus stop heading in the opposite direction as my beacons of hope.
It is now 9pm and the town is vacant save for lone lady cab driver who comes to my Slovenian rescue.
Earlier in the day I’d been talking to a cheap version of Oswald Bates, as I am want to do, and when we were discussing Aruba I said I prefer more adventure. He asked what that meant.
This is what that means.
Part of me loves arriving on a smelly bus to a town I’d never heard of before this morning in a country I decided to enter late last night and that honestly I didn’t know existed pre Laura Hahn (love you girl). I get a thrill from the word problem of travel. If Briana is going 85 Miles per hour to Slovenia and the rain is coming down with the circumference of small puppy dogs and the hotel is located 2.7 kilometers away, how long will it take for Briana to lose her shit. Surprisingly it’s a much larger integer than you’d expect.
Far larger than on domestic soil.
It seems Hotel Bau is quite a bit further from city center than I’d anticipated or would like, but everything else was twice the cost and this place had vaguely awkward stock photos of couples in a hot tub, so it was sort of a no brainer.
Though the frau at Hotel Bau was lovely, I was hungry and it was raining and the numbered rooms were out of order and in order to get to my assigned room I had to meander down more than one pitch black corridor.
I was tired and in need of nourishment and sweaty. Basically a dream woman.
Zlata Srna serves Chinese until 11 and since I had Thai in Austria and it was pretty damn good I grabbed a borrowed umbrella and got hoofing. In the rain. At night. Alone. I’m the middle of nowhere.
Adventure here I come?
The rain had not subsided, though it had lessened and this was my big day to explore Maribor. City center was about an hour’s walk - not ideal.
The cold rain fell down onto the lush green fields outside my windows and it became quite clear why the countryside here was so bountiful in its range of blues and greens.
Breakfast was served downstairs between 7-9 and I was in no rush to get cold and wet so I descended the stairs from room 113 and entered the casting call for Cocoon Redux.
I guess small town Slovenia doesn’t draw quite the same crowd stag party Budapest.
The eggs were fluorescent orange and the toast was anything but French. But the grub was free and this trip was far more expensive than I’d chose to acknowledge yet - so I dug in!
In keeping with my deeply pretend Hispanic roots I took a little siesta and gave the rain some time to pass. When by 10 it was still showering I decided to say fuck it and went for my now late morning run to the toons of Reba McEntire.
Though I wished I’d had a Disney soundtrack at hand. This small town is how do you say, so ... provincial.
I felt like Belle waving to the butcher the baker and the candlestick maker only without her condescending warbling.
The rain was light and the air fresh.
I made a B line down a small road, paying attention to find my way back and found tiny colorful gardens with gnomes and hidden forests that likely gave me Lymes disease.
Not wanting to waste anymore time I told Reba to chill and returned to Bauhaus, promising to return to these woven roads with my camera by my side.
A long walk through suburban Maribor was lovely and reminded me of a humid version of Vancouver.
When you enter town you barely know it and I assumed I was mostly invisible except for the old man who feigned fear and then when I smiled laughed uproariously. Ok...
I found a local artisan running her own Handmade in Slovenia shop where I purchased an overpriced handmade pair of cufflinks for a nephew I was sure wouldn’t appreciate it and then I went looking at Maribor castle.
Lonely Planet had said there was nothing here that was do not miss. And they were right. This sleepy little second city has oodles of charm but not a whole of of action.
Strangely enough the farmers market, which I assume is just called buying food here, was the highlight of my day with peppers as yellow as the sun and onions that smelled so delicious I almost forgot I don’t like them were on display. I purchased a kilo of cherries from a woman who spoke absolutely no English through gesture and noise and was pleasantly surprised to have been able to make this stop before they closed up shop.
Caffe City seemed as good a place as any to stop for refreshment as all of the eateries seemed to be occupied by youths that I, for some reason or another, was too intimidated by to encroach upon their territory.
I wonder what the people in this town do. Clearly everyone smokes. And I mean everyone - but that’s been in every place I’ve seen on this particular journey.
The seemingly able bodied men and women with multiple beer bottles strewn on their cafe table at noon... do they have the day off? Is it their lunch break? Have they built up such a tolerance that that is the same as a tea and a biscuit for the rest of us plebeians?
With some minor family drama back at home and a major WiFi shortage in this tiny town (of like a million people) I am thinking of the marine. Damnit. He is several counties away now - likely displaying his conservative charm for another lady with less greys and less baggage than yours truly - but he is on my mind.
I had a brief text exchange with my big sister the other day about my connecting with people when I am abroad, or at least out of town. She hypothesizes that it is because my guard is down. But I always feel like Briana.
I’ve built upon her hypothese and am placing the responsibility outside of myself - therapy is really working, right? I am what you see is what you get and here is my heart, located directly on my sleeve no matter where I am. The acerbic wit and sarcasm vary but it’s basically the same.
I think the people I meet, either because they know I’m only here for a bit or because that’s true for them as well open up. And, in turn I have these really beautiful, really authentic human experiences.
Some are great to pass a couple of days in a strange place with and some stick with me. I have love for people on all four corners of the globe and it’s actually something for which I’m grateful.
Maybe it is the commonality of Americanness or maybe this guy was the sort of strong man my father always insisted I was in need of - but this marine. This captain has left an impression - and it’s pissing me off.
And a small note for any former paramour or generally curious party. It is rarely about sex and this experience was quite innocent. Contrary to popular belief I’m not boning my way across the globe.
I just have an open heart and a lot of love to give. Some might say an endless amount.
It’s strange the things that vary culturally. For example, when I order food in America I generally know what I’m going to get and how I’ll be dining. When I order food at an empty restaurant down by the river, I didn’t realize I’d be dining like Henry the 8th.
Vegetables in restaurants seem to come fried here and since my arrival I’ve had a fairly while in Rome attitude.
Weighted down with massive amounts of Slovenian cuisine, including fried cauliflower, some sort of mashed potato adjacent concoction and roasted peppers, I head back out, desperate to catch some more sunshine before it sets behind the snowless slopes to my West.
Some sort of festival is setting up all over Maribor and though I’m eager to experience something new and different and cultural. I’m also eager to experience warmth. And the outdoors does not seem to be providing that.
Slowly making my way back to my hotel I crossed over the river and walked down the river track back home.
It was golden hour, summer time, and solitary. Perfect. Tranquil and beautiful are the only ways I can think to describe this place. Slovenia is an underrated country and one I would very much consider returning to.
An hour + nature walk allowed, as does my being awake, time to think. Reflect. And theorize.
I’ve always got plenty of those.
Every so often I see this shot that I don’t capture and it lives in my head, nagging at me for all eternity.
On some back patchwork quilt street I see a man, long yellowed white hair down his back with a camel sweater, trying furiously to get his ancient motorbike to start. As I’m trying to find the most direct route back to my hotel, II turn to inquire and the sun radiates from behind, rimming him in the most gorgeous yellow light, cigarette hanging from his lips, weathered face telling a tale without a single word. I would have had to ask to take a shot, and I didn’t. Guess another lesson in sacking up (I can’t always be poetic).
With an evening spent toiling away eating my kilo of cherries and FaceTiming back home I fell asleep with the windows wide open and the fresh air filling my lungs.
I awoke to paved paradise put up a parking lot.
One last morning to wake up to this beauty of this untapped place and an orange crane replaced my clear shot of the mountains. Since yesterday.
With construction and ‘development’ happening because no good deed goes unpunished - I’m talking to you God - I fear if I ever revisit this place it will have neon lights and an H&M.
One more stop downstairs for a continental breakfast flanked by the AARP convention and I had to make moves.
As I said bye bye Bau, a mother daughter duo checked me out and man, those relationships are universal. They gave me a magnet as a gift and information about the national holiday happening in Croatia right now. Sweet and helpful.
Running into holidays, transit strikes, mad hysteria - all part of the unplanned backpackers journey...
Another scented bus ride. Seriously people, the Red Cross should be dropping Axe Body Spray by the cartloads in Central Europe. I sat next to a woman who clearly didn’t want a seat mate and there was unspoken animosity until I dropped about 30 bucks in coins all over the ground. Embarrassment - the great equalizer.
She was from Peru and clearly traveling with a sister or friend and their two teenage boys but had been living in Vienna for almost 30 years. I was fascinated by her tale but my Spanish is limited an a hell of a lot better than my German - danke - so the details will forever remain a mystery.
After an excruciatingly long first leg of the trip, twice the time estimated, due to infrastructure designed to help situations such as these while destroying the natural beauty of the countryside and poison the people in the process, we had to deboard at the border at show each and every passport - for the 60 or so people on the bus. Not the most efficient method.
I’m in Zagreb (imagine Wayne and Garth declaring their presence in Delaware).
Croatia, a country lauded for its pristine waters and beautiful beaches, is not known for its beautiful capital city. And now I can attest as to why. Zagreb has a real eastern block vibe like a city that may have once been beautiful but the people and the streets have been smacked around one too many times by their tyrannical boyfriend to even try anymore.
I’m starving and carsick and have chosen to walk to my hotel with my ever expanding carry on.
Ham Ham’s denied me a burger and the next cafe I selected was large and filled with retirees, apparently including the wait staff. This is exactly the time that I want to see a BK on the horizon and run in to its greasy, loving arms.
This establishment ended up offering spotty WiFi and chicken brioche - which the man explained with gestures indicating I was supposed to get it. Basically the meal was as chicken kebabs with a side of hot paste wedged between to thick spongy crepe like concoction. It was delicious and savory.
Antonio ended up checking me in at Praska 8 apartments, where my flat for the weekend was awesome and I wished I lived in it all the damn time!
A brief break to catch my breath and I walked North to the main square where the charm is Zagreb was on full display along with an outdoor showing of the World Cup.
I attempted to buy my last nephew a gift but had limited kuna and a limited bank account.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s (best name ever!) bells rang out and called me in to pray my way through Europe. Though I’ve always loved visiting cathedrals and felt special in them, praying is a new thing I’m trying on for size.
I’m constantly filled with internal dialogue anyway, this is just with folded hands and visible tears.
A truly religious experience for me.
The conversion rate here is bananas so I either bought my niece and my mother yet another reasonably priced trinket, already spoiling them far too much, or I’ve taken out a second mortgage for dolls and earrings.
With the national holidays bookending the weekend the town is desolate; inhabitants gone away to the white sand beaches for a quick getaway.
This part of Zagreb seems cute and livable and if it didn’t seem like the town of 1000 weddings I’d move right away!
I cruise the strip of open air eateries and circle back to super mediocre Indian food and continue my not not so internal debate about whether to head back to the states as planned or hang out a bit longer - the benefit of being unloved and unemployed - freedom!
These streets can be tricky and though I know I am close, I get a little confused as to where I am staying and end up smack dab in the middle of the ice cream festival. Set in a gazebo this sounds like a Star’s Hollow fantasy, but I assure you it was very real, and quite magical.
The Suzanne Vega 3 were on point! So on point that they are my new fave jam band.
Back at my humble abode, a one bedroom apartment larger than mine and definitely bigger than the Blue Banana I unwind.
In bed by 10:30 on a Saturday night and all is right in the world.
I woke up this morning with two distinct certainties.
One, waking up to church bells in an otherwise silent town is my new fave.
Two, mediocre Indian food served in Central Europe may not always bode so well.
The morning was peaceful, but just having bragged last night with a friend having digestive issues that I clearly have innards of steel - maybe more like 14k gold...
After dressing and throwing in some lipstick because that is what woman in their 30s are required to do by law, I took the short walk through town square to catch the 226 bus North. Regina King was sadly not on this adventure with me but I was hoping to spot Jackee at some point.
This local public bus runs through town and carries locals from point a to point b. Despite the fact that I too am Caucasian no one thinks I’m local. In Columbia this might offend be, but here for some reason it is Aok. All public transport must be free because I haven’t paid shit, so I happily hop on board for a free ride (who said there weren’t any of those!).
The locals of which I speak disembarked with me by and large with the floral arrangements I’d assumed were for their foyers and kitchen tables but were instead for their dearly departed. I love visiting and photographing cemeteries but I’m not sure I’d ever been to one with such a throng of devotees. Replete with a candle and flower shop at the gates, Mariboj is no joke and beautiful. A cool and crisp Sunday morning was the best time to visit.
There is something so fascinating about family crypts, and these are pretty elaborate and clearly well maintained by the still living. Don’t get me wrong, I still want you (Holly, I hope you’re reading this) to Nate Fisher the fuck out of me. But there is something so special about creating an albeit very expensive shrine to your loved ones.
I hope my father, who at the moment is in my carry on back at my apartment, sees me continuing my life and bringing him alone for the ride as a substitute to a marble and gold crypt.
Mariborj is peaceful. And Sunday mass in their tiny chapel provided me the opportunity to see women with their heads draped in fine lace as well as chicks in jeans and sneakers take the host side by side.
I hopped on the 106 back with a bunch of countrymen who don’t obligatorily smile or say bless you when you sneeze hoping I’d end up somewhere interesting.
When I saw spaghetti, I knew I had. Carbs are my best friend. Not my thighs’ besties - but screw those bitches. I was upsold casually and sat down at yet another checked tablecloth to dine outdoors in the European summer.
My meal as languid and filling and when the bill came and it was only 83 kuna (roughly 13 dollars) and I was pleased I’d thrown caution to the wind.
Such a leisurely meal didn’t leave much time for the Dolac Market, that I missed by mere minutes. I caught the tail end, getting to witness the packing up on assorted flowers and what I imagine are artistic treasures from local men and women.
It is Sunday and I’m hitting dead ends all over the place, largely because of my lack of planning or get up and go today.
I take the funicular (check) up to upper Zagreb and climb to Lotrscak Tower (check) to enjoy the expanse of the city. I walk to and through St. Mark’s Cathedral that is far more impressive from the outside and as I meander back I find a little restaurant with locals boasting a special called Grandfather's Dream and, essentially living my existence as an homage to those who have gone before I sidle up for a local lager and a piece of chocolate cake.
Have I mentioned calories don’t count in another time zone?
A group of Korean tourists follow suit and a theory of mine, devoid of cultural awareness or acceptance, is solidified. I do not like Asian tourists. The travel in large groups that block walkways. They are just as loud, if not louder than Americans and at this particular establishment they partake in what I am sure is acceptable in their native land, but if I have to hear you perform cunnilingus on your meal for one more second I may vomit. IE. I don’t like HEARING people eat.
I walk even further North and eventually wind my way back for some religious art.
I’d remembered seeing a piece I wanted but couldn't for the life of me remember in which country I’d seen it. When it dawned on me it was this one I hightailed it back to the shop and bought this metal monstrosity. The conversion to kunas makes my brain hurt so I’m using my card and assuming it’s affordable
I had another meal of dead animal, having consumed more meat in the past two weeks than the 20 years prior and was back home by 9, with my windows open and the rain serenading me to sleep.
6 am came early, the church bells muted at this hour.
I eat some overly ripe apricots I got from a street vendor and attempt to efficiently cram all of my shit in one bag and prepare for the walk back to the bus station.
And once again, say goodbye.
This is the final leg, my journey to Budapest a formality at this point and I’m sad. I’m always sad to leave.
I was sitting at the bus station contemplating life, my existence and all of the pain and suffering one can conjure up on a Monday morning when I realized, they don’t announce shit here.
I rushed down to the platform only to be met with the passport Nazi who repeatedly fingered my passport refusing to believe the stamp showing my entrance was real - he kept telling me it was an old stamp as if I’d requested the vintage look from from border patrol.
Needless to say, he really harshed my mellow.
Authority figures have never really been my bag - but a Flixbus driver/attendant really doesn’t count as one of those, does he?
It’s clear that technology has changed lots of things and created a new culture. But is this a culture of zombies so unaware of who they really are, how they fit into the world and how to compassionately and loving interact with their fellow man? When I think of the people I know who are the biggest consumers of media they’re certainly the least self aware and some of the less compassionate folks I know.
I nod off and wake up in Siofok - which was going to be my next stop originally and as I look at how Hansel and Gretel cuteness, I wish it still were. I always prefer smaller cities and villages - but time waits for no man, or woman, or horny teenage couple, which seems to be what the back of this particular bus houses.
A quick turn around at Nepliget bus stop where there is a pay toilet - which I always find to be ludicrous and a pay locker - for which I was grateful.
I navigated the M3 and once again incurred racial profiling when the tickets were checked at ‘random’ while exiting the platform - but homie clearly had it out for me. Luckily this is the first time I’d paid for public transport while here so I was in the clear.
When I ascended to street level I knew exactly where I was and a rush of comfort washed over me.
The shopping district houses many restaurants and I chose a traditional Hungarian place for my last day, forgetting that I am not really digging on swine and the thought of another animal to eat was a lot. Yet another chicken was sacrificed for my authentic European experience
Largely inspired by my marine, I figured a Hungarian bath experience would be a great way to say goodbye to Budapest and something fun to take part in my last day. Ruda Baths were the plan.
Ruda - not just a clever name as the staff all has that Eastern European charm. This bath house is in Buda just below the Liberty bridge alone the riverway. The maze of wooden and tiled rooms is expansive and can be confusing, but I made it a point to get my money’s worth and try everything, at least once. After pickling myself in aroma and minerals I felt so fresh and so clean.
I wanted to go to the rooftop cafe at the baths, but wanted to do it clothed and by the time I dressed and left I realized the opportunity had been squandered, so I instead went to the cafe below to catch a little of the late afternoon, ending up with whatever Hungarians ‘lemonade’ and ‘cake’ are supposed to be.
A long, final walk along the Danube.
As I approached the Chain Bridge the sun is below S.t Matthias and shining down from the heavens upon the Parliament Building in the most gorgeous contrast of light and dark. I walk half way out to the center of the bridge and cop a squat. Sit down Indian style. Put in my headphones and have a moment. Have a Chris Heard moment.
The passerbya absolutely thought I was about to jump and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind. But tonight. The sunset in Budapest wasn’t about tourists or jumping or grand gestures.
It was just about me. My dad. And Neil Young.
I’ll miss you, Budapest.